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Lost Glory, Civil Services in India

Once upon a time, bureaucracy in India was known for its being ‘the backbone of imperial rule’ and ‘the steel-frame’, on which the whole system of administration depended. Though it mainly served the imperial interests, but it worked efficiently and effectively. Now it has become a ‘spineless’ because of its ineffective way of working. Quite often, it is called contemptuously ‘Babudom’. When, how and why did it lose its past glory is an interesting story.

Need of a bureaucracy – A Government roughly falls into two general processes – I) The process of politics, which consists of the activities of elected representatives of the people and ii) the process of administration to assist politically elected ministers, which consists of the activities of permanent bureaucrats/civil servants. These civil servants are professionally recruited and trained in various disciplines – functional, technical and specialist as well as managerial and generalist such as police force to maintain law and order, a diplomatic service for external affairs, technical services for Public Works Department or Electricity Departments, Railways and Customs etc.

Theoretically the administrative machinery is subordinate to the political arm of a government, but in practice, it plays a very important role. It has become a very potent and vital element of any government all over the world. It is an indispensable part of each and every political system, be it communism or socialism or capitalism. It can exist in a type of society, be it a dictatorial or a democratic society.

To run the administration of a country nicely, a band of capable officers—efficient, prompt, just and sympathetic—belonging to different disciplines of civil services are required. Though they always live behind the scene, but it is the bureaucrats/civil servants, who not only dig expert knowledge from the raw material, but give it a shape with a sense of commitment. Politicians come for a short period and go. It is the bureaucrats, appointed on a long-term basis, who provide continuity in the governance of the nation.

The civil service is, therefore, an indispensable part of any government. Due to its exclusive and specialist nature of work and the need for more expert knowledge in administration for improving the quality of life, the importance of administrative civil services increases day-by-day. In every administrative set-up, there are certain positions or posts, which might be called strategic from the point of view of maintaining the standard of administration.

Evolution of civil services in India 

British have laid down the foundation of many democratic institutions in India including bureaucracy/civil services. It is one of the oldest and most wonderful institutions, the British has bequeathed to India. It has a long historical background and is a product of centuries. It has evolved, slowly but steadily, under the three successive regimes—

  • The East India Company,

  • the Crown and

  • Indian Republic.

                                                    Under East India Company

Employees as traders – The term ‘civil service’, was first used in the late eighteenth century to designate those employees of East India Company. Roughly from 1606 to 1740, its employees, known as ‘Factors’, were managing primarily trading operations, and incidentally administrative work. Notably after Battle of Plassey, its administrative work grew more and more in size. Precisely from 1741 to 1834, the civil servants were entrusted with purely administrative activities.

Consolidated its position – After the annexation of Indian territories, East India Company consolidated its position as a dominant power in India by 1784. The spread of its authority changed the character and role of its employees, from merchants to that of statesmen, from traders to governors, and judges and magistrates. Earlier they were known as ‘writers’.

Tasks and performance during East India Company’s rule – The shape to bureaucracy was given during the regimes of Warren Hastings, Lord Cornwallis and Lord Wellasly. Lord Wellasly (1798-1805) created a corps of specially talented officers —selected from the Commercial services as well as army. These officers were called `pioneers’ and were made responsible for the pioneering task of settling newly conquered areas, making political adjustments, restoring law and order, assessment and collection of land revenue, administration of criminal and civil justice and some of developmental tasks to gain confidence of people.

The administrative structure under East India Company was simple, but effective. Formalities were the minimum. The officers 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. They were the spokesmen of its dumb masses and often fought with their superiors for the interest of the people. A civilian of those days said, “They ruled with an iron hand in a velvet glove”.

Responsibilities – In the absence of any fast means of communication, the officers at the district were compelled to take decisions of their own o important matters of policy and administration. The main characteristics of the administration during those days were as follows:

  • Concentration of authority and responsibility in the District Officer who was Magistrate, Collector, and Judge;

  • The area of the district was not so large as to make this undivided responsibility impossible. The District Officer had complete knowledge of his area and people;

  • The administration was based on a set of simple laws and rules, respected Indian Institutions and local customs, so far as they did not clash with the Imperial interest;

                                           Under the Crown (1858-1919)

Golden Period of Indian Bureaucracy – This was the golden period of bureaucracy. From 1858 to 1919,bureaucracy, especially the ICS, attracted best talents of British Society, mostly graduates from Oxford or Cambridge. During this period, the civil services were institutionalized. The whole system, from top to bottom, became well-knit, highly centralised and behaved like an unbreakable steel frame with all the characteristics of a full-fledged Autocracy (M.V. Pylee, Constitutional History of India, 1600-1950, p.28, Bombay, Asia, 1967).

