Reforming civil services a different view
The practice of `jack of all trades' round pegs in square holes and square pegs in round holes is the villain of professionalism and probity in civil service. Nowhere in the civilised world such atrocious practice of governance would be practised wherein experienced and competent technocrats and professionals are compelled to play second fiddle to greenhorns with next to nil subject knowledge, just because they belonged to a particular pampered service.
INDIA'S MASSIVE bureaucracy is maintained at huge cost by the country's taxpayer whose average income is among the lowest in the world. But the governance he gets in return is dismal. The public perception about the members of the civil services, who function at cutting edge and higher coordinating and policy making levels, is that they are `burdensome low-performers' heading a highly bloated bureaucracy, which is perceived to be corrupt and inefficient in governing the country. More than any other service this is applicable to the IAS.
It is in this context civil service reforms need to be analysed and implemented, not just whether doctors and engineers are to be recruited to these services or not as is being debated now.
The ailments afflicting India's civil services are:
* Lack of professionalism, lackadaisical recruitment, training and cadre allocation that are out of tune with the governance needs of the country;
* Outmoded civil service rules which enforce "terror of silence" rather than "proactive contribution" towards fair and just governance;
* Unjust promotion and empanelment system wherein mediocre and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats can damage the career of any upright and outstanding civil servant who dares to be different and reward the corrupt and the incompetent;
* Arbitrary and whimsical transfers wherein efficient and conscientious officers are kicked around and even put on `compulsory wait' by power wielding politicians and bureaucrats.
* Severe dilution of service over a period of time giving upper hand to elements who do not share common values and standards required of an elite service.
The need today is for forward looking, proactive governance that can pull the desolate nation out of the rot of corruption and communalism that is ravaging its polity and destroying its edifice. For this the static and sterile civil service that is administering the country should transform itself into a vibrant, transparent management cadre. The core principle of civil service reform should be to make this transformation happen so that the unimaginative, acquiescing and egocentric civil servant can become an imaginative, un-acquiescing and result oriented manager. For this purpose, civil service reformers should become iconoclasts and demolish pet theories, myths and mindsets that are not in consonance with democratic governance and a modern proactive civil service.
Some of the myths and mindsets that need immediate dismantling are the `law of umerta' that prevents civil servants from speaking their mind; the `arrogance of over-protection' that makes them unresponsive; the doctrine of `political neutrality' making them accomplices to misrule and the practice of `jack of all trades' which is at the root of non-professionalism in civil governance. Collectively these archaic concepts and practices have reduced civil servants to mere journeymen trying to hide their inability and incompetence under these convenient myths. `Political interference' has become the `fashionable word' to describe this malady that is responsible for the poor state of governance and rampant corruption in the country.
The archaic dictum that `a civil servant should be seen, not heard' does not fit in with sound principles of management. Under this anachronistic arrangement, decreed by the erstwhile colonial masters who only wanted a `lackey service,' some of India's best minds that constitute the civil service are being choked and wasted as mere status quo time-servers. What is worse, by remaining silent and unable to speak up against corruption and misrule the conscientious among the civil servants are fast losing their principles and personality. This is unacceptable, particularly so in the face of acute paucity of professional and managerial talent in government and the mounting corruption and venality in governance that is destroying the fibre of our democratic polity.
The doctrine of `political neutrality' as is being advocated now is self-defeating since it envisages a meek and `abdicating' role of civil servants. It is also presumptuous since it is based on the assumption that in our imperfect democracy ruling politicians represent all the people and interests and what they say should be the final word in the matters of governance or administrative action. This is a fallacy and cannot be accepted. The Founding Fathers' rationale for the creation of elite All India Services and giving them constitutional guarantees and protection meant that civil servants have a constitutional role to play in giving honest, fair and just governance to the people, particularly those the ruling politicians do not represent. In our skewed electoral system of `first-past-the-post' and the reality of low voter turnout, ruling politicians and their parties hardly represent 25-30 per cent of the electorate. If the civil servants strictly observe the `law of umerta' and in the guise of `political neutrality' surrender to the rulers-of-the-day who represent only about a quarter of the electorate and do their biddings without demur `where will the majority of the population flee?"
Too much of protection can reduce a person to cowardice. This is what is happening to civil servants they willingly become cowards since they do not have the courage even to face a transfer or some minor inconvenience for upholding principles of good governance. Like a `coward who dies a thousand deaths' they are compromising and acquiescing every time just to keep their posts and positions safe. IAS officials would expect officers of the Armed Forces, who are not very much less qualified than them, to gladly accept postings at "God-forsaken places" and take the supreme risk of death with a smile to save the nation's honour. But they themselves will not bear even a fraction of this discomfort to defend the people's honour.
The practice of `jack of all trades' round pegs in square holes and square pegs in round holes is the villain of professionalism and probity in civil service. Nowhere in the civilised world such atrocious practice of governance would be practised wherein experienced and competent technocrats and professionals are compelled to play second fiddle to greenhorns with next to nil subject knowledge, just because they belonged to a particular pampered service. Besides perpetrating non-professionalism and non-performance in governance, this feudal practice enables politicians to play favourites and gives them the unbridled power to post any body for any job, the main criteria being their pliability and `surrendarability'!
In addition to dismantling these cobwebs and moth-eaten hangovers, civil services should be made to accept and adopt `people's participation and prosperity' as the core purpose of governance. Civil servants should be transformed into proactive managers taking into account the role they are expected to play during the course of their three to four decade long career.
Setting performance standards and indexes for organisations and key administrators, to enable the government to function effectively and deliver efficient services should be among the primary objectives of civil service reforms. This is more so, because in the Reform era governments and the people increasingly expect civil servants to engage more effectively in management of projects, of change and of the efficient delivery of service.
Any one who fits into such a scheme of civil services should be welcome to join in whether he or she is a doctor or engineer. It is for the individuals to decide. All the same it is futile to believe that just by inducting a few doctors and engineers civil services would become professional. The truth is that within years of joining service, most of them, particularly the over-engineered IITians, lose their moorings and turn out to be neither specialist professionals nor generalist administrators! Indeed, an avoidable tragedy of drained talent and wasted resources!
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