Tuesday, 30 April 2013

IAS as a career choice in contemporary India

 The governance system in India needs drastic improvements .We need young boys and girls who  have a mission to serve the public and build the nation  ,and have   character, integrity, competence and a strong sense of justice and impartialty.I delivered this talk to about two thousand students of classes ten , eleven and twelve of City Montessori School Lucknow on April 28,2013.What follows is  broadly what I said .
 Any goal-setting exercise is a complex one .The choice of a career is setting  a life-goal .Planning for a career is  a complicated exercise in forward planning .A person  who has entered tenth class in a school, is about 15 years old , is expected to choose a course of studies , which may ultimately lead her/him to the choice of a career . I remember "The art of choosing" by Sheena Iyengar  in this context .
                                    Do civil services offer a good career for the youth of India in 2013?Civil services are essentially public services .These are called civil to distinguish them from armed forces.Police and forest services are included in civil services, even though these are in uniform.Civil services  in India are of two types:
1.All India Services which include IAS,IPS and Indian Forest Service.
All India Judicial Service is yet to be constituted.
2.Central services like Indian Foreign Service ,Indian Revenue Service , Indian Customs and central Excise Service, Indian Railway Traffic Service , Indian Postal service , Indian Audit and accounts Service , etc.All India services are borne on/allotted to  the state cadres.They can go and serve the Central government on deputation .The central services are purely under the control of the Central government and state governments have nothing to do with them .
                            IAS  is a generalist service while all other services are specialized services.The members of the IAS hold generalist posts like those of District Magistrates/District Officers and Commissioners in the field , they occupy most of the top posts in the secretariat , both at the centre and at the States, advising the political executive on public policy and matters of public importance.
                                  Unique feature of IAS and other All India Services is that they have a constitutional status.Article 312 of the Constitution of India provides for the constitution of these services.:IAS,IPS,IForest Service.This gives these services prestige.The recruitment is done by Union Public Service Commission , which is a Constitutional body under Indian Constitution,Security of service is provided under article 311 of Indian Constitution.The predecessor of IAS was ICS , which in turn was set up by the Government of India Act of 1858.The then British Prime Minister ,David Lloyd George , speaking in the House of Commons in 1935 said:"ICS is the steel frame  on which the whole structure of government  and of administration in India rests."
                       This year (2013)UPSC has introduced some changes in the system of Civil Services Examination .A preliminary examination  in two papers (multiple choice objective type) is the first stage .This tests general knowledge and English language comprehension .The Main Examination has four papers of 250 marks each in general studies .The four papers cover:
1.History/geography of India/world.
2.Political science and International relations.
3.Economic growth/environment.
4.Public administration/Ethics,integrity and aptitude/emotional intelligence.
Number of candidates admitted to Main examination are 12-13 times the number of vacancies to be filled.
Visually impaired(40% or above impairment) are eligible for civil services .They are allowed extra 10 minutes per hour , and also a scribe .
The Main examination also has one optional subject with two papers of 250 marks each , one Essay paper of 250 marks, thus totalling 1750 marks .(1000 marks for general studies,500 marks for optional subject , and 250 marks for Essay paper.In addition , there are two qualifying papers of 300 marks each , one in English and one in an Indian Language.
Then those who  pass the main examination  appear for interview, of 275 marks .Number summoned for interview are about twice the number of vacancies to be filled.
From 2013, UPSC has decided to hold a preliminary examination for Indian Forest service also .This will be the joint examination for the civil services including the Indian Forest service .The main examination for Indian Forest Service will be held separately .
                But there are down sides of a career in  the IAS  , and these are quite serious.Some of these are:
1.Nexus with political corruption .Erosion of ethics and values.This results in doing wrong , immoral and outright illegal things including frauds , violence and encounters.Political intervention leads to acquiescence and at times , connivance.There is a culture of sycophancy stifling creativity and objectivity.
2.Lack of transparency , accountability .Discretion  leads to nepotism , partisanship and particularism.
3.Politicization and promotion of the interests of political party in power in policy formulation and implementation .
4.Poor competence building and mediocrity.Inefficient incentive system and systemic inconsistencies in promotions.
5.Frequent transfers,insecurity of tenures,alienation ,demotivation and erosion of professionalism.
If a young person wants to make money and be rich , then IAS is not the career for him or her .But if he or she wants to serve and also build the nation , then India and  the  IAS need youth with character , integrity  and competence .

