Musings on the cradle of civil services in Mussoorie
The curriculum of the foundational course at the Academy was designed to familiarise probationers with the fundamentals of our constitutional democracy, socio-cultural history and institutions of governance. It was more of a rite of initiation than hardcore training in any specialised area of governance.Updated: Sep 16, 2020 13:59 IST
Nestled in the Himalayas atop the Mussoorie Hills is the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, the alma mater of thousands of civil servants holding every conceivable senior position in the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the Indian State. Year after year, hundreds of successful candidates of the highly competitive civil services examination get inducted into government service at the hallowed precincts of this prestigious institution, fondly known as the Academy.
Weary after 72 hours of journey by rail and road and the last 2km on foot as I entered the premises of Charleville at the centre of the Academy complex, I did not feel excited, but felt exhausted. As I looked around quizzically, a diminutive, bespectacled figure approached me, introduced himself as Narayanan, administrative officer, and politely asked me my name and to which service I belonged. He took me to his office nearby, went through formalities on paper and directed his staff to take me to the assigned room and familiarise me with the place and its ways.
Among the probationers, I discovered that there were more than a dozen Malayalees, including three women. We made friends easily and forged a Mallu gang that became fairly conspicuous after the Onam celebrations we organised with gusto.
Though life at the academy was fairly disciplined, starting early with horse riding or physical training and stretching late into the evening, there was not much of heavy learning. The probationers busied themselves in getting to know each other, learning government service etiquettes, equipping themselves with their service paraphernalia or just taking leisurely walks in the salubrious surroundings.
Trekking up to Landour for savouring genuine masala dosa and filter coffee at a Tamilian dhaba was a regular Sunday exercise for many. For us from a rural background not used even to piped water and electrified homes, it was the first opportunity, both exciting and embarrassing, to get exposed to the urban lifestyle, including the luxury of three meals at fixed hours served by waiters in uniform.
For the IAS and IPS probationers, cadre allotment was the main concern which they awaited with bated breath as it determined in which state they would be called upon to live and serve nearly the whole of their official career. Allotment of officers to state cadres was determined by various considerations, the most important being the availability of vacancies in a state and the insider-outsider ratio which ensured that roughly half of officers allotted to a state in a given year were from outside.
Despite occasional aberrations, the insider-outsider formula in its core has survived, protecting the all-India character of our premier services. The vision of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the father of All India Services, about their role in governance has somewhat diminished over the years. Yet the concerns that inspired him and the constitutionally sanctified structure he succeeded in establishing for addressing them, continue to be valid. The symbolism of a Telugu officer serving in Kashmir and a Mallu in Mizoram is as significant as the underlying principle fostering national integration, reflecting unity in diversity.
The curriculum of the foundational course at the Academy was designed to familiarise probationers with the fundamentals of our constitutional democracy, socio-cultural history and institutions of governance. It was more of a rite of initiation than hardcore training in any specialised area of governance.
Reflecting on my five decades as a civil servant, I can vouch that the social capital the probationers accumulate stand them in good stead later while they hold positions of authority and responsibility more than in-depth knowledge of the income tax laws or Civil Procedure Code. email@example.com
The writer has served as Punjab chief secretary and principal secretary to former prime minister Manmohan Singh