Formulate comprehensive policy to stop stubble burning: NGT

The Punjab government had earlier faced the wrath of the tribunal for not taking effective steps to provide financial assistance and infrastructure facility to the farmers to encourage them not to burn agricultural residue.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday directed Delhi and four northern states to formulate a comprehensive policy for providing incentives and infrastructural assistance to farmers to stop them from burning crop residue to prevent air pollution.

The green panel directed the chief secretaries of the Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh governments to file a detailed affidavit enumerating their action plan and compliance of its orders on the mechanism for the collection and storage of crop residue.

A bench headed by Justice Jawad Rahim ordered the state governments to submit the action plan in two weeks and warned that in case of default, it would summon the chief secretaries of these states.

“You (state governments) may have joined 2-3 states together but we require action plans for each state about how you are planning to deal with the matter, (which should be) signed by the chief secretary of each state. The schemes must contain the incentives that you are offering so that we can take further action,” the bench observed.

The tribunal rapped the Delhi and Rajasthan governments after they told the bench that they were examining the issue and sought time for filing the action plan.

The NGT said the state governments are under obligation to identify the sites in each district for removal, collection and storage of crop residue for further utilisation but there has been no “concrete” development in the matter.

“It is regrettable that no responsible statement is being made except seeking instructions,” the bench said and posted the matter for further hearing on March 13.

The Punjab and Haryana governments had told the tribunal that there were few plants for palletisation of crop residue, and they could promote this mechanism through private participation if the National Thermal Power Corporation gave a commitment with viable rates and long-term buy-back arrangements.

The tribunal had asked the state governments to give the description of these sites in their areas along with their capacity and the modes of utilisation of the crop residue generated in the fields.

The Punjab government had earlier faced the wrath of the tribunal for not taking effective steps to provide financial assistance and infrastructure facility to the farmers to encourage them not to burn agricultural residue in their fields.

The green panel had said that two years had elapsed since its verdict in the Vikrant Tongad case, in which it had passed a slew of directions to stop crop burning, but the state government had shown a lethargic approach.

It had said the Punjab government had also failed to tie up with any company, private or public, which could utilise the crop residue.

The tribunal had directed the Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh governments to convene a meeting to work out a clear mechanism on transportation and use of stubble as fuel in power plants.


Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana

Pradhan MantriAwas Yojana (PMAY) targets to provide Housing for All (H4A) by 2022. PMAY targets the poor and marginalized population but ignores the plights of migrant workers in Indian cities who are living in nightmarish conditions.
  • Migrants do not have proper domicile certificate in the city that devoid them from the H4A and other beneficial schemes for ration, water, sanitation and cooking fuel.
  • Poor financial conditions force these workers to stay in non-fit for living conditions like inside factory environment near the machines, below flyovers, on open space etc. They face the constant threat of eviction and confiscation of their meager assets.
  • Migrant labour is the highest victims of road accidents.
  • They are exposed to squalor and disease. 5) Migrant labourers work irregular and insecure jobs, involving long hours for low wages, in an unsafe workplace. Need of the hour: 1) The beneficiary of H4A should be need-based not the domicile based. A migrant spending 6-10 months of a year in the city should be included in such schemes. 2) Temporary homes with sanitation and drinking water facilities should be available throughout the year for migrants.

H4A will remain rhetoric and India’s urban housing crisis will only aggravate further if the government fails to listen to the needs of the migrant population.


Indian Forest Services 2017 results declared

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UPPSC revamps PCS exam pattern

Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission(UPPSC) has completely revamped the Provincial Civil Services-2018 exam on the pattern of Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). 

The decision comes as a big relief for the aspiring deputy collectors who had to prepare for PCS and UPSC exams separately. 

The notification for the exams is expected to be released by April end. 

There are three stages in the PCS exams — prelims, mains and interviews. UPPSC has revamped all three. 

Secretary, UPPSC, Jagdish, said: “For the first time, minus marking will be introduced at the prelims stage. At least 1/3rd of the total marks will be deducted for every wrong answer.”Amendments have also been made in mains exam. 

“Presently, there are two optional subjects in the mains but from PCS (mains)-2018, there will be only one optional paper. The total marks will also change accordingly, but the details regarding syllabus will be available only after the release of notification,” said Jagdish. 

