Can Modi change colonial-minded civil service?

civilserviceCOMMENT: Some steps being taken by the Centre signify its resolve to sprint towards the much-delayed restructuring of the bureaucracy.

First came an office memorandum for obligatory written orders from senior echelons like ministers for compliance down the line; there is now a move towards a lateral induction of people from industry and academia for select senior administrative posts.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi grasps how dozens of ‘parallel governments’ within the government function at cross-purposes, he realises that making governance ‘easy’, ‘effective’ and ‘economical’, getting the bureaucracy to minimise government and being in sync with the hopes of the aam aadmi are no easy tasks.

Independent India inherited the legacy of the generalist credo, now symbolised by the IAS, which views itself as an administrative class of Britain’s home civil service or the incarnation of the French Grands Corps.

The government proposes to fill several senior positions by short-term contracts, enabling a lateral entry of technocrats, professionals and entrepreneurs — real ‘delivery agents’ rather than ‘gate-keeping babus’.

Departments have proliferated. Ministers have their personal staff around them.

In 1988, the civil servants numbered 19 million, four million in the central government, seven million under the state governments, six million with the quasi-government bodies, another two million in local self-government.

The number of secretariat departments at the Centre was 18 in 1947; today the secretary-level incumbents and additional secretaries and their equivalents number more than 350.

The authorised IAS cadre strength now exceeds 6,150, up from 1,230 in 1951.

By manipulation, the senior civil service has mulcted a number of ex-cadre positions, and stretched administrative tiers by regular cadre-restructurings.

The pay and allowances of the regular central government civilian employees alone amounted to over Rs. 1,15,000 crore in 2013-14, 10% of the government’s revenue receipts, in addition to the state governments expending Rs. 2,86,000 crore.

The government can make an inviolable rule of granting no extension of service to anyone, nor allowing any superannuated officer an assignment for at least two years after retirement.

Why shouldn’t these vestiges of feudalism like huge residential bungalows, cavalcades of cars, servant quarters, retinue of personal staff, bungalow peons be discontinued?

Why should each ministry lord over its own captive PSUs instead of having all of them under the administrative control of one central ministry?

Jawaharlal Nehru, when asked what he considered to be his greatest failure as India’s first prime minister, replied: “I could not change the administration, it is still a colonial administration.”

There is hope that Modi will grasp the nettle and change the system. – Comment by Raghu Dayal for The Hindustan Times

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