After Demonetization a Good Governance from Babudom is Urgently Required for Transformation of India
Lalit Joshi

The decision of the Prime Minister to demonetize Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes is a historic step lauded in general by people. The government hopes to win a decisive war against menace of corruption, black money

and terrorism in near future. The Prime Minister has earlier also launched many initiatives and schemes like the ‘Digital India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Beti Bachao–Beti Padhao’ and ‘Make in India’ for fast pace development of India. However their progress and outcome has to be closely monitored to realise the desired benefits.

No single person can succeed in the agenda of good governance unless the entire bureaucracy, the delivery mechanism of the government, is honestly involved and works diligently. Consider India’s lowly 130 rank in World Human Development Index (HDI) in the United Nations Human Development Report 2015. The assessment is based on vital parameters like Life Expectancy at birth, GDP per capita, People below Poverty Line, Infant Mortality Rate, Maternal Mortality Rate, Population using Sanitation, Population with access to Clean Water and Percentage of Children Malnourished. India is far behind developed countries in productivity and institutional development, so even modest reforms can yield great leaps forward. However, democracy and economic reforms are not enough. We need an effective and efficient bureaucracy and strong institutions that deliver results, accountability and justice. Then alone will we attain our potential. No less than a razor strike by the Indian ‘Babudom’ on the evils of good governance can achieve success in implementation of the transformation reforms and development programs initiated by the government. "Minimum Government - Maximum Governance" has been one of the promises of the Modi government during its campaign in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections.

What is Babudom? Since early 20th century, the term ‘Babu’ is frequently used to refer to bureaucrats of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and other government officials, while the Indian bureaucracy is called "Babudom". Actually it would include each employee responsible for delivery of government’s policies and programs to the people and getting paid out of public funds. This classification will comprise of the members of Parliament and State assemblies, bureaucrats, university and school teachers, doctors, Municipal Corporations employees, Public Sector employees, scientific community, Police officials, Postal and Railways services, Judiciary and many more categories. So we have some sort of a definition of who is a Babu, in place to carry the paper forward from here.

Democracy in India is the most powerful engine of all, and all it has to channelize its potent power is the political system as it exists today. Increasingly imagined through the lens of power rather than through what the power is meant to achieve, it has become a self-serving instrument for those in or even around the driver’s seat. The more democracy becomes about fulfilling the desires of those that can help form electoral majorities rather than about connecting some larger ideals with the hopes and aspirations of people, the more it ends up reinforcing things as they are rather than fighting for things as they should be1.

The Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy has ranked the Indian bureaucracy as the worst in Asia, saying its officials are rarely held accountable and were the root cause of the mistrust felt by companies towards the government2. Mrutyunjay Sarangi, Secretary, Labour and Employment, had said that, for every officer who refuses to sign a file due to political pressure, there are ten others willing to do that job3. Former Principal Secretary Pulok Chatterji has said that bureaucrats fail to innovate "as they know, in the government, no one will question them if they stick to the status quo"4. He also says that while the governments had done reasonably well on the policy front, they have fell short on implementation and delivery because of an absence of teamwork; they were, too often, working in silos. Mr Naresh Chandra adds that senior bureaucrats need to take the lead. "We should learn from E Sreedharan and take the lead from how the government chose to build Delhi Metro by seamless cooperation between departments. If our departments had worked in silos then, Mr Sreedharan would still be digging tunnels in Delhi."5

Simultaneously, some top bureaucrats bring out the reasons for their poor performance which require urgent addressing, “Most bureaucrats do not have any political colors. Some of them do tend to become very close to political powers out of self-interest but they quickly distance themselves from such associations when the power-centre changes”.6 “Bureaucrats also need to be assured by the political master that unless they do something terribly wrong they will stay in one job for at least three years. What transfer does is remove dirt from one department to another. No department is less important if good governance is the aim. A bureaucrat is very sensitive to signals he gets from the powers that be. If he sees that an honest bureaucrat is being punished without any apparent fault just because he did not oblige a minister or an MLA, he will understand that there is no point in being objective. He will adjust his working style. But governance will suffer. This will mean that anyone who wants to get his right or wrong work done will have to approach a political person who would be busy obliging a few people. But most people who do not have such access will suffer. Honesty and trust has to be maintained at the highest level before a crackdown on corrupt officers is initiated”.7

The Bureaucrats blame the political masters and the politicians blame vice versa for the tardy progress of the government’s welfare programs. Ever since the current government took office, there have been periodic reports of incremental changes being implemented towards streamlining of the administrative machinery. Secretaries of departments were asked to identify and repeal at least 10 archaic laws towards faster decision-making and to restrict layers of file movements to a maximum of four. Inter-departmental strife during decision-making, a common ailment, was sought to be reduced through co-operation, failing which the intervention of the Prime Minister's Office was to be sought rather than the proverbial bureaucratic norm of sitting on a file. Digitization of files for the better management of data and submission of information online were some of the technological tools introduced for administrative transparency and efficiency. Amendments were incorporated to the 1968 All-India Service (Conduct) Rules, a charter for all civil servants bringing about various dos and don'ts. Whether or not, the bureaucracy has adopted these correctives in letter and spirit will only be known with passage of time8.

It has now been reported that a task force of senior trusted bureaucrats from the Cabinet Secretariat, the Department of Personnel & Training and the expenditure department has also been set up by the Prime minister’s Office (PMO) to analyze manpower requirements and appointments in some 600 departments, over 2,000 subordinate offices and over some 10,000 aligned government organizations across the country. This exercise is not just to right-size the administrative machinery, but also plug the many loopholes that have crept into the system, like posts created merely as sinecures for retired bureaucrats or posts that remain long after programmes for which they were created have ceased to exist. Recruiting highly skilled professionals and dedicated and specialist technology or communications teams in each department is also reportedly part of this major reform exercise. Such an exercise was long overdue and right-sizing is clearly aimed at the objective of "minimum" government9.

