Our All-India Civil Services and their Social Responsibility

 Dr Rao VBJ Chelikani 

The citizens have eagerly awaited the 21 April 2022 which is the Civil Services Day to find out whether there is any reflection or discussion on their part on the ongoing crisis in the domain of public administration. This year too, the day is observed largely as a protocol of self-congratulatory speeches and awards of excellence to some officers by the prime minister, who is the real-head of the entire Executive machinery. He exhorted the government functionaries to attend to their prime responsibility, which according to him is to commit themselves to three goals: bringing a positive change in the life of the common people, taking decisions in the global context, and strengthening the country’s unity and integrity. It is indeed a noble exhortation appropriate to the occasion, but there was no reference to the inevitable transformation in the nature or the spirit of their vocation. He wanted, naturally their full cooperation to successfully implement a plethora of programmes he has been ushering in regularly. The civil servants themselves apparently did not think it fit to discuss any issue in a self-critical manner on a public platform, though the day is not only for thanks-giving. Even during the Doctors Day observed by the civil society organisations, after offering a bouquet, the doctors are involved  to discuss the current needs of both the parties i.e. the healthcare professional services and their consumers. In the case of this CS Day, it was not to be so. Probably, they would prefer to do it in a more discreet way through other channels, but the stake-holders or the end-users of their services would never know about it.

                        Sri. Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President speaking on the same occasion from Hyderabad, nevertheless called a spade a spade and did express some of the concerns that are shared by many in the country. While affirming that all is not well with the civil services, he highlighted some of his concerns. The immediate problem that he identified is that there is an alarming trend of a rising nexus between the political executive and civil servants to the detriment of the collective welfare.  Apart from the classical problem of inordinate delays, camouflaged wastage and corruption at the lower levels, there is diminishing levels of efficiency, transparency, accountability and social responsibility. While most of the political executives limit their role to get their personal agenda executed without dissent; and they do not, effectively have the time and competence to manage independently the portfolios that they are in charge of. Consequently, we are gradually entering into a regime of over-powering authoritarianism to the benefit of the elected executive and administering officers.

Since the time of Morarji Desai there have been attempts to form committees for administrative reforms and this initiative too became a part of the routine bureaucratic procedure. Now, as never before, it became imperative to redefine the role of the Executive, particularly of the appointed permanent executive organ of the state, to be inspired by the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity. As envisaged in the Constitution, Power should be exercised separately or autonomously, under checks and balancing among the organs of the state to avoid excesses. But, we initially inherited a system that is designed to facilitate the rule of the British Majesty over their loyal subjects. The transfer of loyalty and services of the entire civil services framework towards a native independent and democratic state, no doubt, had been smooth. Nobody ever accused them of being in the class rooms, while other youth left schools and colleges and were courting jails; and that they lived well by collaborating with the foreign ruler, while many of their generation sacrificed their careers. After independence, in order to establish a ‘welfare state’, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Vallabhai Patel had heavily leaned upon the administrative machinery to initiate several far-reaching measures and set up new institutions in all spheres – economic, social and cultural, in addition to the political governance. In this process, naturally, the governance became Bureaucratic instead of being Democratic with too much of interference in all aspects of a citizen’s life, thereby retarding human development which takes place only when there is citizen participation. 

Since then, during these 75 years, though India has grown and human life has become highly sophisticated, and the citizens of the feudal society have now become empowered enough to govern themselves in many aspects of their lives, the state remains still authoritarian and  bureaucratic, thereby causing many hardships to the citizens. The present prime minister is making the right diagnostic, as no  other prime minister has done before, that there should be less of government and more of governance in the society, and that the bureaucracy should restrain itself from causing obstacles to the Ease of Doing Business with the Administration, and in a general way, to the Ease of Living of the citizen.  On the whole, we urgently need, not just reforms in administration but reform of the Administration with the objective of further democratization.

On the occasion of the Civil Service Day, we expected in vain some open introspection on the part of the civil servants, as an expression of their social responsibility. Hence, the problem that we are facing now is what to do when the Administration is not even admitting that there is a need to reform itself and when it is not able to be critical about itself. Added to this, the un-initiated political executive who is there for short periods is more pre-occupied with his or her achievements for survival has not time to try to bring in any enduring reformation. However, in the interests of a healthy evolution of our democracy, we cannot allow the once-highly admired ‘steel-frame’ of civil service to corrode and degrade into an authoritarian bureaucracy, in which a co-citizen exercises and enjoys opportunistic Power, instead of assisting and serving the citizens.

            Then, there is no other better remedy than peoples’ direct action to democratize the civil services. We, as people should urge and demand the associations of the functioning and retired civil servants to be conscious of their social responsibility, as much as they are questioning the social responsibility of the private entrepreneurs. Competent civil and professional associations in the society should carry out systematic and regular ‘social audit’ of all administrative performance and its impact on the society. Especially, the Public Expenditure of the tax-payers’ money should be discovered and made transparent in the first place. Citizens Chartered are to be made justiciable. All loss, damage, injury and harm to the citizens or to the society due to administrative delays and corruption are to be exposed and brought before the judiciary under Torts law. At present, justice is deliberately delayed in the case of prosecution of a government official. The civil societies should come forward on every occasion when the Police and security personnel are prompted to ignore basic human dignity and fundamental human rights of the residents. All the self-governing local bodies, especially urban bodies, including the Resident Welfare Associations and other grass-root organizations should involve and associate themselves in the implementation of various government programmes, schemes, projects and campaigns. In many matters, citizens’ non-cooperation and even civil disobedience would be justified to prevent official over-reach.


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