Bureaucratic Reforms: Revamp our Bureaucracyby Opinion Express September 1, 2018 0 comments
Civil services, all across the globe, is usually the target of criticism among people for adopting their stagnant approach towards thwarting attempts and emerging challenges at reform to enhance efficiency.
The Government’s invitation of applications for 10 joint secretaries posts for domain experts in different fields, to be recruited from market outside the traditional bastion of civil services, raised a hornet’s nest among the status quoists and crème de la crème of the Indian bureaucracy. More than 6,000 applicants applied for just 10 posts. One retired Secretary to the Government of India even approached the Supreme Court against this decision. Many, outside the Government, however, welcomed the move as an attempt to enthuse fresh air into India’s bureaucratic monolith.
This writer, being a part of the bureaucratic system for 37 long years and with varied experience under Central, State and other organisations, would like to examine this decision in today’s context of overall governance. More so when two administrative reform commissions have submitted reports which were aptly called by insiders as voluminous “garbage in and garbage out”.
These reports had largely and assiduously protected the existing systems. Even a few patchy recommendations, favouring efficiency, never saw the light of the day and politicians gleefully ignored the suggestions, as was reflected in the perfunctory manner in which questions on this subject were replied by Governments in Parliament.
Indian civil services have a chequered history during and after the British left the country. There are many good things, which can be attributed to the role played by the civil services in the nation, like ensuring a uniform pattern of governance in a multi-faceted country with immense diversity which not only led to a sound administrative culture but also ensured unity and rule of law amid warring interests.
A few such examples are the creation of revenue, accounts, police, medical, taxation and forest services et al. A majority of forest catchments of the Indian rivers would have vanished if trained people were not assigned the duty to protect our agriculture and water resources as also the colonial interest of timber for railways and other infrastructure for the country.
One of the best attribute to the bureaucracy is the fact it has a very systematic and organised way of doing things, which is essential in a democracy where competing interests are very high in nature. Value systems of the Indian bureaucracy over the years have been affected by political changes of contemporary India with a downward slide in both character, morale, accountability, sense of commitment and fair play. Civil services, like any other sector, needs to be reviewed so that changing society’s aspiration can be fulfilled by fine-tuning the system.
Organised civil services all over the world have often been the target of criticism for their stagnated approach to emerging challenges and for thwarting attempts to reform for better efficiency. The bureaucrats are trained to follow the rule howsoever stale it had become, and thus, oppose any changes in it more so when they enjoy power without accountability.
When the political leadership is naïve, corrupt and weak, bureaucrats ensure a vice-like grip on a system that breeds nepotism, crony capitalism, intense groupism and corruption. Indian bureaucracy’s biggest criticism, despite some outstanding feats, is that it is severely biased in its approach which is the antithesis of the classical bureaucracy.
The term, bureaucracy, is derived from the French word bureau, which stands for ‘office’ or ‘desk’, and the Greek suffix kratia, which denotes power. Bureaucracy is, therefore, in essence, “the power of the office”. Because of this power of office, it has also been the from very start, a target of criticism.
French economist Jacques Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay, once said: “We have an illness in France which play havoc with us; this illness is called bureaumania.” In the Indian context, bureaucracy, apart from lack of accountability, is criticised for its officialdom (lack of flexibility and initiatives), red-tapism (victim of formalities, rule centric avoidable paperwork) and proliferation (tend to expand irrationally).
This writer, while heading a national body of international repute, was pilloried for more than five years for bringing innovations in the country’s stagnating forestry research set up only to be proved right in the end. It is because of this arbitrariness that no creative person stretches his neck.
A Secretary, who was at the helm of affair during 2013 and 14; and who would have never risen beyond deputy secretary level on merit, ruined the institutions of forestry out of vengeance and inflated pride.
This attempt of reform, therefore, should be commended as at least something new is being thought of and the need for reforms is being recognised with one caveat that the selection process should be fair, transparent and that commands respect from all and done through an independent body of experts.
The selected persons should have space for innovation and creativity and obsolete rules precedents et al should not come on the way of taking right decisions in the public interest. However, from the long-term point of view the whole gamut of Indian governance needs reforms. The system is criticised for its established procedures; too much emphasis on archaic rules and for abhorring creativity.
The bureaucracy, on the other hand, is essential for organising things and its contribution must not be undermined as the needs of well-trained civil services are all the more necessary in today’s federal set up as is an essential and continuous link between rival interests. In order to succeed, the bureaucracy must provide impersonal, specialised, honest leadership based on professional efficiency with a passion for public service. In an ideal scenario, the people should acquire positions, based on competence and skills, with a set-up guaranteeing them the power to lead.
The Government, in view of above, instead of piecemeal efforts, should gradually think of massive reforms of recruiting civil servants in the long run on the pattern of National Defense Academy after class 12 examinations, where they can be trained for another four to five years, given degrees on domain subjects and allotted to work in different organisations and achieve requisite expertise. An integrated pool at senior level needs to be constituted after further selection process to man the senior positions.
To begin with, these can be started now by amending the empanelment process by assigning this task to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and forming a senior management pool, drawn from all civil services to man the posts of the joint secretary.
This will bring domain-knowledge to the fore in job profiles, dedication, commitment and also establish a sense of camaraderie. This could prove to be beneficial for the bureaucracy as the present set-up breeds a false sense of pride among a few that results in internecine squabbles in which the sycophants and freebooters flourish at the cost of merit even in the same service. After all, bureaucratic virtues cannot be whisked away and without bureaucracy, an organisation will collapse.
(The writer is a retired civil servant)
Writer: V K Bahuguna
Courtesy: The Pioneer