is a different matter that these vigilance commissions were
not adequately empowered, and that, only recently, the CVC's
role was strengthened by a law, following Supreme Court's
intervention. But the swift creation of vigilance commissions
during Lal Bahadur Shastri's tenure as Prime Minister was
illustrative of the deep commitment to improving things
and the sense of urgency.
today we are prone to blame the British, who left the country
58 years ago, for the ills plaguing our administration.
If that doesn't work, there is always Jawaharlal Nehru to
lampoon, though his period at the helm saw establishment
of sound democratic traditions and practices, creation of
basic infrastructure and institutions, and reasonable success
in modernization of India. We often tend to ignore the fact
that the worst features of our governance became endemic
in the post-Nehru era.
Paul H Appleby wrote a report on a survey of public administration
in India in 1953, and later another report on administration
of the industrial and commercial enterprises of the government
in 1956 - both at the instance of the Union government.
Appleby reported: "I have come gradually to a general
judgment that now would rate the government of India among
the dozen or so most advanced governments of the world".
(emphasis in the original). As Krishna Tummala of Kansas
State University notes, Appleby had two qualifiers. "First,
his rating was prefaced by the adverb "now". He
was reflecting on his time. Second, he clarified that "advanced"
did not mean "efficiency" or "effectiveness";
it simply meant an advanced democracy". Sadly, we were
complacent, and refused to rejuvenate our administration
to suit our changing requirements. P.S. Appu, in a seminal
essay on the decline of civil services, pointed out how
in Bihar, funds drawn by district magistrates for flood
relief under treasury rule 27 (TR27), without legislative
sanction (which is the practice even now), were misused
for trivial or improper purposes like buying a staff car
as early as the 70's. No wonder, the fodder scam was possible
over an extended period of time, defrauding the exchequer
of several hundred crore rupees without any effective safeguard.
raj involving huge bribes, harassment of entrepreneurs,
and distortion of all competition to the detriment of the
people and economic growth was institutionalized during
the 60's and 70's. Robert Wade meticulously studied the
other institutionalized phenomenon of transfers as a source
of corruption in states, and described the vicious cycle
of "dangerously stable equilibrium" almost 25
years ago. And yet, we have had periodic bombast, but no
systematic effort to bring administration back on rails.
this with Britain. Until about 1868, there was phenomenal
corruption and maladministration in the then global power.
Between 1868 and 1892, Gladstone laid the foundations of
modern Britain, and by the time he left the scene, Britain
had a truly civilized, just and competent government. Even
then, despite Britain's global dominance, the British policy
makers did not rest on their laurels. Both world wars witnessed
infusion of fresh and varied talent into civil services,
and government changed dramatically. Even after the Second
World War, as British power has been irreversibly on the
wane, three major revolutions shook the administration -
the post-war Labour government's accent on education and
National Health Service; the Thatcher - Major years of radical
reorganization of government and emphasis on outcomes, cost-effectiveness
and citizen's charters; and recently, New Labour's focus
on efficacy in delivery of public services.
there is a compelling case for major restructuring of our
government. The central question plaguing our administration
is: For whom does it exist? A dispassionate and objective
answer is, largely for itself. True, even now in times of
emergency we are capable of rising to great heights. The
way our administrative machinery sprung into action after
the tsunami which devastated large areas of southeast and
south Asia did us proud. This effective military-style response
to catastrophic situations coupled with colossal tardiness
and failure in dealing with 'normal' situations is one of
the paradoxes of our administration.
civil service and administration in general has become a
permanent priesthood - wooden, inflexible, self-perpetuating,
inward looking, and wedded to its own values. I often remember
an altercation I had with a Chief Secretary some fourteen
years ago. As the Chief Executive of an apex cooperative
bank (a position I had no business assuming in the first
place!) I made valiant efforts to reward competence and
integrity while ordering promotions, instead of the traditional
emphasis on seniority. The Chief Secretary, upon receiving
some complaints, admonished me for violating the sacred
principle of seniority, and proudly cited the government
practice of strictly honouring seniority. I had to point
out to him that the state had the luxury of collecting taxes
and paying for the public servants, whereas I had the obligation
to serve the farmers who were my shareholders and masters,
and generate surpluses and pay for the employees. That public
servants, as everyone else in a functional society, should
add value, promote public good, and fulfil human needs in
the most cost-effective and sensible manner is a novel idea
even in today's India.
all know the administrative challenges confronting our vast
country struggling to emerge from ignorance and mass poverty,
and poised to be a modern, prosperous nation playing its
rightful role in the global arena. But if we are serious
about our intent and sincere about our resolve, we need
to reinvent government. Mere quick fixes will not do. It
is time that parties of all hues and government address
the problems of administration, and make the citizen the
master and the employee the public servant. SARC has a precise
and time-bound task ahead of it. And the government, whoever
is in office, will have to do a lot, and quickly, to translate
the many pious homilies about reforms and delivery into
tangible and durable action.