The Commission would also change the pattern of interview. “Till date we were conducting interviews of 200 marks, but from this year it will of 100 marks only. Candidates are advised to prepare for the exams accordingly,” he said, adding that the Commission has made the changes in line with the UPPSC. 


The dire state of our health


Measuring the status of health of a state or a country is a complex process. Not only because it is something that is extremely difficult to model and needs reliable data from diverse areas, but also because states are so different from each other historically, geographically, economically and disease-burden wise. Possibly, because of the challenges in creating such a document, there was no grading document prior to 2014.
Notwithstanding such challenges, the government went ahead not only in making such a document but also linked a part of the central funding on healthcare to the index. Currently 10% of the government’s health funding under the National Health Mission is linked to this index to reward the better performing states. Soon it will be raised to 20% and the World Bank, too, could factor the health index while deciding on health project funding to states.
Irrespective of its shortcomings, the NITI Aayog’s just-released 2015-16 health index – titled Healthy States, Progressive India – can serve as an instrument to nudge the states and Union Territories to put greater focus on outcome-based measurement of their performance in health sector.
“It is driven by a good spirit and will spur healthy competition among states,” said Vinod K Paul, a former professor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, and a member of NITI Aayog.
To prepare the index, states were asked to submit data on 23 indicators belonging to three domains – key outcomes, governance and information, and key inputs or processes. An additional dataset on out-of-pocket expenditure was added later for the reference year (2015-16) though it was not there in the 2014-15 index.
On health outcomes, data on factors like still-birth rate, neonatal mortality, under-five mortality, maternal mortality, low birth weight, immunisation coverage, successful treatment of TB and the proportion of HIV positive people getting the anti-retroviral therapy were fed to the model.
The second subset of data have information on the manpower scenario at every level in the healthcare network whereas in the third category information was collected on things like functional cardiac care units, integrated disease surveillance programme, primary health care centres operating round the clock and public health facilities with quality certifications. The data was subsequently validated and fed into a statistical model to generate the index.
Large states – 21 of them according to the index – were compared on all the indicators. But the performance of smaller states (8) were examined on 19 of these indicators. For seven UTs, only 18 indicators were selected for the evaluation. States were ranked on the basis of their overall performance as well as on incremental advances or how much they improved from the last ranking.
Among the larger states, Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu ranked on top in terms of overall performance while Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh are the best three on the scale of incremental performance. The latter three states showed the maximum gains in improvement of health outcomes from the 2014-15 report on neonatal mortality rate, under-five mortality rate, full immunisation coverage, institutional deliveries and HIV positive people getting the therapy.
Among smaller states, Mizoram ranked first, followed by Manipur, on overall performance whereas Manipur and Goa took the top slots on incremental performance. Among UTs, Lakshadweep won on both counts.
Karnataka found a place among those six states that showed a decline in their incremental health performance. The case is somewhat similar to Kerala, which ranked number one on overall performance but fared the worst in the incremental change index because having already achieved a low level of neonatal mortality, under-five mortality and replacement level fertility, there is limited space for further improvement.
The common challenge for such states is to fill up vacancies in staff positions, set up functional cardiac care units, quality accreditation of public health facilities and improving human resource management information system.
One sordid fact brought out by the index is most of the states’ failure to improve the sex ratio at birth, suggesting continuation of illegal sex selection practice. Karnataka is one of the nine states that witnessed a drop of 10 points (950 girls in 2012-14 and 939 in 2013-15, against 1,000 boys) in the sex ratio at birth. Other guilty states are Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Haryana. The only three states that recorded improvement are Bihar, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
Treatment of tuberculosis – India’s biggest public health worry – is another problem area for Karnataka. The National Health Policy, 2017, establishes a target of more than 85% success in TB treatment. Karnataka and Maharashtra are the only two large states that failed to meet that target. Karnataka’s case notification on TB is also one of the poorest among the states.
Another mark of success is to have functional cardiac care units (CCU) at the district level. Six large states – Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Telangana, UP and Uttarakhand – don’t have a single functional unit; 3% of districts in Odisha (30 districts) and Chhattishgarh (27) have such a unit. Among the small states, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Tripura don’t have a single functional CCU at the district level.
Despite its limitations (such as its failure to capture the rapid rise of non-communicable diseases in India), the health index is an important document on the individual state’s performance. But it should not be seen in isolation. The states’ performance in healthcare should ideally be examined along with the state-level disease burden data that illustrates how wide the gap in disease burden among states (some cases almost twice) and how the burden due to the leading diseases ranges 5-10 times between the states.
Given such variations between states on disease burden and health performance, the big question is whether it is the right time to introduce the National Health Protection Scheme that seeks to offer health insurance for 10 crore Indian families?


