Three civil servants weigh in Sanjeev Sanyal’s controversial comments on the bureaucracy | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Three civil servants weigh in Sanjeev Sanyal’s controversial comments on the bureaucracy

Apr 03, 2024 12:25 PM IST

Sanjeev Sanyal said 5 to 8 years of preparation for the civil services exam by lakhs of students is a “waste of youthful energy”

Former civil servants, who have held the highest positions in the government service, are not amused with Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) member and economist, Sanjeev Sanyal.

Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) member and economist, Sanjeev Sanyal(HT PHOTO)
Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) member and economist, Sanjeev Sanyal(HT PHOTO)

His statements were described variously as “ignorant” and “ill-informed”, with one of them quoting Thomas Gray's poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” (1742) saying: “Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise’.

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In a series of posts on social media platform X, Sanyal said that five to eight years of preparation for the civil services exam by lakhs of students is a “waste of youthful energy”.

“As mentioned, it (is) perfectly fine to attempt the UPSC or other such exams, but only if the person wants to be an administrator. The problem is that lakhs of people are spending 5-8 years repeatedly doing this exam as a ‘way of life’. This is such a waste of youthful energy,” he said in a series of social media posts.

Former Union Finance Secretary Arvind Mayaram said that while Sanyal was welcome to his views, they were wide off the mark and smacked of gross ignorance. "I believe that there is no service in the world that offers the wide canvas of experience of public policy and governance that determines the lives of common people,” he told this reporter.

Adds Mayaram: ``If Sanyal wants to understand why certain policies work or do not work, why sometimes you have to take decisions that have to be taken, even if they are not the best under the circumstances, then he can go to Harvard or wherever he likes to go. But I can tell you that is the narrow part of his experience.”

Adding tongue firmly in cheek, the former Finance Secretary said that sometimes `ignorance is bliss.’

Another former IAS officer, MG Devasahayam, said that Sanyal has little knowledge of the civil services. ``He sees the civil services as a five-star way of existence. He does not know that young civil servants work in remote areas, where they acquire grassroot experience. Sanyal is seeing the IAS through the corporate prism and that is a mistake.”

According to Devasahayam, editor of a book “Electoral Democracy: An Inquiry into the Fairness and Integrity of Elections in India”, Sanyal needs to read the constitutional assembly debates and the views of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, who outlined that role of the civil service in a new independent country.

``The bureaucracy had the onerous responsibility of bringing out the country from dire poverty, maintaining law and order in the face of serious communal disturbances and maintaining the integrity of the nation. They have done a damn fine job there, despite some aberrations,” he said.

Devasahayam however, agrees with Sanyal that some of the time-tested pillars that held the civil service together, have been eroded over the years. "The politicians who have now come into public life are corrupt, venal, discriminatory and communal and they have managed to inject these viruses into the civil service as well. Brilliant and upright officers are thrown out and time servers are taken in because they do the bidding of politicians,” he concluded.

In a subsequent interview to a news outlet, Sanyal also said that he found the whole idea of people who have qualified for `other’ civil services like the IPS and IRS repeatedly taking the IAS as ``a waste of time".

The economist and sometime historian spoke on the ‘poverty of aspiration’ that India had suffered for decades and cited the examples of West Bengal and Bihar to illustrate his argument. “Just like Bengal aspired to pseudo intellectuals and union leaders, Bihar aspired to small-time local goon politicians. In an environment where those are the role models, you can either become a local goon, if you don't want to become a local goon, your way out is to basically become a civil servant,” he told journalists.

Wajahat Habibullah, former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities and a civil servant who was divisional commissioner of eight districts in Jammu and Kashmir, said that even though the civil services are out of tune, being basically a colonial service, the fact is that the civil services exam and the UPSC act as the role model for many youngsters. "Despite it having outlived its utility, there is no doubt that the civil service gives ample opportunity to youngsters to serve at the grassroot levels. They offer options like no other job in the world and it depends upon how people use these situations,” he said.

“There are scores of examples where young officials have achieved so much that could not be done anywhere else. Of course the civil service needs reform. In the US, for example, the state department has its own cadres, who specialize in their respective fields,” Habibullah said.

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