Bhaskar Parichha

When it comes to Civil Service, homilies and sermons do surely make headlines, till one more bunch of terminology replaces the earlier ones. That the civil service in India has fallen into bad days needs no iteration. Once called the ‘steel frame’, it is no longer steely, neither has it had a frame. All that the bureaucracy has done to India in the past sixty years can be summed up by what Dale Dauten once said, rather sarcastically, ‘gave birth to itself and now expects maternity benefits’.
Civil Services in India suffer from many ailments-the major maladies being its politicization. The selection, tenure, and promotion processes are not insulated from politics. A case in point is the arbitrary selection of PJ Thomas to the coveted post of CVC. Asides from the oft- quoted ‘nexus’ between the bureaucrat and the politician, the civil service in India is poorly motivated, under-skilled, and ill-equipped to perform the required tasks. Civil Servants are loyal to the individual politician rather than to the state. Result? Personal gain, political patronage, and corruption.
Years ago when the sixth pay commission recommended fatter pay packets for the civil servants, the babus were severely underpaid thereby jettisoning the best talent to the corporate world. Even now emoluments and perks of civil servants don’t compare favorably with what the corporates pay-the only inspiring factor to choose civil service is the power and privilege a civil servant enjoys.
The image of an honest civil servant subjected to arbitrary transfer or suspension by the political executive has been a key feature of the Indian bureaucracy. The rising public awareness of the importance of bureaucracy in the delivery of basic services to citizens has received a welcome boost from the Supreme Court. Some time back, the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment directing the union and state governments to free the bureaucracy from political throttlehold by constituting civil services boards within three months deserves to be welcomed.
With political morality in the country touching the bottom, the ruling establishments have been using bureaucrats increasingly to bestow favors on themselves and their kin. The governments have also been using the bureaucracy to hound political and other rivals to settle scores. The proposed boards will be responsible for decisions on appointments, transfers, and promotions of bureaucrats and the government will have to give reasons if it does not accept their recommendations.
The decision aimed at ensuring that while the political executive would fix policy, its execution will be done according to law. Going by the manner in which police reforms have been subverted over the years despite the Supreme Court directives, the fear of this apex court directive too may be scuttled is not unreal. Unless civil society and the courts are watchful the governments at the Centre and the states would do everything to frustrate the well-meaning intent of the Supreme Court.
Two significant administrative reforms arise out of the court’s verdict: a fixed tenure for civil servants so that they are not transferred at the whims and fancies of the political executive; a stipulation that all instructions by superiors be in writing, to protect officers from wrongful pressure from their superiors, political masters, and vested interests. These directions are meant to “ensure good governance, transparency, and accountability” in governmental functions, the court has said.
A question that might be raised is whether the Supreme Court was overstepping its ambit by directing the constitution of a mechanism to regulate transfers and postings. But it is evident that the court has taken judicial note of the various official reports and studies in this regard. It quotes extensively from past exercises — the reports of the K. Santhanam Committee on prevention of corruption, the Hota Committee, and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission — that addressed these questions. These reports had so glaringly recommended fixed tenures, insulation from political interference, avoidance of oral instructions, and a statutory board to decide on transfers. But these were not taken forward. The failure of the executive to frame a legislative framework to address these key concerns has forced the court to step in.
The reality is that the ‘politician-bureaucrat-industrialist’ nexus is very much entrenched. It would require a sustained effort to cleanse the system. Public confidence in governance is bound to rise due to this milestone verdict.
(The author Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar based senior journalist and columnist. Views are personal)
Tags: #Governance #bureaucracy #AdministrativeReformsCommission #goodgovernance