After reading this article you will learn that specialist should be accorded due place in our democratic polity.
Generalist is one who has a bird’s eye-view knowledge of science or technology. He takes a comprehensive view of the problem in science or technology and can render advice in general. He is in a position to provide the bridge between the various branches and sectors of science or technology as a whole.’
In the words of Dr. White, “A generalist is a career person within the executive branch who by the breadth of his experience and the quality of his mind is competent to deal effectively with complex problems of relationship among agencies or officials and to apply judgment of a high discriminating character to difficult and obstinate problems.”
A generalist is not a policy-man as a rule but is concerned with the higher co-ordination and facilitation of operations. He is in a position to command detail while avoiding responsibility for detail and seeing far beyond it.
Generally he functions in the higher levels of middle management or in the lower levels of top management. In Great Britain, such a class of services is called Administrative class. In U.S.A. there is no special category of such officers though they are scattered through all the large departments.
Occasionally, some of these adminis-trative generalists may rise to political positions. Generally they remain firmly anchored in the career service.
A specialist, on the other hand, is equipped with knowledge of science or technology in depth in one particular branch or sector. He is generally probing in depth in his limited field. He is not bothered about the place of his work in science or technology as a whole.
In other words, the specialist by the nature of his work is myopic. His interest lies only in a small sector of science or technology and he persistingly probes into that sector in depth. He does not look at science or technology from a broad angle at all.
He can see problems only from his limited angle. Unlike that of a Generalist, he cannot go down from the whole to the part. “The specialist has been described in somewhat derogatory terms as a man who knows more and more about less and less.”
Background of Controversy in India:
The controversy over the role of the generalist and the specialist in administration is as old as administration itself. However, the generalist administrator is considered as the legacy of the British who used to employ young men of aristocratic families equipped with liberal education which could help them to lend wholehearted support to the imperial rule.
The young men belonging to Indian Civil Service were thus the guardian of the Empire in its remotest comer. They were trained to be autocrats and keep up the dignity of their prestigious positions.
The I.C.S. (Indian Civil Services) cadre of the British days has been succeeded by the I.A.S. (the Indian Administrative Services) in the independent India. The new cadre of these officers was, however, not visualized as a successor to the I.C.S. in spirit.
They were supposed to be instrumental in promoting national integration and neutralizing the divergent regional pulls. It was planned that these I.A.S. officers would move from districts to state capitals, from there to the Central Secretariat and then back again. It was decided from the beginning that at least half of such officers belonging to a particular state cadre should belong to other states.
This was done to avoid parochial approach to the problems and shun favouritism. These plans were quite laudable. They, however, did not take note of the rapid and multi-directional expansion in governmental activities with the dawn of era of national reconstruction and development.
Due to the multiplication of developmental activities, the Government was forced to induct into its service the technocrats, the scientists, the engineers, technicians and doctors, etc. These technocrats made a substantial contribution to the country’s developmental efforts but they could not attain the coveted top positions in the Central Secretariat. Men like Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar and Dr. H.J. Bhabha have been exceptions.
This has led to the controversy as to why not the technocrats be allowed to hold the highest positions in the administrative hierarchy? Why should the Administrative services be given special weightage? Administration, it is opined, is no longer a simple affair which can be handled by a person equipped with liberal education.
The old story of a petty king who got pleased with a barber who could shave him in sleep without disturbing him and appointed him a Tehsildar—a Generalist post in those days—does not fit in the modern days of administrative complexities.
Modern complicated administrative processes require a clear cut statement of service rules and conditions and a Specialist abreast of these written codes or rules and regulations can do as good as a Generalist, in running modern administration.
The Specialist versus Generalist controversy has reached new heights due to competition for senior and top management posts in public sector enterprises. A new dimension has been added to this problem since the publication of Administrative Reforms Commission’s Report in the recent past.
The report states that the I.A.S. service shall not be a generalist service but shall have a purely functional role, viz., Revenue administration. If this recommendation is accepted, there will be only Specialists and no Generalists.
