By Subrata Majumder
In a recent appraisal meeting with NHAI, flagging the issue of delay in projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Cabinet Secretary to prepare a dossier of babus who were responsible for the delay in projects. This unfolded Prime Minister’s frustration with bureaucracy and a warning to deal with babus with iron hands who are engulfed by red tape, which caused his reforms to fail, denying windfalls to the people.
But, can Cabinet Secretary identify the blemished babus for delay in projects? Bureaucracy is protected by the Constitution under Article 311. Article says bureaucrats cannot be removed without enquiry. Incidentally, the procedures laid down in the enquiry is such that a babu can literally get away from the charge of incompetence, red tape and corruption, if they are committed according to procedures. The procedures are designed in such way that a large number of employees are involved and if they go wrong, no one can be held responsible for the outcome.
Realizing the bureaucracy is a major hindrance to the implementation of reforms and there has been no substantial progress in the performance of bureaucracy even after departmental training, the Government of India launched National Programme for Civil Service Capacity Building (NPCSCB) , known as Mission Karmayogi in November 2020. The main objective is to shift from “Rule-based” to “Role-based” HR Management of civil servants. This will increase the scope for aligning work allocation of civil servants to the competence required for the post. Today, the highest bureaucrats in economic related ministries and departments are seldom positioned in the right slots irrespective of their academic backgrounds.
DOPT (Department of Personal and Training) has decided to design and develop FRAC (Framework of Roles, Activities and Competence) for civil servants under the Mission Karmayogi. The main aim is to give a new face to bureaucracy as the guardian of people’s interests, unlike Rule-based functionary to appease Ministers and seniors.
Indian civil service, which was established in 1858, continued with similar ethos and work culture, without keeping pace with the reforms in the economy and social development in the country.
One of the key objectives of the entire process is to test the competence of officials, unlike the present system where seniority counts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi forcibly retired many senior bureaucrats in his second term. He vented his ire against IAS officers in Parliament and chided civil servants, blaming them for making growth their hostage. He held them responsible for the despair of millions of hapless Indians.
The project will initially cover 4.6 million Central Government employees and thereafter it will be extended to 20 million government employees.
Even a simple thing is entangled by various levels of approvals. Any action, even in emergency, is approved only after the relevant files move from one table to another. Eventually, the significance of emergency is buried. Only the files move, the actual work is seldom done. Scarcity of oxygen concentrators during COVID pandemic is a case in point.
Five years ago, Prime Minister Modi simplified the bureaucracy by reducing various regulations and procedures, focusing online applications to curb the antiquated bureaucracy and red tape. But, they were yet to be put into work for growth. Most of the reforms were on papers. Civil servants were hobbling to turn Modi’s strong and abruptly reforms in effective bureaucracy and generate fruitful results.
As a result, GDP growth could not keep pace with reforms. It slipped from 8 percent in 2016-17 to 4 percent in 2019-20 and was in contraction in 2020-21 for the first time in decades.
Attempts were made to reform the bureaucracy from time to time. Almost all Government departments have their own training facilities. But they were hindered by lack of development of the mindsets. They failed to update their bureaucracy with modern thinking for less red tape governance. In 1986, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched a week’s annual training for government employees. As incentive, he proposed 30 percent additional remuneration for all trainees. But, soon the initiative went in vain. Trainers said, “it was difficult to teach new tricks to old dogs”. The Government was caught in controversy with seniors resenting the perk up in remuneration of their juniors.
A survey by Lokniti CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) revealed that majority of the respondents observed it was difficult to get work done at government offices without connections or bribes. . Most of them expressed their distrust and dependence on government offices and preferred going to political parties for getting their work done.
Ironically, even the Economic Survey of India, a pre-budget official document, vented frustration over the bureaucracy. Manufacturing sector is embroiled in the nexus of multiple rules and procedures between Centre and States. It takes 18 days to start a business in India as compared to 8 days in China. A new manufacturing sector has to conform 6,796 compliances. To open a restaurant in New Delhi, one needs 26 licenses, as compared to four in China. (IPA Service)