From the Viewsroom

Is the time up for babus?

Richa Mishra | Updated on February 18, 2021

The selection process of PSU heads and govt bodies needs a relook

While lauding the role of wealth creators recently in Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wondered what good would come by handing over the nation to the babus.

The PM’s comment did generate a debate, as civil service reforms have been on the agenda since the first Modi government. In fact, NITI Aayog’s Strategy for New India@75 has a chapter on it, which states, “To put in place a reformed system of recruitment, training and performance evaluation of the civil service to ensure more effective and efficient delivery of public services to achieve the development goals envisaged in New India 2022.”

While many will agree with the Prime Minister, it also makes one wonder why babus are allowed to run key institutions. Is there something wrong in the process for selecting heads of Air India or Shipping Corporation, Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, or bodies like IRDA, or for that matter the RBI or SEBI? If an IAS officer applies to go through the regular process and gets selected, should it be a problem?

There are competent people outside the IAS set-up, but what stops them from being appointed to these posts? According to the NITI Aayog, “Attracting talent and nurturing excellence, ensuring transparency and accountability along with participatory and representative decision-making are some issues that need to be addressed.”

Yes, measures are being taken, but still it is the IAS officer who is found to be the favourable candidate. Is it because not many have the hands-on experience of an IAS officer?

Another big difference could be that executives in the private sector have clear objectives and freedom of action, which IAS officers lack. Like it or not, IAS officers can be influenced to a large extent by political heads and the fear of 4Cs — Courts, CBI, CAG and CVC — which tend to make them cautious. There is little doubt that the selection process for heads of key government entities needs a relook.

The PM’s remark also made one wonder whether the IAS is living on borrowed time. Which reminds one of the old Kishore Kumar song: “Baabu samjho ishaare... sau baton ki ek baat yahi hai…”

Published on February 18, 2021

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