In UPSC civil services 2018, age relaxation for J&K candidates to continue

The Union government has decided to extend the age relaxation to the candidates belonging to Jammu and Kashmir appearing in the civil services exam conducted by the UPSC. The state’s Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had raised a concern of withdrawal of this relaxation a few days back.
The upper age limit for general category is 32 and for reserved category, there is age relaxation as per the category. It is five years for SC/ ST, three years for OBC and Defence Services Personnel, disabled in operations categories and so on. Candidates from Jammu and Kashmir have been receiving age relaxation, however, the UPSC in its CSE 2018 notification has removed age relaxation.
On Thursday, the commission amended it’s February 9 notification giving up to a maximum of five years relaxation to a candidate who “ordinarily been domiciled in the State of Jammu and Kashmir during the period from the 1st day of January 1980 to the 31st day of December 1989.”
The leader of opposition in the J-K Assembly Omar Abdullah had last week demanded the government to seek enhancement from the centre for relaxation in the upper age limit of the state’s youth appearing for UPSC. The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said the special dispensation, giving relaxation of five years in upper age limit in central services examinations, to students of J-K since 1995 should be revoked.
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India’s Research Framework (GS 2 ,Higher education,GS 3 Sci and Tech ,UPSC)

What is the issue?
  • India’s significance is rising on the world science research stage but it is also facing issues that is undermining the research ecosystem.
What are the positives?
  • UNESCO Science Report 2015 has pointed out that India has become a hub for low cost innovation.
  • India has continued building its capacity in low cost engineering.
  • Such an approach has helped in making products affordable to the masses and has also enhanced its export profile.
  • th in terms of the number of patents filed by residents and non-residents domestically.
  • The top 6 countries are China, US, Japan, South Korea, EU, Germany.
  • But notably, patents have grown much faster with income in countries like China, Korea, and Japan.
  • In terms of scientific output per dollar spent on research puts India on par with the best in the world.
  • This suggests that India is an innovation hub, at least in pharmaceuticals, computer software and automobiles, where the private sector is in lead.
What are the concerns?
  • The Indian share in the number of patents sealed in India has fallen from 40% in 2001-02 to 15% in 2015-16.
  • Meanwhile, the number of patents granted by the US Patent Office to Indian applicants has been on the rise, most of them being MNCs.
  • This raises questions whether FDI has led to technology assimilation in India, something that China managed to ensure over the last three decades.
  • On technology transfer, there is a lack of coordination between science and technology policy and the Make in India policy.
  • While the private sector seems to have a clear roadmap for the researches it undertakes, the state needs better targeting for its work.
  • Indigenous technology development has been sparse except in strategic areas such as space, atomic energy and missiles.
  • Electronics import which accounts for above $40 billion annually is a measure of a lack of technological self-sufficiency.
  • India produced only 15,300 PhDs in science, engineering and medicine fields which is only one-fifth of what china and US did.
  • There is contestations that fellowship stipend is also being cut, which dissuades researchers apart from starving critical projects off funds.
  • Another issue is the unduly prioritising certain niche domains like traditional medicine over other domains of research.
  • What is the weakness in our education sector?
    • Quality of research has to catch up with ideas that relate to larger issues in science or society, which has proven difficult.
    • The difficulty is primarily due to the weaknesses in our educational framework, which is more accentuated in the science stream.
    • The university system is in near collapse, due to the dismal state of humanities, and with it the lack of the crucial inter-disciplinary ambience.
    • As teaching has largely come to be perceived as a distraction to research, there has been a constant push of talent out of classrooms.
    • These attitudes, along with the fact that large grants has been flowing to projects that promise technological outcomes, basic research has suffered.  
    • Government has constituted “Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research” (IISERs) for reviving an inter-disciplinary approach.
    • Solar Cities Scheme (GS 3,Infrastructure ,UPSC IAS Mains )

