Is The Civil Services Still Relevant?
The final session of the Valley of Words Literature Festival in Greenpanel hall began at 1520 hrs. Kush Verma, the main speaker of the session spoke on his book ‘A-Z off the civil services’ with V Srinivas in the panel and Ashok Kumar as the Chair.
The Chair Ashok Kumar ushered this session with a round of introduction of the members in the Panel. The main speaker of the session, Mr Kush Verma is an IAS officer of the 1979 batch of Uttar Pradesh Cadre, who joined JILDEE as Executive Director and Head of the Civil Services Training Division, after his retirement from the Indian Administrative Service. He has published several papers in the field of General Administration, Development, Labour Issues and Tourism etc. He has presented various papers in International/National Seminars & Workshops. He has been granted his Ph.D. degree from Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi on the challenging topic: ‘Redesigning the All-India Civil Services’.
Mr Verma was given the time talk about his book and the idea behind it. His discussion involved a deluge of witty humour, pointed satire and retelling of thought-provoking incidents from his life.
He spoke of the authority and role of a District Magistrate and the challenges which confront them. The size of the largest district of India is greater than the size of Belgium. There are many large districts in India which these civil servants are responsible for. Needless to say the burden, constraints and expectations weigh heavily upon them.
While talking about bureaucrats, Mr Verma mentioned a humorous incident which took place some decades ago. During the years when going abroad was considered an opportunity of a lifetime, there was a vacancy for officers from the rank of a Section Officer onwards to go to Hawaii on official business. The Section Officer to whom this notice came fainted with joy for the opportunity to go abroad, that too state-sponsored. When the officer ranking above him got hold of this notice, he referred himself for the post by citing it as something which needs to be done by a person of his ranking. The officer outranking him did the same. When the notice reached the Secretary, he nominated himself for the job citing it as a matter of great national importance. This hilarious anecdote of officer’s desires not only brought the bureaucrats down to earth but also highlighted the opportunity government jobs, especially the Civil Services offer.
Another anecdote was narrated by Mr Verma pertaining to the relationship between bureaucrats and politicians. There was a certain IAS officer who was asked by a minister to do away with Entertainment Tax in order to gain popularity and votes. The officer declined saying that doing away with the tax would cost the state treasury more than forty crores. The minister threatened the officer for acting contrary to his whims. However the officer stuck to his duty and kept the interest of the state in the highest regard. This was followed by a suspension threat. However, due to the intervention from the governor, the officer was not suspended but transferred to a rural location.
This anecdote was meant to highlight the realities and constraints of the services. The officer paid the price for keeping the interest of the state in foremost regard. As a Civil Servant, one must be prepared to face such kinds of challenges time and again.
Mr. Verma spoke about what constitutes ‘good governance’. Empathy for the common man and genuine concern for bettering his lot. These attributes are the core values which construct the monument of good governance.
The session was carried on in a Question-Answer format with the Chair, Ashok Kumar who raised questions pertaining to Verma’s book, and the latter responding to those questions.
Kumar asked the author to elaborate on a quote from his book: “politics is the last resort of scoundrels”. Verma’s response to it was that many of the quotes he wrote in his book are not meant to be taken at face value. They are meant to provoke and compel the reader to ask questions and think about social issues. With regards to the quote he said “one must be aware of where the country is heading”. The politician, the head of the state, is the most crucial factor determining the fate of the country.
Kumar asked Verma to elucidate on one peculiar chapter in the book, “Rules are for fools”. This phrase goes contrary to the spirit Civil Servants stand for. Verma clarified that the purpose of the chapter is to state that rules are a double-edged sword. Srinivas, an IAS officer himself, elaborated on this. He said that bureaucrats can come up with a hundred ways to not get anything done by raising myriad objections to a proposal. On the other hand a passionate officer with genuine goodwill can bring even the most difficult ideas to fruition. Verma in his book calls the Civil Services “Heaven born services”. “born in heaven, living in hell”.
A last question raised by the Chair was for the interest of potential aspirants. He referred to Verma highlighting the challenges and constraints associated with the Services and asked why the young generation should aspire to be civil servants. Verma gave two reasons for it. Being a Civil Servant gives one the opportunity to make meaningful decisions which can affect lives, and that one can also contribute to policy making and be a factor which influences decision making.
Srinivas supplemented this response by giving his own two responses. For him, the Civil Services offered people the opportunity to rise from the lowest strata of society to one of the highest and most respected. Despite the constraints the services have, they are the best shot one can get to make a difference provided he/she wants to do so.
The question and answer session went on even after the session came to a formal conclusion. The engagement between the audience the panel was a testimony of the session’s exciting and informative aspect. In the end, ushers had to request the reluctant audience and the panel to clear the venue and head for the next session.
~Samson S Haokip, St Stephens College