An Inside Job


Book: The Insider's View: Memoirs of a Public Servant

Author: Javid Chowdhury

Publisher: Penguin

Price: Rs. 499

Pages: 328

Post retirement memoirs by civil servants sometimes tend to be pompous, self-important and dull. Fortunately, Javid Chowdhury's recollections in The Insider's View is none of the above. It is a candid, analytical and objective reflection of Chowdhury's years as a Gujarat cadre I.A.S. officer who held a variety of posts from an assistant collector in the state to Enforcement Director, Revenue Secretary Health Secretary and Food Secretary at the Centre.

The role of the civil servant in the mid '60s when Chowdhury joined the service is very different from today. Till the '80s civil servants had considerable say in drawing up public policy and shaping public programs. In the '90s following globalisation and liberalisation the system changed, the author argues. Today much of policy formulation is outsourced to extra constitutional bodies like NGOs, think tanks foreign advocacy groups etc. Anything that is considered "economic reforms" is automatically labeled a worthwhile initiative. Extra legal jurisdiction is appropriated by certain ad hoc wings of government, like the prime minister's Economic Advisory Council. The Planning Commission, which was meant to be an advisory body, has become a decision making body. The civil servant, who was accused of a lack of urgency in decision making, is now increasingly bypassed. He simply tags along.

The background of the civil servant has also changed from generalist graduate in the humanities to trained professionals such as doctors, engineers and business management graduates. Chowdhury believes that while the latter are better equipped to solve problems, which are clearly delineated, the old school civil servant scores in handling issues involving varied social pressures where there are no clear cut answers but the need for a harmonising touch to reconcile the conflicting demands of society.

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