      “Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises .60 Solar Cities to be developed across country; More than Rs 100 cr. funds sanctioned so far “
      Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) under its “Development of Solar Cities” scheme has sanctioned development of 60 Solar Cities including 13 Pilot and 5 Model Cities up to 12th Five-year Plan period (2012–2017). So far, master plans of 49 Solar Cities have been prepared. Moreover, Stake-holders Committees have been constituted in 21 Cities and Solar City Cells have been created in 37 Solar Cities.

      Development of Solar Cities scheme

      The Scheme aims at reducing minimum 10% in projected demand of conventional energy at end of five years, through combination of enhancing supply from renewable energy sources in city and energy efficiency measures. Under it, local Governments are motivated for adopting renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures.
      Solar City developed under this scheme will have all types of renewable energy based projects like solar, wind, biomass, small hydro, waste to energy etc. It may be installed along with possible energy efficiency measures depending on the need and resource availability in the city.

      Objectives of Solar City Scheme

      • Enable and empower Urban Local Governments (ULBs) to address energy challenges at City-level.
      • Provide framework and support to prepare Master Plan including assessment of current energy situation, future demand and action plans.
      • Oversee the implementation of sustainable energy options through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
      • Build capacity in ULBs and create awareness among all sections of civil society.
      • Involve various stakeholders in the planning process.


    SC Verdict in Cauvery River Water Dispute (GS 2,UPSC IAS Mains,Polity)

    Why in news?
    The Supreme Court has pronounced its verdict on the sharing of Cauvery water among Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka and Kerala.
    How did the Cauvery dispute emerge?
    • Historically, Tamil Nadu used about 602 TMC of the total yield of the river i.e. the available water in a particular year.
    • As a result, only about 138 TMC was available for Karnataka until the turn of the 20th century.
    • In 1924, Tamil Nadu built the Mettur dam across the Cauvery river.
    • Subsequently, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu signed an agreement effective for 50 years.
    • Accordingly, Tamil Nadu was allowed to expand its agricultural area by 11 lakh acres from the existing 16 lakh acres.
    • Karnataka was authorised to increase its irrigation area from 3 lakh acres to 10 lakh acres.
    • The Cauvery River thus primarily served the needs of farmers in Tamil Nadu.
    • On completing 50 years, the accord lapsed in 1974.
    • Subsequently, Karnataka claimed that the agreement restricted its ability to develop farming activities along the Cauvery basin.
    • To make up the lost ground, Karnataka attempted to expand farming activities in the Cauvery basin.
    • It started building reservoirs.
    • With this, the Cauvery river water sharing issue emerged.
    • It is now a major water sharing dispute among Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Puducherry and Kerala.
    • The dispute was adjudicated by the CWDT in 2007.
  • 419 TMC was awarded to Tamil Nadu
  • 270 TMC to Karnataka
  • 30 TMC to Kerala
  • 7 TMC to Puducherry
    • The remaining 14 TMC was reserved for environmental protection.
    • To acheive this sharing, the order stated that Karnataka must release 192 TMC of water from Biligundlu Station (inter-state dam) in normal monsoon years.
    • This should be at the rates specified by the tribunal for each month.
    • The tribunal also noted that in case the yield was less in a distress year, the allocated shares shall be proportionately reduced.
    What was the response?
    • Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka challenged the tribunal’s order.
    • Karnataka claimed 312 TMC of water as against the 270 TMC ordered by the tribunal.
    • The court reserved its order in September 2017.
    What is the present SC verdict?
    • The Court declared Cauvery a “national asset”.
    • It upheld the principle of equitable apportionment of inter-State river water among riparian States.
    • In its present verdict, the Supreme Court has thus reduced the allocation of Cauvery water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.
    • This means a reduction of 14.75 TMC quota of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu from the earlier 192 TMC as stipulated by the tribunal.
    • This change will be adjusted from the Biligundlu site.
    • Karnataka will now release only 177.25 TMC Cauvery water from Billigundlu site to Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu.
    • The SC has given the Centre 6 weeks to frame a scheme to make sure the final decisions are implemented.  
    • SC has also directed the formation of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) immediately.
    • CMB will be an inter-state forum which will work to ensure the implementation of orders of the CWDT.
    • The Board shall be under the control of the Ministry of Water Resources.
    • The members of the Board will include a Chairman, two full-time members, and representatives of the central government and each of the four states.
    • The expenses of the Board will be borne by the state governments.


