1. The main bricks to use in India’s steel frame
Compassion and honesty are what must guide successful entrants into the still fiercely competitive civil
- When the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) announces the results of the Civil Services Main examination every year and the list of successful candidates, amidst all the fanfare it is legitimate for us to reflect on a few fundamental questions: Are the right type of men and women being inducted into the higher bureaucracy? Is there any mid-career review of their performance, so that the misfits and the dishonest are weeded out? Both these questions are extremely relevant if we want to see an upgradation in the quality of service to the poor.
Still a major draw
- The UPSC has, without doubt, a strenuous protocol. The process is clinical and as objective as possible. There is reason to believe (unlike many of its State counterparts) the UPSC is an honest organisation which allows no latitude to the few venal elements that may occasionally be inadvertently drawn into the various stages of the selection process. Evaluating civil service recruits for their intelligence and integrity is a difficult exercise if one takes into account that many attributes go into the fabric of a credible and performing civil service. Also, we are too diverse a nation, with a huge population of rising expectations to construct a one-size-fits-all reform formula.
- What is heartening is that several lakh Indian youth take the examination every year. Its popularity continues to grow despite the many hurdles which include a preliminary weeding out test, possibly because the challenges of a position in public service are still attractive and incentives in the form of salary and allowances are enlarging. I am happy that there are many success stories of children from the hitherto neglected sections of society making the grade. All this despite the cynicism with which many citizens now view a public servant, high and low. The competition is intense and spectacular. Only about 900 candidates, that is less than 4% of those who appear for the preliminary examination, ultimately get appointed.
The change now
- When my generation made a bid for selection in the 1960s, we were just about 15,000 to 20,000 candidates in the race for the same number of openings. There was also no preliminary examination which now cruelly eliminates a majority of applicants. The current stiff process of selection induces many of us in my age group to believe that most of us would not have passed muster under the present scheme of the examination. In the UPSC list released a few days ago, 304 candidates were from the General category and 78 from the Economically Weaker Sections. Other Backward Classes (251), Scheduled Castes (129) and Scheduled Tribes (67) constituted the rest of the group of successful candidates. Women among these were about 150, one of them bagging the third rank among all appointees. Undoubtedly, this phenomenon has brought about a new attitude and drive to achieve, which were not fully visible earlier. As usual there are a number of engineers who have made the grade. Two candidates from Tamil Nadu were visually challenged. Nothing can touch us more. Success stories of disadvantaged members of society such as these candidates should help to dilute the age-old prejudice against those who are challenged. The enormous care taken by successive governments to make our higher civil services reflect social diversity is commendable. This is as it should be in a country where despite all the gory happenings of violence in some regions, there is a desire to push forward to empower the poor and weaker sections.
On the ground
- However, can we rest content with the incremental progress that we have achieved towards transforming the image of the civil service? Not at all. My reservation is mainly on account of the two major charges levelled against the higher civil services, especially the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service (IPS) wherever we go within the country. These are to do with the glaring insensitivity to the poor citizen and the greed that still afflicts a segment of the civil service.
- The District Collector and the District Superintendent of Police are the two powerful and visible symbols of the administration. There are 739 districts in India and as many Collectors and SPs. Although the penchant of many State governments to create more small districts escalates administrative expenses, tiny districts make officials more easily available to the common man in distress, who looks up to the officialdom for assistance almost on a daily basis. If a Collector and an SP are inaccessible (as is the case in most of our districts) it shows the whole administration in a bad light. There are a few young officers who are different from the majority and put their heart and soul into the task of alleviating the miseries of the poor. It is this band of officers who should somehow be enlarged and quickly. The sheer workload of a Collector and SP may prevent them from finding time to interact with every citizen. But this reality does not convince the citizen who feels squarely aggrieved that only the rich and not the poor can get things done in post-Independence India.
