In IAS, one normally works at number 1 position, at least in the initial 10 years or so. A CEO, Zilla Panchayat, a Municipal Commissioner, a DM ( Collector – the most enviable post!) offers one immense opportunity to work in leadership position. You think, you plan, you implement. Your word is an order, your wish taken seriously. You have opportunity even to go wrong and make mistakes with bona fide intentions. You test out the waters, as none other. You learn, you are amazed and your capabilities surprise you. Many of those may be capabilities of the chair, or they supplement yours. The result can be awe-inspiring to the common man. In less than 6 months, you see the fruits of your efforts. Numerous people helped, improved systems, motivated teams, and improvement in whichever sector you put your heart and soul into. You are believed to possess a magic wand, that can correct everything.
The love and satisfaction one gets in these posts may dissuade one to take up ‘dry’ Secretariat posts of deputies – a Deputy Secretary, a Director, an OSD. Loss of personal comforts vis a vis a district is considered a smaller loss – a bigger loss is the loss of ‘freedom’ to lead, to put your (whacky) ideas to test, absence of regular accolades from people, and a very close relation ( closer than your wife!) with your boss ! Sector and content begins to take a backseat – they say ‘don’t choose your Ministry, choose your boss!’ One feels one can contribute ( only) as much, as the space given to him by his boss. Within the sector also, priorities of the boss will supercede on his understanding or his priorities of what is best for the sector. These are the ‘common’ understandings ?myths); and perhaps that is why, many young officers may not prefer coming to these Secretarial posts. Except for few States such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, officers posted in Secretariat in early years is an exception, not the norm.
The reality is different. The beauty of IAS is the versatility it provides to do different things at different times. And there is a merit, in fact, lot of merit in one taking up assignments of Deputt Secretary/ Director etc. Firstly, the system stands to gain, because a young officer having spent some years in the field is equipped well to understand policy and framing programmes. His boss, with greater experience, is much more knowledgeable; but is so tied up with number of meetings, and other urgent works, that he does not have time for dirty detailing. He needs therefore, an intelligent person, to whom he can explain the broad idea for further detailing. The Secretarial service officers, who have their own strength in many other ways, may lack this ability to comprehend the idea and produce a proper convincing document with adequate justification. The young IAS officer, fresh from field experience is much more likely to correlate policy to implementation challenges and suggest suitable changes. Thus not only does he act on guidance of his senior, he can also proactively suggest measures that if logical and useful, are very likely to be picked up by his seniors and get adopted. A colleague remarked that close to 90% of what emerges as policy is a Deputy Sectetary/ Director’s idea is not far from truth. In fact, the seniors provide Deputy Secretary/ Directors a good shielding space – by keeping them away from unnecessary but unavoidable meetings – so that they can concentrate on productive work. Secondly, the Secretarial work being concerned with the entire State or national scale exposes young officer to issues that he did not face personally in his district – and widens his canvass. He can both fine tune his convictions and learnings through this, as well as expose the rest to something considered doable by him based on his experience.
As far as the extent to which he can contribute is concerned, it is a bit personal also. Someone said that to be efficient, one must learn to consider himself one level higher, in a bona fide sense i.e. to take higher level deciaions, even some risks. One can do this more easily at number 2/ number 3 positions, rather than number 1; since you are shielded.
Finally, as a senior officer remarked – IAS is the best job, if you can learn not to play centre forward every time !