In­dian bu­reau­cracy needs game chang­ing trans­for­ma­tion

Re­cently Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi made it crys­tal clear that the Gov­ern­ment is in favour of “re­form­ing, per­form­ing and trans­form­ing” the In­dian bu­reau­cracy to make it a change agent in­stead of keep­ing it as an ar­chaic ar­chi­tec­ture in­ca­pable of good go

Bureaucracy Today - - SPECIAL REPORT - ◆By KP Shashid­ha­ran (The writer is a vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor of NIFM, LBSNAA, IIMs, IMT and other premier in­sti­tu­tions and a for­mer DG in the CAG of­fice.)

Why is so much an­tag­o­nism against once the much-ac­claimed Max We­ber’s hi­er­ar­chi­cally struc­tured sys­tem? It is a fact that the qual­ity of gov­er­nance is largely a re­flec­tion on the per­for­mance of the Gov­ern­ment which is de­pen­dent on the com­pe­tence of its bu­reau­cracy. An ef­fi­cient bu­reau­cracy can only plan, de­sign, im­ple­ment, mon­i­tor, and take timely de­ter­rent, cor­rec­tive and pre­ven­tive ac­tion for a de­sired out­come.

The cur­rent trend across the world is that the top-down ap­proach in any en­tity is down. What’s up is a hor­i­zon­tal, ver­ti­cal, bot­tom-up, top-down and all-round 360-de­gree free flow of ideas and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The con­ven­tional com­part­men­tal­ized silo ap­proach is un­able to find fine ideas to edge an or­ga­ni­za­tion to sur­vive in a fiercely com­pet­i­tive present-day world.

Ho­lacracy is the evolv­ing unique al­ter­na­tive to the tra­di­tional hier­ar­chi­cal or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture and the “flat man­age­ment” ap­proach. Ho­lacracy is based on a flex­i­ble or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture and dis­ci­pline. It de­lin­eates clearly the roles and ac­count­abil­i­ties of in­di­vid­u­als and teams, pro­vid­ing them in­creased au­ton­omy in de­ci­sion­mak­ing for prob­lem res­o­lu­tion with­out the con­ven­tional bu­reau­cracy which is vested in the mo­nop­oly of wis­dom of the top bosses on the rooftop of the pyra­mid.

Bust­ing the tra­di­tional bu­reau­cracy is pos­si­ble only when it can be sub­sti­tuted or re­formed by a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive. Dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tion is gen­er­ally an anath­ema to bu­reau­crats. The chal­lenge be­fore the Gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and cor­po­rates is to find cus­tomer in­sights to add value for ar­riv­ing at new ways to solve com­plex is­sues of gov­er­nance, ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­age­ment. Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies are lead­ing the world in knowl­edge man­age­ment, cre­ativ­ity and in­tel­lec­tual lead­er­ship. The tech-savvy com­pa­nies com­pete among them­selves breed­ing baby ideas to grow giant size to con­quer the whole world. The rules are all set for game chang­ing, al­low­ing no rules to im­pede prob­lem solv­ing by in­no­va­tion.

The tra­di­tional bu­reau­cracy sel­dom pro­motes knowl­edge lead­er­ship, a free flow of ideas and ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the en­tity as it is driven by author­ity, and an un­ques­tion­able uni­tary sta­tus of com­mand and power. It has to pave the way for new think­ing, gen­er­at­ing max­i­mum pos­si­bil­i­ties and op­tions. Its emerg­ing or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­er­ship can­not ig­nore to adapt it­self to new meth­ods for its sur­vival.


The busi­ness of gov­er­nance needs pragmatism and con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment. Bu­reau­crats must be ready to fac­tor in a cus­tomer feed­back rather than de­gen­er­at­ing them­selves into con­trol freaks. The ef­fi­cacy of do­ing things is tested by the ease of achiev­ing the re­sults. Con­trol and dis­ci­pline are im­por­tant but these as­pects must not be over­whelm­ing to sub­due the higher ideals of to­tal align­ment with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s vi­sion, mis­sion, goals and tar­gets. Ac­count­abil­ity, flex­i­bil­ity, risk-tak­ing and re­sult ori­en­ta­tion are in­evitable perquisites for the present-day bu­reau­cracy to bring a break­through in prob­lem res­o­lu­tion.

As the bu­reau­cratic para­pher­na­lia is multi-lay­ered, it adds over­heads by re­tain­ing re­dun­dant struc­tures by du­pli­cat­ing things, and caus­ing de­lays. The de­ci­sion-mak­ing power needs to be de­cen­tral­ized based on spe­cific knowl­edge, skills and ex­per­tise. In­cen­tives and re­wards have to be based on merit and com­pe­tency.

When PM Modi talked about “min­i­mum gov­ern­ment, max­i­mum gov­er­nance”, he was prob­a­bly hint­ing at de-bu­reau­cratic func­tion­ing. To cite an ex­am­ple, the Civil Ser­vices Ex­am­i­na­tion is for the re­cruit­ment of of­fi­cers for 24 ser­vices hav­ing di­ver­gent prospects. The same ex­am­i­na­tion and the in­ter­view di­vide and dis­crim­i­nate of­fi­cers since the re­cruit­ment is based merely on rank. The supremacy is based only on the ini­tial ser­vice and rank which can only be al­tered by reap­pear­ing at the com­pet­i­tive ex­am­i­na­tion rather than pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­cel dur­ing the course of the ca­reer based on ad­min­is­tra­tive tal­ent, lead­er­ship at­tributes, de­ci­sion­mak­ing abil­i­ties, proven com­pe­tence, knowl­edge and skills.

The di­vide and rule pol­icy in the ini­tial re­cruit­ment is com­pounded by a sys­tem pro­moted by dif­fer­ent ways of re­cruit­ment and pro­mo­tion in Group A, B, and C cat­e­gories of gov­ern­ment ser­vice. The na­ture of ser­vice and cadre and the method of en­try per­ma­nently de­ter­mine pro­mo­tion prospects, bring­ing the mul­ti­plic­ity of castes and creeds in the plethora of cat­e­gories of the In­dian bu­reau­cracy which en­cour­age an­i­mos­ity among mem­bers of the Ser­vices. ■

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A file pic­ture of PM NAreN­drA Modi in­ter­act­ing with se­nior bu­reau­crats

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