Article by Shantanu K. Bansal
The problem of India is not its growing population but the inability to serve effective governance to the people which is increasingly becoming difficult because of incompetent and outmoded bureaucracy in power. The Civil Services of India has evolved as not the steel frame of India but the weakest pillar of India’s journey towards development.
From a historical perspective, our civil services and the overall systems of bureaucracy were embraced by the Britishers in the 18th century which is still continuing. The whole focus of the set-up was not to serve the people but to ensure the loyalty of institutions towards the then colonial government. The loyalty was not towards the people but the power which continues even today.
Decades after decades, our visionary leaders failed to understand that the system of governance of an independent and democratic nation like ours require to be fundamentally different from a colonial and underdeveloped country as we used to be then.
The Blackhole of Governance
It would not be apt to say that our leaders failed to understand this need rather they were not even given the opportunity to realise this need. The simple reason being that the bureaucracy over the time have blend perfectly with the system of governance that it has become difficult to differentiate the Bureaucracy out of governance.
Over the time as mafia does the bureaucracy of India ensured that their footprints are visible everywhere in the system not realising that they are totally unfit and redundant to cater the country in their own field.
This fact can be understood with decades of controversy over having a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a tri-service commander important to get synergy among our armed forces in the modern era of warfare which calls for greater integration among the services.
The recommendation to have a CDS which will directly report to the Defence Minister and the PMO was given by the then Kargil Review Committee which also got the cabinet nod as far back as 2001. It was in end of December 2019 when the post was actually created.
The reality is that the post of the CDS undermines the powers of the Secretary of Defence and other departments under the realm of bureaucracy. Suffering from the self-belief of being superior from other services and having the privilege to be involved in every matter of governance, direct continues access to the minister(s). It is an open truth that how people in the civil services especially the IAS branch tried hard to stall the initiative besides other netegrities.
For some 20 years, the armed forces and the strategic community had to get involved in grim propagandas to promote this initiative as the people in the system remained reluctant to understand the imperative. This is besides the fact that around 70 countries then including US, UK, France, Germany and Australia had CDS post or alike in their MoD.
The Main nerve of Government’s Policy Paralysis
The NDA government came with great political will in the Central Government in 2014 marked with 2/3rd majority in the Parlaiment. It is evident that the will has been eroded as we enter successive years of completion.
This is how the black hole of governance works especially the upper layer influencing every bit of policy framing be it secretary, joint secretary, additional secretary and so on they all know how to work in sync, thanks to years of institutional upbringing. (See the 5th quote of last section for the reference)
The government which came with thumping majority with a trumpet to get back the Kashmir is now not even interested in talking about atrocities committed in Tibet, forget atrocities in Tibet they even resist to join Tibetan led event of ‘Thank You India 2018’ organised by Tibetan community of India to mark arrival of H.H. Dalai Lama to India.
The civil services is institutionally nurtured to preserve the status quo hence they remain ‘hesitant’, ‘risk-averse’ ‘reactive’ rather proactive when it comes to policy planning. Such words are considered bible for a prosperous career in the services. Afterall there are no reward for good work. There is no system of merit based promotion.
The civil services are failing India everyday, they have largely remained ineffective because overwhelming focus on preserving the status quo rather experimenting new ideas in the field of governance.
The result is outmoded structures and systems in place which doesn’t allow new talent to nurture, at last one finds flowing with wave as the best choice~ “ye system hee aisa hai” (the system is like this only).
The outcome of this is corruption ridden Municipal Cooperation of your state, the outdated police model, the Panchayats, Ordinance Factories, Air India, the aadhaar initiative and so on. You name any department where you don’t find inadequacies followed by the big problem of India that is ‘corruption’.
Bureaucracy in the false cover up of ‘national interest’ always want itself to be in the loop be it any government led initiative, not allowing a fresh thinking to take place. Yeilding powers with no endeavour to ensure performance and effective outcomes against the modern management mantras is what every bureaucrat thrive for.
The rest which is yet delivered can be attributed to the political acumen and some really hardworking individuals in the system while majority remains ineffective and inefficient.
The Neta-Babu Nexus
The politicians enjoy great loyalty therefore doesn’t want this to be changed. In fact it’s a perfect duo of politicians and bureaucrats that ensure the system’s downfall year after year, decades after decades.
One may ask how many bureaucrats and politicians went jail for scams like the 2G, 3G, Coalgate, AugustaWestland helicopter and so on. Afterall even judiciary which is itself outdated has failed to realise it and the inquiries has been made an internal issue of the system, most of them work for namesake.
“In order to curb corruption the CBI was considered ineffective, so India added the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). India also added the Right to Information (RTI) and the Central information Commission (CIC). As if these were not sufficient, then comes the Lok Pal. There are too many rules, regulations and orders, from too many government departments, making compliance an expensive headache at best and impossible at worst. This is the root cause of corruption. The only people who can prosper in such circumstances are those who know how to get away with non-compliance.”- Nitin Pai, Director of the Takshashila Institution
Leave these high class scams aside even if a small bridge get demolished due to rain or encroachment of land which continues year after year, it’s rare that a bureaucrat or politician will ever get punished because they are the system rather being part of the system. When one drown the other pulls, reciprocity is the norm.
