They may lead a bureaucracy not particularly rated for its efficiency. But when it comes to getting grades, Indian civil servants could beat the brightest of students. In fact, they already have.
Senior officials have for years been giving their colleagues a “near perfect” score to help them move up the bureaucratic ladder or get a better posting. But their honeymoon with grades may soon come to an end.
The Modi government has decided to review the appraisal system of premier civil services. The idea behind the review is that grades should reflect an officer’s output and potential, rather than his ability to keep superiors in good humour.
“It is a major challenge,” a senior government official told Hindustan Times. According to the official, the prime minister’s office too has expressed concerns over the inability of the appraisal system to distinguish between deadwood and competent officers.
Each civil servant is given a list of targets at the beginning of the year. Apart from an assessment of his personal attributes and functional competency, it is against this to-do list that he is supposed to be assessed.
In practice, however, members of premier civil services such as the IAS often end up with extraordinary grades. That is, unless they rub their superiors the wrong way.
But the superlative grades have become a liability for the bureaucracy too, with the government no longer trusting them.
As a result, the government put off giving incentives to high performers recommended by the last pay panel and no longer relies on grades alone to shortlist officers for senior positions at the Centre.
Instead, it sets up a special panel to evaluate bureaucrats for postings at the Centre. The panel does more than just look at their grades. It goes through their service record, checks out their reputation and gives them a composite score. “There have been times when the cut-off has gone into two or more decimal points,” said an official who has had access to personal records of IAS officers.
For example, an officer ranked 9.25 may not be considered fit to be an additional secretary but someone with a 9.26 score makes the cut.
So when 1977 batch IAS officer from Delhi Rakesh Behari tried to figure out why he was never cleared for a secretary’s post at the Centre despite a 10/10 score for years, he did not get any clear answers. Behari finally moved the court to get his due. He won a clear verdict in his favour in 2013, 10 days before retiring.
Last year, he was notionally shortlisted.
A system for effective appraisal of civil servants is, however, awaited. At an annual conference of civil servants two years ago, a piqued cabinet secretary Ajit Seth had threatened to come up with a “better system” to appraise bureaucrats. “Everyone is getting near perfect scores. If everyone is outstanding, then no one is,” he had said.