Objectives of British rulers – – In 1858, when the transfer of power from East India Company to the British Crown became a reality, the foundation of the Indian Civil Services were formally laid. Without doubt, higher Civil Services during this period were exclusively made to suit the special needs of British Imperial Power.

The British Government was very clear about its aims and objectives – to maintain law and order, collect revenue and perpetuate British rule in India as long as possible, as India was like a precious ‘Jewel in the Crown’. It aimed to enforce due process of law, collect revenue, to maintain efficiency in all basic matters – crime, land revenue, records of rights and economy ( K.M. Pannikar, “The Development of Administration in India”, Bulletin of Public Administration, Patna, Patna University’s Institute of Public Administration, Vol. II, Nos. 2 and 3, p.14)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. Initiative and actions were the aims to be sought.

ICS propped up as the elite service – ICS responsible for law and order situation and revenue collection was conceived and propped up as the elite service meant predominantly for British citizens. Its members were bestowed with all kinds of authority, favors, concessions and privileges. They exercised and enjoyed immense power and privileges.

Performance of Bureaucracy during Imperial Rule The bureaucracy of this period had developed certain traditions of independence, integrity, and hard work, though these qualities served the British interest. Due to its decisive role, these services, particularly the ICS, came to be called “Steel-frame of the whole structure”, which reared and sustained the British rule in India.

Centralization of Power – Unlike the decentralized administration during the East India Company, growth of rapid means of communication made centralization of administration possible. It not only became rigid in its class structure, but also became bureaucratic in methods and procedure of work. Centralization tightened the regulatory functions of the officials to supervise and control the subordinate officials and made the office procedure elaborate and cumbersome.

Sir William Hunter commented, “He governed most, who wrote most”. Thus came into being multiplication of reports, returns and correspondence and obsession for office work. Routine work and cumbersome office procedures severely affected the power of initiative and enterprise which were found in abundance in the older generation of the civil service. So much so, that those officers, who once wielded the sword so fearlessly began to grumble under the tyranny of pen. (H.K. Trevaskis, Punjab of Today, Vol. II, 1931, p.287)

Whiteman’s superiority” – Though Queen Victoria’s Proclamation of 1858 declared that her subjects, of whatever race or creed, were entitled to be appointed in all her public services, the British Rulers wanted the appointments in superior Services by the dictum of “Whiteman’s superiority” due to its decisive role in the governance of country. Lord Kimberley, the Secretary of State wrote in 1893, “It is indispensible that an adequate number of members of the civil services shall always be Europeans”. Viceroy Lord Landsdown stressed: “The absolute necessity of keeping the government of this widespread empire into European hands, if the empire is to be maintained” (Quoted from Bipin Chandra, p.158, Modern India).

Lord Curzon also justified this policy by stating as follows: “The highest ranks of the civil employee in India, those in the Imperial Civil Service, …. though open to such Indians, ….. must nevertheless, as a general rule, be held by the Englishmen for the reasons that they possess partly by heredity, partly by upbringing and partly by education that knowledge of the principles of government, the habits of mind and vigour of character, which are essential for the task and the rule of India, being a British rule, and any other rule, being in the circumstances of the case impossible. The tone and standard should be set by those, who have created it and are responsible for it”(Supplement to Gazette of India, , p.937, June 4, 1904).

Most efficient and effective civil services in the world – Without doubt, during this period, bureaucracy gradually developed into one of the most efficient and powerful civil services in the world. It developed certain traditions of independence, integrity, and hard work, though these qualities served the British interest. The bureaucracy, particularly the ICS, came to be known as the “Steel-frame of the whole structure”.

Under Dyarchy (1919-35)

Vanishing of idealism of the past – In post 1919 period, as the National movement intensified, the demand for Indianisation of higher civil services increased. Dyarchy promised progressive realization of responsible and self-government in India. India Act of 1935 allowed the continuance of only three All India Services, namely, Indian Civil Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Medical Service (Civil). These services performing control functions were kept under the direct supervision of British rulers. Certain All India Services, particularly, those dealing with service functions were provincialized like Education Service, Agriculture Service, Veterinary Service or services dealing with roads and building etc. Other services were not abolished abruptly or left to die its own death.

