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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Indian Bureurcratic Rejig : Customisation of the Steel Frame

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Executives play an important role, leading our public institutions. Government must ensure that executive employment arrangements reflect best practice and position our executives to continue the quality work and progressive leadership which distinguish our public sector.

In the past few years Indian politics has changed dramatically. And what we have seen is that the community of politicians has grown very assertive in their policy making, they are accumulating all powers in their hand. As a result not allowing the age old theory of ‘separation of powers’ to play themselves out. This assertion also led the executive at all levels (leaving some exceptions) to surrender completely to politicians in power. In the past years as the nature of Indian politics has changed we have seen a drastic decrease in the standards of bureaucracy at all levels that has resulted in increase of corruption as well as inefficiency. Problem is that corruption has deepened its roots in our system so deep that it won’t be a fishing expedition to find the true culprits in the executive branch of India, which resulted in a sharp decline in the standards of governance.

India’s civil servants or civil service is supposed to be the pride of the nation as termed as ‘The steel framework of India’ by Shri Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, but instead its malfunction and malgovernance hold India back. It’s not a hidden fact that working of an average government office is so inefficient that a normal work for which days are enough takes years to be done, all because mountains of yellowing paper work piled upon from years, years of filing and unfinished work. The government should understand that the Indian bureaucracy with its appanage is a job for life and the bureaucrats spend much effort on keeping their job, they are not at all answerable to their work as they do not fear loss of job or depromotion. India isn’t just plagued by unskillful bureaucrats – it’s more serious than that. Our civil servants have got a disputatious reputation because of the default no, unless an incentive is offered.

The working of the Indian bureaucracy is such that the work for which jobs has to be created, the bureaucracy, instead of diverting the surplus staff, creates more posts. Whether required or not, new committees and commissions are created for no reason except but to create post-retirement jobs for themselves. Accelerating economic growth is a very important aspect of a nation’s progress. Current government recognized the potential of start-ups and entrepreneurship because they have the potential to transform India.

Following the same footsteps, the Government launched ‘Start-up India’ initiative. But the government trusted bureaucracy to create the framework of the details of the policy that led to nothing but only the return of ‘License Raj’. Bureaucrats have no clue about entrepreneurship but they do like control and autocratic authority. ‘Start-up India’ reflects the same cluelessness of bureaucracy. One of the most serious failings in India’s reformist initiatives is that much attention and emphasis has been given to the domain of economic policy, reforming the administration and government standards were not given much importance.

No bureaucrat ever suffers the repercussion of a wrong decision but politicians might lose their whole career over that decision, so how can the bureaucrats be accountable to public, which is why we need more transparency between bureaucracy and public. The answerability of public officers needs to be brought to the forefront of change that this nation is dying for. Indian bureaucracy is notorious for its inefficiency and we can clearly see that there is an urgent requirement of administrative reforms. I always used to think why politicians don’t do something about this basic structural problem. They should make sure that people who understands the issue and have knowledge about the respective field has a say in not just providing inputs but also in formulating policy.

Almost every government had felt the need for administrative reforms except a few but in the last 15 years administrative reforms at every level was a key concern of government but little has changed in this intervening 15 years, until 2014 when NDA led government came into power. The current government has not been mute to the idea of reforms in bureaucracy as compared to other governments, the message the government now seems to be sending out is shape up or ship out. And it is not a bad message at all.

The NDA led government looked keen in reforming the administrative branch of the government by bringing some structural changes in the bureaucracy and in an attempt to reform ‘This steel framework of India’ unveiled the blueprint – According to this, the plan is to recruit 40 new officers at the level of deputy secretary and director. These appointments seek to engage external specialists with domain knowledge rather than leaving policy making and their execution only to IAS officers. The latest push in reform initiatives is a plan to induct nine joint secretaries in different ministries from the private sector. The reform may also kill several posts created to aid retired babus. This rearrangement will coincide with a broader plan to rightsize the government.

This government in keeping with the principle of reform, perform, and transform has taken several steps to reform bureaucracy. It has been open to lateral entry of prominent persons from respective expertise to head specific assignments. With PM Modi asking public servants to bring improvements to their functioning and their answerability to the public will further increase peoples faith in government, failing which action against them is inevitable. Even the bureaucrats seem to have understood this reality of New India in current government’s regime making some of them disappointed because of :

1) Their incapacity to influence government’s policy, and

2) The fact that they face a restless work schedule.

This development has focused on the excessive concentration of powers with the PMO and the autocratic style of Modi’s working. But this portrayal overlooks the problem of civil service obstructionism. I admit that there are number of examples who are doing their jobs efficiently and there have been many examples in past too. There are several officers who have given more than enough to this country, who are more than bureaucrats – ‘Superbureacrats’. But we still can’t hide the fact that Indian bureaucracy has weaknesses and it needs to be reformed at the earliest.

The Centre should come up with decisions that make bureaucracy accountable and responsible with appropriate incentives and rewards. Without this, the outcome of these ambitious policy initiatives and pivotal measures may fall short of realising their true potential. Though these reforms are very gradual and small but it has brought hope that in near future we can expect a more efficient and incorruptible Indian bureaucracy. Despite obvious problems, the services are a protective ring around the constitution and good officers can resist any degree of political pressure.

Written by : Ankit Mishra, Student of political science and political writer.

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