The adherents of Generalist class of administrators strongly feel that such a theory is not sustainable in administration today. Disparities in their pay scales and status have become a moot question and caused a lot of heart burning.
We discuss below the arguments advanced by the apologists of both—the Generalists and the Specialists before coming to our conclusion.
Arguments for Generalists:
1. A Generalist is known for broad vision and capacity for leadership. He possesses imagination, drive, initiative and enterprise for quick decisions. As such, he alone can advise the Minister—a layman of course—on political aspects of a plan the technical aspects of which have already been taken care of at comparatively lower levels. On the other hand, an expert or a technocrat has myopic vision and a stereotyped mentality.
Hence his specialized knowledge may prove as a liability rather than an asset. This specialized knowledge may rob him of the proper perspective when envisaging the plan. At the higher level, general rather than technical knowledge is essential for getting things done.
In the words of R.G.S. Brown “A more demanding role for the general administration is that of a mediator. The task of the mediator is to link the specialist to the rest of the system by discovering what the limits are and trying to persuade him to work specialist to within them. The good mediator can talk several languages simultaneously and this is not a task in which the professional civil servant will easily feel at home”.
2. A Generalist’s approach even if it is portrayed as a layman’s approach is an asset to the administration, because it enables him to express proposals and decisions in a way which is easily carried out by the lower administrative machinery.
3. A Generalist clears the mess created by the ministers, the legislators and the experts and quells the mob fury which may ensue due to such a mess and prove detrimental to the country. Thus far from suffering from inflated ego, they serve the community in the true sense. A politician makes a promise to the people but after his triumph in the elections he does exactly the opposite. It leads to agitation.
The Generalist bears the brunt of the mob fury. Likewise the legislators pass a law which is detested by the people. The Generalist is again faced with a predicament. A technocrat builds a factory which fails to function well.
The minister is put in the dock on that account at the hands of the parliamentarians. It is the Generalist who comes to the rescue of the ministers by supplying the ministers cogent and palatable answers. Meeting of such situations requires tactfulness, a broader angle of vision and flexibility which the specialists generally lack.
4. It is contended that a Generalist is comparatively more suited for the Secretariat and departmental posts in the States and at the Centre, as he has to play the role of adviser to the elected Government. An adviser must be acquainted with the whole spread of problem before he renders advice to the Government on important policy matters.
In the words of Siva Raman, “Unless the adviser has the experience and the knowledge of the field at grass roots and at the same time has a broad grasp of administration as a whole in the State, his advice is valueless. It is emphasized that there are many specialist fields in the State where the adviser knows only his field of specialization and none others. The Generalist comprehending the inter-play and political forces in the various parts of the State, having varied experience in the Generalist field of work in the State, serves as a better adviser than a Specialist in the state. In the words of Asoka Chandra ….If a specialist is placed in the Ministry controlling his department the chances are that he will continue to be more in the same narrow departmental groove and fail to rise above departmental prejudices.”
5. It is stated by the protagonists of the generalists that an all India cadre approach alone suits our Federal structure. A federal structure was adopted keeping in view the welfare of the people. The States generally resent that Central policies ignore the local difficulties and problems and not attend to area disparities.
A Federation in a vast country like India is apt to be a failure if the adviser at the Centre is not aware of the conditions in the field in his portfolio, in any part of the country.
A Generalist who is supposed to work in any part of the country possesses a detailed knowledge of the field. Hence he will be able to cater to the needs of the masses in the various parts of the country more properly.
In a paper in conference at IIP A, it was also stated “Another justification for the predominance in the higher administrative position of services primarily recruited for the general administration is the facility which the system seems to provide for contact with grass roots of administration”.
It is, however, admitted that in certain fields the Specialist may prove a better adviser because of his expertise and specialized knowledge. Such fields are generally limited and the Specialists in these fields have already been given due recognition.
6. The Generalist alone is competent enough to hold management positions in public sector enterprises. He is more committed to the enterprise than a private sector entrant on a term contract. The manager in a public sector, in fact, has to make use of only part of administrative art of which Generalist is the embodiment.
