The musings of a retired bureaucrat on a lazy spring afternoon…

Much has been said recently about bureaucracy and bureaucrats. From being lambasted as the cause of myriad problems being faced by the country to being reviled as corrupt, incompetent, self serving and servile, one has heard it all. Surprisingly, the reaction to this tirade is either a defensive silence or a reluctant acceptance. Very rarely has anyone, least of all bureaucrats themselves, come forward to question or counter this hypothesis. Why is this so? Is it because we are so far removed from public perception that we are unable to appreciate what the common man thinks about us? Or are we so well protected in our ivory towers that we are oblivious to such opinions? Or are we so engrossed in pleasing our bosses that we do not care about such issues?

At the time of independence we chose a path of governance that envisaged a pre-eminent role for the state and, by extension, for the “steel frame” of a permanent bureaucracy .In hindsight, we can question this model and point out its shortcomings but it is a fact that it has played a major role in shaping the socio-economic development of our country during the last seven decades. It is indeed surprising that though a lot has been written about the problems of governance in this country, there has been very little public debate on alternate models of governance. Many adhoc solutions have been suggested. One such being the lateral induction of talent from the private sector into government . However, no introspection appears to have been done to analyse the reasons why government servants function in a particular manner? Unless the system of governance radically changes, will the lateral inductees be able to deliver substantially different outcomes? The problems of governance cannot be attributed to the incompetence or corruption of officers alone .The fact is that the system is based on rigid hierarchical structures where many senior officers are wary of taking bold and independent decisions due to the Damocles sword of CBI,CVC and CAG hanging over their heads. In the present system, a premium is placed on maintaining the status quo and not rocking the boat. Unless something radical is done to address these issues and allay these fears, no amount of empty rhetoric will make any difference. A good example is the failure of any genuine disinvestment by different regimes till date.

The problem is that no one, neither the top bureaucracy nor political leadership, wants to address these fundamental issues. Nothing prevents them from taking a bold decision to abolish the civil services in a phased manner and replace it with an alternate structure of governance.However this will not be an easy task because it will hit at well entrenched power structures and vested interests. But without fundamental structural reforms, we will keep paying lip service to slogans like “minimum government -maximum governance” and keep lambasting the bureaucracy for its failures. In our country, we seem to have forgotten the wise old adage-“A bad carpenter always blames his tools .