    Why the drop in civil services vacancies is neither new nor alarming

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    Back in the 1990s and the early years of the present century, December was usually the month in which civil services aspirants awaited Saturdays with anticipation. In times when the internet was yet to be widely used for accessing governmental communication, aspirants usually gathered at magazine stalls to grab their copies of the weekly Employment News.
    That was the time of the year when the weekly used to publish, as it continues to do, the official notification for the civil services examination (CSE). A crucial detail that aspirants looked for was the number of vacancies advertised by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
    They had reasons to do so. The number of annual openings in the topmost bureaucratic services in the country (UPSC currently recruits for 24 such services through CSE, including the police service) had been fluctuating by the mid-90s, and plummeting significantly in the later part of the decade. The trend continued in the initial years of this century.
    The period is important in the context of something more immediate. As the UPSC issued a notification for the civil services examination 2018 last week (February 7), there has been an alarmist response to the decline in the number of vacancies over the last four years (2015-2018). While feeding off, and even reinforcing, the anxieties of aspirants, such response is flawed and problematic on various counts.
    One such response came from journalist Ravish Kumar (Executive Editor, NDTV India). In a social media post laced with his melancholic sense of sarcasm, he sought to link the obvious fact of fall in vacancies in recent years to a range of unrelated issues and an alarmist lament.
    That not only misdirects and muddles up the larger discourse on unemployment but also reveals a rather naive understanding about the very nature of civil services recruitment, pattern of vacancies over a longer period and factors shaping it.
    More significantly, such responses are oblivious to the real issue of reforms in hiring public administrators in India.
    First, it would be interesting to have a longer time-frame, say the last 25 years, to analyse the data on vacancies filled in or advertised by the UPSC for civil services. A period of 1994-2018 would be useful, as it covers central governments run by different parties and coalitions (five in the period and six prime ministers heading them).
    (Source: Data compiled from figures shown on the UPSC website, official notifications for the examination, and report of the Civil Services Examination Review Committee, 2001)
    The above data has to be prefaced with the fact that the 1990s had begun with the approximate number of vacancies for the years 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 as 940, 871,761 and 790, respectively.
    There are a few things which can be clearly seen in the graph. First, the recent fall in the number of vacancies isn’t unprecedented. There have been intermittent phases of fluctuations, while the fall in vacancies was very pronounced in the 90s.
    In fact, the 90s negate any idea or expectation of a cumulative increase in the number of posts. For the most part of the decade, the reverse was true with more number of years showing a fall in vacancies than years showing a rise.
    There are various factors which determine such numbers, including the requirements sent by different ministries and state governments, which the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) considers.
    Were the fluctuations and decline in vacancies regime-specific? It’s an interesting aspect to probe because 1991 onwards, we can look at a decade which had three different kinds of governments: PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress government (1991-1996), a United Front (UF) coalition government led by Janata Dal leader HD Deve Gowda (June 1996 to April 1997) and then by IK Gujral (April 1997 to March 1998), and by the end of the decade, BJP’s AB Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government (March 1998 to May 2004).
    While there were inconsistencies in the number of vacancies during the Rao government’s tenure, the number never went up to 940 — inherited from the start of the decade.
    There was a decline in vacancies in three of the five years of his tenure: 1992 (went down to 761 from 871 notified the previous year), 1994 (went down to 707 from 790 notified the previous year) and 1995 (went down to 645 from 707 notified the previous year).
    If you are inclined to see an institutionally determined process of hiring civil servants through the prism of political reasoning and policy direction, you would be surprised to see the sharp fall in vacancies during the two-year stint of the UF government.
