The IAS Card — Your Access to Privileged and Exclusive Customer Service
KBS Sidhu 23 February 2024
The Core Argument: IAS as Indian Customer Service
In September 2018, as a serving Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, I had penned an article captioned “IAS has now become the Indian Customer Service” that had been published in a reputed national e-Portal. The thrust of the article was that IAS officers are more focused on delivering priority services to an elite class of customers, even as the ordinary citizens languish in serpentine queues. The 'preferred' clientele includes the members of the political executive, legislators, higher bureaucracy, businessmen and journalists et al. The piece did not, directly or indirectly, imply that the IAS officers, as a class, are either inefficient or corrupt.
Response from the IAS Community
The piece elicited quite an animated response from many of our serving IAS officer colleagues, even though no one really put forth a reasoned rebuttal in the public domain. On the other hand, many officers, serving as well as retired, reached out to me privately as well as in their public comments on my Facebook post, stating that the article was a truthful representation of the existing state of affairs, even though it was not anybody’s (including mine) case that the existing scenario was desirable. They, however, seemed inclined to agree that to survive and thrive in the service career, an IAS officer could not but give disproportionate attention to the elite customers.
Call for a 'Total Internal Reflection'
Barely days later, I published an article on my personal blog suggesting 'total internal reflection' by the IAS community, collectively. Aren’t we ourselves a set of elite customers, claiming priority and exclusive services from the various instrumentalities of the State as also from private organisations, which even the relatively more informed citizens are perhaps completely unaware of? No, I am not talking of huge bungalows at next-to-nothing rentals, or chauffeur-driven cars or armed round-the-clock security at government expense or the concept of 'camp office' as a part of your residenc, which the government provides/ maintains. I am just talking about tangible and intangible perks, privileges and facilities some of which even money cannot buy.
I think, nearly five years down the line, it is time to recapitulate it in its material particulars and see whether the things have changed much. Let our readers judge.
We have one class of citizenship but there are three classes of Indian passports.
Colour of Passport
Yes, we are all aware of our deep blue passport, a proof of our being citizens of India. But then there are white-coloured 'Official Passports' and the exclusive dark maroon coloured 'Diplomatic Passports'. It’s not just about separate and fast-track immigration and emigration queues but also ease in getting visas from foreign countries. More importantly, many countries allow entry without visa to the holders of diplomatic and official Indian passports for a limited period (follow this link for a complete list, Our Constitution created just one class of citizens but if you see the practical utility of a diplomatic passport, which every IAS officer of the rank and status of a joint secretary to government of India (JS to GoI) is entitled to possess, it appears that some citizens are 'more equal than others'.
(Sample of home ministry identity card: The royal treatment begins with three red stars (this one has just one, in the left top corner)
Home Ministry Three-star Identity Card
Ever tried to enter any one of various 'Sarkari' Bhawans in the National Capital, especially the hallowed portals of the North Block and the South Block? You need to have a prior appointment with the concerned officer, who then authorises your entry. You are physically frisked, your files/ luggage and belongings X-rayed and you are allowed entry only after a temporary pass is issued at the 'reception'. Be aware, there may be long queues here, so you’d better there well before time. On the other hand, if you are carrying the 3-star identity card, irrespective of whether you are serving in the Centre or in a state, you glide through without any hassle whatsoever, with a complimentary salute by the otherwise obdurate and stern-looking CISF (central industrial security force) security-personnel as a bonus.
Bank’s Preferred Clients
I was very happy to note that the cheque book issued to me by a private bank designated me as 'preferred' customer. I was soon upgraded to the status of a 'privileged' one. But it was only when, as the finance secretary of my State, I was invited to a dinner with their visiting MD (managing director) , did I discover that despite my consistently measly bank balance, I had been elevated the previous day to the highest level of hierarchy in the bank’s customers — the 'Imperia' You now had a 'Personal' Relationship Manager and if at all you deigned to visit the branch personally, no one lower than the branch manager was supposed to attend to you.
Lounge doors fly open when IAS officers fly, whether economy or otherwise
VIP Airport Lounges
Officers of the rank and status of JS in GoI are entitled to travel business class on official trips abroad. So, the exclusive lounges are a part of the deal. However, even in domestic travel your I-card can throw open the doors of the VIP Lounges, even if you are travelling economy class. Of course, who will stop your family members from accompanying you to these otherwise exclusive and restricted-access places? Yes, airlines have their own CIPS (commercially important persons, for the uninitiated), but compared to the VIPs of the local administration/ state government, they are quite far behind in matter of protocol. A friendly phone call to a colleague at the appropriate level may also earn you a coveted upgrade from the economy to business class on the domestic as well as overseas routes, especially on a private visit.
