An evolutionary commentary.
The vast span of India as a country along with its resource and varied social, cultural and economic background has always been a challenge to the leaders of the country and also an opportunity to make India one of the most powerful country in the global scenario by managing the inheritance in an efficient manner.
We had to account compulsorily for the past, having a colonial history when the Britishers did everything possible to tilt the profit oriented motives to benefit their motherland. British rulers were very clear about their aims and objectives – to maintain law and order, to collect revenue, drain out wealth as much as possible to their own country and to perpetuate its rule in India as long as possible.
It was at the time of the Britishers that the dire necessity of Civil Servants was felt to manage the newly found wonders of such a country, which was correctly called as “the golden bird”. As named by the Britishers Indian Civil Services (ICS), during this period were exclusively made to suit the special needs of British Imperial Power. The British Government in India did not favor its indulgence in any kind of social welfare activity, which would, later on, pose problems for Imperial rule in India. The ICS, attracted the best talent of British Society, who graduated from Oxford or Cambridge. In its highest form of administration the ICS officers were definitely had to be given some authoritative power to fulfill the Britishers’ whims. This resulted in that they developed certain traditions of independence, integrity, and hard work, though these qualities served the British interest. The ICS became a strong pillar of the administrative system, which reared and sustained the British rule in India.
After Independence the Indian conditions were strained under the new to-be-established system, the system where it was difficult to decide the real friend and foe of the country, all the more difficult was to understand whether the people in the ownership of newly gained political power were looking after their vested interest or the country’s……. a picture of chaos all round the country…. During such circumstances it was felt that India had no alternative to forgo this administrative system. In the process of building up a new India it was essential to keep together a united India. We required the control of the situation by a strong system, which could help our country to stabilize the difficult situation, which India was passing through. The immediate difficulties such as communal tension, lawlessness, Railway and Postal strikes, short-supply of goods and the danger of another famine in near future, arose. Events, invariably unplanned, were moving so fast that there was no question of even attempting to supervise their course. Therefore, the nation had no alternative but to leave the situation to the administrative structure of Civil Services and the bureaucrats. The Political leaders, of course in their new zeal of developing a new nation had to be supported by these bureaucrats who with their long earned experience were better placed to organize everything.
Initially, especially during 1950’s, bureaucrats’ performance was at the best. Higher civil services of government of India represented one of the finest services in the world. There was a perfect tuning between the leadership and administration. Together they could solve innumerable pressing problems that came on the way at the dawn of independence.
The political leaders themselves had gone through the painful situation of setting up of the right kind of system. The strong vision of making India a powerful country was taken by the committed and hard working politicians. They knew that the entire democratic system of the country required neutral and efficient civil servants. The civil servants in their own turn possessed a high sense of responsibility. They developed traditions of character, initiative, imagination, understanding and paternalism. The civil service was not only a career for them, but something which they had built-up, united and administered. It gradually developed into one of the most efficient and powerful civil services in the world. Its officials were the spokesmen of its dumb masses and often fought with their superiors for the interest of the people. The whole system, from top to bottom, became well-knit, highly centralised and behaved like an unbreakable steel frame.
Whether it was industrialization, urban development, transport development or the rural and agricultural development, the era of devoted bureaucracy prevailed for quite some time. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats saw that the politicians many a times were having vested interest in any kind of developmental works of the country. With all the resources at their hand, with all the opportunities and with unaware and illiterate masses to be ruled, it was a natural temptation for those in control of the government to use their political power to obtain economic privileges. The bureaucrats who wanted to support the nation-building process was the first hand group who saw the devastating effect of allowing the politicians with all the power of framing policies in the Indian democracy. The bureaucrats were the implementers of those policies. But while implementing some of the policies they also started having an underhand dealing. Shrewd officers, who could get away with their wrong doings, started following the path which the fore founders could never had thought of. Even sometimes these officers were given more importance by the politicians. Upright officers with some mission, integrity and neutral approach had been sidelined. The politicians wanted their own way of functioning some times very rigidly, even if the bureaucrat did not approve of the same. The simplest of the arm-twisting measures, which politicians took in their hands, was through the power of transfers, posting, and extensions. It placed the officers at the receiving end. Political patronage gave encouragement to corrupt and ambitious officials.
Unfortunately, there were examples were bureaucrats no longer remained neutral in the administration. Progressively over the years they started joining hands with the politicians and that is how “concept of easy money” started taking birth. This promoted the proliferating corruption in political and administrative set up. Thus, progressively over the years, higher civil services at the centre began losing its sheen. Bureaucracy gradually became more committed to the ruling party. Right or wrong, presence of laws, rules and regulations were irrelevant to smart officers. Trusted officers of ruling party were placed on prized positions.
Slowly, but steadily the service lost its capacity to be the true participant in the development of the country. During 1980’s, terrorism raised its head. Escalated communal problems and economic developments gave rise to economic crimes. Kick- backs of BOFORS became a big issue. Transfers, posting, accelerated promotions, suspension, denial of promotions had bent the civil service to a great extent. Compromises, delays in decision making and shielding unjust acts of political masters by subverting rule of law, flourished in full during this period.
The twenty first century has seen the steel frame of administration (under the command of bureaucrats) shaking under political pressure. Rarely are factors like competence, aptitude, past experience and public spirit taken into account while making appointments to responsible posts. It is quite natural that the corrupted politicians with tainted background would like to keep the corrupted officers in their coterie. Casteism was also a major ingredient corroding the steel frame.
There is decline over the years in the quality, competence and commitment of the officers. Indiscipline, violence and lawlessness are increasing every day all over the country. People wonder why the steel-frame of yesteryears is shaking and failing to do its job effectively and judiciously despite having a constitutional status with enough powers to deal with unwanted situations. They are surprised why these officers could not take stand against those dictates of their superiors (political leaders or bureaucratic superiors), which stops them from doing their jobs judiciously.
Today, India is witnessing unprecedented boom of liberalization, growth in economy, acceleration and growth in all sectors including Information technology, real estate, retail and Pharma sector. In order to encash the opportunity and its latent potential, India needs to combat its bureaucratic net, which acts a major deterrent factor to all potential investors. Why is there a sea difference in the manner in which public sector functions as opposed to private sector in India? For example, compare prevalent efficient mobile and internet telephony networks with Power, roads or water supply! The silver line appears with the dawn of public-private partnership that is emerging in the form of SEZ, Family and Health Plan projects besides other segments in India.
But with the growing opportunities, suddenly the politician-bureaucratic-private collusion overburdened the society with heavy burden of scams. Not to talk of irregularities in providing licenses to the parties but causing lakhs and crores of losses/wastage of the public money. We have been getting the reports of irregularities in 2G spectrum, drain of wealth in organizing of Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Society, Lavasa, Training of MTNL Personnel after the Commonwealth Games being over, and not to talk of S Band irregularities by ISRO to name the few. The whole country was amazed how could the irregularities, the irrational decision, the vested interest of the bureaucrats hand in glove with the ministers could continue for such a long period? If what the media is reporting is to be considered to be true the whole country’s financial condition will change overnight by bringing back of the black money stashed away in the Swiss banks and other tax heavens. Every project can be financed by our own funds, every households will be cured of poverty…….
The billion rupee question needs to be asked to the bureaucrats and the politicians alike is that what do they mean by the development of the country? Improving their own status, securing their generations (who would never have to work at all), or to let the MNCs in the name of liberalization and world class standard plunder the country????
By Dr. S. Mukherjee
Noted Geographer, Author and Director of Ensemble, a leading value based Institute for Training of the Civil Services Aspirants.
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