The In­dian bu­reau­cracy has of­ten at­tracted crit­i­cism from the pub­lic for its “in­ef­fi­ciency”. Re­cently, dur­ing his visit to In­dia, US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry also lamented about the In­dian bu­reau­cracy be­ing “an ex­pert in set­ting up road­blocks”. A few

Bureaucracy Today - - FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - ◆By Soma Chakraborty

In a re­port re­leased re­cently a US think-tank, Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, has pointed out that the In­dian bu­reau­cracy is fac­ing a num­ber of se­ri­ous chal­lenges — from di­min­ish­ing hu­man cap­i­tal to po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence — and that, if left un­ad­dressed, will lead to fur­ther in­sti­tu­tional de­cline.

Emi­nent au­thor and pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual Gur­cha­ran Das had once said, “In­dia grows at night while the Gov­ern­ment sleeps.” In­deed, those who have come into con­tact with the In­dian bu­reau­cracy have long crit­i­cized it for be­ing cum­ber­some, slow, in­ef­fi­cient and of­ten ve­nal.

In a re­port ti­tled The In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tion Ser­vice Meets Big Data, a US think-tank, Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, says the bu­reau­cracy in the coun­try is fac­ing a num­ber of se­ri­ous chal­lenges—from di­min­ish­ing hu­man cap­i­tal to po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence— and that, if left un­ad­dressed, will lead to fur­ther in­sti­tu­tional de­cline.

“The In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice (IAS) oc­cu­pies the nerve cen­tre of the In­dian State. Un­for­tu­nately, the IAS is ham­strung by po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence, out­dated per­son­nel pro­ce­dures, and a mixed record on pol­icy im­ple­men­ta­tion, and it is in need of ur­gent re­form,” the re­port states.

Though IAS of­fi­cers con­sti­tute a tiny frac­tion of all gov­ern­ment bu­reau­crats, this group rep­re­sents the crème de la crème of the In­dian Civil Ser­vices and its mem­bers oc­cupy the most piv­otal ad­min­is­tra­tive posts across In­dia at ev­ery level, from the dis­trict to the Cen­tral level. How­ever, this “steel frame” has de­te­ri­o­rated over time due to po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.


“An in­creas­ingly in­tran­si­gent po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive has re­peat­edly abused its author­ity to trans­fer, sus­pend, and pro­mote of­fi­cers at will, dam­ag­ing the mo­rale of the ser­vice and brazenly politi­ciz­ing its very essence. The qual­ity of new hires is said to be fall­ing as the best and bright­est col­lege grad­u­ates are unim­pressed by un­com­pet­i­tive pub­lic sec­tor wages, while those who do en­ter gov­ern­ment ser­vice are of­ten not al­lowed to de­velop do­main ex­per­tise that can in­form pol­i­cy­mak­ing in an in­creas­ingly com­plex, in­ter­con­nected world,” the re­port says.

In­ter­est­ingly, in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress to the na­tion in 2004, the then Prime Min­is­ter, Man­mo­han Singh, had said that re­fur­bish­ing the IAS

will be an “im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity” for his Gov­ern­ment. How­ever, no vis­i­ble re­forms were in­tro­duced by his Gov­ern­ment in the 10 years of its rule. Now more than a decade af­ter, Singh’s suc­ces­sor, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, is echo­ing the same sen­ti­ments and has al­ready com­mit­ted to re­ju­ve­nate the “in­creas­ingly de­mor­al­ized” bu­reau­cracy.


One rea­son for the IAS’s wan­ing rep­u­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to the US re­port, is the “sup­pos­edly di­min­ish­ing qual­ity of its re­cruits”. “De­spite an in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion — in 2016, only 180 can­di­dates were se­lected from a pool of 465,882 ap­pli­cants (a suc­cess rate of 0.038 per­cent)—the gov­ern­ment is find­ing it hard to lure young tal­ent away from in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive pri­vate­sec­tor op­por­tu­ni­ties,” it states.

As per the study, be­yond the de­clin­ing qual­ity of new IAS en­trants, their poor re­mu­ner­a­tion and se­vere pay com­pres­sion—a re­duc­tion in the ra­tio of the high­est Gov­ern­ment salary to the low­est—have had an ad­verse ef­fect on the mo­rale and so­cial pres­tige as­so­ci­ated with a Civil Ser­vice ca­reer.


The re­port doubts whether the rules gov­ern­ing IAS ad­vance­ment are al­low­ing the best and the bright­est to move up in the ranks. “The em­pan­el­ment process, through which of­fi­cers are se­lected for ser­vice in the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment, is highly opaque and can be in­flu­enced by the judg­ments of politi­cians who might wish to de­rail of­fi­cers cross­ing them,” it states.

“The In­dian Gov­ern­ment should re­shape re­cruit­ment and pro­mo­tion pro­cesses, im­prove per­for­mance­based as­sess­ment of in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cers, and adopt safe­guards that pro­mote ac­count­abil­ity while pro­tect­ing bu­reau­crats from po­lit­i­cal med­dling,” says the re­port au­thored by Mi­lan Vaish­nav and Sak­sham Khosla.

The re­port al­leges that po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence gen­er­ates sub­stan­tial ad­min­is­tra­tive in­ef­fi­ciency. “The best of­fi­cers do not al­ways oc­cupy im­por­tant po­si­tions, while po­lit­i­cal loy­alty of­fers bu­reau­crats an al­ter­na­tive path to ca­reer suc­cess.. .Counter-in­tu­itively, greater po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion does not nec­es­sar­ily lead to bet­ter bu­reau­cratic per­for­mance,” it states.


