Just did a phone interview (on Thursday afternoon) with Times Now. I was asked by the initial caller what I thought about Arvind Kejriwal’s tweets about sector experts being better than generalists, and his invitation to all officers to go on leave if they so wished.
I said I could not agree with that view more. I also said that while I thought that the acerbic language that Kejriwal used did make things difficult for him, but there was a lot of substance in what he was saying.
So they put me online. On a bad connection, I could only make out one other individual who was on the panel, Mr. Gopalaswamy, former CEC.
The anchor (not Arnab Goswami) asked me what I thought about the current spat. I said that the LG was totally wrong in opposing Kejriwal’s preferences in postings and transfers of officials.
I said that technically speaking, as Delhi was a Union Territory, the LG could justify his stance. However, this was totally wrong from the point of view of running a federal country.
I said that the Central Government would never dare to take on a CM of any state in a similar situation and they were using the fact that Delhi is not yet a full fledged state, to oppose and obstruct everything that Kejriwal is doing.
I said that Kejriwal’s stand of taking this head on and using strong language, was not making it any easier. I recalled that in the past, Shiela Dikshit had her way in the choice of the Chief Secretary of the state and the Centre, in a spirit of accommodation, did accept her preference.
So there was a clear precedent for accepting the preferences of the CM of Delhi.
Sadly, Times Now did not do a second round of questions. I would have loved to get my teeth into the second question, of whether sector experts are better than generalist officers.
I agree with that totally. I know many of my former colleagues will be annoyed, but think about it, boys and girls, many of you are where you are because you passed an exam a few decades back on a good day.
On a bad day, you might have been in any other service, or not in the government at all. End of the day, many of you have sailed along for the next three decades, gone flabby in the mind because of lack of competition. You have lurched, often once every six months, from the Women and Child Welfare Department, to Town Planning, to Animal Husbandry, stopping nowhere for long enough to gain any real knowledge or skill.
As Education Secretary, you have spent more time wearing a suit and standing in a court attending to a contempt of court petition, rather than dealing with what ails the quality of education. The few of you who have done well and secured an expertise in one or the other field, have been driven by your own sense of motivation, and not by any exhortations from the government to achieve excellence.
Somewhere along that aimless journey in the government, you discovered your calling and did bloody well at that, because you were very smart in the first place.
And this is not the IAS only. The IPS is as much of a rolling stone, flitting from crime prevention to traffic control with such alacrity, as if they were one and the same thing.
The funny thing is that while the higher government services will always tell you that they are the best people for any job, they disappear once you try to fix accountability for poor quality of services. For that, a host of excuses appear; political interference being a favourite red herring.
Sure as hell, as Arvind Kejriwal says, we need a lot more sector experts with domain knowledge. The utility value of generalist civil servants who were once bright and smart and who have risen in the ranks due to an indulgent and incestuous performance appraisal system, is diminishing rapidly.
OK fellas, put a supari on my head. The really smart ones amongst you officers; those ladies and gentlemen that I look up to, regardless of the service to which they belong, will nod silently in assent.
The author is a retired joint secretary with the Government of India