Monday, October 13, 2014

Essay on the Critique on administrative reforms in India by DNYANESH KUMAR

Administrative reform is intensely contextual: its contents must necessarily be related to the context in which it is discussed. An organic interest in public administration in India began to be evinced when the country first got involved in social-economic planning after Independence.
Adoption of planning brought to the fore the state's active role in the amelioration of social affairs. In other words, administrative agencies in India began to be viewed as playing a growingly crucial role in planning and implementation of socio-economic affairs in the society. Administrative reform of this period - which was the first phase of administrative reform in India - was characterized, more than anything else, by consciously planned empowerment of the state as the scope of the state's conscious intervention in the management of societal affairs was progressively expanding.
The career bureaucracy, in other words, began to be viewed as the sure solution to the society's myriad problems.
Transplanting reforms
• Not a mechanical process; reforms are often highly context-bound.
• Competition between agencies, cities, and states help spread of ideas/innovations.
• NGO networks facilitate transmission of knowledge about good practices.
• Gol can play an important role in facilitating cross-state/agency interactions; establishing an overarching monitoring system; and structuring incentives for reform.
The nineties truly constitute another watershed in the history of administrative reform in India. In 1991, India announced its commitment to the new economic policy based on a free market economy thus turning its back on the hitherto proclaimed goal of the state occupying the commanding heights of the national economy.
The new commitment reverses the nature of the state thus applying a brake on its activist, ever enlarging role, the space being vacated to be filled by a free market and civil society. This, in other words, marks a reversal of the state's historical role: disillusioned with the career bureaucracy, the society has been since the nineties in search of alternatives - namely market capitalism and the NGOs.
This clearly heralds the beginning of the second generation of administrative reform in India.
The first phase of administrative reform which began in 1947 was characterized by several internal shifts and jumps. The first few years after Independence were devoted to probing and searching.
The government of the day was engaged in assessing the general national situation, a necessary preliminary to prepare the road map of the future then started the O&M era spanning the period 1954-64.
The Department of Administrative Reform established in 1964 was to prepare the ground for a wide-ranging inquiry into India's public administration. The period 1966-70 was covered by the Administrative Reforms Commission. From the seventies to the eighties of the last twentieth century India found itself engaged in the follow-up action on the ARC.
The eighties of the twentieth century saw India embroiled in its ever-growing economic problems, a solution to which was perceived to be in the adoption of the free market model of development. The goal of a free market economy and globalisation beckons a new public servant.
The higher civil service needs to possess new intellectual and social competences. It is called upon to deal increasingly with the international community and show preparedness for this task. With the national door opened to international trade and finance, it must be aware of the intricacies of international trade and commerce and possess a high level of communication skills.
It must give up its stiff-necked attitude, inherited from the colonial days and reinforced by the permit-licence raj which dominated the national scene till the 1990s. In other words, the civil service under globalisation has to be re-invented; the generalist administrator of today needs to specialize: new skills are required to be courted. Under the impact of the new economic thrust, a part of the civil service will get increasing global exposure.
Many civil servants would be interacting with their counterparts in other countries, mostly western, and thus would need knowledge of economics, international trade, mercantile law and other specialist areas.
They must quickly display their mastery of the subject-matter no less than negotiating skills. Specialisation is an inescapable need of the career bureaucracy in the new economic order.
It seems there are definite tides in the history of administrative reform: administrative reform proposals are favorably placed for implementation at certain moments of history. One such occasion in the case of India was the time of its Independence in 1947. Similarly propitious moments were when India's Constitution was put into operation in 1950, and when India embarked on socio economic planning in 1951.
The historic defeat of the Congress Party in the election of 1977, held after the internal Emergency (1975-77) and the coming into power of the Janata Party under Morarji Desai was yet another such moment.
The adoption of the New Economic Policy of 1991 initiating India into the path of a free market economy and globalization which is still in its buoyant phase is yet another such propitious moment.