With the gradual Indianisation of All India Services, the class consciousness of these services became dim. British element in the service had lost its old sense of mission, was feeling frustrated. It weakened the solidarity of services.

Dampening effect on “The Espirit de Corps”– Indian public and leaders were already allergic to bureaucracy, not on the basis of its actual performance, but because they were a living symbol of foreign rule. Criticism of of the services by individual members in provincial and Central legislatures, the `ignominy’ of working under Indian Ministers in provinces, the non-cooperation movement of 1920-22, the insufficiency of salaries due to high price-rise in the wake of the World War I etc. have changed the character of Indian bureaucracy. It left a dampening effect on the attraction of Civil Services as a career service for British Youth. All efforts to attract them fell flat and the number of British Officers began to decline. They lost their old sense of mission and were frustrated. It is evident from the following chart: –

Period

British

Indian

Total

1919-23

102

80

182

1924-28

77

91

168

1929-33

111

136

247

1934-38

97

122

219

Source: Misra BB. Bureaucracy in India, p292

Indian element in bureaucracy was imbued with a national spirit, looking forward to a day when Indian would be independent. These changes affected the “The Espirit de Corps” of these services.

Breakdown of the spirit of the civil services – Lee Commission (1923) was the first evidence of the breakdown of the spirit of the civil services in India. With the introduction of Dyarchy, the spirit of mild paternalism in them also began to fade. After it, there was no claim that the British Civil Service in India, competent though they continued to be to the end, was anything more than a group of officers doing their work for purely material considerations. The idealism of the past had vanished. (K.M. Pannikar, “The Development of Administration in India”, Bulletin of Public Administration, Patna, Patna University’s Institute of Public Administration, Vol. II, Nos. 2 and 3, p.14).

Under Provincial Autonomy (Post 1935 Period)

Fall in standard of governance – During this period, the ICS officials had lost much of its past authority and therefore, showed a noticeable fall in standards. The period after 1935 witnessed frequent clashes between the Indian Ministers and British officials.

Officials learnt to tolerate elected representatives – Post-1935 period taught the officials to learn to tolerate elected representatives and ministers. Those, who were still thinking in terms of their previous status and authority, took premature retirement. This period witnessed frequent clashes between the Indian Ministers and British officials and former’s helplessness in regard to All India Services.

Further deterioration in standard – Rowland Committee remarked: ‘The present position, in our judgement, is thoroughly unsatisfactory both from the point of view of the district officer himself as well as from the point of view of the efficiency of the governmental machine and welfare of the people in the district…He is expected to see that nothing goes wrong in his district, but he has little power outside. The Magistrate and Collector failed to see that things go right. He is supposed to compose differences between other officers, but he has no power to impose his will upon the recalcitrant. He can cajole and persuade, he cannot compel…In our view, the situation, if left to itself, can only deteriorate further because activities of the government in the mofussil will increase and practically every department is thinking in terms of a “Provincialized service” and makes little attempt to disguise its determination to go ahead with its own plans, without reference to any other part of the government’(Report of the Bengal Administration Enquiry Committee, p. 18, 1944-45).

No radical changes desirable – Report of the Joint Committee on Indian Constitution Reforms proposed that in the early days of `New Order’ and indeed until the course of events in the future could be more clearly foreseen, the new Constitution should not be exposed to risk and hazard by radical changes in the system, which had for so many generations produced men of the calibre (Report of the Joint Committee on Indian Constitution Reforms, Para 286, Vol. I, Part I, 1934).

Only fresh recruitment into these services was discontinued, thus enabling its painless extinction through the natural process of retirement, resignation and causalities of its members.

                                          During Interim Period (From 1947 to 1950)

Designs for Independent India – Many national leaders did not like the idea of building up a new India, the very machinery that was till now hampering and countering the freedom movement should be used. According to them the spirit of authoritarianism of bureaucracy under imperial rule could never co-exist with freedom.