- This unfortunate situation is exacerbated by the fact that officials at the lower levels of the bureaucracy are either insensitive or demand illegal gratification to provide a service which is the fundamental right of every citizen. In spite of admirable reforms, major and tiny, brought about by the present central government, the common belief is that very few things get done at the bottom of the pyramid of government without greasing somebody’s palm. As someone put it, in many countries in the West, a citizen will have to offer a bribe to persuade a civil servant to omit doing something which he is legally required to do. In India, one will have to resort to bribing a public servant to compel him to do something which he is enjoined by law to do. Nothing can be a more damaging commentary on the state of our civil service.
State of the police
- I am particularly concerned about the situation that prevails in our police stations. There are more than 15,000 of them in the country. A number of them have no doubt distinguished themselves with their readiness to serve the not-so literate and the poor. Sadly, a majority still have a blemished record of ill-treating the poor. As a result, a police station has become an institution that is shunned by the law-abiding citizen. This is where I would like to see a qualitative improvement in policing which has to be ushered in by the new IPS recruits.
- Wherever they see injustice or violence against unsuspecting citizens, it will be for them to rise in protest and instil sense in their subordinate ranks as well as their supervisors. There is a real danger of the image of the Indian Police diminishing further if the incoming young officers just mark their time and do not put their foot down when it comes to unethical practices. We have a large core of enlightened senior IPS officers who can mould the character of the new entrants. If they do not play this desperately needed role, they will have betrayed the confidence that the father of the civil service, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, reposed in the IPS and the IAS.
2. The WHO’s relevance is fading
It has been reduced to a coordinating body, beholden to the interests of rich member states
- COVID-19 has infected more than 19 million people, claimed over 0.7 million lives and devastated economies. As the pandemic transcends geopolitical boundaries, one is forced to ruminate on a counterfactual with a series of timely global health interventions by the World Health Organization (WHO) duly supported by governments. An early warning and timely policy measures by the WHO would have forewarned countries and set their preparatory efforts in motion for mounting a decisive response strategy.
- With regional offices in six geographical regions and country offices across 150 countries, the WHO was expected to play the dual role of a think tank and oversee global responses to public health emergencies. It was reported that the earliest COVID-19 positive case in China was reported in November, but China informed the WHO about the disease only in January. With the WHO country representative stationed in Beijing, it is unlikely that widespread transmission went unnoticed.
- Then, even though confirmed cases were reported from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S. in January, the WHO continued to downplay the severity of the virus. It took some inexplicable decisions and actions such as declaring the pandemic as a public health emergency of international concern only on January 30 and ignoring Taiwan’s hints of human-to-human transmission and requests on sharing “relevant information”. Further, the WHO went on to praise China’s response to the pandemic.
- WHO was severely criticised for its poor handling of the Ebola outbreak in 2014 as well. Incontrovertibly, the relevance of the health agency has been fading. The WHO has been reduced to a coordinating body, beholden to the interests of rich member states. Its functional efficiency has been disadvantaged with organisational lethargy, absence of decisive leadership, bureaucratic indolence, underfunded programmes, and inability to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century.
- Director General Tedros Adhanom has been criticised for his leadership abilities during this pandemic. In contrast, Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director General of the WHO (1998-2003), spearheaded the global health response with a host of significant policy decisions. She focused on projecting WHO as one entity and publicly reproached the Chinese leadership for its response to the 2003 SARS pandemic. The timely containment of SARS despite an unfavourable response from China bears the stamp of her decisive leadership.
Relying on rich member states
- WHO is funded through assessed contributions made by the member states and voluntary contributions from member states and private donors. While assessed contributions can be spent as per the organisation’s priorities approved at the World Health Assembly, the irregular voluntary contributions are allocated in consultation with the donors. While voluntary contributions accounted for nearly 80% of the budget in 2018-19, assessed contributions merely constituted 17% of the total budgetary support. The challenges owing to constrained finances encumber autonomy in decision-making by favouring a donor-driven agenda.