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The art of Project Management

Not that I heard of  project management  for the first time .On the contrary , I have been reading literature on this subject on a regular basis .But this time , when I shared the dais with Mr. Adesh Jain Honorary National President of PMA(Project Management Associates), India in Forest Training Institute , Kanpur (India) during the inaugural session of a three day training workshop for the middle level officers of Indian Forest Service(IFS) that I realized fully that every officer in the government needs a training in project management .If done , this single step can raise the efficiency and productivity of the government  substantially.We just do not do it because of our indifference.
                               We need to get familiar with the language and vocabulary of project management  to understand it and to imbibe it in our professional life .  We need to understand the life cycle( birth to closeout) of a project .How a project is conceptualized at political and senior bureaucratic levels .How it is formulated , planned and organized.Then how it is implemented, controlled,integrated , delivered and closed out .Finally , how we learn the lessons and create knowledge.We need to develop a project mindset.We need to projectize as many activities as are amenable .
                                 Three things are crucial:Time,cost and quality.Project management teaches us the skills about time , cost and quality management. Each project has to be planned in terms of time and scheduling, by working out milestones .In addition to cost , resources , budget and cash flows need to be planned.Metrics  of quality need to be worked out .Time and scheduling management skills are :Bar charts , Critical Path Method(CPM),Crashing , Fast tracking and PERT(Programme Evaluation and Review Techniques).Time management is not just being conscious of time .We need to develop the above skills in us to complete the project within time.Cost  management skills involve being conscious of market rates in labour  and material cost .Quality management involves inspection , bench marking, Noticing defects in order of frequency or importance (Pareto Chart).A good project manager should master all these skills.
                                                                  An organizational structure to implement the project needs to be put in place .The role and accountability of project manager and the sponsor have to be spelt out .Both the project manager and the sponsor are accountable for the success of the project. An efficient project management requires management of interfaces and co-ordination among important actors.          
                                      Information system , communication system(internal and external), reporting system have to be created .The reporting system should include progress reports and variance reports.For tracking the status and resolution of issues as they arise , an Issue Log book should be maintained.     To monitor the progress , Key Performance Indicators(KPI's) and Key Project Deliverables have to be worked out and regularly watched.                              
                              Apart from skills in respect of management of time , cost and quality , a project manager must have several technical , social/behavioural and contextual competencies.Procurement and contracts management affects all three factors of  time , cost and quality , and is very critical .Incidentally , this is the weakest area in governmental sector.
                                           Closure is very important .Taking over, and  accepting  requires documentation and formal sign-off.The maintenance of assets  created by a project could lead to a separate project .
                                        Last but not the  least is management of the expectations of stakeholders.No project manager can afford to ignore the expectations of important stakeholders.
                                   We need to encourage project management  method of working in all the departments of the  governments , both at the  federal and the state level .Project management training  should be made compulsory for the promotion to next level for every government officer .This , if accepted , would require a huge infrastructure and professionals  in the training institutes .That it will give  substantial returns, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind .


