Administrative reforms of the civil services have seen renewed focus in the past few years with the announcement of initiatives such as Mission Karmayogi, changes to the foundation course for trainee officers of the All India Services, and efforts to induct lateral entrants into the bureaucracy. At their core, these reform initiatives all aim to strengthen India’s public service architecture through the enhancement of knowledge and skills, improvement of human resources management, and the institutionalisation of new norms on accountability, performance, and public service. But even with good intentions, reforms at this scale can be slow and are often met by strong resistance from the system itself. This is especially true for a large public bureaucracy that has been locked-in to particular ways of functioning for decades.
To understand the nature of this incremental progress and to chart a way forward, it is crucial to first uncover not only what the reforms intend to do, but the principles and debates behind each idea. These debates help explain the core tensions at play and reveal why certain seemingly simple fixes have been so difficult to implement. Starting with the First Administrative Reforms Commission in 1966, this working paper series developed by the State Capacity Initiative at CPR, aims to bring to the fore and generate a public discourse on the nuances of reform thinking. Our analysis of India’s rich discourse on administrative reform aims to explain the contexts within which reform thinking was situated, and what problems reform measures were aiming to solve. What underlying assumptions and tradeoffs explain the preference for some reform ideas over others? What were the global influences on reform thinking in India? And which crucial aspects of change does our reform discourse not account for?
Among the number of important topics, we initially focus on five themes given their relevance to the current reform discourse: 1. Examinations and Recruitment; 2. Training and Capacity Building; 3. Performance Management; 4. Expertise; and 5. Transfers. Each working paper begins with a brief history of each theme, then presents a timeline of key commissions, reports and events, followed by a detailed summary of key debates. The working papers draw largely on the reports of committees constituted by the Union government at various points of time and are therefore more focused on reform conversations about the higher civil services, and particularly the IAS. Going forward we plan on developing similar work on State civil service reform and other important themes such as diversity in the civil services.