Judges and civil servants provide public service. Let us break down the phrase ‘public service’ to its basic essence. Public service is about serving the public, and so the public interest ought to be the one and only determinant in these services. Public service is not a mechanism to give varied types of work experience to public servants or to foster unity in the Indian Union or any such other aim. When these and other extraneous factors become primary determinants in “public service”, then the whole idea of public service stands abused. It then becomes a mechanism to serve vested interests in the name of the public. The public ends up serving public servants. Nowhere is this truer than in the way that all-India services operate.
Recently, the Union government floated the idea of an All India Judicial Service wherein judges would be recruited for courts all over the Indian Union much akin to the IAS system. This is aimed to replace the specific existing practices that exist in the different states and high courts. This will be a significant mechanism of Delhi control over the judiciary and will affect the independence of courts everywhere. Moreover, such a service completely negates the importance of specific local knowledge and understanding of conditions that is crucial to dispensing justice in any system. No wonder: bar associations and lawyers’ organisations all over the Indian Union have vehemently opposed this All India Judicial Service idea.
What is the need for a cadre recruited on an all-India basis overseeing bureaucratic matters that are in the concurrent and state list?
Let us consider an example as to why all this ‘all-India’ business is incompatible with the diverse federation that is the Indian Union. Recently, in a lower court in West Bengal, a judge from a Hindi-speaking state commented on the religion of the senior advocate on a case. The lawyers of all religions protested this immediately. This is not the culture of West Bengal. In West Bengal, this is not done and the tradition of anti-communalism is very strong. However, it is well known that in many local courts of UP and Bihar, where communal polarisation has a strong social base, many Muslim advocates actually send out a Hindi advocate to appear in court on a case so that the religion of the advocate on the case does not affect the outcome of the trial. This is unthinkable in West Bengal. Now if people with such prejudices are recruited from anywhere and everywhere and they occupy judicial positions in states where communalism is frowned upon, this will vitiate the atmosphere. There is a need to preserve what good exists in the system. Such all-India formulae of any kind bring in rank outsiders without basic cultural literacy of the area of their jurisdiction. This will even compound problems further as these people in most cases will not know the social realities of the state or the language of the state. Madras and Calcutta High courts do not allow Tamil or Bangla for court proceedings but the Allahabad High Court allows Hindi. This inequality exists. All-India services will undermine local language and customs even further and thus increase the gulf between the justice seeker and the process of justice.
This problem already exists in a very bad way when it comes to banking officers. People are recruited through all-India mechanisms. They are not posted according to their proficiency in the language of the state they are posted. Thus we have many bank clerks, managers and officers who simply do not know the customer’s language. What kind of public service is this? Is it not the right of a Tamil in Tamil Nadu to have all services in Tamil and be understood by the banking institutions when he/she interfaces with it? Again, the culprit is an all-India system of recruitment. A state-based system with the pre-condition of knowing the primary language of a state will be much more people friendly.
The same goes for security forces, particularly BSF, CISF and CRPF postings all over the Indian Union. These all-India services post security personnel in areas with people whose languages they don’t speak and they don’t understand. When men with guns don’t understand what you say, then the situation is as disastrous: as any BSF-patrolled area in Assam or West Bengal will attest. Locals dread the BSF. Cultural and linguistic aliens lord over the border regions, they bark orders and frisk people at airports in Hindi and this creates huge alienation between these forces and the people. Is it too much to ask that, at the very least, those who know the language of a state and are natives of a state be posted in a state in non-war times? The Indian Union is not officially at war. Why this system, then, of posting Haryanvis in Kolkata’s airport and Bhojpuris in West Bengal’s border while the Bengalis are posted in a scattered manner in other places? What is wrong in creating state specific recruitment for military and paramilitary forces, where state domicile and competency in the primary language of a state are pre-conditions? All this can be tied at the top under a central command but the service itself becomes decentralised, efficient and people-friendly. Moreover, this will ensure that every state will get their share in the number of jobs of these services that are allotted to the state. This sort of approach creates harmony. When people speaking a certain language and originating from certain states are overrepresented in all states in sensitive professions such these, it is a formula for discontent and disharmony. This is also a colonial policy where the military and paramilitary were an external occupation force. A close relationship with the people was frowned upon. Thus Gurkhas were posted in Nagaland, Nagas were posted in Chattisgarh and so on. Why should a deconolonised entity like the Indian Union follow such a colonial policy? Naga members of the Indian Army with their close relationship with the people of Nagaland getting their postings in Nagaland – that should be the ideal. That is, if the people come first, not some other vested interest.
The biggest problem in this regard comes from the elite all-India service of IAS and IPS. What is the need for a cadre recruited on an all-India basis overseeing bureaucratic matters that are in the concurrent and state list? Can state governments trust such folks as the Indian Union enters a phase where Delhi is hell-bent on completely curbing state rights? To understand that, it is important that we look at the colonial origins of the IAS. We must remember that the institutional father of the Indian Army is the British Indian Army. Only then we can put into greater context what ‘our’ men do in Kashmir. The Indian Administrative Service’s (IAS) father was called the Imperial Civil Service. The ‘I’ in the Imperial shows it to be alive and kicking in these ‘I=Indian’ times. A ridiculous situation exists where functions of the state and concurrent list, which constitutionally belong to the state and not to the Centre, are largely staffed by IAS officers deputed from Delhi. Every state is thus ruled, de facto, by these Delhi-deputed folks.
While there is no dearth of accomplished people in every state’s civil services, it is by design that the primary administrators in all of the states are deputed from Delhi: Bachelor-degree high-dowry young people who often don’t know the local language, culture or aspirations and so end up aligned with Delhi’s power centres rather than with the people. It is time to ask: why the people of the states – states with dignity, states with ability – need Delhi’s handpicked people to administer affairs on our behalf, even for issues that are completely our business and not Delhi’s?
The Indian Union is a federal union. In a true federal union, states manage their affairs. There is no reason why there should be any IAS officer in any job that falls within the ambit of the state list or concurrent list, as described in the Indian Union. The administrative set-up in the Indian Union needs urgent reform upholding the principles of democratic federalism. Administrators speaking Hindi, Marathi, Bangla, Tamil, Kannada can manage their affairs in their respective regions as they have done for centuries before the Union was commissioned by the constituent assembly, apparently for public service. This diverse public needs public institutions and public servants who represent this diversity by being socio-culturally rooted in the regions they serve.
Garga Chatterjee is a Kolkata-based commentator on South Asian politics and culture. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a member of faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. He blogs at hajarduari.wordpress.com