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Will India’s Bureaucratic Reforms Remain In a Sorry State Or Rise From Ashes?

The elevation of inefficient bureaucrats has played truant and caused the decay of the once formidable “steel frame"

5 min read
Will India’s Bureaucratic Reforms Remain In a Sorry State Or Rise From Ashes?
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Indian bureaucracy is beset with several ailments and is in urgent need of reform. It is widely perceived by the common masses to be corrupt, autocratic and detached from ground realities. The once formidable 'steel frame', more often than not, succumbs to political pressure and thus, fails to give objective and rational advice. Several bureaucrats fail to live up to the expectations and prefer to kowtow their political masters for mundane perks and post-retirement benefits.

An article by Mr Prakash Singh in The Indian Express dated 25 July, recommending introduction of schemes like ‘Agnipath' in the All India services has reignited the debate about necessity of reforms in the bureaucracy.

However, the cosmetic nature of this recommendation made in the piece is unlikely to make much dent in the monolith that the Indian bureaucracy has become.

Reform Proposals for Bettering Bureaucracy

The crux of Singh's argument is that the officers of All India Services have become complacent due to the certainty of their career progression without any linkage with performance or productivity. As recommended by him, the performance of bureaucrats should be strictly reviewed at different stages of their career.

However, the fact is that the provisions for such review and weeding out of inefficient and corrupt officials already exist. These provisions, however, are rarely ever used because bureaucrats cover for each other to ensure that their own is not harmed. Only a complete overhaul of the bureaucracy will reform it and make it responsive to the needs of society.

In the first instance, the bureaucrats must be divested of the authority to draft service rules for themselves as they tend to focus on parochial considerations of career advancement instead of functional necessity and National Interest. That is the reason for an irrational provision in the “All India Service (AIS) rules” which restores the seniority of an officer superseded – for whatever reason including the lack of integrity, upon his eventual promotion, even it is delayed by several years!

Value Addition Over Peaking Payscale, Promotions


Time scale elevation of every bureaucrat has led to the proliferation of posts at the higher level. Resultantly, even the smaller states have dozens of Director General or Secretary level posts with the number going up to almost 50 in the larger states.

Not surprisingly, every bureaucrat reaches the highest of the pay scale before retiring, even if not the highest post or rank. Such time scale upgradation causes double jeopardy by adding layers of bureaucracy without any value addition besides resulting in shortages at the functional or the operational level. Such automatic elevation results in inefficient bureaucracy as every officer irrespective of his efficiency, knowledge and integrity is assured of promotion.

The elevation of inefficient bureaucrats has played truant and is responsible for the decay of the once formidable “steel frame”.

The criteria for promotions of all bureaucrats should be purely on merit, to be assessed by an appropriately constituted Departmental Promotion Committee based on well-defined parameters and minimum number of years of experience at each stage.

The Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMF) and Defence Forces have this system and it ensures that only the best officers are promoted. Introduction of merit based promotion in AIS will put bureaucrats on their toes resulting in better delivery of services.


Will the Bureaucracy Get Over Its Colonial Hangover?

The present bureaucratic framework has been inherited from the British who created 'Class one' services to rule over the Natives. These services continue to retain the same elitist attitude and pretentiousness even 75 years after British left.

Undue emphasis on educational excellence for selection to these services further perpetuates this elitist bias. Rapid elevation and opportunities of lateral movement away from their core function further impedes their understanding of the problems of masses. The bureaucracy appears to thrive and perpetuate mediocrity.

For example, I recall few years ago a Secretary of Department of Personnel and Training(DoPT) patting himself on the back in public for having introduced the system of self-attestation by applicants for various purposes something which could have been done at a much lower level by a sufficiently empowered public servant.


The argument that the all-India nature of these services helps national integration may be true to an extent, but the flip side is that frequent transfers and deployment for assignments widely different in nature is not conducive to specialisation and converts the officers into generalists, bereft of initiating well-considered policy as they hardly get any insight of larger issues facing the country. The bureaucrats, after obtaining adequate ground experience should be identified for posting for specific area of government functioning in the State and Central Government so that they gain expertise.


Seeds of Change Must Be Sown During Recruitment

Reforms must start from the very initial stage i.e. from the recruitment itself. One welcome initiative to reform the recruitment process and bring expertise in policymaking has been taken recently by the Government by inducting specialists in the bureaucracy through lateral induction for short term. The expertise of these specialists should go a long way in enhancing efficiency of the system.

Government may also perhaps consider adopting the British system of recruitment of Police where a Bobby can rise to become the Chief of Police - for every service in India. Every bureaucrat must join at the lowest level (Constable/Patwari/clerk etc) and limited numbers elevated to junior supervisory role (Sub Inspector/SDM/ Section Officer) through a competitive examination after completing stipulated residency period and certain minimum qualifications in terms of education and annual performance grades.

Similar competitive examinations with suitable stipulations should be conducted for elevation of these junior supervisory officers to supervisory class one levels. The ground experience of persons who reach 'Class one' level will make them aware of realities and help them prepare comprehensive realistic plans. This system of recruiting bureaucrats will also remove the elitism that these services are beset with and give way to empathy.


Quality Training Can Make a Difference

Another important reform is required in the training of bureaucrats and Police leaders. While informing them about the financial and administrative rules and regulations is important, it is even more important for them to be informed about the identification of problem areas and process of policy formulations.

It is also very important for the bureaucrats to be trained in soft skills as more often than not, they are seen to be behaving arrogantly with the common public. The best of bureaucrats should be deployed at the training facilities unlike now when posting to a training institution is considered being sidelined by the officers, especially in Police.

It is not contended that the above are the only possible alternatives to enhance bureaucratic efficiency. There needs to be a larger public consultation or debate on the subject because reforming bureaucracy is critical to the well-being and progress of our great nation.

(Sanjiv Krishan Sood (Retd) has served as the Additional Director General of the BSF and was also with the SPG. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Administration   Bureaucrats 

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