Why does history chose certain definite moments of time for momentous reform? Such moments are emotionally heightened occasions in a country's social history which keeps the society psychologically ready and ripe to absorb systemic reforms. The heat is exceptionally intense at such occasions assuring maximum impact of hitting the iron. Exceptional times prepare a society for bigger reforms.
The original bureaucratic rule book in India's changed milieu has become outdated, and calls for drastic re-writing. Indeed, the whole armory of laws in India is unabashedly of colonial times, well suited to the imperial State. The new rules must become citizen-friendly and in tune with the Constitution and the new policy of liberalisation and market economy. The PC. Jain Commission which has recently examined the laws of India should evoke a strong follow-up action.
Of the foremost importance in the scheme of administrative re-inventing is the need for pruning the public bureaucracy. The Government of India has picked up too many functions and employs too many persons to pursue each of such tasks. Over-staffing visibly marks this Government. In 1997, the number stood at four million.
The expenditure on the salary bill of the civilian employees of the Central Government rose from Rs 14,680 million in 1974-75, to nearly Rs 30,000 million in 1981-82. In the nineties it stands at Rs. 80,000 million which is a staggering amount.
The increase in the size of the state level bureaucracy has been equally striking. States like Bihar and Maharashtra have today as many as 14 Inspectors- General of police while one sufficed in the past - and with more effective law and order for the citizens. The growth of the public bureaucracy must be stopped which requires firm political and senior bureaucratic will and determination.
An inventory of present day functions and activities of the Central Government first needs to be prepared. Redundant or unnecessary tasks must be identified: the presently undertaken 2,000 functions are by any account excessive.
The excess becomes all the more glaring when it is remembered that the Constitution of India entrusts most programmatic responsibilities to the states, the centre mostly being all Staff and no Line in Paul H. Appleby's memorable words. Indeed, an ideal course; for controlling the bureaucratic numbers would lie in Parliament animating itself and enacting a law fixing a ceiling on the total staff strength.
This is the way Japan checks the growth of its civil service: Th Total Staff Number Law, first enacted in 1969, downsizes the country's bureaucracy by fixing decreasing staff ceiling in successive years.
The central reform agency of the country, namely the Ministry of Personnel must be a sleek body manned by hand-picked civil servants gifted with vision and dynamism and armed with enough discretion to permit minimum freedom from routine procedures. A strong minister must be put in charge of this agency: this is part of the larger requirement of an assured political stability in the country.
In India the path of administrative reform bristles with difficulties and problems, two of them being most formidable in nature.
The prevalent culture of VIPs or the ruling elite being above the law is the single greatest barrier to administrative reform in India. Members of the ruling elite are especially earmarked persons, entitled to special treatment and thus verily not subject to the treatment accord to ordinary men and women of India. This is not done under any law.
These members move along a different network for whom public administration poses little problems and is thus already reformed and thus no demand for reform is raised by them I
One may thus state without fear of contradiction that neither the politician nor the civil service is very friendly to administrative reform. The politician has become a part of the Establishment and he has developed a vested interest in the status quo and as such he is not pro-change.
In an administration designed by the colonial rulers, reform is apt to reduce the authority, power and prestige of the civil service. As the civil service itself is a party to the dispute, civil servants are as a class basically unfriendly to administrative reform. In short, implementation of administrative reform is unimpressive, even sluggish in view of the apathy, even antipathy on the part of the career bureaucracy. Perhaps the long-term remedy lies in initiating a search which goes beyond the politician and the bureaucracy.
The key to the success of administrative reform in India perhaps lies with the civil society. The noise made by the civil society would surely compel the politician to hear and the career bureaucracy to reform the administrative system.
Corruption in public administration is the second factor vetoing administrative reform. The country' middle class is buffeted by the cumbersomeness and cussedness of the administration and temporarily implemented reforms. One hears about the contrary view of the new civil servant being less change resistant and more progressive in his orientation. He represents 'the new generation of civil servants'.