    It was a coalition government formed by avowedly socialist parties, and had the participation of Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Indrajit Gupta as home minister, while the Congress extended outside support.
    During 1996-1998, the vacancies’ number went down drastically from 740 to 470 while it was 621 in 1997, the intervening year. It was a precursor to the slide which continued in vacancies notified during the two terms of the NDA government (1998-2004), a truncated one followed by a full-term.
    In six years of NDA governance, except two years (2000 and 2003), the  number of vacancies kept sliding and reached its lowest in 2002, when only 310 vacancies were advertised for recruitment (the number, however, rose to 457 and 453 in 2003 and 2004, respectively).
    What should also be remembered is that this was just two years after three new states – Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand (then known as Uttaranchal) – were created in 2000.
    Contrary to a set of perceptions (including that of Ravish’s), cadre division of personnel between states had ensured that the creation of new states didn’t force an immediate rise in vacancies. More recently, the same argument could be extended to explain why the creation of Telangana in 2014 didn’t result in an increase in vacancies in subsequent years.
    However, as a coincidence or as a sign of policy direction on recruitments, can the general dip in vacancies during two different periods of the NDA government (Vajpayee-led as well as the incumbent one led by Narendra Modi) be interpreted as adherence to the principle of “minimum government, maximum governance”?
    Apart from other reasons, the fall in vacancies during Vajpayee’s tenure could be seen as persistence of the downward trend seen in the 90s. But the consistent fall in vacancies (around 40 per cent in the last four years) during the current government’s tenure seems more pronounced, as seven of 10 years of the preceding Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had seen a rise in vacancies.
    While the UPA-1 period (2004-2009) saw marginal to substantive increase in vacancies in every year of the term, UPA-2 (2009-2014) was marked by three years of dip and two years of rise, ending with a high of 1,291 vacancies.
    That rise can be seen with a range of explanations. The primary argument is that it was a period when the combined effect of more than a decade of dip in vacancies, starting from the early 90s, could only pave the way for a rise. Other explanations have also been offered.
    One of them argues that legislations like the RTI Act entailed the need for higher recruitment, while the others pertain to policy arguments saying that limiting the size of the higher bureaucracy didn’t figure as one of the approaches to the austerity measures of the government of the period.
    All of these are at best merely conjectures; one can’t be ever sure about the real reasons behind the sudden spike in vacancies.
    Amid these speculations and reasoning, an interesting continuity can be noted through the UPA and incumbent NDA government. At different points of time, both governments have reported shortage of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers (the UPA government stated so in 2012 and the NDA government in 2017).
    However, even six years ago such shortage didn’t force the DoPT to opt for higher intake of officers in subsequent years. The government’s decision was based on a report submitted by the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) which had suggested that any such rise in recruitment would disturb the pyramidical structure and compromise the quality of the IAS and, to add to that, there were infrastructural and operational problems in imparting training to a larger batch at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.
    Most state governments, which were consulted by the central government, agreed with the IIPA’s report. Based on IIPA suggestions, the government also rejected the idea of a limited competitive examination for recruiting IAS officers urgently.
    The home ministry had conducted such a limited examination in 2012 for recruiting 70 IPS officers but it was discontinued after objections were raised by state-cadre police officers, aspersions cast on qualitative aspects, observations made by the Central Administrative Tribunal and subsequent legal wrangles.
    It seems the IIPA report’s reasoning continues to stop the current government from resorting to any sudden increase in vacancies to address the shortage, though a parliamentary standing committee has expressed concern over the crunch.