7. The Generalist is apt to prove better than non-technical Specialist as the field of the vision of the latter is narrower than the former. Moreover, in-service training can enable the Generalist to be in tune with the times and cope with the ever-increasing field of operation.
8. The Generalist suits a democratic set-up. He is open to convictions. As such, he will not have the tendency of aggrandizement. He will be more co-operative with the ministers and accept the superiority of the political boss un-reluctantly.
The Specialist, on the other hand, will be less co-operative and have the tendency to assert as he suffers from inflated ego of expertise he is equipped with. It may affect efficiency of administration as the political bosses may remain at loggers-head with the specialists as the heads of the departments won’t budge an inch from the position they have adopted.
Arguments for Specialists:
1. It is contended that appointing Generalist as the Secretary of a Government department concerned with the technical subjects to assist a minister who himself is a layman is like the blind leading the blind for instance.
It looks anomalous that the Minister for Irrigation and Power himself is advised by a Secretary who is a layman—a Generalist—while technologists equipped with specialized knowledge of the subject play a second fiddle. It is apt to affect adversely working of the Department.
2. It is wrong to presume that the Generalist has a monopoly of good sense and he alone can evaluate and co-ordinate plans and projects and understand their economic and political implications. Further, it is a myth promoted by the Generalist that he alone can make things intelligible to the people.
An appraisal of the report of Union Public Service Commission between 1960 and 1965 clearly reveals that the number of first class graduates recruited to IAS was only 40 per cent of the total. During the same period, the number of first class graduates joining the other technical Government department was twice as high. This reflects that the I.A.S. do not necessarily have higher mental calibre than the technocrats.
Rather, the latter have been comparatively more intelligent. On account of their technical accomplishments and rigorous and intensive training which the Generalists owing to their constant mobility from one department to the other cannot get, are in fact, more capable of handling the plans and projects and dealing with the masses who are affected by such projects and benefitted by such plans.
3. It is further asserted that our public sector enterprises headed by the Generalists have become breeding centres of gross mismanagement. It has resulted in heavy losses and consequently a big drain on the national exchequer.
On the other hand, a technocrat like Dr. Bhabha proved administrator of great acumen. He was responsible for putting the Atomic Energy Commission on its feet and building up an organisation, we are all proud of.
4. The critics do not accept the version that the Generalists alone can look to financial and political aspects of problems. The political aspect of a problem is not the concern of administrative leadership.
It is to fall in the domain of political leadership, i.e., the ministers, who will never like the administrative heads to poke their noses as they alone are responsible to the masses and accountable to the High Commands of the party. The financial aspect can be looked into better by a financial expert rather than a layman—a Generalist—whose only claim to expertise is inflated ego.
5. It is pointed out that due to emergence of concept of welfare state the role of administrator has undergone a change. He is no longer concerned simply with the maintenance of law and order and supervising those working under him. He is to perform welfare functions on behalf of the Government.
As such, he has to manage the economic life of the country as well. This has resulted in inflating his superiority complex and adding to his arrogance. Hence he stands alienated from the people. Thus the gap between the people and the Government which is a relic of the alien’s rule is yawning too wide to be abridged.
The Government of independent India is described as a government of the bureaucracy, by the bureaucracy and for the bureaucracy. It has failed to adapt itself to the evolving welfare society of ours. Hence, it is strongly felt that a Generalist must be replaced by a Specialist who alone can keep pace with the challenges of the fast moving technological world.
Fulton Committee in its report held a similar view. They opined that to meet the increasing demands of people in the modern state, the civil services must be far-sighted and must make use of their accumulated knowledge and experience and must be able to take initiative in analyzing the needs of the future and meeting them adequately.
Criticizing the prevalent Generalist concept, the Committee said, “The concept has most damaging consequences. It cannot make for the efficient dispatch of public business, when keymen rarely stay in one job longer than two or three years before being moved to some other post, often in a very different area of government activity…The cult (Generalist cult) is obsolete at all levels and in all parts of the service.’ Hence, the Committee recommended that “a wide and more important role must be opened up for specialists trained and equipped for it.”
