KM Chandrasekhar served as the cabinet secretary, the highest post in the Indian civil service, for four years from 2007–11. Chandrasekhar is an Indian Administrative Services officer from the 1970 batch of the Kerala cadre and served a 15-year-long tenure with the central government. During this period, he served as a joint secretary to the minister of commerce, a revenue secretary, the deputy chief of mission in the Indian embassy at Brussels, and India’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation.
Over a series of emails exchanged in early August, Nileena MS, a reporting fellow with The Caravan, spoke to Chandrasekhar about the 360-degree appraisal system—the current process for empanelling civil servants with the government of India. The former cabinet secretary discussed the limitations of the system and the necessity to replace it with a continuous, performance-based and result-oriented assessment process. “There is a discernible lack of transparency in the present system, which makes it rather unfair to the officer,” Chandrasekhar said. “The notion that a selection system for serving officers and managers should be opaque is not in conformity with modern practice.”
Nileena MS: What is your opinion on the introduction of the 360-degree appraisal system in the process of empanelment of officers? Do you think obtaining the feedback of juniors, peers, and external stakeholders is an effective tool for performance appraisal?
KM Chandrasekhar: First, it seems to lack transparency and could be easily abused to favour this or that individual at some stage or other. We have past experience of political governments and bureaucracies misusing systems, and hence transparency, to the extent possible, is essential.
Second, the 360-degree assessment, by itself, does not appear to take into account the actual career record of an officer, built up over the years.