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  • Writer's pictureTarun Das

Building an Efficient Civil Service in India

K.M. Chandrasekhar and Jayaram have written a very thoughtful, correct piece on the focus and broad agenda for administrative reforms. They are right in drawing out the difference between the focus of private sector managers/executives and the civil service administration in terms of priorities and objectives. They have also rightly touched on the need for a comprehensive approach which includes the political world, the judiciary and the investigative agencies.

The civil administration objective is public service. The District Magistrates of medium sized Districts have to deal with a larger number of people’s lives than the largest corporate group. And, they deal with every aspect – law and order, health, education, transport and many other difficult issues. Its a comprehensive responsibility but with severely limited resources. And, by and large they do extremely well and there are many role models highlighted too infrequently. They are described as local administration but the scale is enormous and far beyond what corporate executives deal with.

The idealism to serve the country is strong in most of the members of the Administration. It drives them in spite of numerous challenges. At the grass-roots level, even the police constable, standing alone, is to be commended. The District hospitals, inadequately resourced, also do a much needed, daily public service. The Public Service that they all provide, day after day, week after week, month after month, is beyond the normal.

But, how to make it all better? How to carry forward the ideas of KM Chandrasekhar and Jayaram? And, many others, who have written on Administrative Reforms? Not to mention the Reports of Government Committees. One clear aspect is to further re-orient the induction and training schedule of new incumbents.

Here are a few thoughts for consideration.

First, the Political Leadership is central to reform. It has enormous authority and influence on whether to reform fully, partly or not at all. The Political Leadership is therefore central to administrative reforms. Committees are set up by them, Reports are considered by them, the officials report to them. The ultimate decisions are taken by them.

And, the Political Leadership is at National and State levels, not necessarily from the same political party. In fact, multiple parties are involved. Unless the Political Leadership is fully committed to administrative reforms, the likelihood of progress, of change, of greater efficiency, is unlikely.

Therefore, there is need for a sustained Dialogue between the national and states political leadership to exchange ideas, try to align objectives and share a common implementation programme. This is not a one-off exercise. It will take time. It needs to be a regular Dialogue. A shared understanding and commitment is an essential pre-requisite to real, lasting administrative reforms. And, the Central Cabinet and State Cabinets all need to accept the reforms and participate in their implementation.

If the political leadership of our multiple parties can spend time to frame a common set of “Do’s and Don’ts”, 75% of Administrative Reforms would be achieved. If the political leadership recognizes and accepts that the civil service is for “Public Service” and “Service of the People”, the objective of Reforms of the Administration would be largely realized. The centrality of the Political Leadership is crucial and critical.

It will be difficult. It will be challenging. And, it can only progress if the Central political leadership takes the initiative. The thesis would be that Politics and Administration are de-linked. Political competition between parties would continue but the civil service would be left to carry out its work with efficiency and competence. The car would be put in reverse gear. The de-politicisation of the administration would need to start and be sustained.

The GST is so important that the Finance Minister personally chairs the GST Council with all State Finance Ministers as members. The Administrative Reforms Council should be on par. Chaired by a very senior Central Minister or even the Prime Minister with State Ministers as members, or Chief Ministers if the PM is chairing.

The Agenda: Reforms of the Administration.

Is this at all possible? Is it feasible? Does it call for a massive change in attitudes? Yes, it does. But unless the effort is made, the benefits cannot come. And, the great potential that India has, will remain unrealised. There is a saying “India has great potential, India will always have great potential”. This has to be rejected and seen to be unacceptable.

The Shibulal Committee, headed by a highly respected co-founder of Infosys, may wish to give this particular aspect their special attention. They could, then, perform a great national service.

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Aug 11, 2021

Could not agree more with the views in this post. However, the Civil Services need to be restructured completely - tear it down and reinvent from base zero. Reforms will be too little to make a meaningful impact. Our administrative machinery is a legacy of the bureaucracy designed by the British to help them plunder land revenue and to govern the 'subjects'. The India of 2021 sorely needs a Civil Services that is technocratic in its strategic thinking and problem-solving capabilities, empathetic in its appreciation of the people's - especially the under-privileged and disadvantaged - requirements, and most importantly, fearless in standing up to their political 'masters'. I remain optimistic of such a monumental change happening.


Aug 11, 2021

Truly said: de-politicisation of the administration has to start. It is difficult for a large and power-centric country like ours, but it needs to be done.

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