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Random Forays: Our civil services need to evolve

The civil servant of the modern era needs to ingrain emotional intelligence in ample quantity, be media savvy and an expert tight rope walker!

punjab Updated: Jun 23, 2018 23:58 IST
Vivek Atray
Vivek Atray
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Random Forays,British Raj,civil servant
The civil servant of the modern era needs to ingrain emotional intelligence in ample quantity, be media savvy and an expert tight rope walker. (HT Photo)

Our age old civil services, burdened as they are with a structure and ethos inherited from the British Raj, are struggling today to combat the challenges of India’s evolving socio-political firmament. It is increasingly becoming evident that the aura of the civil services has whittled away and all layers of enigmatic power have evaporated with time. The civil servant of the modern era needs to ingrain emotional intelligence in ample quantity, be media savvy and an expert tight rope walker!

Conversely, there appears to be a general decline in the quality of personnel entering the services. This may seem like a sweeping statement, but by and large, today’s generation of officers pales in comparison with old timers when it comes to qualities of the head and heart. The elusive ‘officer-like-qualities’, much sought after in earlier times, appear to have taken a back seat in the assessment parameters of current times.

In my own tenure as a state civil services officer for 17 years and then as a member of the Indian Administrative Services for nine years, I had occasion to work closely with dozens of civil servants, and I found some real gems. But I also came across others who were incapable of handling situations which required more than just raw intelligence of the bookish kind. A career in the IAS or IPS can be testing to the core. Finer qualities such as people-skills and empathy are essential assets, otherwise one is exposed very soon.

Emotional quotient

The exam-interview method of selecting officers to various services has worked well in the past, but perhaps it is time to introduce psychological tests, emotional quotient analysis and problem solving ability in the process. These are demanding times, with a plethora of increasingly unstoppable local ‘leaders’ hounding and even badgering officers day in and day out. Civil servants need to be on the ball at all times.

Mentorship

Probity has also taken a severe hit nowadays, and though no real assessment of an individual’s integrity is possible before inducting him or her into a service, counselling sessions with outstanding seniors can enable better ‘upbringing’ of young officers while their careers progress. The government would do well to encourage mentorship as a regular feature of the services instead of leaving it to individuals to fend for themselves when they need guidance from experienced seniors.

Media handling

Another stress factor is the unrelenting media pressure. In olden times an odd correspondent would meet an officer once in a while and would not ask for a quote, just for discrete information. These days a deputy commissioner who heads a prime district has cameras and mikes thrust into his or her face all day long, with no time to blink, let alone think! The result is that officers often end up making bloopers before the media which they are not at all trained to tackle. Training sessions on media handling should be a must for all officers.

Lateral entry

The proposal to induct ten persons with professional expertise in various areas as joint secretaries to the Government of India has raised a lot of eyebrows but such a trend has been in vogue for many years. Experts and consultants of many hues have roamed the corridors of power for long. Many of them have played key roles in policy formulation and the drafting of statutes to be brought before the legislature. It is only because the recent move involves the all important designation of joint secretary that alarm bells have rung. The solution lies in not deputing such lateral entrants against posts meant for civil servants but giving them the powers necessary to function effectively. Also, the process of selecting such experts must be stringent and transparent.

A former colleague asserts that times are truly tough for those currently in the governmental system. Officers are constantly expected to deliver results and suffer enquiries later, often for no fault of theirs.

To put it succinctly, the need is to recruit balanced individuals who possess verve and substance, and to train them to face multifarious pressures. Only then can the civil services evolve with the times.

vivek.atray@gmail.com

First Published: Jun 23, 2018 23:38 IST