Nation left with no alternative– Immediately after the independence, the nation had no alternative but to leave the things to time. During the last days of British rule, many problems arose, such as communal tension, lawlessness, Railway and Postal strikes, short-supply of goods and the danger of another famine in near future (P. Ramachandran, “Partition Legend”,  p.9, The Hindustan Times, September 1, 1980). This was followed by departure of British and muslim officers from higher services, partition of the country, Pakistan’s incursion into Kashmir and annexation of widely spread conglomeration of provinces and princely states in the Union of India, which made the situation worst at the dawn of independence. Events, invariably unplanned, were moving so fast that there was no question of even attempting to supervise their course.

Sardar Patel’s Foresight – Sardar Patel visualized the whole situation. He insisted on the continuance of same set-up of bureaucracy and assured the nation, “I wish to assure you that I have worked with them during this difficult period. I am speaking with a sense of heavy responsibility and I must confess that in point of patriotism, in point of ability, you cannot have a substitute…I wish to place it on record in this house that if, during the last two or three years, most of the members of the service had not behaved patriotically and with loyalty, the Union would have collapsed. ( Indian Constituent Assembly Debates, pp. 48-50, 1949).

                                        Under Indian Republic (Post 1950)

Changes in the role of bureaucracy

The performance and role bureaucrats, being the product of the same society, depended on changes happening in the social and political scenario around them from time to time. The image, Indian bureaucracy acquired after the independence, was that of effective bureaucracy under the able, sincere and visionary leadership of Patel, Nehru and Pant. Then, some where down the line, things fizzled out and became the committed bureaucracy of 1970s, demoralized bureaucracy of 1977, especially, after the Shah Commission proceedings, insecure bureaucracy of 1980’s and the corrupt bureaucracy after 1990. Personal upbringing, training and discipline has always kept a few of upright and honest officers away from these influences.

In context of free India – Shri C. Rajagopalachari had told the nation right in the beginning that performance of bureaucracy depended on the calibre of officials, who are appointed to its strategic posts. “For any administration to be good and efficient, as a whole, we want right type of men. The quality of men placed in position is more important than laying down of rules and methods of operation”.

This is more true in a large country like India, where there have been perplexing diversities in geography, language, race and culture, which have existed through ages and pervaded every aspect of life. In such a situation, it becomes necessary to evolve some standards and guidelines, whereby the interest of the nation, as a whole, is taken care of.

Pressing problems immediately after the Independence – After Independence many national leaders did not like the idea of building up a new India by the very machinery that was till now hampering and countering the freedom movement. – The main reason for continuation of the same administrative machinery was that during the last days of British rule, there were many pressing problems before the nation. Situation became worst at the dawn of independence because of departure of British and Muslim officers from higher services, partition of the country, Pakistan’s incursion into Kashmir and annexation of widely spread conglomeration of provinces and princely states in the Union of India, which made any drastic change impossible.

Along with it, there were other difficulties too, such an 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 things to time.

Bureaucratic set-up after independence

Without depriving the States of their right to form their own Civil Services, there are many All India and Central Services recruited on an all India basis with common qualifications, with uniform scale of pay, members of which alone are appointed to the all the Strategic Posts throughout the Union. Sardar Patel was very sure that India has no alternative to this administrative system. He said, ‘I wish to place it on record in this house that if, during the last two or three years, most of the members of the service had not behaved patriotically and with loyalty, the Union would have collapsed.’ Civil servants and visionary national leaders built the infrastructure for a new modern India and for its all round development.

Objectives of the Government in free India

Since India became a Republic (1950), the aims, objectives and the role of government changed completely. The Constitution laid emphasis on national reconstruction and development—a shift from the traditional task of only maintenance of law and order and revenue collection. The objectives of the Government were now to launch a massive attach on five major evils of the society—Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness—and to secure to all its citizens “Justice—social, economic and political”. This change had brought about many new responsibilities pertaining to economic development and social welfare on the shoulders of its civil services. The civil service was supposed to come closer to masses and feel the agony of the millions of underfed, under-read and under-clothed citizens and then design strategies, formulate and execute policies, take right and timely decisions, initiate action and remedial measures for improving the lot of masses and upliftment of the country as a whole.

Role of bureaucracy during Nehru Patel era

During1950’s, the performance of IAS was at the best. It represented one of the finest services in the world. The image, it acquired immediately after the independence, was that of effective bureaucracy under the able, sincere and visionary leadership of Patel, Nehru and Pant. They remained as honest, upright and efficient, as the society around them had been or as their political masters wanted them to be. Higher civil services of government of India represented one of the finest services in the world.

