Collapse of the Steel Frame of Indian Bureaucracy and Modi’s call for Rapid Transformation of the Administrative Systems

Lalit Shastri

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the inauguration ceremony of NITI ‘Transforming India’ Lecture Series, in New Delhi on August 26, 2016.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the inauguration ceremony of NITI ‘Transforming India’ Lecture Series, in New Delhi on August 26, 2016.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said we cannot march through the twenty-first century with the administrative systems of the nineteenth century. As an obvious corollary to this, he is pitching for rapid transformation and not gradual evolution.

Modi was delivering today (26 August, 2016) the inaugural address at the NITI ‘Transforming India’ Lecture Series, in New Delhi. Besides Union Ministers and chief ministers, also present on the occasion was Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore.

Modi had a word of praise for the adminstrative tradition. Without delving into the historic background and the British legacy of the Indian bureaucracy, Modi pointed out how this tradition combines indegenous and external ideas from the past. He was also particular in giving a pat to the bureaucracy.

The Prime Minister observed “administrative tradition has served India well in many ways. Above all, it has preserved democracy and federalism, unity and integrity, in a country of glorious diversity.” Stating that these are not small achievements, Modi went on to advocate the need for transformation and said: “transformation of governance cannot happen without a transformation in mindset and a transformation in mindset cannot happen without transformative ideas.”

Modi talked of the quality of institutions and ideas and said keeping this in perspective, early last year, a new institution the National Institution for Transforming India or NITI was created to allow a think tank to guide India’s transformation.

Modi also reflected on an exercise he has undertaken which has revolved around what he described as “structured” brainstorming sessions with bankers, police officers, Secretaries to Government and others. The ideas emanating from these sessions were being incorporated into policy, said Modi.

All this sounds good. Policy is fine but what about the bureaucrats who are one with their political masters who draw power from the Constitution and derive recognition and credibility from what we call the democratic process. How fair is this democratic process could be gauged from the fact that money and muscle power both play a huge role in elections and this gets validated by the demand for public funding of elections. All political parties support this demand and view it as the ultimate solution for tackling the problem of black money.

Putting the positives aside, if one were to look closely at the nexus between the vast majority of civil servants and their political masters, which is geared to serve their narrow vested interests and the entire set of factors responsible for the total collapse of the steel frame of Indian bureaucracy, what shall unfold would be a bleak scenario.

In the Central Services, those in knowledgeable circles are talking of the quality of induction, which has deteriorated in recent years. A great deal of mediocrity has permeated our bureaucracy. The present situation is perturbing because if you induct officers on the basis of caste it is bound to reflect on the ground. Under the present scenario, the officers, rather than protecting the weaker sections, often tend to go the other way round to perpetuate the caste system and this is what one has been witnessing on the ground.

There is another drawback in the system – by introducing the vernacular for the entrance examination, we have removed the level playing field. For example, by taking Sanskrit or a regional language as medium for the entrance examination, a candidate can even secure 150 marks out of 150 and with just 10 or 15 marks in the personality test, can get into the services. Another problem surfacing in a big way is the free for all when it comes to placating the regional aspirations of those seeking to join the Central services. Regional chauvinism is is also pushing merit into the background at the induction stage.

There is also a general perception that mostly people are getting attracted to the bureaucracy not by the desire to render service but by power, money and the opportunity to build a clout with the politicians.

It is a matter of shame that high incidence of dowry and the feudal roots among the newly inducted officers is still prevalent in states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where the going rate for dowry is more than Rs. 20 million.

In the process, the all-India character of the Central services has been demolished.

The malaise does not end here as in India the Civil service does not stand as a whole. There is one all India service called the Indian Administrative Service. It can be described as the biggest trade union in the country. In the IAS, everyone knows how they take care of their own Service to the exclusion of all other services, whether it is promotion or empanelment, posting or post-retirement benefits. Sinecures or a position in the Tribunals, Vigilanace Commission, and the newly set up NITI ayog are invariably for the IAS. One will hardly ever find experts from the qualified expert services filling these posts.

To further elaborate, an Economic Service man will not be included in the think tank but an IAS without relevant USP would be brought in. The same thing happens in empanelment and the selection of persons who have been empanelled for top-level postings in Government of India.

The thumb rule is – If a bureacrat does not pander to the political masters, he gets transferred to remote places and there is always somebody ready and willing to take his or her place. As a tradition, at the grass root level the IAS get the opportunity to maintain a close link with the political class. As Collector or district Magistrate they befriend the local MLA and by the time they rise to become the chief secretary, the same MLA either is the chief minister or a minister at the Centre. In this way they both grow together.

