Do IES officers serve the society?

Suppose you are sitting in front of UPSC board for interview and the first question which is asked is “Why do you want to join IES?” and you reply “Sir, I want to serve the society.” This answer is vague as well as unimpressive; it will show your lack of imagination and information. You don’t know how you will get to serve society being IES. So, in this article we will discuss this question in depth so that you are well aware of scope and limitations of social service in IES. We will also compare IES with respect to civil services.

First, let us look at the term IES, does this term mean anything? Aspirants and coaching institute refer the term ‘IES’ as Indian Engineering Services but UPSC does not. It uses ESE i.e Engineering Services Exam which sounds so dull and boring; at least IES sounds and looks fancy enough to motivate us during preparation. IES is not a service like IAS/IPS; it is a combined entrance exam for recruiting engineers for different departments of government. According to your rank and preference, the service is allotted which you can finally call as ‘service’. So if someone ask you “What is your service?” don’t reply that “I am an IES officer”, it will not convey any meaning, it just means that you got some rank in an entrance exam. Recently released Bibek Debroy committee report uses the term IES for Indian Engineering Services, so we will use the same term for the similar context. Moreover I would like to appeal to UPSC to official use IES for our beloved engineers.

Now lets us look at social service thing which is so called basis of your preparation. You can serve the society in myriad number of ways depending on your ability and opportunity given to you. First ask yourself how do you want to serve this society? Basically there can be two ways of doing it- Directly or Indirectly. According to me, of all the government jobs, IAS and IPS are the only two services which deal directly with people, rest all the services work indirectly. In fact, IAS has the maximum opportunity as District magistrate to work directly for the people. But this is not the end of story, there is crucial difference in working directly for the society and bringing about change in the lives of people. You can be a writer and yet impact the lives of ordinary citizens. All of us can’t become IAS, because our abilities and potentialities differ at the end of day. Don’t you think that it better to be good engineer than bad administrator? Will you be happier bringing a real change in lives of people working for them indirectly or making innovative technologies for improvement in  course of their lives directly? This is for you to decide. All I want to say is if you really want to serve the society first decide how you can put your ability to the best use for the service of citizens of this country. There are multiple challenges facing our nation, the question is which challenge do you want to take?

In IES, you are an engineer first, officer later. After you get posted in your respective departments you will have to look for challenges facing the nation which you can solve through your work. I work in railways, so let me give you an example of how you can impact lives of people working in railways. Railways tagline is ‘Lifeline of the nation’ which means a lot of people of this nation earn their livelihood directly or indirectly because of railways. Just have look at those areas where railway lines are missing and you will notice the disparity between developments of the area vis-a vis where railway lines have been existing.

Suppose you are a good electronics engineer then do some research to avoid collision of trains while improving line capacity?  If you are a good mechanical engineer, then design coaches and locos for high speed trains. IF you are a good electrical engineer then do some research in OHE, TRD, TRS, etc. If you are good civil engineer then there is lot to give to railways. In terms of engineering, there is much to learn and improve, and this is what engineers do.

Let’s us take a case study to understand this topic more clearly. There is a remote district in North-East India which is mainly inhabited by tribal communities. There is only road connectivity to the capital of the state. Insurgents group run extortion gangs in the area. People have been cut-off from mainstream development process. They have not seen outside world or travel much due lack of rail transport. In rainy seasons, roads get damaged and all movement halts. Now imagine a situation when this district is connected via rail network to the rest of the country. It would really change lives of people. If by all means, it gets high speed network, then all is left to imagination. You had just worked as an engineer for railways which is now changing about lives of people. They can now find employment, tourist attractions will increase, sporting talent will grow, and insurgency may also lessen. In the same district, NHAI, BSNL, CPWD, will send their IES officers to improve existing infrastructure. I have just given you an example of how an IES can serve society.

Now the question is do you really want to serve society? Helping people is not an easy task, it means to suffer, even to put your life at risk. Only those who have inner appeal can do this. Being an IES, you may not get recognition that you deserve because in current framework of society, engineers are valued below politicians and bureaucrats. People may not even come to know about your efforts, just ask yourself how much do you know about Railways apart from booking tickets. You know well enough the state of research and development in India, inspite of being a crucible of talent we lack in producing world-class research. Japan developed bullet train in 60’s and we still don’t have a single network of high speed trains. Just look at the history of Railway Ministry and you will know why it is so. Ministry of Railways has always been used as a bargain for stitching political alliance but it has always proved to be bad deal for the people of this country.

Returning to the original question, I would say that being IES is one of the best ways of being an engineer in India, serving people is upto you. It matters a lot on how you look at your job. Just do your job honestly, somewhere it will definitely bring smiles on the faces of people and you would have served the society.

