(Sample Material) Gist of IIPA Journal: Public Services in India: Issues of Neutrality vs. Commitment Ahmad Shamshad

(Sample Material) Gist of Important Articles from IIPA Journal

Topic: Public Services in India: Issues of Neutrality vs. Commitment Ahmad Shamshad

Anonymity and Neutrality

Neutrality stands for absence of any political activity or bias on the part of a civil servant in the discharge of his duties. It, therefore, understandably, upholds impartiality. Neutrality and impartiality, call for loyalty in that a civil servant is loyal to his political boss and in return, the minister reposes trust and confidence in him. Furthermore, anonymity is a condition of neutrality, for to render advice impartially, frankly, and freely, a civil servant must have the assurance that he is not dragged into public debate or openly identified with a, given policy. The doctrine of neutrality with its accompanying features of anonymity, impartiality and loyalty was singled out as being largely responsible for the high profile and imminent success of the civil service in Britain.

The anonymity and impartiality are the fundamental characteristics-of the British Civil Service. The principle of collective responsibility and accountability of the Cabinet to the Parliament ensures that for every act or wrong, act or oversight in his department. a minister has to answer to the Parliament. The principle of anonymity requires that for the official’s actions or inactions their minister alone have to answer before Parliament. The official concerned, who cannot defend himself in Parliament, is thus protected from criticism of Parliament. If everything goes right, the credit goes to the minister and if something goes wrong, he has to shoulder the blame. He may even have to resign for the failure of his staff, the civil servant is permanent. He is shielded by the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. In theory, the responsibility is that of the minister. There may be a budget leakage for no fault of the minister, but in an instant the budget leakage may terminate his political career. There may be a scandal in the Life Insurance Corporation of India and within weeks, the Minister of Finance goes out of the office; a Railway accident may take place somewhere and for the maladministration in the Railways, the Minister has to resign. Thus anonymity meant that the civil servant would merely advise the minister (politician from behind and would be protected from being exposed to the din and fury of politics. They are not required to come out in public or face Parliament; it is the minister, who faces the people and Parliament. The ministers are not in a position to excuse the failure of their policies by pointing to experts or civil servants who have given the advice or to the officials they have employed. The All India Services (conduct) Rules, 1968 prescribe that the civil servants have to avoid occasions of self publicity so that their anonymity is preserved.

Although the civil servants are the ‘real administrators’, yet they remain in the background and the ministers alone are responsible to the Parliament and the people. The speeches that the ministers deliver on formal occasions are very often written by the officials and the answers to the questions that he reads out in the Parliament are also prepared by them. Most of the legislative proposals are initiated by the civil-servants. Even in case of a bill in which the cabinet may be interested; on the basis of ideological commitments or otherwise, the officials do have an important say, because the drafting of bills is job of experts and in that process they leave mark of their attitude. Thus, in a Parliamentary system like Britain and India, the power of bureaucracy is enormous. Under the cloak of ministerial responsibilities, it has thriven and grown. To maintain impartiality, integrity, discipline and political neutrality the civil services, the Central Civil Services (conduct) Rules lay down the code of conduct to be observed by government servants. The service rules for ensuring neutrality in politics provide that:

(i) No member of the service shall be a member of, or be otherwise associated with, any political party or any organisation, which takes part in politics, nor shall he take part in, subscribe in aid of, or assist in any other manner, any political movement or activity.

(ii) It shall be the duty of every member of the service to endeavour to prevent any member of the family from taking part in, subscribing in aid of, or assisting in any other manner, any such movement or activity which is directly or indirectly to be subversive of the government as by law establishes.

(iii) No member of the service shall canvass or otherwise interfere or use his influence in connection with, or take part in, an election to any, legislature or local authority.

(iv) A member of the service qualified to vote at elections may exercise his right to vote but where he does so, he shall give no indication of the manner in which he proposes to vote or has voted.

(v) No member of the service shall, in any radio broadcast or any document published anonymously or in his own name, or in the name of any other person or in any communication to the press, or in any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion: (a) which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Central Government or a State Government; or (b) which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Central Government and the Government of any State; or (c) which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Central Government and the Government of any foreign State.

