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Overhaul or be damned

Have not the nuts and bolts of the once famed steel frame of the Indian administration loosened? Has not the structure become shaky and u...

Written by Jagmohan |
December 11, 1998

Have not the nuts and bolts of the once famed steel frame of the Indian administration loosened? Has not the structure become shaky and unstable? Is it not in need of a thorough overhaul?

The answer to these questions would emerge from the examination of the administration’s performance in the arena of development, maintenance of law and order, combating terrorism and subversion, meeting new challenges thrown up by globalisation, marketisation and liberalisation and evolving an overall healthy relationship with the political executive and other components of the power-structure.

The fact that there are huge time and cost over-runs even with regard to important 189 infrastructure projects, involving an additional burden of Rs 34,000 crore, should alone suffice to prove the pathetic incapacity of the administration to meet the challenges of development.

Equally dismal has been the performance of the administrative machinery on the `law and order’ front. The quality of criminal investigations has sufferedsuch a steep deterioration that over 75 percent of heinous offences go unpunished. Even the premier investigating agency of the country, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has as many as 1860 cases pending for investigation for over 2 to 12 years and 5100 cases pending for prosecution in the courts for 2 to 35 years.

The infamous tragedy of Delhi’s Uphaar cinema fire on July 13, 1997, which consumed 59 lives, showed how the administrative machinery allowed even basic safety laws to be violated with impunity for years together and how its casualness had assumed the form of criminal negligence.

Of late, the world of crime has also seen a radical transformation. As noted by the former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in his message to the Ninth UN Conference on Prevention of Crime, “powerful international criminal groups now work outside national or international law. They include traffickers in drugs, money-laundering, the illegal trade in arms — including trade in nuclear materials – and thesmuggling of precious metals and other commodities. These criminal elements exploit both the new liberal international economic order and the different approaches and practices of states. They command vast sums of money, which they use to suborn state officials.”

These far-reaching changes have not been able to elicit adequate response from our administrative machinery. Presently, out of 535 districts, 210 are affected by terrorism or ethnic strife or caste conflicts. An increasing reliance on the army to deal with the problems which should ordinarily be dealt with by the civil administration, is yet another proof of its growing ineffectiveness.

The virus of corruption and callousness has been making deeper and deeper inroads even in the higher echelons of bureaucracy. Often one reads in the press about such mind-boggling scams and scandal as Bofors, urea, and Bihar fodder cases, wherein scores of senior officers have allowed themselves to become willing, sometimes conspiratorial, tools in the hands ofcorrupt politicians.

The administrative machinery is also not adequately responding to many other challenges that are fast emerging. Of late, the world has been witnessing a great managerial revolution. The techniques of handling work, both at office and field levels, have been undergoing a fundamental transformation. Recent advances in the fields of electronics, computers and telecommunications have brought automation to such a level that messages could be transmitted by one agency to another almost with the speed of light and offices could be thinned down to such an extent that most of them become virtually “spaceless, staffless and paperless”. The forces of liberalisation, marketisation and globalisation have also been gaining tremendous strength and speed. The management by innovations rather than by regulations, is becoming the order of the day.

But in our offices most of the work is still being subjected to the tyranny of the routine and red-tape. In regard to the movement of the papers in theGovernment of India, Lord Curzon, about 95 years ago, observed: “Round and round, like the diurnal revolution of the earth, went the file, stately, solemn, sure and slow; and now, in our season, it has completed its orbit, and I am invited to register its concluding stage.” I do not think the position has changed since then.

No wonder, a study recently conducted by a Hong Kong-based think tank found the Indian bureaucracy as the third worst amongst all the Asian bureaucracies. It is both bloated and blunted. Of the 43 lakh civilians on the roll of the Central government, only a few are engaged in creative and constructive work. Some of them have practically no work to do. A senior functionary of the Government of India a secretary to the Department of Statistics humorously observed, sometime back, that he was the highest paid civil servant of the country; he had only a few minutes of work to do, and his emoluments worked out to be Rs 700 per working minute.

During the period 1989-96, the wage bill ofthe central government alone has doubled. Even when the song in praise of reforms was being sung at its loudest, the staff strength of the government establishments continued to increase. The number of central government employees, for example, increased from 38,41,896 in 1994 to 40,12,713 in 1996.

So far as the relationship between the politicians and civil servants are concerned, they have, of late, moved in two different directions both unhealthy and unsavoury. In one way, quite a few legislators and members of the political executive have developed a tendency to debunk and demoralise the civil servants.

In another way, the politicians and the administrators have formed an `unholy alliance”. A recent study undertaken by the Mussorie National Academy has observed: “Many IAS officers are accepting a diminished role for themselves by becoming agents of exploitation in a state structure which now resembles more the one in the medieval period authoritarian, brutal, directionless andcallous”.

Clearly, time for a thorough overhaul of the administrative machinery.

The writer is Union Minister for Communications

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