Sunday, August 30, 2009

Generalists Vs Specialists

One of the long fought war between civil servants is of Generalist Vs specialist Debate - who is better.Appointing Generalist IAS to a job which really requires a specialists ability is an irking factor for many civil servants ..for example IAS officer heading revenue services when senior most IRS officers are available to do the job. There are many points which supports Generalists as well as specialists. While writing answer in mains it is very important to maintain the balance between the same. If the job is of highest importance say atomic / nuclear related and of defense related then obviously the job calls for a specialist not a generalist. However if the job requires the person need to have a good over all understanding of the circumstances then it calls for a generalist. 

While writing answers it is very important to give examples to support your answers. In these articles you need to select the appropriate examples and put it in a diplomatic way.

The following article gives some stuffs in this direction  ,please make a note of highlighted points.


Latha Jishnu: The IAS grabs the patent office too

India’s patents office, or the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks to give its full title, was one of those dreary government departments, badly-equipped and poorly-staffed, its decrepit state of little interest to officialdom — or to the media — till January 1, 2005. That’s when India introduced product patents on pharmaceuticals, food and chemicals under its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations. Things had to change because the big boys of the global pharmaceutical and chemical industries were descending on this country to seek marketing rights and patent protection along with our home-grown drugs industry

So the shabby offices of the patent controller — there are four in all — became the focus of much attention and, of course, controversy. The biggest problem was that the offices were neither digitised nor linked online till even last year. Then there was the shortage of qualified examiners and controllers although Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath, under whose ministry the Controller General of Patents (CGP) functions, was assuring us that we had a state-of-the-art patent office. Along the way, another, almost inevitable, problem has cropped up: The whiff of corruption. Some of the offices were showing a tendency to approve patents without going through the due processes and favouring the foreign patent holder even in cases where patents were barred by a special section of the Indian Patent Act. So things were a bit messy, but par for the course of government functioning.

Now comes the news that a career bureaucrat has been appointed the CGP, marking a sharp break with tradition. The new boss is from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and not a specialist. P H Kurian, the 50-year-old civil servant with a post-graduate degree in chemistry, was last with the industries department of Kerala, after going through the bureaucratic mill in Orissa and Kerala.

So one more office of significance has fallen to the IAS, which is notorious for grabbing posts that have traditionally belonged to the specialist and for undermining the independence of technically superior organisations. Take one example, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the apex regulatory body for the power sector. With help from their political bosses, the IAS lobby gradually emasculated the CEA and finally made it an appendage of the power ministry in 1998. This was soon after IAS officials had begun to replace engineers as the heads of the state electricity boards which were going to wrack and ruin. That was not a reflection of the competence and efficiency of the engineers, all risen from the ranks, who were heading the utilities but was a result of the political meddling.

Is the appointment of an IAS man a good thing for the patent office which is clearly in need of an overhaul? But so is the vast machinery of the Government of India which has the very same babus at the senior level. Will this be yet another case of the IAS being allowed to spread its grasping tentacles further without any thought for the outcome? Some patent analysts are clearly delighted with the development merely because it marks a change, which they believe is for the better. Perhaps the change at the head may help to overcome the primary problems of the patent office: A gross shortage of examiners and infrastructure. Would a generalist be able to run an organisation that is manned entirely by technical and legal experts? Perhaps.

Interestingly, the appointment of a bureaucrat as CGP coincides with a public scrutiny of the IAS official’s competence to hold specialised posts. Pushing this inquiry is well-known campaigner for transparency in governance, Arvind Kejriwal, a Magsaysay award winner, who is seeking information on all senior bureaucratic appointees to find out if these met the norms of ‘specific suitability’ as per central government regulations. Since the candidates are drawn mainly from the generalist stream, Kejriwal wants to find out how the government met the norms in appointments at the level of secretary and additional secretary. The CGP post, it appears, is of joint secretary level, which might exclude it from Kejriwal’s prying eyes.

But if one were to go by practices elsewhere, then the CGP clearly needs some expert muscle to beef up his administrative arm. The US, for example, and I cite the US because it provides the inspiration and direction to the Manmohan Singh government on most matters, seeks formidable qualifications from the person who heads the US Patents & Trademarks Office (USPTO). The director usually has a background in different specialisations (science, law and finance) and is an official who has worked closely on intellectual property issues.

The new acting head of the USPTO is John J Doll, who has been with the patent office since 1974. He is a man who has risen from the ranks and has been given numerous awards for developing patenting tools. His expertise is trusted. Do we have no one of this calibre?

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