Asked to bend, they crawl

Everybody wants a Government job in our country so that he or she could become a part of governance. For governance, departments are required so that specific Government functions can be performed. In some countries, officials are elected up to some levels, like in the US, along with the non-elected officials. But in India, only the political executives are the members of legislatures.

Max Weber, a proponent of bureaucracy, argued that working to the rules in a hierarchical offices in which appointment and promotion went by merit was more rational than making appointments on other bases such as patronage, favouritism and recommendations.

Noble ideas indeed, but they have been turned upside down. Bureaucrats are more powerful than everybody else. Powers once assumed are never relinquished. So jobs or bureaucracies once created never die even after their need is over.

With the politicians busy running fragile coalitions and more keen to stick to power at any cost, the bureaucracy, including its retired personnel, had never had it so good in India. Despite the claims that the Government service is not attracting the best talent, only eight officers from the IAS have quit in the last four years, that also after earning their pension for life. More than half a million try every year to enter this elite service.

A little known and scarcely used rule in the past is now extensively used to enable officials to have their cake and eat it too. Under Article 312, Rajya Sabha has the power to create an All India Service (AIS) like the IAS, IPS and Indian Forest Service. In its 93rd report, a House Committee on Subordinate Legislation noted that IAS officers should be sent to non-Government bodies only in "exceptional circumstances" for reasons to be "recorded in writing". The department of personnel and training (DoPT), which controls the IAS, notified this in July 1993.

This rule is in Section 6(2) of the IAS (Cadre) Rules 1954, which allows officers to take up non-Government assignments. A parliamentary committee had observed that the Section was to be used sparingly. It was meant to give officers the needed experience to make their contributions to Government more useful. This rule is being used by the officials with clout to enjoy the best of the two worlds - being in service while taking up lucrative assignments with up to hundred times their pay in the Government in the private sector, NGOs, and international organisations.

Approximately 115 members of the 5,000 plus IAS cadre are hanging on to non-Government assignments. At last count, 64 IAS officers were working with private firms or NGOs while 51 were on foreign assignments including those with India offices of international organisations. At the same time, the Government claims that there is a shortfall in the IAS and it needs more officers. So it has decided to enhance recruitment - 110, 120 and 130 IAS officers will be recruited respectively in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

If a private firm is paying you an average of five or six lakhs per month - in some cases, it's Rs 20,00,000 per month - as against the highest Government salary of Rs 26,000 per month plus other allowances, you would be beholden to it. You would naturally safeguard or even promote its interest when you are back in Government. When such people reach the level of policy making, it's human to slant policies to favour the organisations which have been extremely generous to you.

The present Government believes that it has salvaged its conscience after it has set up a committee. A joke doing the rounds in Delhi is that there is no favourite left to appoint in any more committees. Everyone who needs to be given some perks is a member of some committee or the other. The bureaucrats and politicians on such committees are has-beens or wannabes and those on the fringes in Delhi. Age or experience has no relevance to their appointments to any office or committee.

The following Committees have been set up since 2001 to improve the administration: In 2001, Alagh Committee recommended reforms in the recruitment procedures. In 2003, BN Yugandhar Committee was instituted for in-service training programmes of IAS officers. In 2003 again, Surinder Nath Committee worked on the system of performance appraisal promotion empanelment and placement for All India services and higher civil services of Union Government. In 2004, PC Hota Committee delved into civil service reforms. In 2007, R Vaidyanatha Ayyar Committee worked on revamping the curriculum for induction training of the Indian Administrative Service.

As per an NGO, the cost of governance of India by 800 odd politicians at the Centre, the 6,000 in the 30 States and the 197 million employees of the Central and State Governments cost the country about Rs 1800 crore per day or Rs 650,000 crore per year. About 1.87 per cent of Indians (mis)govern 1,020 million people! This comes to about $ 138 billion or nearly 30 per cent of India's GDP. The figure must be at least 20 per cent more now with periodical almost automatically enhanced Dearness Allowance.

The real problem is that of quid pro quo between politicians and bureaucrats, which continues even after the latter's retirement. It is mainly for this reason that the delivery system, whether it be in the NREG Scheme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or poverty alleviation schemes, has failed abysmally.

The rot started when a late Prime Minister said that the country needed a committed bureaucracy. Bureaucracy took it as a call for personal commitment to a leader. So from the 1970s, they have been vying with each other for being more loyal than the king. Those who showed resistance were left to sulk in insignificant postings. To fall in line with political diktats, manipulation and cultivating the powers-that-be becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Despite worthy candidates joining the civil services, the country remains awfully corrupt and poor. The Central Government finds itself too weak to enforce its will as its very survival depends on the sweet will of its allies in power in different States.

Training, retraining and bringing about reform in the curricula or tinkering with the recruitment of the higher civil service is no substitute for reforming governmental mindset. The recommendations are prescriptive in nature like the Brahminical dos and don'ts. Favouritism has become an important factor in the governance of our country. Pressure is always built for the appointment of obliging bureaucrats and friends of friends.

Government should remember that bad administration can destroy good policy; but good administration can never save a bad policy.

By Joginder Singh