- While the WHO has failed in arresting the pandemic, governments across the globe are equally responsible for their inept handling and ill-preparedness. However, that does not vindicate WHO’s tardiness in handling the crisis. Many countries, especially in Africa and Asia, rely predominantly on the WHO for enforcing policy decisions governing public health. Political leanings and financial compulsions of WHO cannot betray that trust. The burden of their expectations must weigh heavily on every policy decision taken by the global health agency, for when the WHO fails, many innocent lives are lost.
World Health Organisation
Origin and functions:
- WHO is a United Nations agency created in 1948.
- It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
- It was founded to coordinate and direct the UN’s global health effort.
- It has no authority over its 194-member countries and depends on member contributions to carry out its work.
- All of the member states of the UN except for Liechtenstein, plus the Cook Islands and Niue are its members.
- Several other countries like Palestine have been granted observer status.
- The WHO Constitution states its main objective as ensuring “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”.
- The International Sanitary Conferences, originally held on 23 June 1851, were the first predecessors of the WHO.
- A series of 14 conferences that lasted from 1851 to 1938, worked to combat many diseases like cholera, yellow fever, and the bubonic plague.
- The Pan-American Sanitary Bureau (1902) and the Office International d’Hygiène Publique (1907) were soon founded.
- When the League of Nations was formed in 1920, they established the Health Organization of the League of Nations.
- After World War II, the United Nations absorbed all the other health organizations, to form the WHO.
- The constitution of the WHO was signed by all 51 countries of the United Nations, and by 10 other countries, on 22 July 1946.
- It thus became the first specialized agency of the United Nations to which every member subscribed.
- Its constitution came into force on the first World Health Day, that is, 7 April 1948.
- The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the WHO’s is the legislative and supreme decision-making body.
- It appoints the Director-General every five years and votes on matters of policy and finance of WHO, including the proposed budget.
- The Assembly is attended by delegations from all member states and determines the policies of the organization.
- It elects 34 members, technically qualified in the field of health, to the Executive Board for three-year terms.
- The Executive Board and gives effect to the decisions and policies of the WHA.
- WHA also reviews reports of the Executive Board and decides whether there are areas of work requiring further examination.
- At present the Director General is Dr.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, (previously Ethiopia’s foreign minister, elected in 2017 and is the WHO’s first leader from Africa and for whose election for the first time all WHO countries had an equal vote).
- As of April 2020, the chairman of the executive board is Dr. Hiroki Nakatani.
Types of contributions:
- Voluntary contributions are funds for specific programme areas provided by Member States or other partners.
- Assessed contributions are the dues Member States pay depending on the states’ wealth and population.
- Core voluntary contributions are funds for flexible uses provided by Member States or other partners.
- providing leadership on matters critical to health and engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed;
- shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation and dissemination of valuable knowledge;
- setting norms and standards and promoting and monitoring their implementation;
- articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options;
- providing technical support, catalysing change and building sustainable institutional capacity;
- monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends;
- CRVS (civil registration and vital statistics) to provide monitoring of vital events (birth, death, wedding, divorce);
- Success of the organization:
- Since 1977, it has maintained a list of essential medicines it encourages hospitals to stock.
- Its child vaccination programs contributed to the eradication of smallpox in 1979 and a 99 percent reduction in polio infections in recent decades.
- The agency has the exclusive authority to declare global health emergencies, which it has done several times since its members granted it the power in 2007.
- At present, the WHO’s work includes combating emergencies, such as the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 and promoting refugees’ health.
The WHO identified three priorities for its work in international 2019 strategy:
- providing health coverage to one billion more people;
- protecting one billion more people from health emergencies such as epidemics;
- ensuring another one billion people enjoy better health and well-being, including protection from non-infectious diseases such as cancer.
The WHO’s strategic priorities are rooted in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Endemic, Epidemic and Pandemic classification:
Endemic: It refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area. E.g. Chickenpox is considered endemic in the UK.
Epidemic: It is the regional outbreak of an illness that spreads unexpectedly. It refers to an sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease beyond what is normally expected in the population of an area. E.g. Outbreak of chikungunya in India.