SHOT IN THE ARM

PM’S in­ter­ac­tion with the top bu­reau­cracy is wel­come

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

No mat­ter what the party in power, it has to de­pend upon the bu­reau­cracy to de­liver its poli­cies on ground and no one is more aware of it than Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. On Mon­day, he asked the coun­try’s top bu­reau­cracy to take the lead in im­ple­ment­ing the new gov­ern­ment’s agenda. In do­ing so, the prime min­is­ter laid out the ground rules for the top ad­min­is­tra­tion, which he as head of the gov­ern­ment, is ideally placed to do. It al­ways helps if the top man shows the way and as­sures the coun­try’s lead­ing of­fi­cials that they are free to take in­de­pen­dent de­ci­sions. That way, it helps clear the web of con­fu­sion, of which there are many in In­dia’s labyrinthi­ne bu­reau­cracy. Call­ing upon of­fi­cials to change the sta­tus quo and not worry about “gen­uine mis­takes”, promis­ing to stand by them, should be con­sid­ered a very pos­i­tive sig­nal, com­ing from the high­est of­fice in the land. One of the main rea­sons for the slow­down in gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion-mak­ing has been of­fi­cials’ ret­i­cence to sign on the dot­ted line, not know­ing how it would play out in the long run. Civil ser­vants, fear­ing action by in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies, have stonewalle­d de­ci­sions, lead­ing to avoid­able de­lays. The in­ter­ac­tion it­self must be cred­ited for be­ing thor­oughly pro­fes­sional in its ap­proach. Each min­istry was tasked with preparing a five-year plan along with a “sig­nif­i­cant im­pact­ful de­ci­sion” that needs to be ap­proved within 100 days. The prime min­is­ter has done well to em­power the bu­reau­cracy by say­ing that each sec­re­tary should think of him­self/her­self as the PM while im­ple­ment­ing strate­gies that makes life simpler for the com­mon ci­ti­zen. The 150 minute-long in­ter­ac­tion, pat­terned after the session he had with top bu­reau­crats in 2014 after tak­ing over, was meant to har­ness the bu­reau­cracy to Modi’s chief pri­or­ity area: im­prove­ment in ease of liv­ing. There was clar­ity in the prime min­is­ter’s ap­proach, as he set the tone for his sec­ond term, say­ing the man­date for pro-in­cum­bency was be­cause of the way the schemes were con­ceived and im­ple­mented by of­fi­cers. The com­mon man’s de­ci­sion was based on trust built “on his day-to-day experience­s”. That should be con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant be­cause bu­reau­cratic red tape and ap­a­thy is some­thing that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments in In­dia have tack­led since In­de­pen­dence, with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess, but never with any de­gree of mas­tery. There have been two ad­min­is­tra­tive re­forms com­mit­tees that were set up; the first in 1966 and then by the UPA gov­ern­ment in 2005. Both have come up with var­ied pro­pos­als, but the in­her­ent short­com­ings in the work­ing of bu­reau­cracy have re­mained largely un­ad­dressed. While it is never easy to re­form and mo­ti­vate a bu­reau­cracy of the size that works in In­dia, some of­fi­cials who at­tended de­scribed the PM’S in­ter­ac­tion as “mo­ti­va­tional”. Part of the of­fi­cial com­fort stemmed from the fact that the Union sec­re­taries were asked to come up with sug­ges­tions and there were many par­tic­i­pants. Maybe, this is just the tonic that the top of­fi­cial­dom needed.

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