There should be no doubt on the fact that corruption has been institutionalised in our country and the bureaucrats has the biggest role to play. This congruence is not only limited to politicians but now increasingly visible with the private industry. One noted case is of a famous IAS officer whose wife became independent director of 12 companies post 2015 when he became Secretary to Government. It’s just tip of an iceberg there many such examples.
People have to realise that if we make the bureaucrats accountable for their actions the system of governance will automatically become accountable from within rather imposing it from outside in the name of E-Governance, RTI and other initiatives, later both will work as double edged sword. It will end the norm of reciprocity itself. This require a holistically new outlook to completely change the institution of services making it fit to serve the people of New India.
“A transformation of governance cannot happen without a transformation in mindset. A transformation in mindset cannot happen without transformative ideas.“- PM Modi at NITI Aayog, 2016
Rotten from Within
If someone ask that how many non-performing bureaucracts have been weeded out of the system so far since the independence? You may never get an apt answer because the black hole of the governance ensure that they weild power without accountability, from bottom to the top.
Over the time bureaucracy has become corrupt to the core with no accountability or answerability, lack of talent and merit based promotion with unending game of red-tapping and a race of being lethargic and reactive has eroded the institutional effectivness of almost every government department. While the public grievance redressal has been made a joke by the bureaucrats undermining the system’s effectiveness.
A transparent lean and mean hierarchy with clear cut work objectives and established accountability is almost equal to alien norm for the Indian Bureaucracy.
Recently, it was reported that Big data can provide metrics on officers’ performance in the field to inform promotion and retention decisions. Seniority, after all, is a blunt instrument for deciding who gets promoted and who does’nt.
The IAS class which is the minority in the the bureaucracy in-specific is hamstrung by political meddling, governed by outmoded personnel procedures and crippled by a lack of domain expertise (afterall, they spend less than 16 months, on average, in any post). Not allowing for constructive changes to happen.
Saddly, the civil services exam the entry point of these rotten eggs has been imbued with an aura of mystery. Common people think that those who manage to ‘crack’ these exams are crème de la crème of the country, and their ‘inherent superiority’ will take India up the Golden Path. Fact is neither IITians (as majority of IAS are) nor other civil servants have done any wonders for the country. One of our rare success stories, the ISRO, has just 2% of its engineers from the IITs plus NITs, all the rest are from small engineering colleges.
We are great at making policies which seems very good at drawing board but when it comes to implementation this is where we as a nation underperform since the already exisiting systems and mechanisms are so outdated, out of sync to the needs of the modern India.
Understanding the bureaucratic problem of India is not easy, it takes a lot of efforts to come to this realisation but since now we understand the problem (refer to next section) the time has come to embrace a war against this hidden enemy of the nation.
Some Credible Thoughts On The Topic
“Politicians hold power without responsibility, bureaucrats wield power without accountability and the army assumes responsibility without direction.”– late Shri. K. Subrahmanyam Swamy, foremost Indian security analyst and head of Kargil Review Committee
“We cannot march through the 21st century with the administrative systems of the 19th century,”Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in 2016 speech delivered at the government think-tank NITI Aayog
“Bureaucracy is the biggest hurdle of our development, and we must rectify it.”Former President and a Bharat Ratna Late Shri Pranab Mukherjee while delivering his lecture series as a guest faculty at IIM-Ahmedabad in 2018
“Bureaucracy, ‘microscopic minority’ to blame for work delays. The blame is not with the minister, but the bureaucracy and the system”– Central Minister Nitin Gadkari said in 2017
“Threats to national security also originate from corruption in the administrative systems, all over India.”– Shri. NN Vohra former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and former Secretary Defence and Home, known for the famous Vohra Committee, said at the IDSA RN Kao Memorial Lecture, 2018
“India’s bureaucracy often suffers from a socialist overhang that leads it to slow down, even block reforms that the top leadership (the PMO) has sought to implement… This attraction is reinforced by anti-market ideas that their teachers in colleges impart them”Arvind Panagariya, former Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog in his book.
“You (the bureaucracy) do not take decisions… Calling the NHAI bureaucracy “nalayak, nikammi aur bhrast” (incompetent, inefficient and corrupt)”– Nitin Gadkari, the Minister for Shipping, Ports and Surface Transport in August 2020
“The IAS officers, who increasingly serve the politicians and not the state, rarely delve deep enough into military matters, strategy, doctrines or weapon systems to be called ‘experts’. What’s needed is a specialised cadre for the Ministry of Defence…”– Ashley J. Tellis, holds the Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs and is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, U.S., December 2020