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Deliver us from legislation

Reforming the bureaucracy will yield better results than demanding more laws

Written by Satyananda Mishra |
March 12, 2012 3:31:46 am

Reforming the bureaucracy will yield better results than demanding more laws

“In relaxation of all rules and in anticipation of the approval by the Council of Ministers,Anju Saxena (name changed) be appointed as assistant professor of geography against the vacant post of assistant professor,political science in the Government Girls College,Bhind and attached along with the post to the Government Girls Post Graduate College,Bhopal till further orders. Issue orders immediately and inform the CM Secretariat.” More than 2500 such appointments were made to various government colleges in Madhya Pradesh between 1980-85 without involving the State Public Service Commission. All these appointments were regularised later by an appropriate enactment. Although this is an extreme example of arbitrary appointment to government posts,most appointments in state governments are severely compromised and do not follow the prescribed procedure with any rigour. Appointments in the central government,however,are less arbitrary,although the recruitment process is not designed to select the right person for the right job. Indeed,most people recruited to man government positions are often not the right people,either by aptitude or by competence.

Once appointed,few government servants undergo any training. In fact,for the majority of government employees,there is simply no facility for any training anywhere. The government employees who undergo some form of training at the entry level seldom go through any other training program over the course of their long careers. All the learning takes place on the job,from seniors and from colleagues,and in this process,the status quo is reinforced.

Mostly with a view to providing promotional opportunities,the bureaucracy operates at many more levels than is strictly necessary. Since there are so many levels in every office,papers have to travel through all or most of these levels for a decision to be made,and at each level the individual concerned attempts to make some contribution or the other,out of habit or necessity or to assert his power in the hierarchy. With so many levels around,mutual consultations on file or through meetings is an inevitable consequence.

Every year,central and state governments enact several hundred laws,not because there is a need for all of those laws,but because it is easier to enact a law than to implement a program. Most often,laws are alibis for inaction. Of late,laws are being enacted at the prodding of civil society organisations with persistent backing from the media. We now have laws guaranteeing jobs,education and — soon — food,though everybody knows that an affected person would seldom go to court to demand his rights. But we continue to demand more laws on all possible subjects and hope that these will be implemented,however perfunctorily,by the same government servants.

In state governments,the secretary to the department or the head of department spends nearly 75 per cent of his working hours attending to personnel issues. Transfer and posting of officials,disciplinary proceedings against them and court cases occupy most of the productive time in a day. Meetings and consultations take away most of the remaining time,leaving no scope for any sustained creative thinking or planning. The administration is perpetually on firefighting mode. It is overwhelmed by the sheer volume and complexity of issues it is expected to address. So it is no surprise that most of the schemes and programmes devised by the government departments appear so bird-brained and flop on the ground.

It is from such a government that we keep expecting so much. Even after passing thousands of laws and discovering that most of these do not get implemented,we keep demanding more laws. It is nothing less than a kind of escapism,not confronting the reality and taking refuge behind laws behind new names and slogans.

Years ago,V.S. Naipaul observed in that Indians were easily satisfied by the name of the thing without bothering about the thing itself. Things will start to improve only when we will stop being obsessed with making more laws and do something concrete to change the way we administer. We must begin with the recruitment of people into the government and eliminate all forms of arbitrariness and subjectivity,preferably by converting every recruitment examination into something like the JEE. In order to do away with the personal interview,which is often used to favour preferred candidates,the written test must include methods by which the aptitude and the preference of the candidate for the job concerned can be assessed. A personal interview of any kind should be limited to only a few types of government jobs. After recruitment,every single employee must undergo appropriate training at regular intervals. The multiple levels and hierarchies must be eliminated by merging some levels. As a one-time exercise and to avoid employee resistance,nobody needs to be terminated and everyone can be merged at a level higher than his present one. Recruitments could then be made keeping in mind the reduced number of levels in the government.

This is eminently possible to implement. Society must demand practical reform from the government and not encourage it to make more laws,establish more institutions and come out with more reports. We must not forget that the government is quite adept at doing all this. If we are so easily satisfied,the government will be happy to pass more laws and set up more institutions.

The writer is chief information commissioner of India

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