The cor­rod­ing ‘steel frame’

Bureaucracy Today - - FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - Suhaib Ilyasi

At­tain­ing the sta­tus of a bu­reau­crat in In­dia is no cake­walk. Ev­ery year lakhs of as­pi­rants across the coun­try sweat their guts out to write the gru­elling Civil Ser­vices Ex­am­i­na­tions con­ducted by the Union Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion to get into, among oth­ers, the In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice (IAS), the In­dian For­eign Ser­vice (IFS), the In­dian Po­lice Ser­vice (IPS), the In­dian Rev­enue Ser­vice (IRS) and the In­dian For­est Ser­vice (IFoS). How­ever, the irony is that the In­dian bu­reau­cracy, es­pe­cially the IAS which is pop­u­larly known as “the steel frame” of the coun­try, is get­ting rusted.

At a time when the Union Gov­ern­ment is striv­ing hard to make In­dia a force to reckon with, the cred­i­bil­ity of the In­dian bu­reau­cracy, it seems, is tak­ing a beat­ing in the global plat­form. This be­comes ev­i­dent from the re­mark made by US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry dur­ing his re­cent visit to In­dia. While in­ter­act­ing with the stu­dents of IIT-Delhi, Kerry lamented about the In­dian bu­reau­cracy be­ing “an ex­pert in set­ting up road­blocks”.

In our Spe­cial Re­port in this edi­tion, we bring to our read­ers a de­tailed over­view of a US think-tank re­port, re­leased a few days af­ter Kerry’s re­marks, in which it called for an ur­gent re­form of the In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice and pointed out the fac­tors re­spon­si­ble for the mess in the In­dian bu­reau­cracy.

In­ter­est­ingly, the re­port points out that there is a lack of spe­cial­iza­tion in the In­dian bu­reau­cracy and raised a vi­tal ques­tion whether the IAS can con­tinue to ex­ist as a gen­er­al­ist ser­vice in a world that is in­creas­ingly get­ting com­plex and where do­main knowl­edge has be­come more valu­able. This is­sue has been a bone of con­tention for sev­eral decades be­tween IAS and non-IAS of­fi­cers. Strangely, the pre­vail­ing Cen­tral Staffing Scheme un­der­mines the cal­i­bre and ex­per­tise of non-IAS of­fi­cers in their re­spec­tive fields and in­stead an IAS of­fi­cer is ap­pointed to the top ech­e­lons of a depart­ment even if he or she has no knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence of that par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pline. Though the sit­u­a­tion is slowly chang­ing un­der the cur­rent regime with many non-IAS of­fi­cers also be­ing ap­pointed to higher ech­e­lons of the bu­reau­cracy, there still re­mains a long way to go.

The re­port also high­lights a num­ber of se­ri­ous chal­lenges —from di­min­ish­ing hu­man cap­i­tal to po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence — plagu­ing the In­dian bu­reau­cracy. The ob­ser­va­tions made by the US think-tank as well as Kerry are no doubt too strong, but the Gov­ern­ment has to un­der­stand that these is­sues if left un­ad­dressed will lead to fur­ther in­sti­tu­tional de­cline.

The NDA-II Gov­ern­ment af­ter com­ing to power had promised a re­formed bu­reau­cracy and peo­ple are im­pa­tient for the re­sults. The im­pa­tience is not sur­pris­ing given the fact that they have suf­fered im­mea­sur­ably at the hands of the In­dian babu­dom, be it at the Cen­tre or the State level. And herein lies the chal­lenge. It would be a tough task for the Gov­ern­ment to dis­man­tle the cor­roded “steel frame” which is also es­sen­tial to keep the wheels of gov­er­nance mov­ing to meet the en­hanced ex­pec­ta­tions of an as­pi­ra­tional In­dia.

Suhaib a Ilyasi

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