Life is a shade of grey and that of an IAS officer is no exception. He works in a hierarchical system and his ascendance up the ladder is dependant inter alia on his performance appraisal reports by successive Bosses, a vestige of the Westminster system. “He is technically sound, but socially impossible” is an oft quoted adverse ACR from the British civil service records, sufficient to drown an officer’s aspirations. I recall a dubious Indian version- “The officer is industrious, but tends to avoid responsibility”, which could guillotine one’s career progression with a stroke of pen. Obviously, the number of Lickers and Kickers is on the rise, the ones who master the art of licking up and kicking down.
IAS offers a platform to work in a leadership position in a variety of arena- from district administration to municipal authorities to the Secretariat. However, right at the beginning of your service the allotment of cadre plays a crucial role in the size of arena you get to play on. Small states like Tripura are no match for larger ones like Maharashtra in terms of job diversity and depth and this is a source of much heartburn for Officers going to the smaller states, unless one’s belief in karma is absolute.
The very nature of IAS is so intertwined with the life of a common man that political interface becomes inevitable. Given the distortions prevalent in today’s political economy, political interference and patronage is quite common in areas ranging from transfers ( Eg. postings of teachers in primary schools ) to award of contracts and licences ( Eg. Gun licences are much coveted in the North ) to regulatory enforcement( Eg. removal of encroachments on Govt. land ) which makes an officer in the field susceptible to frequent transfers. It is said that transfer is no punishment and that may be true technically, but in real terms it does take a toll on your family life and also the general morale of the administration.
On a personal front, I remember being transferred to three districts with two secretariat assignments thrown in between within a span of one and a half years. Now, that was an unusual period of instability in U.P. in the nineties, but the fact remains that this phenomenon is something all officers have to live with, albeit to different extent in different states. The silver lining in my case was that in my fourth district, which was the salubrious Nainital, I finally managed to complete two years of tenure. Maybe I am able to write more illustratively on this aspect after my retirement.
How do you tackle media , particularly the vernacular- both print and electronic, without compromising on your integrity , is a fast emerging challenge to officers today. In most cases, one is able to strike a working relationship with the journalists, but instances of media seeking favours are on the rise. It is true that some officers also lay themselves open to allegations because of their style of functioning, but the fact remains that there is a growing trend of indulging in PR exercise and placating the media at all levels in the governments. This is certainly not healthy for a democracy in the long run. I know a few officers who have fallen unfair victims to media trials, which again is a cause of worry.
A posting in the Secretariat could come as a relief to some as it does insulate you from transfers, at least shifting of locations, to a great extent. Secretariat is a place which is full of files, meetings and bureaucrats – a complex eco-system of decision making, both at the state capitals and the Centre. This is real Babudom, and unless one is focussed, persuasive and perseverant with a bit of luck on one’s side, the chances of being a mouse in the clergy are significant.
The cumulative stress is bound to take its toll and conservative estimates put at least one third of IAS officers in their late forties and fifties as being afflicted with diabetes or hypertension or both. So much so that the Government of India has institutionalised stress management in the in-service training curriculum of IAS officers , including Sadhguru’s one week course at Isha Foundation, which is attracting huge footfalls.
All said and done, I conclude by saying that these dark sides of the service are like rainy days, directing us to be strong and anchored when they happen, and at the same time reminding us to make best use of the sunny days to contribute something for the society- and enjoy life in the process. Yes, the sunnies surely outnumber the rainies by a huge margin.