Perfect tuning between leadership and bureaucracy – There was a perfect tuning between the leadership and administration. Together (with the tact and fairness of prominent national leaders and the coordination of able officers) they had solved innumerable pressing problems that came on the way at the dawn of independence. Once, it was decided to continue with the same bureaucratic set-up, the political leadership drew best out of the depleted administrative machinery and inspired it with proper correctives.

Administrators encouraged for ‘Free’ and ‘Frank’ opinion – Their vigilance, integrity and honesty saved the administration from falling victim to wrong practices. Political interference, in matters of day to day administration; was not much. The administrators were encouraged to give their free and frank opinion. They were free to work out details and implement their decisions. Only when something was found going wrong or implementation got unduly delayed, the political leadership interfered in administrative matters. The political and administrative wings of the Government together put the nation on the path of progress, accommodating diverse viewpoints and interests without bias.

Built infrastructure for new modern India – Officials of initial period tried to live up to the high standards set down by British ICS. They were hardworking, fair and prompt in taking timely decisions. The position of law and order was intact and people were living peacefully. They built the infrastructure for a new modern India and for its all round development.

Added responsibilities – In the early 1960s, besides executive functions, normal development work, basic planning and advent of five-year Plans exposed the administration to economic aspects of development. For the first time, officials were interacting with the economic functions.

The Industrial policy Resolution of 1956 laid stress on the development of heavy industries with public sector given an important role to play in the development of economy. The sincere efforts, organizing capacity and drive of bureaucracy put India at the tenth rank amongst the nations of the world in terms of industrial out-put by 1960.

Analysis of the role played by bureaucrats in this era – It was not, that everything was all right during this period. The structural change started putting the service under stress and changed its value system later on. The traders, industrialists and businessman expected favors for backing the politicians financially during elections, who in turn demanded compromise from the bureaucracy.

‘Ivory tower life style’ – The administrators of this period were criticized for their ivory tower life style, which alienated the bureaucrats from common man. However, now it is being realized that ‘ivory tower life style’ prevented bureaucrats from succumbing to outside pressures and helped them to remain honest, upright and impartial. But at the same time, alienation from common man, while on work and therefore, ignorance about the pulse of public started making bureaucracy weaker day by day. Unfortunately, after independence and progressively over the years, higher civil services at the centre began losing its sheen.

Corruption could not be rooted out totally – In 1962, Santhanam Committee observed that in the governance of the state, all the leaders could not set a standard of integrity that might justify the popular expectations. Even the leaders like Patel and Nehru could not root out totally the proliferating corruption in political and administrative set up. However, A good percentage of our public servants maintain and function in accordance with strict standard of integrity.On the whole, during this period, inner restraint and control had effectively led the officials to preserve the honour and fair name of the service and saved it from getting corrupt or spoiled by outside powerful agencies.

Mrs. Gandhi Era (1965 to 1980)

Era of ‘Committed Bureaucracy’ – The period, from 1965 to 1980 was an era of committed bureaucracy. With many of the old visionary leaders having gone from the national and state scene in the sixties, a rot started setting up rapidly in the administrative set up. During mid sixties, political climate at provincial level started changing.

New regional parties emerged at provincial level – Many new regional parties emerged at provincial level and came to power. Some states like Bihar, U.P., Haryana, and Punjab etc. witnessed political opportunism. Tall promises were made to win elections. Floor crossing, defections, attempts to topple Governments; betrayal of people’s faith and consequently political instability and frequent changes in provincial Governments became the order to the day. All this resulted in intensification of competitive politics. Mrs. Gandhi, after becoming Prime Minister in 1966, felt very insecure due to the hold of syndicate in politics. But she refused to act as a puppet in the hands of the syndicate and, therefore a split in Congress took place in 1969.

Economy of the nation under severe strain – The two wars of 1962 and 1965 followed by successive droughts in 1966 and 1967 put the economy under severe strain. Economic logic and administrative acumen was subordinated to the logic of politics. The developmental activities of the previous years could not keep pace with the challenges facing the country at that time. Concept of easy money started taking birth. The politicians relied more on populist slogans rather than on tackling the real issues troubling the progress of nation like population explosion, illiteracy, inadequate health care and poor social service programs. It led millions to poverty and unemployment.

