‘Steel frame introduced by Britishers has rusted’: Former RBI governor Subbarao’s sharp remarks on IAS, civil services reforms

India’s civil services are like a steel frame that has rusted, and needs to be restored to its original lustre, says former RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao. According to a PTI report, in his recently published book, “Just A Mercenary?: Notes from My Life and Career,” Subbarao asserts that India’s civil services require reform and reinvention. He argues that the “steel frame” established by the British to govern India has undoubtedly rusted over time.
Subbarao, who has held various positions, including that of Union finance secretary, also addresses the gender gap within the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in his book.Subbarao was quoted as saying, “The steel frame has certainly rusted.”
The civil services examination, conducted annually by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), consists of three stages: preliminary, mains, and personality test (interview). This rigorous process selects officers for the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) , IFS (Indian Foreign Service), IPS (Indian Police Service), and other prestigious services.
Despite the need for reform, Subbarao maintains that a country as vast and diverse as India still requires a generalist service like the IAS. However, he emphasizes that the service must be reformed and even reinvented in many aspects. “The solution is not to throw away the rusted frame but to bring it back to its original lustre,” he said.
Also Read | Sanjeev Sanyal’s UPSC reality check: Dream to be Elon Musk, or Mukesh Ambani, why a Joint Secretary?
Subbarao notes that when the IAS was established shortly after Independence, succeeding the colonial-era Indian Civil Service (ICS), it was regarded as the homegrown solution to the immense task of nation-building.
IAS officers spearheaded this effort, constructing an impressive development administration network from the ground up and earning the service a formidable reputation for competence, commitment, and integrity. However, in subsequent decades, the reputation began to unravel, with ineptitude, indifference, and corruption creeping in, according to Subbarao.
Subbarao expressed concern over the negative perception of civil servants, shaped by a growing minority of officers who have strayed from their duties.
Recently, economist Sanjeev Sanyal said that people should give the UPSC or the Union Public Service Commission exam only and only if they really want to be an administrator. Speaking during “The Neon Show” podcast by Siddhartha Ahluwalia, Sanjeev Sanyal said that Indians suffer from “poverty of aspiration”.
Sanjeev Sanyal is a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM). He advocates that young people should look at other alternatives. “At the end of it if you must dream, surely you should dream to be Elon Musk, or Mukesh Ambani, why did you dream to be Joint Secretary?” he asked.


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