IAS, the steel-frame or birds of passage
Every year, through a three-stage competitive process, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) selects about 100 bright young men and women to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Hailing from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, speaking different languages, possessing diverse educational qualifications, they truly reflect the diversity of the country.
After the fundamental course of six months of initiation and camaraderie with fellow officers at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, the probationers go on a six-week Bharat Darshan tour, as we did in 1963. Travelling by rail for days through the country’s heartland, getting glimpses of mile after mile of green fields dotted with tubewells, occasional power plants emitting clouds of smoke and bustling towns of an emerging chaotically vibrant India was exciting and a great learning experience. I vividly remember our visits to Chandigarh, Bhakra Nangal, Bhilai and Durgapur, the temples of modern India, and the ancient temples of Kashi Vishwanath, Jagannath Puri and Konark. With its wide avenues, well-laid out office and residential areas, shopping plazas, Le Corbusier’s architectural marvel, Chandigarh, was – and still is – the most beautiful and modern city.
On our return, we devoted ourselves to studies that included law, mainly the Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure, economics with emphasis on planning for development, public administration, a brief history of India and its culture and the language of the state to which we were allotted.
A considerable time was devoted to the study of the Evidence Act. With some amusement, I remember law professor Pathak’s five funnels formula for filtering evidence from the depositions of parties in civil and criminal proceedings. Professor Ramaswamy, formidable in size and knowledge, who taught us economics and development, used to tell us with his caustic sense of humour that the larger the size of the economic cake we helped baking, the bigger would be our share of it!
Academy director SK Dutta, dapper and a pipe-puffing ICS, rarely addressed us in regular classes, but his valedictory talk was remarkable. He told us how important it is for civil servants not only to do justice but also appear to be doing so, and to choose the time and place for doing what we liked to do in our private life. Distilled, discreet words of wisdom! Most of us would remember our handlebar moustachioed riding instructor Naval Singh and his admonition in his stentorian voice that without learning how to control a horse we wouldn’t be able to control a district!
By the time we left the academy, we were a loosely knit group of enthusiastic young men and women imbued with idealism, a sense of purpose and pride, sharing many common concerns about the amazing diversity of our country and its pervasive poverty, raring to join as cogs in the gargantuan wheels of the omnipresent government. We were a privileged lot bestowed with the rare opportunity of serving our country of teeming millions and making a difference, however small it be, to their lives.
A favourable combination of circumstances catapulted some of us to the top echelons of the civil services. For brief periods, some of us came under the arc light as bit players in the saga of governance soon to be replaced by another set of actors. So goes the continuing narrative of the IAS, the steel frame of India for its patron-saint Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and a bunch of birds of passage and jacks of all trades for its detractors. email@example.com
The writer is a former Punjab chief secretary, chairman of Public Enterprises Selection Board, and principal secretary and adviser to former prime minister Manmohan Singh