UPSC, State PSCs
The Union Public Service Commission is perhaps one of the few bastions holding high the flag of fairness, impartiality and incorruptibility. File pic

It's time State Public Service Commissions cleaned up their act

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The results of last week’s Union Public Service Commission had grabbed headlines across India. It is an annual feature when the nation comes together to celebrate merit and excellence for rendering service to the nation.

Civil servants of today disagreeably owe their ancestry to the officers of
the English East India Company, which over time became a political extension of British imperialism till its final dissolution in 1874.

To rule India ‘profitably’ and effectively, the British parliament replaced the patronage-driven services system of the Company with a merit-based civil service recruitment policy in 1854. The Government of India Act, 1919, for the first time, incorporated the concept of a public service commission for India.

On October 1, 1926, the first Public Service Commission was set up. The Act did not have provision for Commissions in provinces. The defining change came through the Government of India Act, 1935 which provided for provincial public service commissions as well.

January 26, 1950 the Constitution of India came into force. The present-day Public Service Commissions for the Union and one for each state, along with provision of joint commissions if necessary, were enshrined in the Constitution. After a long journey, Public Service Commissions found sanctity in the hallowed precincts of the Constitution of India.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is perhaps one of the few bastions holding high the flag of fairness, impartiality and incorruptibility. In a country, where every other day, persons manning high positions of all hues of social, political, educational, regulatory and bureaucratic institutions are hauled up by the courts, UPSC is still a symbol of everything that is good and right in India.

Also read: Reduce civil services recruitment cycle, examine low turnout: Parl panel to UPSC

Public perception of its complete neutrality, honesty and immunity is second to no other institution. Unfortunately, the same is not true for Commissions of the states in general.

Few years ago, Mukul Sangma, the then chief minister of Meghalaya, in a thought-provoking address to a committee of State Public Service Commissions (PSCs), emphasised the need to dispel the nation-wide perception among people that “the state PSCs can be influenced by the politicians and government”. Coming from the head of the elected government of a state, it reveals more than it says.

This comes in the backdrop of plentiful instances in the last couple of decades. Members of state PSCs of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan were arrested, even as the chairpersons of Assam, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu have been jailed.

A chairman of Odisha’s Commission was removed by the President of India. A number of cases have been filed against chairpersons and/or members of Bihar, Haryana and Karnataka, among others. Officials employed by Commissions of many states have been booked for blatant corruption. The list of malfeasance, which covers more than half of the provincial PSCs we started with, is hardly exhaustive.

The persons nominated to the constitutional bodies had failed both the institutions they were nominated to and the people of the states they were to serve. When it happens over time in successive state commissions, it is rational to conclude that appointing authorities did not adhere to the high ethical and moral standards necessary for appointments to such institutions.

Also read: Civil Services Exam: Candidates can’t withdraw applications, says UPSC

Could there be a resurgence of a patronage system? Of course, many state PSCs are doing a commendable job with impartiality and honesty. That is expected of them too.

Vice-chancellors of universities were once leading intellectuals of the country. President of India and the governors of states were often chosen from amongst them. Mushrooming of universities in the last few decades, however, have seen virtually en masse appointments to the hallowed positions with whispers of political affiliation or patronage at the cost of sheer merit. It is hardly surprising that many VCs are now frequently in the news for all the wrong reasons.

VCs in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and many others were investigated, arrested, removed or already behind bars. Fault lines in state level institutions in different fields have been glaringly revealed.

Restricting this narrative to state PSCs, to ensure free and fair functioning, a high level of protection to the appointees was provided in the Constitution with the clear expectation of unassailable standard of integrity.

Persons appointed in such Commissions cannot be removed by any authority other than the President of India and that too only with a recommendation of the apex court of the country. I shudder to think how nightmarish it would have been for our Constitution-makers to witness the decadence!

The government’s role has tremendously expanded in the last seven decades. Simultaneously, the demands on the functioning of PSCs have multiplied manifold. With digital technology opportunities at hand, it is time to go in a big way to design processes bereft of human interface. The best practice is close at hand, the robust system of the UPSC that has stood the test of time.

The least that can be suggested in this backdrop is that the governors of the states must now decide to act. Positions in such hallowed institutions should not be for rewarding people for serving government of the day faithfully or rather too faithfully. It should not get reduced to the old patronage system. Impeccable integrity and expertise should override all other criteria. The wide plurality that is available for the Union PSC may be considered too.

In conclusion, it cannot be gainsaid that the standing vestige of functional purity at the federal level Commission cannot alone serve the long-term aspirations of India.

State governments must not fail the people who choose them to govern. Strong, efficient, impartial state PSCs with an unassailable image finally help the state governments only. They are the only clients through whom the Commissions serve the people.

(The writer is a retired IAS officer and former Chairman, Odisha Public Service Commission)  

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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