Kerala government in a tussle with staffers over provincial civil service ‘KAS’

Kerala Administrative Service would enable lateral entry of young and meritorious applicants who would sit for a written test and be interviewed by the state’s Public Service Commission


After coming to power, the Communist cabinet under chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan took up the proposal and gave it in-principle approval. File photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
After coming to power, the Communist cabinet under chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan took up the proposal and gave it in-principle approval. File photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Bengaluru: Kerala wants to create its own provincial civil service modelled on the Indian Administrative Service in the next two months—a step the state’s Left Front government says will infuse young blood in the bureaucracy.

Kerala Administrative Service (KAS) would enable lateral entry of young and meritorious applicants who would sit for a written test and be interviewed by the state’s Public Service Commission. This will allow their direct ascent into senior official posts which would otherwise take them years to attain.

The proposal is facing resistance from government secretariat staffers, who think it could affect their promotion opportunities, if not their jobs. This week saw government officials, backed by both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming out in large numbers to take part in a 24-hour satyagraha against the protest.

According to T. Sreekumar, one of the leaders of the protesting ‘Secretariat Action Council,’ more such protests will be staged in the next few weeks.

The KAS was first proposed by the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government, whose leaders are joining the protestors on the streets now. The UDF sent the matter to a cabinet sub-committee following objections and did not follow up on the proposal.

After coming to power, the Communist cabinet under chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan took up the proposal and gave it in-principle approval.

According to the protesting civil servants, formation of the KAS will result in people with little experience being appointed to key administrative posts.

Experts differ. “KAS is a step which was long overdue. The secretariat people objecting to it are only motivated by the career prospects of a small section,” says D Babu Paul, a retired civil servant and expert on administrative matters.

Paul, a former additional chief secretary of Kerala, says the objections are similar to those raised by the princely states against the formation of the IAS when India became independent.

“The IAS brought in very young officers, and very eminent people who were already employed in the administration of Travancore state wasn’t happy,” he said in a phone interview.

According to P.C. Cyriac, another retired civil servant from Kerala, a former chief secretary of Tamil Nadu, says an intermediate layer between the average employee and an IAS officer will help the state.

“Some lateral entry is always better; it will bring in fresh blood, more qualified people and will also act as a feeder service for promotion quota of IAS,” Cyriac said over the phone.

Babu Paul said the draft rules for KAS have also incorporated measures to include existing government staff in the KAS.

“The existing employees will be given a chance to appear in the entrance exams of KAS. You will have also consider that for people under the rank of under-secretary, based on their performance record and personal interview, will also be recommended for KAS as a one time measure. So why protest,” he asked.

The unions of secretariat staff are an active force in the state. Will chief minister Vijayan be able to muzzle the dissent or will status quo remain? For now, he seems to be going forward with the proposal, with or without the support of existing staff. On Wednesday, he said the government will take action against secretariat staff who joined this week’s protest strike.

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