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Nonstop India by Mark Tully

This 2011 book by Mark Tully(257 pages)  gives very original and authentic insights about contemporary India .It  is much better than Tully's earlier book "No Full stops " published in 1991.In this book he tells stories which leave the reader optimistic ,but at the same time  he raise the questions which make his optimism conditional .
                  Chapter one is called Red India .It deals with Naxalites .It says that the war India should be fighting to overcome the Naxalites is the war against the corruption,inefficiency, bureaucracy,and sloth,which prevents democracy functioning effectively at the grass roots and indeed at all levels of government.The solution lies in providing forest-dwellers with good governance and protection  so that the Naxalites have no where to hide.
                   Chapter two is Caste Overturned.It describes the silent revolution taking place among dalit castes.If this revolution has to gather pace rapidly ,India needs to create more jobs in non-agricultural sectors.India also needs planned creation of towns and cities so that urbanization is planned .Governance and urban planning are two major challenges which India needs to solve.
             Chapter three is on vote banking.It discusses the aftermath of Batla House incident .Interestingly but incidentally  , Tully writes about the attitude of a chief minister of UP,India about IAS(Indian Administrative Service):"She has challenged the mighty Indian Administrative Service ,or IAS, the replacement for the British Raj elite civil service cadre that was known as the country's steel frame.The IAS likes to think it should have monoply of all top government jobs and that no politician can afford to ignore it .But she did not choose an IAS officer for the key post of Cabinet secretary. . . ."The chapter also describes how ,in real political life , vote banking is practised.This practice is being resorted to nearly all the political parties , according to Tully.Not a hopeful sign indeed .
                 Chapter four is  called The Ramayana Revisited.It describes the wide spread impact of  the screening of  Hindu epic Ramayana in 78-episodes  in 1987  by late Ramanand Sagar(chief producer and script writer) on government controlled TV  broadcaster Doordarshan.It discusses the  challenge  of separating religion and politics .
                          Chapter  five  is Building Communities.True development is about activating in people a sense of duty towards their community or surroundings , and towards society.We need to build self-confident communities capable of holding the state responsible for fulfilling its responsibilities.This means changing the attitudes of the poor, not only to demand resources and power but also using the resources ethically , not breaking laws and not to steal from each other.
                      Chapter six is Farming Futures.It is about contract farming   in Punjab by Pepsico.Unless the government is there to prevent cartels and to ensure that agreements made are honoured, contract farming will not be in the farmers' interest.It also discusses  for- profit microfinance companies like SKS.It also describes growth and contribution of NGOs like Development Alternatives and its sister organization TARA(Technology and Action for Rural Development).Tully warns against imitating practices first adopted in the Western countries without adapting them to Indian  circumstances.
                    Chapter seven is The English Raj .Mark Abley believes 90 per cent of languages will be extinct by the end of this century.He described English as being the Walmart of languages, convenient ,huge ,hard to avoid, superficially friendly, and devouring all rivals in its eagerness to expand.In India , proficiency in mother tongue as well as English is equally essential.
                         Chapter eight is Entrepreneurship Unleashed.Tully chose the Tata Group to study the positive and negative sides of Indian business.He quotes J.J.Irani:"The Finance Minister has said this country won't progress until the politicians learn to say no and the civil servants to say yes." The politicians say yes to every populist demand they think will get them votes, and the civil servants tend to say no because that's less risky than saying yes.Gopalakrishnan  of Tata Sons says:"There's problem of political,civic and corporate governance.But I believe this is an inevitable part of  a maturing democracy."At last business does seem to be raising its voice against bad governance and corruption , in India.
                  Chapter nine is A Forgotten Land.It is about the North East of India, especially about Arunachal Pradesh. Development in this part of India must respect  local culture and traditional religion .
                      Chapter ten is Saving The Tiger.He writes about Tiger , Belinda Wright and Wildlife Protection Society of India.Tully is critical of the Forest Service which has bureaucratic character for whom ,keeping files in order matters more than saving the tiger.Senior Forest officers who manage reserves don't live in them.We must train forest staff in modern methods of patrolling and preventing poaching, in gathering intelligence and detecting tiger trading..Forest Service must shed its colonial past and become a modern,well-equipped, and specially trained guardian of wildlife.
                          In Non Stop India , Tully writes on ten varied topics of national importance to India , with tremendous grasp ,insight , and suggests ways forward that I find admirable .I share most of his insights and can say with utmost humility that I find them true and honest .The book has  confirmed  my beliefs  with clarity and direction .I recommend you to read it ,to get a true glimpse of contemporary India.I quote Tully's conclusion: "  But it does seem to me that the most important task for India is to reform the system,to make proper use of the institutions which are in place, and prevent the dishonest coming in the way of  the many honest men and women in those institutions, not allowing them to function as they should."