6. The adherents of ‘cult of specialists’ contend that a specialist who trains himself to deal with his specialization in depth and has more knowledge in the art of analysis and synthesis should not be relegated to the position of comparative inferiority in the policy making hierarchy. He should be assigned a role commensurate with his capability and technical expertise.
7. The critics are not prepared to accept the theory of Generalist having comprehensive grasp of the entire field of administration. Such administrators are rarely born. They can never be so built up by any known method of administrative development. Hence it is better to bring experts in varied sectors together in order to analyze administrative problems and evolve a solution.
8. A specialist as an adviser to a lay politician may prove better. He may not be a suppliant tool and a mere yes-man as is the case with most generalists. On account of his expertise and professional training, he may more easily succeed in convincing the political boss and thus a correct line of action may be adopted. Such an ideal combination of layman and experts is apt to result in the efficient functioning of democracy.
Administrative Reforms Commission’s View:
The Administrative Reforms Commission (Govt., of India) appraised the problem of Generalist vs. Specialist in its report on Personnel Administration. It realized the necessity of the change in the role of the Government and keeping in view the great diversification of its functions called for induction of a variety of skills in the higher administration.
The ARC made following observations in this direction:
(a) A rational system of filling policy advice positions with men possessing the required qualification and competence needs to be devised. This will mean a fuller use of different services for secretariat work.
(b) Senior management posts may be selected from all the relevant sources—the Generalist and the Specialists. The talent needs to be discovered and developed in all the cadres specially among those who have not hitherto been inducted into the higher administration to any significant degree.
(c) A rational pay structure should be adopted so as to reflect actual responsibilities borne in each job.
(d) In order to tone up morale throughout the personnel system, much greater scope than now exists needs to be created for talent in the lower ranks to move up to higher positions in the civil service on the basis of competence and performance.
(e) The Commission broadly classified the higher services into two categories:
(a) Posts in the field;
(b) Posts at headquarters.
Posts in the field should be occupied by functional services which comprises not only technical services equipped with pre-entry vocational education like Engineering services but also those which specialize after entry in a particular area of administration (such as the Accounts, Income Tax, etc.).
The Commission recommended that a functional field pertaining to Land Revenue Administration, exercise of magisterial functions and regulatory work in the states in fields other than those looked after by other functional services recently created and relating to specific functions should be filled by the professionals like engineers, scientists, doctors and economists who possess subject-matter competence.
The Commission concluded, “The Generalist has his place and an important one at that, in the scheme of things; so has the Specialist, the scientist and the technologist. In a growing democracy, committed to rapid socio-economic development, the administration has to be good no less than it has to be effective, if a good administration is imperative for the happiness and welfare of the people, an effective administration is a pre-requisite for the strength and propriety of the country. This twin purpose needs the devoted services of the specialists no less than those of the generalists…
The Commission went to the extent of suggesting that, “preference for the generalist…should give place to a preference for those who have acquired competence in the concerned field.”
It is heartening that some substantial steps have been taken in inducting specialists into higher administrative positions at the centre as well as in the various states.
The UGC, the Planning Commission, the department of Atomic Energy, the department of Space and Electronics e.g. are being controlled in the capacity of heads by the scientists and the professionals as secretaries and chairmen. Likewise members of Railway Board who happen to be heads of operating department are ex-officio secretaries in the Railway Ministry.
In its report on March, 2002 the Constitution Review Committee opined “Above a certain level say this joint secretary level – all posts should be open for recruitment from a wide variety of sources including the open market. We would specialize some of the generalists and generalize some of the specialists through proper career management which has to be freed from day today political manipulation and influences peddling.” The commission was also of the view that the specialists should not be required to play second fiddle to the generalist at the top.
The observations made by the Administrative Reforms Commission and the Constitution Review Committee are worth consideration. The ARC and CRC have rightly diagnosed the malady. We feel that too great a reliance on the Generalist is detrimental to the interest of efficiency of administration and consequently insidious to the interests of common men.