For delivering good governance, the Babudom has to abide by the principles of ethics, integrity, responsibility, respect for law and regulations, love for work, punctuality, and should not take advantage over everything and everyone in life. Babudom must focus on building eco systems, team spirit and shed self-service. Good Governance delivery is no longer the job of a single ministry or department. It’s the job of a complex ecosystem of bureaucratic departments. The ‘Delhi Smog’ debacle has highlighted how closely the health of each individual has become dependent on the health of the entire ecosystem and how vulnerable these complex systems have become to imbalances.

All ecosystems contain conflict and friction. To raise the trust between departments, the Babudom will have to make substantial long-term investments in good governance, relationships and communication. The use of new technologies entering into various ecosystems can be effectively utilized. There is no way back. Each Ministry or State government machinery is too complex for any single individual to bring in a change. Only a united Babudom that masters the switch from single-department focus to ‘ecosystem view’ will be successful and survive. Imbalances aren’t going to go away. They are an inherent part of the system. But agility to meet the demands of interoperability and the real-time sharing of relevant data and reluctance to operate inside the four walls of a single organization can bring in the desired change. Not a single department can take care of all of its needs so they all rely on others. There is no ‘one-size fits-all’ approach either. The idea is not to replace existing bureaucracy but to build upon the investments that have already been made in this area and to extend those investments beyond the four walls of a single enterprise. A key component of good governance is the ability to accept mistakes and offer timely corrections. Likewise, punishments should be more stringent and not take the very Indian route of transfers and suspensions that end up getting overturned.

Give Babus genuine power to deal with their staff who delay files and wait endlessly for their palms to be greased until they give it a shove. Give redress and grievance bodies like Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) real teeth. Free them of political stranglehold. Shamed by the ranking of its bureaucracy, and aware why it is so, perhaps the government will give transformation of bureaucracy a serious thought10. The need for a genuine understanding of policy and programmes implementation rather than a pedantic, hyper technical or policing mindset is of utmost importance if Babudom is to concentrate on curtailing dishonesty11. Without investing in institutions of government, that help convert power into meaningful performance, things cannot change. The new schemes devised by the government provide energy but does not by itself distribute it across the system in a way that changes things in a fundamental way. It only increases the imbalances that exist.

In times when change is discontinuously fast, the gap between the power available and the mechanisms created to govern its use become untenably large. A consequence of this is that this power, free from considerations of any obligations it might have to a larger collective, then tries to fix the system so that the absence of responsibility can become a permanent feature. The imbalance it creates becomes its primary justification, for it becomes virtually impossible to correct given that all elements of the system become subordinate12.So what has become essential is to reduce the imbalance, on top priority. Given that the older mechanisms of self-regulation have either faded or been rendered irrelevant given the nature and speed of change and the newer ones thwarted by the interests of those with too much power, we now find ourselves in the midst of too much legislation without effective regulation.13 The National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) is expected to provide suitable answers to the conundrum of good governance and transformation of India's steel frame.

The Indian society, specially the middle and upper class too has a definite role to play in transformation of India. Today the society is nothing but a bundle of naive confusions. On the one hand, a person is demanding equality since Independence but not only does he take pride in being a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc, but also upholds the banner of the caste system that fosters inequality like nothing else. He wants his child to become a civil servant so that he can flaunt the red beacon, and be a part of the elite, but until then opposes the VIP culture tooth and nail. The problem is that not only is he a sincere practitioner of hypocrisy, he rather thrives on it. He is in love not with virtue but with the idea of virtue14.

Governments love to hear others praise them. The problem with this love for praise is that it blinds us to our faults, and so there is little hope of self-correction. While it is true that not all criticism may be valid, if we refuse to accept criticism, there is the genuine possibility that we might be ignoring valid criticism too. We welcome praise, without bothering to check if we have done anything to deserve it. But when it comes to criticism, we conclude that all of it is unfair. Government and Bureaucracy has to cultivate transparency, compassion and greater respect for other’s well-being. When action is motivated by anger or hatred it brings about harmful results whereas action motivated by compassion and respect brings about beneficial results.

Endnotes

  1. Santosh Desai, Of Hungry Angry Progress, Times of India, 01 June 2015;http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Citycitybangbang/of-hungry-angry-progres.
  2. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-16523672.
  3. Aman Sharma;What Ails Indian Bureaucracy And Five Fixes, The Economic Times, 12 Dec, 2013; http://www.igovernment.in/articles/20141/what-ails-indian-bureaucracy-and-five-fixes.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. HasmukhAdhia; Open Letter to Akhilesh Yadav, Hindustan Times, 19 Mar, 2012;http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/an-open-letter-to-akhilesh-yadav/story-kriEjlodx9P3vczk9s15TL.html.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Air Marshal Brijesh D Jayal; Maximum governance- What ails the Indian civil services?, The Telegraph; http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160419/jsp/opinion/story_80806.jsp#.WC2pJtJ97cs.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Anand Soondas, India’s Bumbling Bureaucrats &What Ails Them, Times of India, 04 June, 2009; http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/onefortheroad/india-s-bumbling-bureaucrats-and.
  11. Archana G Gulati; Reforming India’s Babudom: Mighty Road Ahead, The Economic Times, 26 July 2016; http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/reforming-indias-babudom-mighty-road-ahead/articleshow/53391811.cms.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Nidhi Kaith, Hindustan Times, 10 Mar, 2014; http://www.pressreader.com/india/hindustan-times-ranchi/20140310/282033325129291.

Published Date: 22nd November 2016, Image Source: https://www.shutterstock.com

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