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The other side of Teams and Groups

It seems so strange to discover that I had neither thought nor read about this before.It should have been as obvious as the fact that Sun rises in the East.I  start counting the possible reasons why I did not think of it earlier .Maybe , we are all taught since childhood that  teams are good , that  it is a good thing to participate in teams and group activities , that  teams create synergy for the larger good  , that the wisdom of a collective is far higher than that of an individual , and so on .But one fine morning , I realized that there is another side to it .It relates to the question of of allocation of  responsibility among the members of a team when  the decision of  a team is questioned .Are the members of a group equally responsible?Is it possible that the responsibility is divisible unequally among members?What are the norms and rules governing legal responsibility  vis-a-vis those governing moral responsibility ?The legal responsibility is governed by Laws while the moral responsibility is discussed in philosophy .
                          Literature is very scanty on this subject and the field is wide open  for research .It has been neglected by scholars and philosophers so far , and I hope more research is done in this very important, practical area of life .Till that happens , be very careful about the words like synergy and team building .These are fine as long as going is good .But as soon as things are questioned , you begin to  think what prompted you accept the membership of the group , team or committee in the first place .
              Recently I read one excellent book called "Individuals, Groups and shared Moral Responsibility" by Gregory Mellema.It is 214 pages  , published by Peter Lang Publishing,Inc.,New York in 1988.I quote him:" Among those employed by formal organizations is experienced a great deal of uncertainty as to the moral status of their participation in group actions.When decisions are made by groups or committees, when these decisions are implemented  by the cooperative activity of  several people, or when representatives from different organizations  jointly design policy , questions about the ascription of responsibility frequently arise.These questions are not always raised in an overt fashion.  ;sometimes individuals simply wonder to what extent they bear responsibility  for what happens.But these are questions of considerable importance , questions which deserve to be considered not only by philosophers but by those in fields such as organizational behavior,sociology.communications, and anthropology."This book has given me a completely new  and unexplored view about the working of teams and committees.I strongly recommend you to read this book , especially if you are working in Government or large corporate or public sector corporation.
                           Policy decisions in both the public and private sectors are increasingly designed and implemented by groups of individuals.Recommendations are made by committees and their presentation , approval and implementation is also done by committees. Within  a committee, there could be  hierarchies , seniorities and pressures. Which factors affect the degree to which an individual bears responsibility when the responsibility is shared with others.There are at least four factors:
1.The agent's motive
2.The agent's contributing action
3.The corcumstances surrounding the performance of the contributing action .
4.The degree of risk one knowingly takes that the outcome will occur.It can be intention , recklessness and negligence.
Sharing responsibility does not mean that agents are equally responsible.It is  also not clear whether responsibility is borne by each and every individual employee of the organization .
           If a group recommends , is it responsible for the final outcome , or is it the group which approved it , or is it the group which implemented it?What is a contributing action?Is it to make some recommendation , or is it  also the same if an agent remains silent and let others decide?Is deliberate  inaction also  a contributing action?If there are distinct meetings, does each meeting become a distinct action leading to 
to final action?Does an unwilling participant have the same responsibility as a willing participant?Does it make a difference in responsibility  if an agent has a power to veto , and another agent does not have power to veto?Is the responsibility of an agent more if he presents and promotes the recommendation?A contributing action need not always be  a causal contribution.
    The person in charge  is particularly responsible. We assume that the choice is free, but is each agent really free to express views?
When a person is nominated as a member of a committee,he acts as a representative of his organization/department and can  contribute views which are to be regarded as the department's  views.it is important to distinguish between the acts of individuals in their official capacity and in their private capacity.
Were the rules of the game properly observed?
Was there any prior planning?
Ethical dilutionism is a view that the degree of an individual's moral responsibility for a state of affairs is lessened or diminished by the fact that others in the group are responsible  for the same state of affairs.Many Philosophers including Mellema do not agree with ethical dilutionism.
Responsibility  with respect to outcome and with respect to the decision to participate are different.
Very little has been said of the social dynamics of participating in group actions and their impact upon the manner in which the members of the group come to share responsibility for what happens.
When we see the actual working of a committee in a government in India , we find the committees  broadly agreeing with the views of the  chair person .There is rare scope of dissent, or even a different view.The decision making represents the power structure in the composition of the committees.But when the recommendations , decisions , approvals and implementation are questioned , responsibility is sought to be attributed equally.In such a scenario, it  is important to reflect carefully before agreeing to become a member of a committee.If one does become a member of a committee, one must be clear about one's role  and express boldly  and get recorded one's views .This presumes an open system for free and frank discussion , which alas is quite infrequent.Till this happens , there is a need to have a fresh look at the way we allocate and distribute responsibility among members of the committee , group or team .This is the other side of  working in teams.