The Indian Police Service officers have their own grouse. They have been made subordinate to the IAS for law and order. In many states, there is resistance from the IAS and the Police commissioner system is not being institutionalised because the bureaucrats want to retain all licensing powers,whether it is the arms or the liquor license. In the process the Police officers have surrendered all initiative and are pleased to follow the path of least resistance.

Coming to other Central services like the Income Tax, Customs and Excise. Officers from these services have the sword of transfer hanging perpetually over their heads which is highly capricious. There is one bunch of officers that always remains in the Delhi or the Mumbai circuit and gets the cream postings. The general perception is that many of them make a lot of money and take good care of their bosses. The majority of officers on the other hand get kicked around like football all over the countryside and there is no one to listen to their grievance and as a result they are a disgruntled lot.

Then we have the Central Service like the Railways where the Rail Unions have been given so much power that the officers find it impossible to enforce their orders. Outsourcing in the Railways is so much politically motivated that there is no quality control whether it is bedrolls or catering.

In Indian Railways, the GMs and DRMs are held responsibile when a train derails or runs late but the lineman or others down the line cannot be touched or held accountable. This is another malaise that runs deep.

Contrast it with Defence Services and one will get an entirely a different picture.

In Defence Services there is no reservation, secondly there is uniformity in recruitment, and thirdly uniform sharing of hardship. By the time one is a full Colonel they do all kinds of field postings. It is not the case with them that if an Army officer is well connected, he would always be posted in the Army headquarters. What is particularly important and significant is that in Defense Services they get promoted only on merit. One will not go beyond the rank of Lt. Colonel or Colonel unless one is exceptionally deserving. Whereas in the IAS the entire batch gets promoted at the same time. In their case, there is no premium on performance and depending on the year of recruitment one sure shot becomes a Secretary.

On the other extreme, when it comes to empanelment of officers belonging to other Central Services, the movement of their files is mostly at a trady pace and there are piecemeal queries that take months to travel to and fro. Sources have informed that even the industry lobby plays a role in the appointment of Secretaries.

The bleak picture notwithstanding, what cannot be ignored is that there are also good bureaucrats and they have helped in providing a semblance of balance to the administrative machinery.

The cancer of corruption also plays havoc with government working. It is only in rare cases when the high and mighty are seen going through the prosecution process. Files seeking permission to prosecute IAS officers under the anti-corruption law, even after the country’s prime investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has completed its investigation,are gathering dust and the corrupt have managed to go scot-free. Such a system, when in the parlance of the knowledgeable, IAS stands for “I am safe” Service, should be overhauled completely without wasting any time if India has to catch up with the fast moving world..

21 comments

  1. Please do better research before you sit down to write. Please do read about empanelment process and the ration of total batch and empaneled officers.

    And thanks for suggesting that caste impacted districts because of introduction of reservation and for thousands of years we have an equity driven system where castes did not exist.

    Illuminating!!

    1. Your off the cuff advice that one should do better research before sitting down to write is understandable.

      I can appreciate points that have been raised through this article are bound to rub those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

      While commenting on this piece, you have raised two points. Should I thank you for validating the other issues in focus.

      For your information this analytical piece is backed by over three decades of research and inputs received by me as a journalist from IAS officers and others belonging to the Central Services who have touched the pinnacle of glory. I stand by my analysis both on the issue of empanelment and caste based reservation.

    2. ha ha…more resistance will come from service which enjoys more feudal power…for looting the development fund of people….

  2. Nm has said , like always, what is current status n dettorant to the development of our country….

    Will he do it or yet another acche din….not forgetting 2 &1/2 years gone….does he have road map..?!

  3. A very good analysis of the malady which has resulted in all the bureaucratic principles getting eroded. I think that if post-retirement postings could be made more transparent, much of the problem could be resolved.

  4. The problem discussed is genuine and impacts overall quality of public services to the citzens in general. However, nothing much can be done about it as the political executive is too illiterate to see through the mischief and initiate reforms commensurate with the seriousness involved.

  5. Fantastic depiction of reality at ground position.
    Kudos to the P M for voicing it & best wishes to him for his reforms

  6. Are our political class blind or is it a case of ” you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. Why can we not ensure fixed tenures for the bureaucracy and other civil services? Why cannot a system of promotion on merit be introduced? I suppose it suits other parties, the bureaucracy and the political.

