Nearly half the officers in India’s most sought-after civil services are older than 50 and a whopping 80% past their 40th birthday, according to a government paper circulated ahead of the Civil Services Day here on Saturday.
But for a country where 65% of the country’s population younger than 35, this is not merely a statistical nugget.
Or for that matter, to drive innovation that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sees as the game-changer that could bring about radical — and not incremental — improvement in the lives of Indians, rich and poor.
The government’s background paper noted how most of these officers saw technology as a “black-box”, tended to go around technology rather than embrace it and acted as “obstacles rather than catalysts of change”.
While the document was emphatic about the figures about the all-India services and other allied services, there were people who doubted its accuracy. Shekhar Singh, who has lectured senior civil servants at the Indian Institute for Public Administration in Delhi for more than two decades, was sceptical about the figures.
But he insisted the problem brought out by the paper was real and serious.
“There is a need to open up the decision-making process without breaking down the hierarchy,” Singh – who did a stint as an adviser in the Planning Commission in the 1990s – said. It isn’t a question of undermining experience. But the civil service never had an incentive to perform or keep abreast with new developments, he said.
A young Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer said what aggravates the problem was that if they come up with a new idea, their seniors quickly brush them aside.
“Rather than age, I think the more important problem is that of attitude and a closed mind,” he said.