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Does the Does the civil service exam need to change?

It was Francis Bacon who said (I am paraphrasing) that half of any problem is solved by asking the right questions. Regarding the question set for this month's essay contest also this quotation holds good. Is the question rightly phrased? Is it the civil service exam that needs to be changed or the civil services per se that needs to be changed?

Let us examine the basic purpose for which the Civil Services exam is being conducted. The exam is being conducted for recruitment to the various civil services including the IAS, IPS, IFS and other central government services. These services are mainly based on the pattern of the former civil service of the British India. It was the vision of the then Home Minister Shri Vallabhai Patel that the civil services should strengthen cohesion and unity of the nation.

The character and nature of the Civil Services brings to mind the sharp wit of Dr Jhonson who had observed that the generalist is one who knows more and more about less and less, while the specialist is one who knows more and more about less and less. The civil service becomes more efficient and effective when it is composed of both kinds of officers. The present system, sadly, remains sharply skewed in favour of the omniscient generalist.

The society in general, as well as various services that should be available in the society, have grown very complex and have morphed into specialized spheres of activity. For example, the processes of taxation and tax collection have become extremely complex with the immense variety of products and the innumerable variety of delivery mechanisms that are now available. Thus, tax calculation and collection, one of the more important functions of the civil services, have become more technical and specialized that the official appointed on the basis of the civil services exam may not be able to handle the responsibilities adequately.

To take another example, the recruitment to Indian Information Service is also conducted through the Civil Services exams. The skill sets and attitudes necessary for fulfilling the responsibilities of an information officer or a public or press relations executive is completely different from that of a civil services officer who deals with revenue administration or accounts. Examples in this vein are galore, like Indian Economic Service, Indian Statistical service etc.

Against this, the argument that the specialist view can always be narrow and should be offset by that of a generalist can be raised and is of considerable importance. However generalist views can always be got by attaching civil servants to professional services for specific periods on deputation. The professional like the media man or the zoology scientist should be allowed to work unheeded by the interference from the generalist officer above him.

Thus, we can see that the question needs re phrasing. The civil services as well as the civil services exams should be re oriented to take into account the new nature and culture of general management of resources as well as the specific management of service obligations like information, wild life or the financial services.

From this stand point another question also becomes easier to answer. Recently there was a huge hue and cry about the relevance of examining the knowledge of English of aspiring civil servants. From the above it has become extremely clear that the ability to ask questions is of great significance as far as administration is concerned. The knowledge of languages is the key to increase our ability to ask relevant questions. Thus the knowledge of a world language like English, besides that of our mother tongue, is one of the crucial elements in the skill set of any aspiring civil servant. Ability to communicate in English as well as the candidate's mother tongue should thus remain one of the vital elements in the Civil Services exam.

K Parameswaran

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