Administrative Service - steel frame of India or steel fetters on democracy
shift is taking place in the Indian social, economic and political
arenas. A protected and state controlled economy is giving way to
globalisation and a market based economy. The state is shedding
many of its traditional responsibilities, which are being taken over
by the private sector and other civil society groups such as NGOs
and voluntary organisations. There is an increased awareness of the
constraints posed by the environment on economic growth.
Centralised state decision-making is being questioned and there is a
growing demand for the devolution of powers and resources to elected
bodies at the local level.
context, it has become necessary to examine the existing mechanisms
of governance, especially the IAS in terms of their capability to
direct the nation towards sustainable soico-economic development.
administrative service is a continuation of the Indian civil Service
instiutted by the British in the Indian colony. The ICS was
designed to administer the country, collect revenue, maintain law
and order and assist the colonial rulers in their exploitataion of
India’s resources. The logic of the ICS was the ruler-subject
paradigm-an elite, western educated service ruling over the
illiterate, ignorant Indian natives, ostensibly for their benefit,
in reality for their exploitation.
Even when the
British started conceding the demands for self-rule through the
Morley-Minto reforms and the Government of India Act 1935, the civil
services were not made accountable to the elected representatives
but continued to be answerable to the central imperial authority.
As with many
other colonial institutions and practices, India continued with the
ICS, renamed the IAS, after independence. This is understandable in
the early years after independence. It could be argued that the
then political leaders were inexperienced in the art of
administration and hence needed the experienced IAS, which Sardar
Vallabh Bhai Patel had termed the `steel frame of India’.
ironically, instead of gradually replacing this frame with
democratic elements, we allowed it to expand and assume gigantic
proportions. Today this steel frame has transformed into steel
fetters shackling Indian democracy, which has strangulated the
initiative of the people and suppressed development.
Now why is
the IAS incongruous in a democracy? How is the dynamics of its
functioning detrimental to the interests of the people? Let us look
at these issues more closely.
Centralised non-participatroy decison-making
system is based on a centralised concept where decisions taken at
the top percolate down through various levels to the grassroots.
This system has two defects. One, planning and development
decisions are made at the top most levels by a few people unfamiliar
with ground realities. This makes them insensitive to the needs,
constraints and aspirations of the local People.
Two, by the
time the decisions made at the top reach the local level they are
transformed beyond recognition. As Prof. Varun Sahni of Jawaharlal
Nehru University [JNU] put it, “By the time a state directive is
transmitted from the commanding heights down the intermediate levels
of the state to the trenches, it has either metamorphosed beyond
recognition, or else has been transmogrified, with only the external
shell remaining intact”.
This flow of
decisions from the top is also accompanied by the flow of
resources. In this process, huge frictional losses occur as the
money filters through various levels of the bureaucracy, encouraging
corruption and wasteful expenditure. As Rajiv Gandhi has said, only
16 paise out of every rupee reaches the actual beneficiaries.
Concentration of decision-making
bureaucrats are overburdened with decision-making, which affects the
quality of their decisions. This is especially evident in the case
of the district collector who is flooded with work that can be done
at the lower levels. He has to maintain law and order, look after
revenue functions, attend courts, arrange for VIP security, manage
development work and also attend to numerous petty issues affecting
the people in his district. The system breaks even the most
enthusiastic officer, most of whom are frustrated and end up doing
bureaucracy has grown in size assuming gigantic proportions, a
manifestation of the omnipresence of the state in people’s lives.
This is a result of over-centralisation and the entry of the state
into areas that should normally have been reserved for private
This has had
two adverse effects. First, the increased interaction between the
citizens and the bureaucracy is one of the major reasons for
corruption. Second, it has suppressed the initiative of the people
who have developed a dole mentality vis-a-vis the government.
accountability of the bureaucracy is part of the general lack of
accountability to decision-makers to the people in India. There is
no transparency in the functioning of the bureaucracy. In additon
to this there has been a proliferation of departments with
conflicting jurisdictions and mutliplicity of authority. Nobody
knows who is responsible for what. In this confustion it has become
easy to pass the buck. This has provided the ideal climate for
corruption allowing the politicians and the bureaucrats to form an
unholy nexus detrimental to the people and their development.
