13 Jun

End the IAS : Is it a solution?

Posts in this series
  1. End the IAS : Is it a solution?
  2. End the IAS : Part II

“By whatever constitution India may be ruled, no government will be able to ‘do without District Officer”

– (Simon Commission Report, 1928)

“End the IAS”

– Mihir S Sharma

This article is a searching response to another article by Sharma that said that the IAS must go. The article appeared on June 5, 2015, in Business Standard.





The IAS is akin to the top management of an impossibly large and complex entity called India. Every large and complex entity needs administration without which it would return to chaos, the natural state of things. This administration is provided by a system that may vary in shape and complexity depending upon the master it must serve. Easier to manage societies like pastoral and tribal societies require fewer people to manage, and fewer laws and rules to guide their day to day life. Life being simple, the structure around life is simple. The inherent Brownian motion in society would create more complex systems as populations grow. Life now being complex, the structures around life would be complex.

This administration is normally called bureaucracy. Weber, one of the founders of modern sociology, was one of the foremost thinkers on bureaucracy:

“[His] interest in the nature of power and authority, as well as his pervasive preoccupation with modern trends of rationalization, led him to concern himself with the operation of modern large-scale enterprises in the political, administrative, and economic realm. Bureaucratic coordination of activities, he argued, is the distinctive mark of the modern era. Bureaucracies are organized according to rational principles. Offices are ranked in a hierarchical order and their operations are characterized by impersonal rules. Incumbents are governed by methodical allocation of areas of jurisdiction and delimited spheres of duty. Appointments are made according to specialized qualifications rather than ascriptive criteria. This bureaucratic coordination of the actions of large numbers of people has become the dominant structural feature of modern forms of organization. Only through this organizational device has large- scale planning, both for the modern state and the modern economy, become possible. Only through it could heads of state mobilize and centralize resources of political power, which in feudal times, for example, had been dispersed in a variety of centers. Only with its aid could economic resources be mobilized, which lay fallow in pre-modern times.

– http://www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/weber12.html

Weber’s model of bureaucracy was essentially based around six principles, all of which are still valid today.  Of course, Weber was not the only thinker to either analyse bureaucracy or to define it. But let’s keep this discussion less theoretical and more practical.

Thus, when Sharma says ‘end the IAS’, one answer could be – yes, by all means do that. But whatever replacement you have in mind, would be another bureaucracy. You may call it management, managerial ring, cloud nine, abra cadabra, or what you will. It will still remain a bureaucracy. Of course, one can devise the new bureaucracy differently. One can change this bit and that bit. But it would still retain its DNA as a bureaucracy. Talking of change, cannot the present system be changed? Of course it can, it has and it does! The only unchanging thing is the fire in the hell, they tell me. Without again turning this into another history lesson, the post of the Collector or its equivalent have seen changes in power, responsibilities and mandate constantly before independence. Post independence, the whole civil service changed, starting from the name itself (from ICS to IAS), the colour of the skin of the men and women manning (womanning?!) the service, bosses (from Queen to the President, certainly a change of sex as we mostly have male Presidents), language of official discourse (from purely English to English mixed with vernaculars), attitude (from colonial to democratic) and others. The list of the statutes that name the Collector, or more recently, the Deputy Commissioner, is myriad. With each such naming, the Collector and others are statutorily required to take on new responsibilities. Were there any other such office on which such responsibilities could be bestowed, they would have been. So long as we have nation states, we would have someone heading them. So long as we have lesser units like our states, we would have someone heading them. So long as there are districts, we would have someone heading them. So long as we have sub-divisions, we would have someone heading them. So long as we have villages and towns, we would have someone heading them. Oh, lest I forget, so long as there are companies, we would have someone heading them too. The cobbler shop, the restaurant, the school, the hospital, the everything – leadership is required at every level that must be provided by someone or something (although I am not sure Artificial Intelligence will be given leadership positions within the next fifty years).

So yes, the IAS may be banned theoretically, but it would be replaced by its doppelganger.

But only theoretically. “The services known at the commencement of this Constitution as the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service shall be deemed to be services created by Parliament under this article”, so says Article 312(2). Articles are the provisions of the constitution, and they are of two types – those that can be amended/deleted, and those that cannot be amended/deleted, as they fall foul of the basic structure of our constitution. Evolving from earlier, the doctrine of basic structure was robustly threshed out in the Keshavananda Bharti case, and the federal structure of the constitution is universally agreed to be part of this. I am not sure if the Supreme Court has specifically enunciated if the IAS and IPS are part of basic structure, but they are part of the very fabric of the federal character of our nation – and the federal character is a basic structure. As we saw earlier, a provision that is part of the basic structure, cannot be amended/deleted.

So, the legal situation is this. Firstly, IAS and IPS are constitutional services, and hence sacrosanct. It is not impossible but difficult to amend the constitution. Very difficult. But stop. IAS may also be part of the basic structure (I am just saying maybe) of our constitution, and that CANNOT be amended (again that is not entirely true. You would need to pack up half the judges of the Supreme Court and tell them to say that the federal structure is not part of the basic structure, and if they say so, lo and behold, it is no more a basic structure. Then you can amend the constitution in the normal way, which as we saw earlier, is not a very easy thing to do).

Thus, if Sharma is to ban the IAS, he will have a few legal hurdles to cross. But let’s be romantic, and not be bound by the mores of fallible men. The history of mankind is a jamboree of the unthinkable. The Arab Spring of 2010 and thereafter saw the socio-political foundations of more than a dozen countries cast asunder by tidal waves of emotions in the hearts of the young and the restless.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven! (Wordsworth)
I want to be young. The funny thing about our constitution is that it still harbours many provisions that the Supreme Court has already termed unconstitutional! Sample Article 368(5) that says “For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that there shall be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal the provisions of this Constitution under this article”. The legislature, in its constituent role, can make any change, any provision in the constitution – including the very amending article (368) itself! Or so it wishes. The Supreme Court says, cool down – you cannot make or unmake anything.
But the constitution itself is a historical document. It was born in a context. It is not even very old, and already pockmarked with a hundred changes. One can think of a time when this constitution goes and another comes. Pakistan already is having its third constitution post-independence. The famed unwritten constitution of England is mostly documented. It has a Supreme Court it did not have earlier. Nations come and nations go. It is a haughty man that thinks that anything created by man cannot be undone. Or that man and mankind itself cannot be undone. There are more things in heaven and earth, dear men of law,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Sharma is right. The IAS can end, damn the legal hurdles.
But why should it end?