Quest for reform in the Bureaucracy

Dr. V. K . Bahuguna

The recent decision of the government to open up ten posts of Joint Secretaries for the domain experts in different fields to be recruited from the market outside the traditional baston of civil services, has raised a hornet's nest among the status quoists, and creme de la creme of the Indian Bureaucracy after more than 6000 applicants have applied for 10 posts.One retired Secretary to government of India had approached the Apex Court against this decision. Many outside the government however, welcomed it as an attempt to enthuse fresh air in India's bureaucratic monolith. This writer being a part of this system for 37 long years with varied experience under central, state and other organizations would like to examine this decision in today's context of overall governance. More so when the 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 in their reports and even the patchy recommendations favouring efficiency never saw the day and politicians gleefully ignored it as reflected in perfunctory manner the parliament questions on the subject were replied by the governments.

Indian civil services have a chequered history during and after the British left India. There are many good things which can be attributed to the role played by the civil services in the life of 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 creation of revenue, accounts, police, medical, taxation and forest service's etc. The majority of forest catchments of major Indian rivers would have vanished if the trained people were not assigned the duty to protect our agriculture and water sources and 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 they have a very systematic and organized way of doing things which is essential in democracy where competing interest are of very high in nature. The value systems of the Indian bureaucracy over the years have been affected by the political changes of the contemporary India with a downward slide in both character, morale, accountability, sense of commitment and fair play. The civil services like anyother sector also needs to be reviewed so that changing society's aspiration could be fulfilled by fine tuning the system or reforming.

The organized civil services all over the world have often been the target of criticism for their stagnated approach on emerging challenges and for thwarting attempts of reform for better efficiency. The bureaucrats are trained to follow the rule howsoeverstale it had become and thus opposes any changes in it more so when they enjoy power without accountability. When the political leadership is naive, corrupt and weak bureaucrats ensure a vice like grip on the system which 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 antithesis of 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 the power.  Bureaucracy is therefore, in essence "the power of office". Because of this power of office it has also been from very start 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 criticized for its officialdom (lack of flexibility and initiatives), Red tape (victim of formalities, rule centric avoidable paperwork) and proliferation (tend to expand irrationally). This author while heading a national body of international repute was pilloried for more than 5 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 in the helms of affairs during 2013 and 14 and who would have never risen beyond deputy secretary level on merit had ruined the institutions of forestry out of vengeance and inflated pride. A Director General of Forests during the same period at the behest of the then Minister created false records in the files was rewarded by appointing his as member of NGT. The matter is under investigation in Saket Court.

This attempt of reform therefore, should be commended as at least something new is being thought off and the need for reforms is being recognizedwith one caveat that the selection process should be fair, transparent and that command 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 etc. should not come on the way of taking good decisions in public interest.

However, from the long term point of view the whole gamuts of Indian governance structure need reforms. The system is criticized for its established procedures, too much emphasis on archaic rules and for abhorring creativity. The bureaucracy on the other hand is essential for organizing things and its contribution must not be undermined as the needs of a well-trained civil services is all the more necessary in today's federal set up as is an essential and continuous link between rival interests. In order to succeed, bureaucracy must provide impersonal specialized honest leadership based on professional efficiency with a passion for public service. In an ideal scenario, people should get positions based on competence and skills, with the 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 4 to 5 years given degrees on domain subjects and allotted to work in different organizations and achieve requisite expertise; an integrated pool at the senior levels to be constituted after further selection process to man the senior positions. To begin with this could be started now by amending the empanelment process by assigning this task to UPSC and forming a senior management pool drawn from all civil services to man the posts of Joint Secretary. This will bring domain knowledge to fore in job profiles, dedication, commitment and sense of camaraderie. This could prove the biggest plus for the bureaucracy as the present set up breeds' false sense of prideamong a few which results ininternecine squabbles in which the sycophants and freebooters flourish at the cost of merit even in the same service. After all bureaucratic virtues cannot be whished away and so long organization will exist a bureaucracy will exist as without it the organization will collapse. (1150 words).

(The author is a former civil servant and can be reached at:

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