We Need a Revolution in Administration

The administrative machinery is the permanently visible symbol of the state and its power. We are, virtually living in a regime of the Rule of Rules, instead of the Rule of Laws, framed, revised and implemented by the bureaucracy.

By Rao VBJ Chelikani

Since the head of the Executive is the president of the Republic, the administration is one of the organs of the state. But in practice, much beyond the expected respectable autonomy, the balance has tilted in favour of the Administration within the Executive. As the legislature is slack in its functioning, weak laws are made. The bureaucrats are developing a different spirit of the rules, which go beyond the spirit of the laws. In the traditional understanding of the separation and balancing of powers, the executive including the political and administrative wings are clubbed together, as one single source of power. Experience shows that in the past, when political and cultural revolutions were attempted in some countries, they also, ultimately turned into regimes of party bureaucracy. However, all said and done, this has become a salutary phase in the evolution of young democracies, where the regime of the people’s representatives has proved to be ineffective. The bureaucracy, with all its defects has the merit of preventing anarchy and sustaining democracy by exercising both technocratic and administrative power, which is a soft power, without ever coming directly into conflict with other organs of the state. In addition to the traditional levers of power of administration, it is also exercising economic power which proved to be necessary in the initial take off stage of the nascent national economies.
In the 21st century, it avers that we need a revolution in the administrative structures, in order to de-bureaucratise its functioning by introducing new technologies, to make it inter-changeable with the political executive, and above all, to make it renounce its economic power in favour of the citizens.

But, today, in the 21st century, it avers that we need a revolution in the administrative structures, in order to de-bureaucratise its functioning by introducing new technologies, to make it inter-changeable with the political executive, and above all, to make it renounce its economic power in favour of the citizens. In short, after 70 long years, we deserve to be more democratic in our governance patterns. But, this is not happening, since there has been no serious re-thinking about it and whatever reforms are attempted are resisted, thwarted and more rules are added. And the political authorities do not have neither time, energies nor competence to impose themselves upon the monolithic giant.

Original Nature

We have visible signs of the existence of administrative work and personnel since the times of the Sumerian, Chinese and Egyptian civilisations. The scribes, who were busily taking notes or registering the royal orders, figure prominently along with the Pharaohs of Egypt on the walls of the pyramids. The ancient imperial administration of China was notorious for its corruption. In general, in Asian countries, including in India, social relations influenced bureaucracy as much as money. In the same continent, committing ‘honour suicides' (hara-kiri and its modern forms) is a code of honour among the accused officers and ministers according to the Asian values and such things did take place, even recently in case of some officers and ministers who were suspected of corruption in Japan, China, and Korea.
The bureaucracy was already a controversial subject at the time of Arthsastra, wherein Kautilya found them inherently corruptible

The bureaucracy was already a controversial subject at the time of Arthsastra, wherein Kautilya found them inherently corruptible. One salient feature of Indian bureaucracy, at least, for the past one thousand years, has been that it was composed of alien agents working on behalf of alien rulers. Since the Delhi Sultanate from the 12th century onwards, the heads of the armies and the heads of the administration had been mostly ‘foreigners' and the local people were engaged only in subaltern jobs to deal with the local people. In the Mughalai and in other princely durbars, they functioned in order to execute the personal orders of the king and maintaining accounts with utmost loyalty. Later, the British, very quickly, put in place their own administrative patterns and personnel, from the capital to the districts. Among the 560 native kingdoms, many princes copied the same pattern for revenue collection, civil administration, and police. The Indian Civil Service (ICS) too, for a long time, consisted only of the foreigners. In the past, those Indians who wielded power as officers formed oligarchies and the caste structures like that of the ‘kayasts’ were erected so as to conserve the opportunities to hold posts of privileges within the clan. Already in 1876, probably by one of the first civil society organisations in the country, the 'Indian Association,' headed by Surendranath Banerjee had made a fervent appeal for reforms in civil service recruitment procedures. Much later, even after independence, towards the end of his long reign, the former prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru lamented the ostentatious styles of the ‘babus' in the Central Secretariat and in the district headquarters, and regretted that he could not find time to reform the ‘babudom'. Added to that, Vallabhai Patel, the then Home Minister heavily leaned upon them as a necessary bulwark against possible divisive forces in the country.