Red Lights and NHAI Toll Bridges
Yes, the red-light VIP culture is out. The Centre has amended the Motor Vehicles Act/ Rules and no person can now flaunt a red/ blue or amber light atop his official vehicle. What about flag? Yes, IAS officers of the rank of principal secretary and above in the states support distinctive flags. In the field, junior officers of the rank of commissioners and the district magistrates also do so. These carry more weight than the erstwhile red-lights. I have seen all secretaries GoI, sporting national tricolour flags on their official staff-cars — a rare privilege — but these are never allowed to flutter and fly freely (any symbolism there?) — these are wrapped up and covered in transparent plastic. Is it a part of some archaic flag code or a violation of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, Act? All this also gets you a fast-track and toll-free access at all the toll-plazas throughout the country and free and priority vehicle parking at most places.
Ashoka Emblem on Letterheads
Home ministry has stringent set of guidelines as to who and on what occasion may use the national Ashoka emblem. However, an IAS officer from the day-one at prestigious Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie habitually and customarily uses this in one form of the other on his official letterhead, till the date of his retirement. So, you are not really a public servant; you are the natural extension of the Indian State!
The newly renovated Maharashtra Bhawan in New Delhi
State Bhawans in New Delhi
An IAS officer is very parsimonious and exercises utmost economy when it comes to travel/ official tour to the national capital. Although most are entitled to stay in 5-star hotels, the preferred place of stay is the state bhawan. Maybe just modest facilities but safe, secure, central and great subsidised food. And, rate? Rs100/- per day, when on an official visit and a royal sum of Rs300/- per day, if the visit is 'private'. And, who Ubers it in Delhi when you have the state bhawan staff car, flaunting a home ministry parking sticker, to ferry you around.
An of-the-Internet picture of the exclusive Delhi Gymkhana
Membership of Elite Clubs
The Delhi-centric IAS officers do manage to get hold of membership of elite Clubs like the Delhi Golf Club, Delhi Gymkhana, India International Centre or the India Habitat Centre. It may be a tenure membership or a permanent one, but a friendly call from the concerned Ministry will get you access to at least one or more of these. And, if all else fails, you have the exclusive CSOI — Civil Services Officers Institute — which is second to none in terms of facilities. And, did the civil service officers pool resources to buy costly land and build the impressive infrastructure? Gosh, no! It’s perhaps the budgetary support for the “human resource development” of senior civil service officers.
Summing Up: Should the IAS Enjoy These Privileges?
So, those young aspirants who are being discouraged by serving/ retired civil service officers from joining the IAS for a variety of reasons, remember: there are some things that money can buy but for some other rare things, you need to carry the IAS card. But then all this but a small compensation for a life-time of service dedicated to the poorest of the poor at salaries that are virtually peanuts.
The floor is now open for your views and comments.
(This article first appeared on Mr Sidhu’s page The KBS Chronicles, on (
(Karan Bir Singh (KBS) Sidhu is an officer from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) cadre (1984 batch). After 37 years of service, he retired as Special Chief Secretary of Punjab government on 31 July 2021.)
Pragna Mankodi
2 months ago
Compliments to the Author for having brought out into the public domain the known but suppressed facts about this cadre. My husband had the privilege of close interactions with this fraternity by virtue of his assignment in a senior position in a state capital. His experience of this cadre is generally good and most of the people that he used to interact were humble and service oriented barring few arrogant persons.
2 months ago
Dear Sir, it depends from person to person. My father is a retired IAS officer from Odisha Cadre. He lived a simple life as much as possible, to the extent that he didn't make a home for himself till his retirement. Then the Governor of Odisha wrote to the Governor of West Bengal, that even these days, such people exists ! Finally he was offered a flat at a co-operative housing in Kolkata. Father had all kind of postings. DMs of KBK districts, delivering and working for the poorest of poor, RDC of maoist areas, he never traveled with any police escorts. He used to move about in bhubaneswar on foot. I remember to this because, as a child I used to see him walking 2-3 kms each day to visit RKM bhubaneswar. What matters most is dedication to service, higher ideals, he practised , and emphasized the message of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Ma Sarada, Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita , Swami Pranavananda, Swami Sivananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, and Sardar Patel. He had retired long time back. In 2008-09 a young IAS officer from JNU was posted as SDO in Champua Sub division of Odisha. After his posting when he cameback to the capital, The CS of that time asked him about his experiences of his first posting. Among many things, he said one thing in perticular, that Sir, " Wherever I went, people specially the old ones said to me that we don't won't much, you just work and deliver like Mr.Himansu Sekhar Sarkar, as he did in 1968-69-70… !! That message and appreciation of the people of Champua is always their in our hearts. As IAS one should work for upliftment of the masses. Last but not the least, After analysing Mr.Narendra Modi's initial years as PM, dad said, " had we been under such a PM, the country would have become a superpower, trillion dollar economy back then". Lastly perks and privileges will come and go in life. It's what you leave behind, and the blessings of thousands of people that matters at the end.