  7. An excellent and well researched article. I accept with every word of this article. We have an outdated bureaucratic setup. Until we reform our bureaucracy we will not grow and develop. I myself being a bureaucrat know what a shit our medieval bureaucracy is. Our bureaucracy is hopeless, selfish, medieval, selfserving and selfaggrandising. Why not competitive selection for all posts under the Central Staffing Scheme? Why not allow lateral entry under this Scheme? About our IAS the less said the better. I have written some articles on our administrative setup and what needs to be done to improve it. They can be found at http://www.steelframeofindia. blogspot. in
    Mr. Lalit Shastri has done a great job with this article. Please carry on sir. My wishes will always be there with you. Don’t get perturbed by the statusquoists. Their job is to protect their turf no matter what. They won’t like this article for obvious reasons.
    Regards
    P Satya Prasanth
    IRS officer

  8. All AIS & CS are nothing but band of pendharis who have little feelings towards people of India. worst part is that all services fights for supremacy to get bigger chunk of previleges.

  9. It’s time to have more specialised All India Services such as Indian Education Service, Indian Health Service, Indian River management Services, Indian Legal Service& Indian Urban Managemnt services

    1. You have highlighted about the cadre services. What about those not in cadre service? They form the largest chunk. A police constable, the engineers working for the betterment of msme sector, a bus conductor or driver, an agriculture officer who work with the farmers etc. Here there is no time bound promotion or merit based promotion. In your entire service you may get maybe one promotion at the time of retirement or so. Then how will the productivity improve.

  10. Sir it is a great irony of the entire setup today…for a moment imagine a 4 year old child in LKG…school timings are to be strictly adhered to. Wearing of uniform /shoes which are neat and clean is a must. All the given homework must be completed. Should perform well in the periodic tests and exams and the performance is evaluated continuosly. A child who should be freely playing and enjoying the childhood is subjected to iron curtain discipline and performance metrics…but why ? competition…parental pressure,modern education etc etc….look at our netas and babus they are really kids..no code of conduct, no performance metrics, no tests, no exams – always pass if you please the boss.
    The word Government( in its own form and in the manner it serves the society ) is seen with disdain and apathy as it shelters the self serving parasites. The disease is omnipresent and more contagious than any biological disease. The antidote is yet to be found even after 6 decades…by the time an antidote is found..the system will release a more resistant version.
    It is not the 1.25 billion who has to thrive and survive but the few thugs sheltered in the government and the big and bad bugs of the ‘billionnaire’ world.

  11. They should do away with reservation.Instead of reducing age to 26 from 32.An Ias/Ips officer has to be mature not young.Intelligent candidates should be selected in lieu of muggers

  12. Very well analysed and facts presented. Govt. Employees will not like it – but truth is always bitter and not many takers for truth in today’s scenario.

  13. Nice article. Please also concentrate on lower bureaucracy which is the cutting edge and has the highest numbers and comes into direct contact with the public. Their training, morale, orientation etc has taken a big hit. Secondly, incentive structure is not totally correct now. Reward and punishment should be well correlated with high degree of predictability with performance. This is not well established there which leads to demoralization of the cadre. And yes, there is a tendency in large number of bureaucrats to be self centred and treat the service as a privilege of some card holders of a club. IAS thinks that they are already contracting from the heydays of ICS and are under threat. IRS wants bigger share of the empanelment and posting pie commensurate with their cadre strength but does not talk about accountability. Many of them perform but they shield the rotten apples among themselves as well. They want the privilege to continue. But I am hopeful that this government can do something as it has the required mandate and required will. I am an IRS officer.

  14. Very nicely analysed. However in the entire article I don’t find even a single mention of the travails of the Cadre of the Central Armed Forces like BSF, CRPF, ITBP etc. The combined strength of these cadre is over 10000 officers. The travails of these officers remain unnoticed . I wd request the author to study these also.

  15. Writer has a right to say what he thinks fit however, creating an impression that his personal opinions and prejudices were voiced by hon’ble PM is evidence of writer’s lack of intellectual integrity and his lack of confidence in his own ideas.

    My best wishes to writer.

    1. Mr. Dilip…..,
      I wish you had read the piece with focused attention before questioning the “intellectual integrity” of the writer. In fact, what has been written is just the opposite of what you are trying to say when you talk of “creating an impression…..”

  16. A book written by an officer who took VRS from IAS may be pertinent as he has said’Disband the IAS cadre’ as it’s no longer relevant.A British legacy which has outlived it’s necessity.
    IAS officers are generally arrogant & are ever ready to throw their weight around.They have little accountability.One can see how their gang has supported their colleague Gupta erstwhile Coal Secy as if he is a holy cow.A Collector in a small city has scant respect for officers of a different cadre like Defence/Police with much more years of service.
    One hopes the PM will sort out this IAS cadre for the betterment of our society.

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