SHOT IN THE ARM
PM’S interaction with the top bureaucracy is welcome
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.