Pragna Mankodi
Replied to kunalhimansusarkar comment 2 months ago
Very nice to hear about the way your father served the Nation and its people with the real spirit of service. There are good number of IAS officers who are simple and don\'t flaunt their power. Such officers earn lot of goodwill. However as compared to the total number of IAS officers they are in minority. And the concluding piece of information about the belief of your father about the current PM reflect the majority view in my opinion. Thanks for sharing the example of an IAS officer who walked his talk.
2 months ago
It is completely unfair to single out IAS…The IAS officers are supposed to work in the most interior parts of the country in their prime ages on peanuts when most of their peers (mostly from IITs/IIMs/doctors etc) are enjoying the perks of modernity.
Compare by any criteria (be it budget handled/ manpower managed/ area administered, an IAS officer is paid measly while working in places which don’t have proper education/health facilities (so much talk about facilities).
And moreover which blue chip private company does not provide accommodation or transport to its top executives? May be the author is still in his old days when only district collector had one Ambassador car in the district. The times have changed, car and accommodation are not such a big deal. Grow up please.
Moreover what is the problem when certain facilities are being provided to a certain group of individuals who have been selected on objective criterion. We in India are used to privileges being granted on non objective basis. Example being caste system in our past or the completely baised and non objective private and social sector of the present time. We are completely fine to see a nepo kid get all the opportunities and privileges in any of the sector in our country but when a middle class person works his ass off to climb up the ladder by the only available objective means, it starts hurting each one of us.
Pragna Mankodi
Replied to Anon23 comment 2 months ago
Having opted for IAS cadre it\'s not appropriate to compare the service terms and conditions with that of private sector! In private sector there is high level of accountability whereas in govt sector one can easily pass on the buck either to the lower level or on political bosses depending upon which side can be manipulated. The exposure the IAS get in terms of training, assignments etc is quite enriching and empowering. If any one regrets about his joining the IAS cadre, it is better to quit rather than cribbing about it.
2 months ago
I hope that the author had a great track record of refusing such ‘VIP’ treatment and never used any of the bunglows etc provided to him or is it just a post retirement ‘ghar wapasi’?
2 months ago
Sir, Everything is right, except the salary part which u said is peanut. That is when we start comparing with ridiculous or outrageous salaries of CEOs or owners of pvt companies. Else the salaries are good if you add perks of lavish accommodation, land at concession rates to build their own house, security etc. On other hand, salaries at lower and middle level are 3x to5x than pvt sector eg take salaries of teachers, drivers, clerks, attenders, line man etc

Replied to mrmreddy002 comment 2 months ago
Completely agree... like and like must be compared. There are mediocre IAS officers too, but comparisons are always with the CEOs of the biggest and most paying companies. That is unfair. Also the reason why you see post graduates and phds willing to join as clearks, peons and constables in government is that salaries are indeed 3x to 5x of private sector - perks are bigger -- and endless potential for 'malai' (as Laloo Yadav would say) !
Replied to sucheta comment 2 months ago
Compare on objective criteria of budget handled/personnel managed/area administered with any counterpart in the private sector, add premium of opportunity cost of working in remote districts for 7-10 years of your prime life and then see. You are an economist, arrive at your own conclusions.
2 months ago
Very true Sir.
IAS has been assigned place of pride and despite all the liberalization continued to play important role in the development of the country. However in my long association with members of this service i found a familiar trait normally associated with any elite section of society with rare exception, off course. IAS officers have a tendency to monopolize all the resources of the institutions they serve without really caring for availability of essentials and due facilities to other officers and staff. Further they conveniently shift responsibility associated with decisions, they themselves favor, on officers down the line by pressurizing to make notes on file accordingly. This is strange since this is the off repeated complaints made by them against their political masters. Another strange behavior that has been gaining grounds in IAS fraternity is to avoid decision by either seeking refuse in unnecessary opinions from experts from Finance and legal domains even in cases where rules are straight forward or referring matters to Secretariat or simply putting files in cold storage.
Whatever may be the intent but reality remains that IAS plays very important role in the well being and development of the country hence we must hear them out and resolve their just issues inhibiting their ability to perform and the same time make them accountable for the intended outcome for which KRA (key result Areas) which may be decided at the time of their joining.
IAS is to critical to be left alone with their grievances and without result orientation in their working.
2 months ago
The author is very right.
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