The re­port says that there is a lack of spe­cial­iza­tion in the In­dian bu­reau­cracy. It raises a per­ti­nent ques­tion whether the IAS can con­tinue to ex­ist as a gen­er­al­ist ser­vice in a world that is in­creas­ingly com­plex and where do­main knowl­edge has be­come more valu­able. “The fre­quent ro­ta­tion that of­fi­cers ex­pe­ri­ence in the ser­vice means that they are con­stantly de­vel­op­ing new skills and new ex­per­tise but very rarely stay in one field or sec­tor long enough to be­come gen­uine ex­perts,” it states.

Also there is no sys­temic match be­tween ac­cu­mu­lated ex­pe­ri­ence and post­ings of­fi­cers get. “Spe­cial­iz­ing in a field does not raise the like­li­hood of work­ing in that field at the Cen­tre. An of­fi­cer’s prior ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance—whether he or she grad­u­ated in the first di­vi­sion of an un­der­grad­u­ate class and pos­sesses mul­ti­ple aca­demic de­grees—re­mains a ro­bust pre­dic­tor of earn­ing a post­ing with the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment in New Delhi,” the re­port says.


The US think-tank also raised the pesky is­sue of what to do with the peren­ni­ally un­der­per­form­ing of­fi­cers. “While the Gov­ern­ment can adopt smarter meth­ods for en­sur­ing that the best of­fi­cers are se­lected, pro­moted, and placed in the right jobs, it must also find cre­ative ways of deal­ing with poor per­form­ers,” it states.

The Sec­ond Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­forms Com­mis­sion had rec­om­mended that within the frame­work of a new civil ser­vices law, the Gov­ern­ment in­sti­tute a new pol­icy whereby all of­fi­cers who are deemed un­fit for ser­vice at the time of their twen­tyyear re­view be forcibly re­tired. How­ever, nei­ther the Man­mo­han Singh Gov­ern­ment nor the Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion em­braced this sug­ges­tion. Nev­er­the­less, he NDA-II has taken some steps to crack down on poor per­form­ers with the Gov­ern­ment re­cently dis­miss­ing 13 bu­reau­crats for their un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance.

“This process of dis­miss­ing of­fi­cers who are neg­a­tively rated at pre­dictable ca­reer bench­marks should be in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized so that it does not rest on the pref­er­ences of any one gov­ern­ment but be­comes a trans­par­ently en­forced and em­bed­ded rule,” the re­port states.


The US-based think-tank states that a re­form agenda for the IAS must seek to re­solve the per­verse in­cen­tive struc­tures that rid­dle the top func­tionar­ies of the In­dian ad­min­is­tra­tion. It says the Cen­tral and State Gov­ern­ments should get pend­ing leg­is­la­tion passed that pro­tects bu­reau­crats against po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated trans­fers and post­ings.

“One step the present Gov­ern­ment could take to rec­tify this sit­u­a­tion is to pri­or­i­tize ac­tion on a se­ries of draft Bills that place con­straints on politi­cians’ abil­ity to ar­bi­trar­ily trans­fer bu­reau­crats. This pend­ing leg­is­la­tion in­cludes the Pub­lic Ser­vices Bill (2007), the Civil Ser­vices Bill (2009), and the Civil Ser­vices Stan­dards, Per­for­mance, and Ac­count­abil­ity Bill (2010), all of which have been languishing,” the re­port states.

The US think-tank sug­gests that an­other step is that of in­creas­ing the ca­reer in­cen­tives for a bu­reau­crat. “The ex­ist­ing pro­cesses of re­cruit­ment and se­nior­ity-based ca­reer pro­gres­sion can in­tro­duce in­ef­fi­cien­cies into the bu­reau­cracy...Data-driven per­for­mance met­rics could not only be used for pro­mo­tions, but they also could help guide salary and re­mu­ner­a­tion de­ci­sions... data need not be the only cri­te­rion on which of­fi­cers are judged. How­ever, data could be one crit­i­cal com­po­nent,” the re­port states.

Data says that bu­reau­crats with strong lo­cal ties with their com­mu­ni­ties of­ten out­per­form out­siders when it comes to de­liv­er­ing the pub­lic goods. “While a change to the na­tional cadre al­lo­ca­tion pol­icy is un­war­ranted at this stage, re­form-minded State cadres could ex­per­i­ment with in­creas­ing the num­ber of lo­cal IAS of­fi­cers and closely track­ing their im­pact on de­vel­op­ment out­comes rel­a­tive to other bu­reau­crats,” the think-tank sug­gests.

It fur­ther states that the Cen­tral and State Gov­ern­ments should dis­cuss whether State cadres should be given greater lat­i­tude to ex­per­i­ment with in­creas­ing the pro­por­tion of lo­cal IAS of­fi­cers and track their rel­a­tive per­for­mance. ■

(Top) John Kerry, US Sec­re­tary of State. (Left) Min­is­ter of State for Power, Coal, new and re­new­able en­ergy and Mines PiyUSh Goyal and the Deputy Sec­re­tary, Depart­ment of en­ergy, US, el­iz­a­beth Sher­wooDranDall at the indo-US Min­is­te­rial Meet in new Delhi re­cently. also seen in the pic­ture are se­nior bu­reau­crats PK PUJari, Power Sec­re­tary and UPen­Dra tri­Pa­thy, new and re­new­able en­ergy Sec­re­tary.

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