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Accountable Bureaucracy

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The whole idea of having at the core of the bureaucracy a group of central services was that there would be the famous ‘steel frame’ to ensure good administration. Unfortunately, over the years, the essence of this philosophy has been diluted, starting with the Indira Gandhi years when the bureaucracy was expected to be ‘committed’. The inner culture of ‘service to India’ that existed and was much lauded even by those who took over power from the British could not be kept going. An equally important reason was the failure to modernise and reform, particularly in terms of selecting officers more suited to the requirements.

The ordinary people can no longer distinguish between the ruling party and the bureaucracy, so deep has the nexus now become, especially with all the corruption involved. This has naturally taken its toll on the functioning of the system. Many of the administration’s systemic failures are attributed to the government. So, if there is a law and order problem owing to the incompetence of the police, it becomes easy to politicise it. Owing to the failure of the system, it is not possible to address individual cases with the specificity required – everything becomes generalised. Only cases with political ‘potential’ are raised by media and the opposition, with the vast majority of other transgressions going unnoticed and unaddressed. It is no longer possible to apportion individual responsibility for the failure.

Unless the necessary reform is brought in, the situation will only get worse. Every institution is facing a challenge of credibility. When opposition parties, for instance, accuse the CBI of functioning as the hitman for the ruling party, the allegation goes largely unchallenged in the minds of the people. In fact, even the officers supposedly ‘standing up to the system’ and hitting the headlines are too often people with personal grouses or psychological problems.

The ideal administrator is one who has the ‘solutions’ and does not add to the problems. Working as a team, officials can serve their true masters – the common people – in a number of innovative ways. Knowing the rules better than anybody else, they can thwart or accelerate measures in favour of Constitutional obligations. Unfortunately, at the present, they do so only to create nuisance value for themselves, which can then be leveraged for personal profit. It becomes easier when the politicians are in on it.

In the present day, any political party seeking to have a long run in office needs to reform the administration. No matter how much the coffers are filled through corrupt practices, failure to deliver services will lead to electoral defeat.