12 May, 2021

An Ideal Elite

The current lot of IAS officers compares very favourably to the older generation. But political interference and indecision over structure and evaluation can reduce efficiency.

Hallowed Grounds
The Lal Bahadur Shashtri National Academy of Administration in Mussorie.
An Ideal Elite

More than half-a-century ago, when I entered the civil services, their structure and their req­uirements were radically different. The UPSC examination tilted heavily towards the humanities. They resembled more the graduate and post graduate examinations of those days, the focus essentially being the capacity to write long answers to questions in English, a broad understanding of the world and current developments, a capacity to read fast and thoroughly and to assimilate quickly. Administration then was file based and what was being tested was the ability to contribute effectively to decision making through the file process.

The emphasis then was also on recruiting officers who were young and, therefore, less conditioned and more “trainable”. The age limits were 20 to 23 for the Indian Police Service, 21 to 24 for other services, with some latitude for reserved categories. No candidate was allowed to appear more than twice for the UPSC examinations. Toppers were generally from amongst those who had app­eared for the first time, usually from the...

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