They are aptly called bureaucrats since they are more prone to rule than to serve and, they are more servants of the abstract state than of the real public. After independence, they started serving the welfare state with the same previous mindset, since they never participated in the struggle for independence during their student days. There is no education for them so as to make them visibly realise that they are not representing the interests of the state anymore and that they are, now representing the peoples’ interests. It is hard to convince them that their right to work is their right to participation in the governance like any other citizen, and not a privilege.

Historical Contribution

At the outset, we have to acknowledge the historic merit of this bureaucracy of having brought the divergent parcels of India together into a uniformly-administered entity by the dint of its steel frame of administration. It was Warren Hastings in 1772, that made the first appointment of the district collector of revenues and these collectors played a great role in maintaining civil peace and introducing the rule of law in places where, virtually, anarchy and insecurity reigned for centuries. The British style of processing a policy and its implementation by hierarchy has eminently suited the traditional Indian temperament and Asian values.

Their Modus Operandi

i). In all democratic regimes, the governing organs should have checks, balances, and separations, but, as far as the traditional bureaucracy is concerned, there are too many separations and not enough links and passages in between. Different wings work in silos, without much horizontal coordination, but where checks are imposed they are resulting in inter-departmental rivalry, delays, blockage, and litigation.

ii). Normally, the working methods make the job drab and dreary, routine, repetitive and uninteresting. It becomes adventurous, passionate, and gainful only when one obtains some kind of gratification, when treated as an important and indispensable person and receives expressions of gratitude, gifts and bribes. The officer feels himself as an inspector and a permitting authority, rather than a facilitator. In the Western societies, the bureaucrats got over this complex, long time ago, and, now, they try to solve the problem faced by the citizen in view of a given rule. Further, direct interface with the individual officials is being largely eliminated, thanks to the information and communication technologies.

iii). The file is the principal tool and a visible symbol, as well as the object of accomplishment for a government officer. The opening of a file is the beginning of objectification of a problem or a person in question. It is here that the private sector employee or a manager has an edge. He is solely goal-oriented and concerned with solving the problem of the customer, who is before him in flesh and blood.

iv). Not only that the civil service is not built on any professional post-graduate education, it, further, sets aside the professional talent acquired by the young person and substitutes it with experience based on common sense reasoning and generalist analysis, which is only palatable to the decision-making political head. Further, the training is such that the same person becomes eligible to formulate the rules as well as to carry out its implementation. Even though the Administration is, increasingly, engaging qualified and experienced people as advisers or as consultants from the market, or from the universities, experience proves that, usually, the honey-moom does not long last.

v). The Administration’s case by case decision-making approach is, already, internationally notorious. Since the proposals for decisions are initiated in the file at the lowest level for the approval of the highest authority, there is no scope for risk-taking decisions; whereas, in the outside world a manager is rewarded for his calculated risk-taking capacity. Surprisingly, in an area where India should be better off, China is doing better in decision-making, in spite of having party bureaucracy over and above the state bureaucracy. While bidding for international contracts, we have seen that China snatched away many deals before the Indian bureaucracy decides to decide. India is known for taking much time to decide who is to decide within.

vi). In the past, in the name of welfare state, excessive number of unproductive persons were brought under the pay of the government for various dubious functions. Another lingering medieval phenomenon is that a large majority of them are in the group C or class IV, while we are, always, short of technicians, teachers, judges, nurses, doctors, qualified police, health inspectors, etc. The 5th Pay Commission demanded the suppression of 30% of the existing two crore jobs, over a period of ten years, but this has been ignored.

vii). Most of the top officers are subjected to many undue and unwritten directions from the elected representatives and they seem to comply with them for the sake of avoiding a transfer. Their autonomy and independence are desirable and we should question them for not being so. Of course, there are still many exceptions to these practices, which help us keep our faith in the system.

viii). In the US, most of the ministerial and policy-making top-level functionaries completely change every four years, so that nobody has time to spread his roots deep.  Fresh people start working as if nothing has ever existed before and that they have to invent everything afresh. In the traditional European societies, like the U.K., Germany and France where the administration is highly centralised but the power is de-concentrated. Every functionary disposes a certain autonomy in his or her functioning, which fact gives them personal satisfaction. The progress of the European Union is being blocked and some member-states want to get out of the Union, because of its excessive and vexatious ‘Directives’ issued by the European Commission. The Commission, at present, is nothing but a super bureaucracy, emanating from national bureaucracies. There is a great resemblance between the rule of Bruxelles in the European Union and the rule of New Delhi in the Union of India.

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