Many civil servants are deeply involved in partisan politics, they are preoccupied with it, penetrated by it, and now participate individually and collectively in it. This is understandable, though unfortunate, because between expression of the will of the State (represented by politicians) and the execution of that will (through the administrators) there cannot be any long-term dichotomy. In other words, a model in which politicians will be communal, corrupt and harbourers of criminals, whereas civil servants would be secular, responsive and behave as change-agents cannot be an equilibrium position. In the long run, administrative and political values have to coincide.

Over the years, whatever little virtues the civil services possessed-integrity, political neutrality, courage and high morale-are showing signs of decay. The impact of low self-image, identity crisis and complete alienation from peoples’ concerns has led them to strange and deviant behaviour.

The Concept of Commitment

According to Max Weber; the main features of a bureaucracy are hierarchy, division of labour, specialisation and impersonal rules. All those factors make for efficiency. At the same time, however, a bureaucracy suffers from alienation. According to Karl Marx, the members of bureaucracy suffer from loss of freedom, creativity, humanity and morality. Even Weber agrees that members of a bureaucracy tend to function like “little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs.” Merton emphatically observes that bureaucratic control over officials, requiring that they should strictly follow rules, induces in them “timidity, conservatism and technicism." Hence the challenging issue is how to maintain efficiency while reducing alienation or the dysfunctions of bureaucracy. The solution to this problem lies mainly in improving ‘commitment’ of its members.

The political neutrality of a British civil servant which flowed from the growth of democracy and parliamentary government was, however, not inconsistent with what we call ‘commitment’. ‘Political neutrality’ and ‘commitment’ were mutually exclusive terms. It was certainly politically neutral in terms of civil service regulations and was ever ready to implement the policies laid down by any ruling party. But it was staunchly committed to the state and its constitution which reflected the dominant middle class value system of British society, a value system which was in harmony with the social origins of the British civil servant and reinforced by the entire education I processes to which he remained subjected.

The Indian Civil Service, however, had to function in a totally-different environment, where the mass of Indian society was divided into diverse races, creeds and castes in a manner unrelated to anything in the nature of the rule of law, which the British established to regulate the conduct of their political and administrative institutions in India. The ICS was not intended to promote the interests of one or a particular party over those of another. It was even socially uncommitted, and the various reformist social measures it took over the years to regulate social relationships were intended to maintain law and order and not interfere with the principles of the established social order.

After Independence the total environment and ethos of the country underwent a qualitative change. But what kind of bureaucracy was to operate in the changed environment? Little thinking was done on this, and the colonial legacy was accepted in toto. After two decades of freedom, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister herself came out in public to criticise the civil bureaucracy in India. Speaking at the meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party on” November 16, 1969, she referred to the administrative machinery as the stumbling block in the’ way of country’s progress. She also said the country would be in rut if it followed-the British - system in which civil servants were not supposed to be concerned about which political party was in power. At the initiative of Mrs. Gandhi, her coterie complained: The present bureaucracy under the orthodox and conservative leadership of the ICS with its upper class prejudices can hardly be expected to meet the requirements of social and economic change along socialist lines. The creation of an administrative cadre committed to national objectives and responsive to our social needs is an urgent necessity. The Indian bureaucracy is criticised on the grounds that it is unresponsive and lacks commitment on its part to the progressive policies and programmes of the government. The bureaucratic neutrality has assumed the form of inactivity, inertia and status quoism. Therefore, the progressive goals of the government cannot effectively be realised unless civil servants are fully committed to them and to the political processes through which they are formulated. The thorny issue for our discussion is to whom the bureaucracy should be committed? Should they commit themselves to the policy of the ruling party? A democratic government is a party government. A party is generally wedded to specific political ideology. The ruling party has the force of popular mandate behind it and as such it may be supposed to be representative of public opinion. Its policies and programmes may well be taken to be in the line with the popular wishes and demands. Should they commit themselves to the views and thinking of the ministers with and under whom they have to work from time to time? Should they have a common mind with their minister? It is argued that commitment does not mean identification of the views of a civil servant with those of his minister. Where, in the civil servants judgement, the public interest demands something other than what the minister asks for, the civil servant has that right to record his dissent.

The popular perception is that the bureaucracy is no longer the steel frame as once described by Lloyd George. It is increasingly seen as a bamboo frame, warped and decayed manifesting high levels of corruption and politicization. To the common man, bureaucracy throws up image of a maze of laws, rule and regulations. A veritable jungle, enmeshed in red tape.

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