ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On India’s Political Administrators

This is in response to Rekha Saxena’s editorial comment “The All India Services and Cadre Deputation” (EPW, 29 January 2022), in which she has expressed her apprehension about the implications on federal governance should the proposed amendment on deputation and transfer rules for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and other All India Services (AIS) officers officers by the Government of India (GoI) is carried out. Treading a stereotypical understanding of the IAS and Indian Police Service as the so-called steel frame of India, she observes that “the indispensability of these services cannot be denied as they bind the administrative functioning of a diverse and vast country like India into an integrated whole.” Her presumption is that the so-called cadre changes mooted by the central government will erode the autonomy of the states as the central government will call the shots in dealing with the transfer and posting of the IAS officers. In the process, the independence, security, and the overall morale of the AIS, particularly the IAS, will be affected adversely. My brief response here would focus on how our understanding of the nature of the political role inherited by the IAS and the persistence of its dominant position will remain unaffected despite the changes being proposed by the GoI in the IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1956.

The IAS, as an institution, is essentially what David C Potter has described as India’s political administrators in his book, India’s Political Administrators: From ICS to IAS (1997). In fact, its dominant position in the governance of India since the colonial period stems from its critical political role that goes beyond taking policy decisions and implementing and coordinating tasks with the elected politicians. In fact, numerous autobiographies of the IAS officers describing the critical dependence of ministers and elected political leaders on them, committees on administrative reforms like the First and Second Administrative Reforms Commissions, and enquiry reports such as the Vohra Committee report (1993) and court judgments have all buttressed Potter’s findings about the deeply political nature, role, and function of the IAS officers. Contrary to the popular assumption that liberalisation and privatisation will erode its critical importance, the IAS has rather benefited from such changes by massively expanding its role as a regulator by way of granting favours, concessions, relaxation of rules governing approvals, steering public–private partnerships, special purpose vehicles, special economic zones in the changed political economy, etc. Members of the IAS have reinvented themselves as the new avatars of heralding pro-business rather than pro-market economic reforms that have disquieting implications on democracy as noted by Atul Kohli in Economic & Political Weekly (2006).

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Updated On : 22nd Mar, 2022
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