Communication gap between the bureaucracy and the People
the IAS has been a western educated elite service ignorant of the
local conditions and needs of the people. There has always existed
a ruler-subject relationship between them and the people. They,
especially the District Collectors, have been the sahibs and the
burra babus. Today they are the mai baps.
to this, the bureaucracy has become more inefficient and corrupt.
To the feeling of contempt. It is no wonder then that the
bureaucracy is not able to communicate properly with the people.
Neither do they get accurate information from the people nor are
they able to communicate their development measures to the people.
Insecurity of tenure
officers who wish to do good are pre-empted by the system. The IAS
officers have to know-tow the diktats of their political masters
even if they realise that they are agains the interests of the
people. Officers who protest are transferred or they obstructions
in their career growth. In fact, transfers have become a thriving
business with many officers paying handsomely for plum postings.
This has emasculated the IAS who have become servile to their
the above deficiencies, the IAS system is not desinged to cope with
the political, social and economic transormations taking place
hindrance to the development of Panchayati Raj
Panchayati Raj (elected local governance) has been instituted
through the 73rd and 74th amendements to the Constitution, the
district collector and the rest of the local bureaucracy has not
been made accountable to the local governments. They continue to be
accountable to the state governments. This system thwarts many of
the initiatives of the elected representatives who have to get their
proposals implemented through this bureaucracy. Thus the state
government manages to have an unhealthy control over the local
governments with the help of the bureaucracy.
Redundancy of the IAS in the changed economic climate
existing structure of the IAS is incompatible in the changed
scenario of liberalisation and globalisation. The state is shedding
many of its previous responsibilities, especially in the public
sector. With the reduction in the size of the state there has to be
a corresponding reduction in the size of the bureaurcracy. Many of
the responsibilites in the chaning scenario need specialised people,
such as economists, planners, engineers, managers and natural
resource professionals. The IAS, which is a jack of all trades and
master of none cannot perform these functions. Most ministries are
manned by generalists. This adversely affects the functioning of
Method of appointment
management theory tells us that persons selected thirty years ago
through a college type examination alone are suited for manning top
public administration positions to the exclusion of all others. The
concept of selection on the basis of a competitive examination for
top positions for all times may sound objective but does not
necessarily throw up the best talent. A person should be on test at
every job and appointed to top positions only on the basis of proven
performance. Public management in India thus has to suffer
mediocrity because an elite service has pre-empted the right to all
the top appointments.
clear from the above discussion that a large scale restructuring of
the Indian bureaucracy is required. Some of the changes that need
to be instituted are briefly discussed here.
democracy, top administrative and technical appointments in all
governments from local to central, sholld be through open selection
on contract of five years. Such a practice is already prevailing in
the Government of India public sector. The selection should be
through an autonomous selection process or directly by the head of
the government but approved by a multi-party committee of the
elected body. Termination or non-extension of the contract should
also require the approval of the multi-party committee of the
elected body. This will facilitate selection of good professionals
and provide adequate protection to the persons once selected against
Secretaries to Government
departments, the departmental head should first be considered for
additionally holding the charge of the secretary. Only where the
logistics so require, a coordinating secretary may be appointed. In
both cases, the appointment should be through open selection or
nomination by the head of the government (as was done in the case of
Sam Pitroda). All appointments should however be approved by a
multiparty committee of the elected body. The same practice may be
followed in the state, district and local governments.
Separate services for each government
democracy, a hierarchy of governments at the neighbourhood, local,
district state and central levels are created, each accountable to
the People it serves. The state bureaucracy has therefore
necessarily to be structured into separate local services, each
accountable to the government it serves.
India services violate the above principle. IAS officers were
appointed as municipal commissioners with independent powers to
neutralize the elected mayors and impose state control. The
continuation of this practice today and its extension to panchayats
is a violation of the letter and the spirit of the 73rd and 74th
other central and state services also suffer from similar
infirmities. One reason for illiteracy in villages is that the
school teachers manage to get transferred to urban schools or simply
draw salary without going to the village leaving the rural schools
high and dry. This would not be possible if the local governments
had their own services and cadres. Gujarat has taken a positive
step in this direction by providing for panchayat level cadres in
their panchayati raj legislation.
The above changes cannot
by themselves solve the problem. The degeneration of the
bureaucracy, especially the IAS is part of overall degeneration of
the Indian polity. The restructuring of the bureaucracy will
therefore have to be carried out as a part of the overall reform of
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