Babudom is under pressure. Just months after President APJ Abdul Kalam spoke about a voluntary retirement system for senior bureaucrats based on mid-career screening, the Administrative Reforms Commission is looking to take the 'shape up or ship out' policy a step further.
The commission is considering an army-style retirement system to weed out senior civil servants who do not make the grade. Unlike the proposal being currently discussed in the government, there will be nothing voluntary about this system.
If an All-India Services officer does not get promoted to the next rank, he will have to retire earlier than those found good enough to climb the ladder. As in the army, where a colonel retires at 54, brigadier at 56, major-general at 58 and lt-general and general -- like the rest in the government -- at 60.
A paper pushed for a public debate by the commission says a mechanism to weed out non-performers was a "natural fall-out" of the performance-based civil service that it intended to put in place. "In the existing dispensation, everyone has a lifetime job security irrespective of performance," the commission chaired by Veerappa Moily says.
Another issue on the commission's table that could make bureaucrats squirm relates to the emphasis it is putting on matching the civil service's authority with accountability. In this sense, the commission also intends to give meaning to the oft-repeated claim of making the civil service citizen-centric.
The commission -- that is also revisiting the demand for security of tenure, insulating civil servants from political interference, specialisation in some areas and the need for a public services law -- is also wondering if career-based officers should continue to monopolise top slots in the bureaucracy. Of course, if the commission recommends dismantling this monopoly, it will also have to seek relaxation in rules allowing bureaucrats to step out of the government and work in the industry and academia.