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Beyond the resignations: Why anxiety among IAS is only growing

Half a dozen bureaucrats said they were unhappy that the role of IAS officers was diminishing at the Centre.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 15, 2019, 10.44 AM IST
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Non-IAS officers have begun to corner a sizeable chunk of posts in senior bureaucracy is now troubling the IAS officers.
The years around 2000 saw India reaping higher rewards of the economic liberalisation it had set off a decade ago. An expanding India Inc required capable managers.

This led to a flurry of resignations of officers of the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Most were middle-level bureaucrats aspiring to fast-track their careers and earn more. So they quit the safety of a government job to join corporate India.

The salary structure of government officers have improved a lot since then, leading to a drastic reduction in IAS officials resigning to join companies. But the recent resignations of a few IAS officers, albeit for various reasons, have again turned the spotlight on the much preferred branch of the bureaucracy.

Take the example of Subhash Chandra Garg, 58, who sought early retirment after the government in July transferred him from the post of finance secretary to the relatively lowprofile ministry of power.

Then came three more resignations of IAS officers in quick successions, all within a month and a half. Kannan Gopinathan, 33 — who was serving as the secretary of power, urban development and town & country planning in the Union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli — resigned from government service over the clampdown in Kashmir. S Sasikanth Senthil, 40 — deputy commissioner of Dakshina Kannada district — resigned alleging “fundamental building blocks of diverse democracy are being compromised”. Then came the resignation of Kashish Mittal, 30 — who was additional principal secretary to NITI Aayog vice-chairman — because he was unhappy at being transferred to Arunachal Pradesh.

The resignations of four of the 5,205 serving IAS officers wouldn’t have been news in Delhi’s corridors of power but for a growing sense of anxiety among the IAS cadre, considered the elite among the two dozen-odd central services. And the reason for the concern has nothing to do with Kashmir Valley or democracy.
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Half a dozen bureaucrats ET Magazine spoke to said they were unhappy that the role of IAS officers was diminishing at the Centre. There is no guarantee now of an IAS officer becoming a Union joint secretary even after she gets empanelled, they say. Empanellment is a process of shortlisting civil servants so that they can be made joint secretary, additional secretary or secretary. Earlier, IAS officers had a greater chance of being selected for these posts. But now, the Centre is looking for officials from other services as well.

The first shift away from reliance on IAS officers was noticed in mid-2016 when the Modi government appointed a large number of non-IAS officers — income tax, railways, forest officers, etc — as joint secretaries in one go. Other services have had a long-standing grudge that the government always gave preferential treatment to the IAS cadre. Then came a blow from states such as West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, which blocked IAS officials from their cadre from joining the central government services on deputation.

“You can imagine the frustration of an IAS officer if she is to retire without even getting one posting outside the state. What is the point of then calling the IAS an all-India service?” asks one officer.

If that wasn’t enough, career IAS officials, particularly the younger and midlevel ones, consider the recent government move allowing lateral entry of nine private sector executives as joint secretaries as an early sign of the IAS getting marginalised.

Their concern is what will happen if non-IAS and lateral entrants eventually capture a sizeable number of berths in the higher bureaucratic echelons, such as additional secretaries and secretaries, which are now dominated by IAS officials.

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“Resignations of IAS officers to join politics, civil society or the corporate sector have happened in the past too. There is still tremendous interest in civil services. Look at the training academies that have sprouted all over Kerala. They are all flourishing" --KM Chandrasekhar, former cabinet secretary.

The worry is not entirely unfounded. In the past few years, IAS has lost at least two key traditional posts — as heads of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Vigilance Commission. Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Sanjay Kumar Mishra was made chief of the ED and Indian Police Service officer Sharad Kumar was made the interim chief vigilance commissioner.

The government had also appointed a former IRS official, Sushil Chandra, as Election Commissioner in February. Going by conventions, all three election commissioners are usually IAS officials.

The IAS is still a much favoured career path, says former cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar. “Resignations from the IAS to join politics or civil society or the corporate sector have happened in the past too.” He points to the mushrooming of IAS coaching centres in Kerala, where he currently resides, to argue why the IAS has not lost its sheen.

Every year, about a million graduates register for the civil services examination and the top preference of almost everyone is the IAS. After all, the clout of the premier administrative arm in the bureaucracy is widely known.

“The first change you feel after leaving the IAS is that you lack the authority that had come with the post,” says OP Agarwal, who resigned from IAS in 2007 and is now CEO of World Resources Institute India. Agarwal was a joint secretary in the urban development ministry when he quit and later joined the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington DC as a specialist in urban transport systems. “No one comes to you anymore once you leave IAS. Instead, you struggle to get into government offices. But there are positives too. You no longer need permission to attend a seminar abroad!” he adds.

The grass is not necessarily greener on the other side.
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“The first change you feel after resigning from the IAS is the lack of authority. No one comes to you anymore. You struggle to get into government offices. But there are positives too. You no longer require permissions to attend seminars abroad!” OP Agarwal, CEO of WRI India, who resigned from IAS in 2007

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