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Civil rights

Author: Shyamlal Yadav
Publication: India Today
Date: June 1, 2009
URL: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&Itemid=1&task=view&id=43488&sectionid=36&issueid=107&latn=2

Introduction: More women. More recruits from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. India's public servants are becoming more like the public.

If Britain's World War I prime minister David Lloyd George were to examine the steel frame that the Indian Civil Service was supposed to be, he probably wouldn't recognise it. It's more like clay now, moulding itself to the shape of an emerging India. An India of caste mobility, an India of female empowerment and an India of affirmative action. If in 2000, the number of women selected was 59, in 2008, it had risen to 166. If in 2000, the number of OBC students was 61, it was 236 in 2008, largely because of quotas introduced in 1993.

It was the same story of growth in the number of representatives from SCs and STs, from 25 to 130 and 14 to 61 respectively. The democratisation of aspirations and the accessibility of inspiration is reflected in yet another figure. While 3.27 lakh students applied for the exam in 2007, only 1.61 lakh took it and only 638 were selected finally. In 2008, all of 3.18 lakh students applied but 1.67 lakh appeared in the exam and 791 were picked up when the results were declared in May. Just compare that with 2002, when 1.16 lakh students appeared in the exam and only 457 finally made it.

It is a test of will, determination and courage, spanning almost a year of three exams: prelims, mains and the personality test. The Government of India doesn't allow everyone the privilege of running it. In recent years, that privilege has been going to a broader class of people. It is reflected in the language that students use to write the exam. If in 2000 the number of candidates who opted for Hindi as their medium was only 16, it went up to 32 last year. It's also a result of a more market-driven economy which allows urban students the luxury of many more options than their rural cousins.

As the economic meltdown burns more fat cats and the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations make public service a more profitable enterprise, this trend will increase. Akashdeep Chakraborty, an Indian Postal Service officer who has been course coordinator at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, for the past four years, says a more inclusive civil service has shown that merit is no longer confined to those educated in English medium schools. "The language which today the recruits choose varies from Hindi to Punjabi to Tamil to Oriya," he says.

Just take this year's top three recruits. IIT Roorkee graduate Shubhra Saxena gave up a four-year-old job in a software firm and took the exam in English; Sharandeep Kaur, a well-off farmer's daughter from Bathinda, took it in Punjabi; and Kiran Kaushal, a Chhattisgarh Public Service official from Raipur, chose Hindi. They are no longer a curious minority. Of the 791 recruits to the civil services, 166 are women and 10 of them are in the top 25.

Currently, the total number of IAS officers in the country is 4,538 and out of that 609 are women officers. As prime minister Manmohan Singh said last year, the poor and the underprivileged complain the government is biased, business believes it is intrusive and the middle class insists it is corrupt. That may well be so. But a large part of India believes it is a marvellous meritocracy. Five achievers show how.

The New Bureaucrat

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