Practice of reserving cadre posts for certain services is exclusionary, must be reconsidered

Synopsis: The cadre system, part of British legacy systems, needs to be reformed if we are working towards good governance.


Recently, the Haryana government issued an order, appointing an IPS officer as principal secretary (transport) — a cadre post of the IAS. This opened up the debate of cadre posts in the Indian Administration System.

What is the present Indian system?

Certain posts, both at the Centre and in states, are reserved for certain services by declaring them as cadre posts.  For example, a collector in any district has to be from the IAS. Similarly, a superintendent of police will always be from the IPS. The same procedure has been adopted for the state administrative services.

What is the demerit of the present system?

Glass ceiling Effect:  It acts as a glass ceiling for all the members of the service. For most of the officers, the top post will remain out of reach. This acts as a de-motivator.

Fewer choices: Since officers from a particular service have to be posted to a particular post, the selection pool is smaller.

Promotion based on service:  It creates anomalies as batch mates from the same examination are promoted slower or faster just because they belong to different services, not because they are less or more competent.

Less use of talent: It prevents the government from optimally utilizing the talent it possesses. This has also compelled the Government to fill the gap by hiring from the private sector.

Skill limitation: Every service has a core role for which it has been trained. For example, a customs officer is trained differently than a police or income tax officer. However, some people may grow beyond their core functional areas and pick up new skills. But the cadre system ensures that they cannot fully express the skills that they may have developed.

Poor Human Resource Management: It does not seem to be good human resource management (HRM) practice, as it reduces the available choices.

What do we need to do?

It is time to examine whether the concept of cadre posts has benefitted the nation or has been counter-productive. We can adapt the practices like:

Training: It may not be advisable to completely do away with the cadre system. We need specialized and trained departmental officers at lower and middle levels to keep the governance running.

Cadre Neutral posts: We can make the posts cadre-neutral. Or we can at least make multiple services with relevant experience eligible for the posts. This will lead to widening the talent pool available for the cadre post.

India needs to realize that such archaic, rigid and limiting governance models have outlived their utility. In the light of new and emerging HRM policies, we should also review our governance models, guided by the notion of good governance.

Source: This post is based on the article “Practice of reserving cadre posts for certain services is exclusionary, must be reconsidered” published in the Indian Express on 9th September 2021.

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