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Mantras For Making Indian Bureaucracy Efficient And Purposeful

There was a time when, in a few states, the only industry flourishing was the “transfer industry”. Even otherwise, frequent transfers are a bane of Indian administration

Photo Credit : Himanshu Kumar


There is no doubt about the objectivity with which senior civil servants are being selected by the Union Public Services Commission. This institution has done us proud. However, there are a couple of problems, especially in the context of the Indian Administrative Service. More often than not senior civil servants have to possess leadership qualities. What UPSC selects is bright and brilliant individuals and not those that carry their team with them. There are tools available to ascertain leadership potential in an individual. The applicants should be tested through these tools. It may bring in some subjectivity but UPSC can be trusted with it. Knowledge and articulation are necessary but not sufficient condition to make a leader.

The second problem is the age limit. Today, a person into 30s can also get into civil services. At this age they are already “hard boiled eggs”. It is extremely difficult to change their attitude and behaviour at that stage through training. This age limit has to be brought down substantially (perhaps to 26 years).

The training itself will need to undergo a change. Here again, the focus has to be on honing leadership traits and this would include capacity to grasp, assimilate, analyse and articulate (communication skills are critical). They should be made to understand and appreciate the need to take the group along and not merely shine as an individual. This can be done through case studies to illustrate how objectives of the organisation can be accomplished by taking everyone along.

Strict action needs to be taken against those that are found wanting in the context of integrity. Action has to be quick, effective and exemplary. Honesty is non-negotiable but honesty alone is not enough. A civil servant is paid to perform, to deliver. This needs to be drilled into each officer. This can be done by evolving a system wherein each civil servant is given to believe and understand that he will not be penalised for bonafide mistakes. Unfortunately, that is not the case now as a number of honest officers are being hounded despite the fact that no malafide was found against them. Fortunately, the law has been amended but its operation has still to be seen. Following the so called “scams”, there has been an atmosphere of distrust and the officers are wary of taking decisions. This has had an adverse impact on governance.

There was a time when, in a few states, the only industry flourishing was the “transfer industry”. Even otherwise, frequent transfers are a bane of Indian administration. How can you expect a department like Education to be in the pink of health if it sees five secretaries in the first two and half years of the government? Officers with such short tenures can hardly deliver anything on the ground in the given period. Each officer should be given at least two (preferably three) years in an assignment. In such a case, the officer can be held responsible for delivering or not delivering. There are mechanisms in place to select appropriate officers for specific posts but unfortunately considerations for postings are totally different. This needs to be corrected because a lot depends upon the person manning the job.

For sensitive posts there has to be a credible mechanism in place so that preference is not given to “pliable” officers who end up destroying institutions. Institutions like the UPSC could be used for identifying appropriate officers on the basis of efficiency and integrity and not on pliability.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Anil Swarup

The author is a former secretary, Government of India

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