India has put in place a comprehensive policy on promoting bureaucrats that goes way beyond the annual confidential report and takes into consideration factors such as integrity, reputation and ability to work hard.
This is the first time that officers are being assessed on such parameters before being promoted as secretaries or additional secretaries, senior officials told ET, describing the initiative as one of the most important administrative reforms at the Centre.
A group of five retired secretaries picked by the Prime Minister's Office in 2014, after the Narendra Modi government took office, shaped the policy which evaluates bureaucrats on seven parameters including leadership, effectiveness in delivery, domain understanding and administrative skills.
"So the integrity of a bureaucrat and his or her general reputation as someone not prone to taking bribes or commissions or circumventing administrative processes to suit corporate groups or vested interests is being taken most seriously," said one of the officials, who did not wish to be identified. The new system of evaluating bureaucrats is based on a lot of analysis and research.
"We studied the best practices in private sector companies, and administration in several countries and international organisations to structure the system here," the official said. Earlier, the government used to consider the Central Vigilance Commission report as the basis for assessing candidates' integrity. But the CVC could not ascertain a bureaucrat's involvement in a case of corruption or impropriety unless it was in the records.
"Most bureaucrats are good at administrative record-keeping and hence escape processes that can get them into trouble later," another official said. "But reputation is something that travels far and wide, and now we insist on evaluating a person on his past and present activities, many of which don't make it to records."
Under the new system, senior and junior colleagues of a bureaucrat being evaluated are asked questions about the bureaucrat's general reputation. They are asked some specific questions about the general reputation and integrity of the person based on their information on the background of the bureaucrat, to which they can choose among "I strongly agree", "I don't agree completely" or "I strongly disagree".
The intention is to reach as close to the truth as possible, according to senior officials, who said that a lot of psychometric and psychological research findings have gone into framing the questions.
This is a far cry from accepting the annual confidential report or ACR as the primary basis for promoting bureaucrats. Earlier, ACRs were given by "reporting, reviewing and accepting" officials who used to rank officers 'poor', 'average', 'good', 'very good' or 'outstanding', and more recently, on a ten-point scale.
A court order had mandated that the evaluated officers be shown their results, after which it became a norm for most officials to give outstanding ranks to the officers. "After this, there was no honest assessment as nobody wanted to displease the junior person openly... 90% of ACRs were outstanding. Also, the system was fully tilted towards bureaucrats who pleased the bosses. Now the evaluation goes beyond ACR to general reputation build over years," an official said.
The checks don't stop with this expert committee, though, and the candidates are further scrutinised by a Cabinet secretary-led team of senior officials. The five-member group of retired secretaries started evaluating the bureaucrats under the new system for the first time in 2015. In addition to charting out a plan to evaluate bureaucrats more holistically, it looked at what some of those in charge of framing the process saw as "unnecessary traditions".
"The UPA government had made it a rule to appoint officers just short of 60 as secretaries of home and defence by giving an extension of two years only to reward some favourite officers," a senior official said.
"This was started only to suit some of the officers they wanted to utilise for their purpose. We think if we have good younger officers fit for these positions, we should let them take charge." Recently, senior bureaucrat Sanjay Mitra was appointed as the defence secretary and Rajiv Gauba the home secretary under the new system. Both belong to the 1982 batch of IAS and they will have more than two years before superannuation.
Source:-The Economic Times