reforms prabhat kumar
Turn a new leaf
Today, bureaucrats are doing their job for sure, but the question is whether they are doing enough to bring about change?
In the May issue of Gfiles, I had ventured to start a conversation on the role of the civil services. And indeed, it has evoked a number of responses. A senior bureaucrat suggests a policy for utilisation of the large resources available in the form of retired officials. Let me clarify that I did not suggest that retired civilians should be employed by the Government. In fact, I am of the view that there should be absolutely no reemployment of any civil servant after superannuation, however indispensable he may be. I only meant that these retired civilians should analyse the issues in the light of their own experience and tell their serving colleagues where they had gone wrong.
Another friend asked how civil servants should voice their views in public when the media projects them as the greatest hurdle in serving the interests of the people. Now, this is a serious problem. But they can first decide what to say and then find a way of saying it.
There is no magic recipe for curing the ills of civil services. You can’t get people excited unless you can help them see and feel the impact. I think there is nothing new in the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission II. Everything which needs to be said about civil service reforms has already been said many a time. I had once counted the number of committees and commissions which have gone into this subject: the number was more than 30.
In their lunch club meetings, junior and middle-level officers laugh at such repeated exercises because they know that most of the recommendations of such committee’s will remain just that only.
We should, I think, grow up now. We have seen that no reform idea emanating from the civil services is accepted by our political masters. I had put up two proposals before the Union Cabinet. One, regarding a code of ethics for civil servants was turned down. The other regarding no extension of service beyond superannuation was accepted but reversed when the first case for extension came up before the Prime Minister.
The civil services can deliver even without any reforms. Haven’t we seen exemplary
performance in several cases in districts and states? The same civil service
system exists in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh.
Now is the time to spread information about the reality of the Government among the people. They must be told that civil service reforms are necessary but not sufficient. The malady is much more severe than just being cured by mere reforms of the IAS and IPS.
This century of networked intelligence is not a century of smart machines, but of humans who through networks can combine their intelligence, knowledge and creativity for breakthrough in the creation of welfare and social development. It is a time of internet-working human ingenuity. Can our civil servants network and present a new face to the people of the country?
In my view, the civil services can deliver even without any reforms. Haven’t we seen exemplary performance in several cases in districts and states? The same civil service system exists in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. The officers of the All India Services are indistinguishable from each other in these states. The field officers of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat perform better than their counterparts in Bihar and Orissa. And more pertinently, the officers of Bihar outperform others in the Central Government.
The other day, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth said in an interaction that only a confident bureaucracy can be an effective bureaucracy. And I couldn’t agree with him more.
Chetan Bhagat says, “While politicians entertain us, babus ensure that the country doesn’t completely shut down. Railway officers ensure trains run, municipal corporators get garbage collected, junior IAS officers manage districts and senior IAS officers run entire ministries….Hence, some of the brightest people in the country, close to the corridors of power, aware of what is right and wrong; do little of what is required.”
“They are doing their jobs for sure. However, they are not fighting for change.”
For the last five years, the Civil Services Day is being celebrated on April 21. The celebrations start with the Prime Minister giving away awards for excellence in civil services. The awardees are given some coverage in the responsible media. But very few know that besides this handful of selected teams and individuals, there are hundreds of other nominees in the race. They may not be the best, but they are good examples of innovative solutions to people’s problems. No newspaper writes about them, they do not appear on any television channel.
A couple of weeks ago, I personally requested a senior officer of the Ministry of Personnel to provide a complete list of all the nominations received by the Government for the Prime Minister’s Excellence Awards. The purpose was to give them wider circulation through training programmes and publications of the IC Centre for Governance. And now, the Centre has been entrusted by the same ministry to design training templates for State Administrative Training Institutes and Central Training Institutes.
But despite reminders, we have yet not been able to get the material. Clearly, the civil servants themselves are their own worst detractors.
It may be mentioned that the IC Centre has been showcasing these exemplary initiatives by presenting their architects to other civil servants and opinion makers. It is the Centre’s endeavour to celebrate the initiatives of civil servants who raise the bar of their performance higher than their normal call of duty. An IPS officer introduced community policing in Andhra Pradesh, a young district officer in UP took upon himself the task of removing human scavenging in his district, a district development officer in Maharashtra transferred the management of all district board schools to the rural community, a joint commissioner of police in Delhi established care centres for destitute children, a chief secretary in Nagaland was instrumental in the enactment of a law to communitisation of public services, a joint secretary in the Labour Ministry has developed a insurance-based health cover scheme for people below the poverty line.
And there are hundreds of other similar examples.
I believe it is the joint responsibility of all civil services to highlight these initiatives so that more and more are prompted to follow the example. This might also help them in building a composite leadership of the civil services.g
(The writer was the Cabinet Secretary and the First Governor of Jharkhand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)