Multiplying Bureaucracy Steel Frame Or Steal Frame
Every tribe, whether living in cities or rural areas, or in services takes care of its own. It is much easier to do in the government, especially in a democracy, where at the ministerial level or bureaucratic level, fitting the square pegs in round holes is the norms. The number of departments in the central government was 54 in 1978 and 70 in 1993. At present there are more than 450 officers who are of the level of Secretary, including the ex-cadre posts. It has become an unwritten rule that promotion must come, whether there is work after a fixed number of years. Another ruse is to create jobs, without content, most often called OSDs, which in reality is acronym for Officers In Search of Duty. In fact, the Prime Minister has admitted more than once that delivery system, of which bureaucracy is the chief instrument, has totally failed.
For this, the government is wholly and solely responsible. The age of retirement used to be 55 till 1960s and then it was raised to 58 and again raised to 60. Now the government has created some special categories, where post-retirement jobs are doled out to favourites for two, three or five years. Not only that, the favoured bureaucrats are conferred the status of Ministers of State, for the purpose of giving extra perks, apart from the jobs of Governors and other bodies.
Indeed certain bodies, such as the Regulatory Bodies, Union Public Service Commission, CAG, CVC, National Commission for Minorities, Central Information Commission, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Central Administrative Tribunal, Departmental Tribunals, Information Commissioners, and many more are filled or created to give sinecures to the retired bureaucrats. It is the same story, repeated in the state governments. In fact, there are some bureaucrats, who never retire, as such people have a knack for making themselves indispensable by doing their master’s bidding, whether it fits in the rules or not.
When such bureaucrats did not improve the working of the department under them, while in service, what kind of output they would give in their new assignments as regulators or as advisor? A wag jocularly remarked that the more senior a bureaucrat, the more spineless wonder he is. He added that a pliant bureaucrat, loses a vertebrae every year and at the end of the 32 years, he is a spineless wonder.
It is a sad truth that largely, only those who are spineless and yes men get such jobs. I have no objection to anybody occupying statutory jobs or as regulators. But this culture of dangling post-retirement sinecures must end. Make it a law universally applicable, that once a person retires from the government service, he would be ineligible for any other assignment. The government forgets that no body is indispensable and more so in bureaucracy.
There are lot of jobless jobs, where there is no work. Why increase the government expenditure and post such people there, instead of the serving bureaucrats? Promotions and postings depend upon how compliant you have been to the political boss. In fact, with a few honourable exceptions, and they are few and far between, the politicians have developed a thali culture, where they expect the bureaucrats to put up the files as per their anticipated wishes, and also be willing to take the blame when the things go wrong.
Performance appraisals have become a joke in the government. A friend told me that once while appraising a person, he wrote his performance as average. Promptly, there was a call from the Minister’s office to revise the appraisal to outstanding, which he did to buy peace. As compared to the government working, the poor evaluation in performance in private sector can lead to the sacking of an employee.
Rules are made so complicated that even if you step outside them, you can be subjected to all inquiries. On top of it, there is biradari or caste system in services, where each one tries to protect its own. CBI says that as on 1/1/2011, 474 cases were pending with the Government of India for sanction of prosecution of IAS officers and others, mostly corruption or allied cases. The Supreme Court in its order in 2012 asked the government not to delay permission to prosecute civil servants beyond three months.
Prime Minister on Civil Services Day, in April 2012, told the bureaucracy to take decisions promptly and assured them that there would be no witch hunting. Only to remind the government that only a government servant can be guilty of corruption, and in the world ranking by Transparency International India stands as the 87th most corrupt country, with 32 marks out of 100.
Corrupt bureaucrats do not need any protection of the government. They provide escape routes for themselves. Truly, the government is too soft on corruption, and that is why most of them get away by siphoning off the billions of rupees. Facts do not cease to exist. The condition of Indian bureaucracy can best fit a dead horse theory, sent to me by a retired IAS batch mate. It is as under: When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount and get a different horse.
However, in government, more advanced strategies are often employed such as buying a stronger whip; changing riders; appointing a committee to study the horse; arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses; lowering the standards so that the dead horse can be included; reclassifying the dead horse as ‘living impaired’; hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse; harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed; providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse’s performance; doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance; declaring that the dead horse does not have to be fed, is less costly, carries lower overheads and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses; rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses. And, of course, promoting the dead horse to a higher position!
It is for the government to get rid of the dead horses, where as the things stand, it would not do. Some people and organisations wish something to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen. Unfortunately, the government falls in the first category. It is for it to make things happen and take the country to greater heights.
By Joginder Singh
(The author is former Director, CBI)