From steel frame of the country to ‘Suffocating Bureaucracy’
from the lofty beginning of being espoused as the steel frame of the country,
representing the essential spirit of the Indian nation—unity in diversity—the
years since Independence have been marked by a steady deterioration of the
Indian Administrative Service (IAS). According to a recent survey of the
bureaucracies of 12 Asian economies, India’s “suffocating bureaucracy” has been
ranked as the least-efficient, and working with the country’s civil servants is
described as a “slow and painful” process. Indian bureaucrats are said to be
power centres in their own right, both at the national and state levels, and are
quite resistant to reforms that affect them or the way they go about discharging
Good governance is basic to all reforms and changes in
society. Given the significance of the bureaucracy in India’s development, some
of the major changes that need to be incorporated in order to improve the IAS’s
efficiency and performance are highlighted be-low. Based on my research, I have
conceptualized an agency-based model of IAS. The significant features of the
model are given below.
First, the bureaucratic structure in India is, to a large
extent, an insulated labour market. The country should aim to develop a cadre of
professional senior managers to support ministers in policy formulation and
implementation. These should be lateral-entry contractual jobs with a
well-defined career progression. Senior civil servants’ selection should be
about identifying good managers for the public sector and should consist of
individuals who have had an outstanding record of running public or private
businesses, and/or strategic planning and execution of large public projects.
Exceptional performers among those IAS officers who have entered through the
civil service examination (conducted by the Union Public Service Commission or
UPSC) should also be absorbed into the senior civil service. Creating a senior
civil service will break the insulation of the IAS and will present as an
incentive for the officers to work harder.
Second, public bureaucratic departments should be converted
into national-level and state-level executive agencies. Each executive agency
should be headed by a chief executive officer selected from the senior civil
service and should have considerable operating freedom, subject, however, to the
policy and resources framework set out by the ministers and Parliament.
Before forming an agency, however, some tough questions
should be addressed: Should the agency be formed at all? If yes, could it be
privatized or contracted out? Does the work overlap with that of other
departments? Can multiple departments be merged into a single one?
Once the decision to form an agency is taken, the agency
should come out with its citizens’ charter, clearly listing its mandate,
objectives, performance indicators, timeframe for providing the services and
budget. Citizens’ rights, departmental responsibilities, quality of service and
timeframe for providing the service should be clearly specified. The agencies
should receive targets from the government/ministers and be answerable in
Parliament about the achievement of those targets.
Apart from receiving the targets, politicians should have no
say over the day-to-day operations of the agency. The chief executive officer,
and not the minister, should be responsible for answering questions in
Parliament on the achievement of targets and on the performance of the agency.
Third, the citizens (customers) availing of the service
should be involved in the evaluation of IAS officers. The UPSC should involve
representatives from former senior civil servants, distinguished judges,
citizens and academicians working in the sphere of public policy and social
welfare in the evaluation of civil servants. The UPSC should be responsible for
the appraisals of chief executives only. All other officers should be appraised
through systems and processes set up by the agency. Achievement of the
performance targets by the agency should be evaluated by collecting data from
the customers the agency served. The agency’s performance should solely
determine decisions regarding pay and promotions for chief executives. Similar
to the Indian Army, the postings of IAS officers should be categorized according
to its demand and difficulty, so as to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance
to serve in both important and difficult (such as in remote and tribal areas)
assignments. A mix of postings should be created for all officers.
Fourth, all matters relating to corruption and misconduct of
IAS officers should be referred to the Central Vigilance Commission, which
should have the power to investigate cases and implement the judgements/decisions
reached. A timeframe should be decided beforehand within which the matter has to
be investigated and a decision reached. A separate civil service court should be
set up to determine the guilt of the members of civil services and to decide
upon the punishment. The civil service court should be able to try personnel for
all kinds of offences except for murder and rape of a civilian, which should
primarily be tried by a civilian court of law. Political and government
authorities should have no interference in the functioning of the civil service
court. As has been done in Japan and Singapore, offenders and personnel found
guilty of corruption should also be subjected to public shaming.
Fifth, each executive agency should come out with the budgets at the beginning
of the year. These budgets should be audited and cleared by a committee formed
by Parliament. Beyond the auditing exercise, Parliament should have no role in
determining how the money should be spent. Instead, the chief executive officers
of the agencies should have full freedom to use the money allotted to them. At
the end of the year, chief executive officers should submit a record of their
expenditures to the parliamentary committee.
Agencies should be encouraged to identify means of generating
revenues to offset the spending, so that the total government spending can be
controlled. For this, the user-pay principle, as adopted in Australia and New
Zealand, should be explored. Agencies should be made to pay for availing of the
services of other government agencies. Chief executive officers should be
evaluated at the year-end on their performance and on the delivery of the
outputs based on the standards decided upon earlier.