Amit Singh
IRSE 2013

11 Replies to “Do IES officers serve the society?”

  1. Could not answer the most difficult and the most pertinent question related to the services any better without being judgemental. This question is easily avoided.
    Hats off to the courage and the beautiful write-up.

  2. Reblogged this on Deepak Jhalani and commented:

    A thoughtful and interesting article by Amit Singh.
    Could not answer the most difficult and the most pertinent question related to the services any better without being judgemental. This question is easily avoided.
    Proabaly this question can be extrapolated to almost every profession and its social utility.

  3. ‘What’s good for you, may not be good for the railways. What’s good for the railways, may not be good for the society. The question is are you good, and if you are, what’s your good?’
    Indian Railways is an anomaly. Policing and Administration needs officers, not running a railway system. For running a transport utility efficiently you need professionals, both experts and generalists, but not officers.
    How does an expert serve the society?
    Through excellence in his own field, through his creations that serve and through contribution to theory and practices that act as benchmarks.
    How does a generalist serve the society?
    Through better delivery of whatever mandate he is given, which is generally about using logic, acumen and communication for optimal outcome. Generalists with years of experience in specific field become experts.
    The job profile for an engineer, admitted through ESE is mostly that of a maintenance engineer. Beyond this there is a considerable administrative role one has to play because of the labour intensive nature of the work. The job of maintenance engineer is that of an expert, and that of administrator is that of a generalist. Further, in both of these roles there are numerous dependencies on different vertical structures whose working is beyond the scope of the engineer in consideration. Moreover, the workflow is file-intensive, with uncertain delays, and poor information systems. The skill that majorly affects your effectiveness is liasoning and not the expertise in your chosen field of engineering. Thus, achieving excellence in such a system is extremely difficult. As there have been numerous inspiring lifetimes in railways so i can’t say it’s impossible, but surely very very very difficult, especially today when the euphoria of nation-building is gone, and the serving the society is no longer synonymous to serving the nation.
    In today’s world when 3 year old’s on the opposite ends of the planet can seamlessly communicate, the average time-constant of file from bottom to top to bottom of around 2 months is disappointing. The average posting tenure is 3 years, and the time constant of any initiative is many times that number. There is feudalism in culture, and all India Transfer and contradictory rules provide ample opportunity of harassment. The suggestions of those at the bottom are lost somewhere on the way up, any change requires an external committee. Frank discussions with bosses are less, questioning non-existent. The system still runs on 1900’s ki technology with 1800’s ka mindset.What keeps it together aren’t motivation and excellence, but harrasment, vested-interests and the self-less unsung workoholics.
    It must be understood “managing a problem” and fundamentally solving it are two different things. Engineers live on fundamental solutions, but your bosses would want you to “manage”.
    Baaki live for yourself. It’s good that you have articulated your starting point, it would give you a framework to resolve the everyday contradictions that you would face. Go out and see your subordinates working without even basic tools, and live with the helplessness that you can’t do anything about it, just wait for over year long procurement cycle to may-be deliver.
    “If you work very hard and pull a train manually, have u served anyone?”

    1. Probably..Your reply very well sums up the insider’s perspective and daily dilemma of conscience one faces in the system on daily basis…
      And surely it has taken the discussion to real and practical level.
      Lets see where it goes.

  4. Does the UPSC takes medical aftr interview of ESE exam for mech and civil for the cadres like IRSME N IRSE ??? i have got lasik surgergy for the myopia am i eligible for the ies exam medical ???

  5. Insightful and the Best lines among the pool –
    1. “The skill that majorly affects your effectiveness is liasoning and not the expertise in your chosen field of engineering. Thus, achieving excellence in such a system is extremely difficult. As there have been numerous inspiring lifetimes in railways so i can’t say it’s impossible, but surely very very very difficult, especially today when the euphoria of nation-building is gone, and the serving the society is no longer synonymous to serving the nation.”

    2. “In today’s world when 3 year old’s on the opposite ends of the planet can seamlessly communicate, the average time-constant of file from bottom to top to bottom of around 2 months is disappointing. The average posting tenure is 3 years, and the time constant of any initiative is many times that number. ”

    3. “The suggestions of those at the bottom are lost somewhere on the way up, any change requires an external committee. Frank discussions with bosses are less, questioning non-existent. The system still runs on 1900’s ki technology with 1800’s ka mindset.What keeps it together aren’t motivation and excellence, but harrasment, vested-interests and the self-less unsung workoholics.”

    4. “Go out and see your subordinates working without even basic tools, and live with the helplessness that you can’t do anything about it, just wait for over year long procurement cycle to may-be deliver.”

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