The Karnataka Legislative Assembly passed a significant piece of legislation last week. Like most other important matters this too received scant public attention but if implemented this will have a positive impact on governance. The new law provides for a much-needed change in the way the Karnataka Public Service Commission (KPSC) selects candidates for the Karnataka Administrative and allied services.
Now, the KPSC will have to abandon the long-standing practice of its own members constituting the panels to interview candidates clearing the main written examination. Instead, a panel of experts, of course headed by a member of the commission, will hold interviews.
On the face of it this is a simple change. But those who know a little bit of history of the KPSC would realize its importance. Interviews conducted by the KPSC especially for the much-sought-after KAS have been a joke. The interview marks are manipulated to favor some candidates and to eliminate others. While this is the standard practice across the states, the Karnataka’s notoriety in this is legendary.
Over the years not even a single round of selection of KAS officers has been above board. Court cases challenging the selection have been the norm, leading to undue delay in the announcement of results.
While good administration demands annual rounds of selection just as the Union Public Service Commission selects All India Services, in Karnataka there have been long gaps between selection rounds. For example, there were no recruitments between 1999 and 2004.
The results of the 1998 examination were announced in 2006. All these three rounds of selections were challenged in court. Yet, those who made it to the list through unfair means are happily lodged in government jobs, some of them in plum positions even as the court cases are being fought by the aggrieved candidates. The chairman of the KPSC who presided over these rounds was jailed and is now out on bail.
Currently, at least four of the KPSC members are those involved in the malpractices during the 2012 KAS examinations, results of which have since been annulled. Although the state government, after an inquiry, recommended dismissal of these members, the governor has been dragging his feet. After all, these worthies were appointed when the BJP was in power in the state.
Interviews conducted by the KPSC especially for the much-sought-after KAS have been a joke. The interview marks are manipulated to select some favoured candidates and to eliminate others. At last, the government seems to be moving to put an end to this well-entrenched practice.
The jailed chairman was close to both the Congress and the Janata Dal. Every party has contributed to the debasement and depravity of the KPSC. The Constitution of India stipulates that members of the KPSC should be drawn from among the former officers of the state and those who made a significant contribution to any field.
The ruling parties would choose their henchmen from among these two categories and the chosen ones would return the favor by selecting the candidates sent by the political bosses for key posts. In the process, the examination, interviews and all other procedures would become only a sham. The most comical sub-text of this story is that often the KPSC also functioned as a marriage bureau. Coveted posts were handed to those who agreed to marry the brides suggested by the members – of course only same caste marriages.
Interviews have been principal sites of manipulation. Of the 200 marks allotted to interview, the favored candidates would get full marks and those need to be eliminated to make way for the favored ones would get the minimum possible marks. Only those candidates whose written examination scores were so high that they would not get eliminated even with a zero in the interview would find their way into the final list through fair means. Sometimes, reservation ensured some kind of fair play. The rest are generally from the “paid” or “matrimonial” categories as revealed by several official inquiries.
In order to facilitate this manipulation the rules were so framed that the interview panel would comprise only members of the KPSC. The changes that the new law stipulates would make this difficult. Now, external experts would sit on the interview panel and assign marks. The changes have been brought about in accordance with the recommendations of an expert committee headed by former IAS officer P C Hota.
This committee was appointed after the 2012 selection fiasco. Will the proposed changes finally make the selection process a tad better than the past? Well, a lot depends upon the kind of experts that are marshalled to the panels. In a world where everyone and everything can be manipulated, there is no reason to believe that experts and their expertisecannot be. But a reform is a reform until it proves to be a failure.