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    Now coming to the speculative reasoning being offered by observers for the fall in vacancies in the last four years, two important arguments have been articulated.
    One is centred around the belief that the DoPT is following the government’s push for “minimum government, maximum governance”, while the other is rooted in the idea that the government is looking to hire a few specialists through the lateral entry system rather than filling every post with generalists hired through the CSE process.
    If these assumed reasons are true, they are healthy signs. For a country trying to extricate itself from bureaucratic red-tape and usher in substantive democratic decentralisation, any move towards “minimum government, maximum government” has to be taken constructively. Ironically, the Modi government has been lacking the political will to achieve these objectives.
    Contrary to what Ravish wants us to believe, attempting the civil services exam to get into a few hundred elite positions of higher bureaucracy has always been of aspirational value and can’t be seen as a mass employment solution in a country staring at millions of young men and women joining the already long queue of unemployed youth every year.
    The larger discourse on unemployment shouldn’t be wasted in echoing the grouse of aspirants who get agitated at the thought of more intense competition for fewer vacancies.
    The obvious failures of the government in generating employment are there, and they are to be seen in its dismal performance in facilitating and augmenting employment-generating productive and investment processes, especially in the manufacturing sector.
    Vis-à-vis civil services recruitment, the real failures of the Modi government lie elsewhere – they emanate from lack of reforms in CSE and its aversion to bold steps needed for such reform.
    Apart from getting cold feet on reforming the exam system, the promise of delivering a red tape-free, slimmer governmental set-up and attracting specialists through lateral entry has also not gone beyond rhetoric.
    In a piece published on this website, the author had argued why failure to reform the bureaucracy is one of the key shortcomings of the Modi government.
    Not just that the Modi government hasn’t done anything to restructure the recruitment process of civil servants, it has also persisted with the UPA legacy of making the CSE hostage to populist politics.
    Sample this. Different expert committees and commissions – ranging from the YK Alagh Committee to the 10th report of Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) to the latest Baswan Committee – have been suggesting lowering the upper age limit for applicants.
    They have offered elaborate reasoning for the recommendation. After conducting a meticulous study of the recruitment process of public administrators, the 2nd ARC said: “The permissible age for appearing in the civil services examination should be 21 to 25 years for general candidates, 21 to 28 years for candidates from the OBC and 21 to 29 years for candidates from the SC/STs, as also for those who are physically challenged.”
    However, implementing such recommendations hasn’t found favour with both UPA and NDA governments. There are perceived political costs attached to it, the kind of backlash Ravish fell for when he vented anguish over the reported lowering of age limit for appearing in a different exam – the one conducted for hiring lower grade personnel by the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB).
    It’s the fear of such costs that has held back two successive governments from initiating meaningful CSE reforms.
    Surrendering to students demanding extra years to prepare for the newly introduced Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) by the UPSC at the preliminary stage, then UPA government made the expedient move in 2014. It amounted to undermining the thrust of expert recommendations and ended up extending the age by two more years, to make it 32 for general category candidates and proportionately more for the reserved category.
    In a piece for media watchdog The Hoot four years ago, the author had reflected on how the imperatives of reforming a flawed system were subverted by populist agenda.
    Faced with a fresh round of agitations by students from the Hindi heartland in Delhi against questions on basic English in a preliminary test, the Modi government made English the qualifying component, that is, it was not to be counted to determine the list of candidates eligible for writing the Main examination.
    Subsequently, the government appointed the Baswan Committee to remodel the Main examination – recommendations of which are reportedly with the UPSC now. He may not realise it but Modi has squandered three years by not trying to revamp the recruitment process, which has always been plagued with all the ills of the Indian examination system – rote-learning incentivising an assembly line of cramming robots, discouraging originality and creativity.
    A small number of economists and commentators, like Mihir S Sharma, have written perceptively about this basic limitation plaguing any vision of civil services reforms. Almost two years ago, Sharma correctly diagnosed: “We still have a tenured, generalist civil service, even as our economy and governance become fiendishly more complex.”
    The remedy he suggested may sound radical but not off the mark. Advocating the scrapping of the IAS, he wrote: “You have a government machinery that is unaccountable, under-informed, and all-powerful. It lacks creativity. If PM Narendra Modi fails to live up to the expectations that he has raised, it will be entirely his fault. He should have started by ending the IAS.”
    While the call for scrapping the IAS, even if well argued, may seem too ambitious now, the current government hasn’t been sincere enough in following even NITI Aayog’s recommendation of attracting talent from the private sector for specific roles in government.
    Amid such perspectives on, and roadblocks to, restructuring public administration in India, it’s amusing to see how a section of opinion-makers in the media are falling for ill-informed alarmism and anxieties of the aspirants.
    In the process, they are making the larger unemployment concerns subservient to aspirations for entry to the elite services. That’s a kind of aspiration which is often motivated by the safety of a towel-covered chair in a government office.
    (The writer teaches civil services aspirants)

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