There is a dire need of inducting the specialists and technical personnel in the top government services.
However, they may be assigned only advisory role and not be integrated into the decision-making hierarchy as they may fail to handle men and matters involved in relationship with other departments. We may therefore conclude that the administrative services must no longer remain the close preserve of a handful of Generalists—the so-called elite of the country.
A maximum utilization of all available talent necessitates the abolition of artificial discrimination between the Generalists and the Specialists for a position of precedence and parity of pay scales is apt to end if the Government pays adequate attention to the recommendations of A.R.C. and accords a right place to the Specialists which they richly deserve. Inter-service cooperation is the crying need of the hour.
“Such a co-operation will prove much more fruitful and productive if it is based on mutual respect and profound regard for each other rather than a sense of superiority or inferiority. Mutual respect and reciprocity is possible if proper status is conferred upon the hitherto neglected technical man, and the latter does not create more irritants by resorting to agitation.”
Somehow in Indian polity, Generalists have been able to hold their ground despite the fact that leaders like or Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru were fully conscious of the superiority of intellect, expertise and knowledge of the technocrats.
Dr. Prasad said “I see the reason why technical personnel should not be treated at par with administrative personnel and the technical service should not be given the same emoluments and advantages as the country administrative services”.
In the words of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. “An Engineer can work as administrator but administrator cannot work without engineer because he does not know the job at all.”
Likewise Mrs. Indira Gandhi in convocation address at Roorkee in 1967 remarked “The highest of our young-men and women choose engineering and medicine. If they happen to go with government they are very often overtaken by general administrator. This must change and I am trying to change it…” Despite all these encouraging remarks generalists reign and the technocrats play the second fiddle.
The reasons are not far to seek:
(i) The Ministers are apprised of two lines of advice—that of the Generalists and the Specialists—on a particular issue.
(ii) The Specialist is said to be over-enthusiast. As such he disqualifies himself to this extent from arriving at a final decision.
(iii) The co-existence of the Generalists and the Specialists results in ‘constructive tension’ which proves beneficial in matters of governmental decision-making.
However, the Generalists will have to be made more knowledgeable and more efficient in the performance of their assigned tasks. Besides, the Administrative services must acquire specialization by choosing an area of administration and receiving an in-depth specialized training in that area. They should be allowed to stay there for considerable period in order to gain requisite experience.
Their transfers too should be limited to linking fields. The future administrator should be a blend of ‘a modest measure of technical competence’ and a high degree of administrative skill. Efforts may also be made to choose Generalist administrators out of Specialists who have exhibited administrative acumen.
At present efficient generalists and the all-round specialists constitute a rare commodity in the administrative services?
While concluding our discussing on the Generalists vs. specialists we may refer to the findings of the Pranab Mukherjee committee attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs under Vajpayee Government. Its Report (2003) once again revived the controversy that the civil services should be run just by generalists and not by professional and technocrats.
The committee has strongly recommended, the debarring of specialists from taking up the civil service. Needless to say that the recommendations have stirred a honest nest.
The recommendations of another committee named a Surrendra Nath Committee on Bureaucracy set up in 2003 are however revealing.
The committee strongly felt the imperative of specialization in the civil service and to this end recommended that the officials may be streamed into three out of eleven domains of specializations, it worked out to harmonies, the concept of generalist service with the necessity of specialization.”
In all fairness the specialists should be accorded due place in our democratic polity. They should be kept at par with the administrative services, so far as emoluments and other perks are concerned. They should be amply rewarded for their technical department researches and marked achievements in their domain.
If they are heading a technical department they should not be bossed over by a generalist of much younger age who incidentally may not be fully abreast of the technicalities of such a department.
So is the case with the specialist heading department requiring special expertise and vast experience. For example Education Department in Haryana state is headed by a young IAS whereas the senior most principal may be a doctor in his subject and a reservoir of experience in the sphere of education at his disposal plays the second fiddle.
He is put as the Joint Director. It is an irritant and hardly in the interest of higher education in the state, such anomalies should be removed.