Towards a ‘National’ Civil Service – The ‘Bhawna Vriksha’ (a tree of “service and empathy”)

Mussoorie: Civil Services Day, observed on April 21st every year, is a celebration of the idea of a national civil service

BY | Thursday, 20 April, 2023
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the Officer Trainees of the 92nd Foundation Course, at the LBSNAA, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand on 27 October 2017. (Credit: PMO)

Written by Srinivas Katikithala, Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA)

Civil Services Day, observed on April 21st every year, is a celebration of the idea of a national civil service. “Bapu inaugurated new service recruits’ school at Delhi”, observed Maniben Patel, in her diary. It was a poignant moment. Sardar Patel inaugurated the newly created Indian Administrative Service in 1947, “officered entirely by Indians and subjected completely, to Indian control… free to…adopt its true role of national service without being trammelled by traditions and habits of the past”. He added a credo that would motivate every civil servant: “We have a right to expect the best out of every civil servant in India, in whatever position of responsibility he may be. It is not for you to approach your task purely from a mercenary angle or entirely from self-interest, however enlightened it may be. Your foremost consideration should be how best to contribute to the well-being of India as a whole”. Hence, it is a travesty to attribute to Sardar Patel, the phrase ‘Steel Frame’ with its negative connotation of a rigid, restrictive, and rule-bound colonial bureaucracy.

The ‘Steel Frame’, a description of the Imperial Civil Service (ICS) by British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, in a Commons debate in 1921, came to define both the popular culture and self-imagination of the Civil Service. Hence, the lamentations of the early governments on their inability to craft a civil service rooted in the national ethos, distracted as they were by the turbulent partition times. It remained as an unfinished job.

This task of defining an Indian ethos for the civil service began in the 75th year of India’s independence, with Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi’s address, where he spelt out the country’s vision and the ‘Panch Pran’- the five pledges — to drive India’s transition from ‘Amrit Mahotsav’ to ‘Amrit Kaal’. The second pledge i.e. the removal of a colonial mindset demanded a revision of self-imagination and the shedding of colonial baggage among the civil services. The power of an image and the act of positive envisioning is both liberating and reifying. The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) responded by visualising the Civil Service as a living entity — the ‘Peepul Tree’ which has animated our civilizational vision from times immemorial. The Civil Service, as ‘Bhawna Vriksha’, a tree of “service and empathy”, is thus, a positive reaffirmation of the spirit of self-assurance and decolonization.

The introspection at the Academy, set in the foreground of the mighty Swargarohini – the inspiring totem for seeking heavenly comfort in the welfare of citizens, visualises the Bhawna Vriksha as an emblem, representing the timeless virtues of selfless service and devotion to duty. The attributes & conception of an ideal civil servant for the Amrit Kaal were first enunciated by the Prime Minister on October 31st 2019, at the Statue of Unity. They are, being

(1) Proactive & Polite (2) Professional & Progressive (3) Energetic & Enabling

(4) Transparent & Tech-Enabled (5) Creative & Constructive (6) Imaginative & Innovative.

The idea of a future-ready civil service is a holistic one. A whole of government and a de-siloed attitude, anticipating the future, collaborative in its method, participatory in its engagement, and innovative in its spirit. This is the nature of ‘Bhawna Vriksha’ serving the people in the farthest corners.

The shaking off of a former colonial mindset, sharing a sense of pride in the Indian roots, and a duty-bound set of civil servants with a nation-first approach is the new ethic of civil servants who pass out of its hallowed doors as “Mussoorie Wala Karmayogis”. The ringing notes of the Academy song, Hao Dharmete Dheer, Hao Karomete Bir, Hao Unnato Shir—Naahi Bhay, is their spiritual call to action.

Commemorating the ethos of the ‘Bhawna Vriksha’ is the “Walkway of Service”, built around the Academy’s hallowed Director’s Square. The walkway is a series of hermetically sealed time capsules, arranged chronologically, containing the statements of purpose of successive batches of civil service trainees, starting in 2021 and ending in 2047. These commitment statements are preserved for unveiling at the dawn of the Indian century, under Vikasit Bharat, on August 15, 2047. The day for the ‘Bhawna Vriksha’ to acquit itself as an able servant of its masters – the people of India.

Thus, defenestrating the erstwhile colonial ‘steel frame’ paradigm and realising Sardar’s original exhortation, “…now, you are serving your own people. So now on, you can serve with your heart and mind and soul… you will be truly Indian by serving your own people.

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