Thursday, 20 February 2020

What Ails Indian Bureaucracy?

Updated: June 26, 2010 10:55 am

The conduct rules of all government employees in our country mandate that they shall maintain absolute integrity in their functioning. Unfortunately the conduct rules, which are very unambiguous, have been violated in both spirit and letters, by both the bureaucrats and political masters.

            Indeed, it might appear surprising that five months after the Secretaries Committee decided that ministries with CPSEs (Central Public Sector Employees) under their control should not allow officers to use facilities owned by or paid for by these state-run companies, the government, department of personnel & training, asked government officials to return at the earliest and definitely before March 31, 2010, all mobile phones, chauffeur-driven cars, air-conditioners, laptops, faxes that have been provided by central public sector enterprises (CPSEs).

            Instead of specifying that such a misuse would lead to dismissal or other serious punishment, the order says: “Any such use shall attract suitable action against them… . Any manpower or other facilities from CPSEs already being availed by the ministries or departments will be returned by the ministries concerned.” As if it felt sorry, in issuing such an order, the same department says: In case there is need due to “exceptional circumstance” to utilise a facility from a CPSE for “a bona fide purpose related with official duties, there the usage could be allowed by the Secretary concerned for a specified period after a careful assessment of the situation”.

            If a rule is there, there should be no loopholes. But our legal experts first leave sufficient loopholes and then make rules to provide escape routes to the crooks and criminals in the bureaucracy. Anybody, who has anything to do with the government, feels the pinch that nothing moves, unless it is moved by love, money or influence or other considerations. About middlemen, I asked a businessman: “Why do you always require an agent to move around for you in government office.” He replied that because generally you are not aware what is the exact procedure of getting your work done and even if you know, you also know that it is too cumbersome. Despite the government claim of simplifying laws and procedure, every session of law or rule-making body adds one layer after another layer to make it more difficult for getting anything done in the normal course. A single window system, with a time-bound response, is the solution. The common complaint is whether in India or abroad, Indian citizens face humiliation, contempt and ill-treatment with zero efficiency. If you make a complaint against anybody in the authority, you can write off any positive response.

            Literally admitting that the

bureaucracy has failed the country, due to widespread corruption and malpractices, the Cabinet Secretary, the highest government official, in March 2010 said in a communication: “The issue of corruption needs to be addressed fairly and squarely. Preventive vigilance should be strengthened. Transparency must be introduced in decision-making and in all our systems. Stringent action must be taken against officers found guilty. Disciplinary proceedings must be expedited.”

            He further said that civil servants were appointed on the basis of a fair and open competition and added: “We must respond in full measure to the faith that citizens have reposed in us and meet their hopes and aspirations of good governance… . Of late, there have been some disturbing incidents, which call for serious introspection by civil servants. Integrity, honesty, objectivity, impartiality, transparency, accountability and devotion towards duty were the core values which civil servants should cherish and which form an integral part of our decisions and actions.”

            The Union Minister For Administrative Reforms and Personnel had said some times back: “There is a perception that the Indian bureaucracy is inefficient and corrupt. If we are not able to provide for inclusive growth and maintain regional and social balance in the country, it may lead to conflicts which may shake the very foundations of our federal polity and our nation.” He also added that India’s performance on UNDP’s Human Development Index that provides composite measures of three dimensions of human development—life expectancy, literacy rate and standard of living—remains “abysmal”. India still ranks 132 out of 179 countries.

            About six years ago the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured the Indian industries that a high-level standing committee with representatives from the industry and the government would review all existing industrial laws with international best practices and if required amend archaic laws to end tyranny of inspector raj. The rules and regulations would be made more transparent and simple. The attempt would be, as far as possible, not to leave issues to personal interpretation and to ensure that discretionary power is not misused.

            But unfortunately, the things stand where they were six years ago. A Supreme Court-appointed judicial committee about the corruption of bureaucracy had this to say: “It is a known fact that PDS has dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt sectors in the country. Corruption is all-pervasive in the entire chain involved in the PDS and it continues to remain a formidable problem… . Most of the functionaries under the (food and civil supply) department are typically callous and resort to corrupt practices. It is in fact a cancerous growth and has to be chopped off as patch work will not do.” The committee, headed by former Justice DP Wadhwa of Supreme Court said although the Centre was giving a “whopping” subsidy of Rs 28,000 crore to the states on food items to be distributed to the poor through the PDS, a strong nexus of corrupt officials, dishonest fair price shop (FPS) owners, treacherous transporters engaged by state governments to carry the goods to the shops and unscrupulous mill owners has virtually crippled the system.

            While finding that the PDS ration was being directly sold to flour mills, the committee said unless concrete remedial measures were immediately taken as suggested by it “the poor will go on suffering at the hands of this nexus”. The Indian bureaucracy is not only inefficient, but also highly corrupt. The leadership has totally failed in either reforming or controlling it despite setting up two administrative reforms commissions. Bureaucracy in our country is like a broken cannon. It does not work and you cannot fire it. One reason for corruption and inefficiency, apart from the weak political leadership, is that it defends status quo, long after the time, quo has lost its relevance.

By Joginder Singh

The writer is former Director, CBI.

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