These civil servants 'are aware of the colonial mentality of their peers and are keen to shed off the pure bureaucratic image. Therefore, it may be assumed that reform of the machinery of government should not prove to be too much of a hassle in the new environment.
It is therefore concluded that the changes that have been brought about in India... demonstrate that reform is possible, provided the correct strategy is followed'. A citizen's point of contact with public administration is almost invariably a point of harassment even torture to him, to avoid or reduce which he has no option but to grease the officials' palm.
Thus induced, the bureaucracy temporarily bends the cumbersome rules to accommodate him. In India administrative corruption is a temporary, custom-made administrative reformer!
Reasons for low level success of administrative reform could be many, the chief among them being the:
1. Intricate nature of administrative reform itself
2. Inadequate political and community support
3. Insufficiency of resources allotted
4. Mind-set of the reformers themselves
It is also not entirely untrue that the base on which reform proposals is built may itself be questionable, even out-of-date. Reform of complex governmental organizations in the modern age must take cognizance of the fast occurring advances in the social sciences, organisation theory etc.
This is an aspect to which not much attention has been paid. It is also true that many reformers are seen to take up] the task with fixed notions and are over-committed to certain techniques, philosophies or viewpoints.
When the recommended reform fails - as it so often does -, they adopt the posture of a defensive advocate rather than that of a diagnostician. If the pet model does not work out well, the right thing would be to censure those who have been in love with the model.
The fact is that many a time the reform pieces themselves are poorly conceived. On closer examination many reform proposals are discovered to have serious shortcomings. Nor should one forget that the announcement of a reform commission attracts many charlatans. Reform exercises provide opportunities that many individuals and institutions are in eager search of. They overnight emerge as experts though they are no better than pretenders or even quacks. But they are excellent time-servers and good in public relations.
They have a knack of making administrative reform complicated, even incomprehensible. In their own career they have had no conspicuous success and having failed in their area take to the business of reforming for they would not be on the scene to reap the fruit of their ill-thought out solutions. David H. Rosen bloom rightly remarks; 'Reform can have a business side. Management consultants can profit handsomely from their efforts to re-design and reengineer.
Private corporations and public agencies, not-for-profits engaged in reform, need contracts or grants to service. Reform is also attractive for academics seeking to influence events and build their careers. Inevitably, some reformers know less than they claim; some many not even believe in what they are selling'.
The ultimate success of administrative reform depends on a complex of significant factors. Of the foremost importance in this respect, however, is the availability of complete and sustained top level political and bureaucratic leadership to the cause of administrative reform.
Any significant measure of administrative reform is apt to upset the existing structure and status of vested interests, and the resultant resistance can be neutralized only by firm determination on the part of the country's top level political and bureaucratic leadership. This support is vital especially when it is remembered that in India the entrenched vested interests are aggressively active and assertive during the implementation stages.
Teething problems, not uncommon are experienced in the post-implementation stage which demands supportive leadership. Reform measures have so far produced results too insignificant to make a noticeable change in the ground level readily.
This is primarily so for want of a change in the attitude of the career bureaucracy. Bureaucracy must unreservedly cooperate with the reformers, which requires nothing short of a mental revolution on its part.
The sad fact today is that the implementing levels of the bureaucracy are deeply grounded in the perverted perception of public service: people entrusted with the administration's delivery system view every contact point with the citizens as an opportunity to exploit and harass them. Administration's counterpart is discretion, and in India discretion is employed by the clerk to abuse the opportunity to fatten his personal pocket.
Little evidence is given to view the public service as a service to the society, which requires nothing short of a mental revolution on the part of the bureaucracy particularly in those sections coming in direct contact with the people.
Constituency friendly attitude can be promoted by suitable training courses, appropriate rules and regulations reinforced by a regular system of checks and control by the established hierarchies. In 1947 India won 'swaraj (Independence); since then the challenge is to give to the people of India 'suraj (good governance). Swaraj is incomplete - even empty - without 'suraj

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