Attempt to divert public attention from real issues to abstract issues – In order to divert public attention from real issues, abstract issues like social justice, socialism, secularism, communalism were floated in the political world. Government assumed a pervasive role of being the sole guardian of public interest and assumed tremendous authority in the name of socialism. Economic logic and administrative acumen was subordinated to the logic of politics. The developmental activities of the previous years could not keep pace with the challenges facing the country at that time.

Intoxicated political leaders – The absolute authority intoxicated the politicians, making them trample over everything including the democratic institutions – bureaucracy being one of them. The change in the political complexion of the nation was reflected in the performance of Administrative Service and its capacity to work impartially without any fear or favor.

The leaders of that time could not appreciate the value of efficient and impartial civil services and did precious little to check deteriorating standards of the service. The officers were not expected to be as loyal to the Constitution, as they had to be to their respective ministers. Bureaucracy gradually became more committed to the ruling party.

Sense of insecurity – Political upheaval made political leaders very insecure. For her political security Mrs. Gandhi thought it necessary to get complete hold over the bureaucracy. During 1969 to 1974, personality cult was promoted with full force. Politicians desired the bureaucrats to be completely committed to the ministers under whom they were working. Bureaucrats were supposed to be the servicemen to carry out the orders of political bosses.

Power of transfers, posting, and extensions as powerful arm-twisting measures – The simplest of the arm-twisting measures, which politicians took in their hands, was to take the power of transfers, posting, and extensions. It placed the officers at the receiving end. Political patronage gave encouragement to corrupt and ambitious officials. Shrewd officers, who could get away, if any wrong done, were given more importance. Upright officers with some mission and neutral approach had been sidelined.

On a sustained and systematic basis, the process of committed bureaucracy flourished, thus undermining the integrity, values, ethos and confidence of the service. IAS, the service of proven competence and integrity, too found it comfortable to toe the footsteps of the political leaders. They became a willing tool in the hands of politicians.

Bureaucracy lost capacity to be the true agents of healthy change – Earlier, attention was paid to initial training, Departmental examinations in accounts, civil, criminal and revenue laws and varied experience to understand, what happens behind the scenes. The role of senior was crucial, both to impart professional knowledge and also to inculcate proper service values like honesty – intellectual and pecuniary, impartiality in dealing with the rich/powerful and the poor/weak, political neutrality and so on.

Now professionalism of officers depends on amorality – meaning capacity to get done, what superior authorities want to be done and proximity – meaning getting closer to people having authority and position. Right or wrong, presence of laws, rules and regulations were irrelevant to smart officers. During Emergency in 1975, the trusted officers of the Congress Party were placed on crucial positions. Slowly, but steadily the service lost its capacity to be the true agents of healthy change.

Demoralized and insecure bureaucracy of 1980’s

Trend of bureaucrat politicians nexus – For the first time Government officials were made to depose before the Shah Commission for their alleged commissions and omissions during the emergency, sometime around 1080. The blames for failure of system were put on the bureaucracy. It demoralized the bureaucracy. With every change in the Government, there started the trend to shuffle the bureaucrats. It further developed the unhealthy trend of bureaucrat politicians nexus.

Unhealthy developments of 1980’s – During 80’s, terrorism raised its head. Escalated communal problems and economic developments gave rise to economic crimes. BOFORS became a big issue. Transfers, postings, accelerated promotions, suspension, denial of promotions had already 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. One of the leading features was the deep involvement of a core group of civil servants in scandals. The crisis management and cover up operations were undertaken quite unsuccessfully by politicians.

Inter-services rivalry – Apart from being accomplices in politician’s corrupt practices, there was a rise in inter-service rivalries during 1970s and 1980s. Government could not give their due place and proper work atmosphere to its bright technical, scientific and professional personnel in bureaucracy. Their services were and are still required urgently for rapid industrialization and technical progress of the country. Professionals, by their very nature and training, work harder than their generalist counterparts. They are more target oriented in their approach and disciplined. Still they remain far behind their generalist counter-parts in matter of career progression.

Gradual shift in recruitment base – The rapid growth in education, liberal grant of scholarship and stipends, general improvement in the social standard and cultural values of rural people, rural development, economic and other concessions to weaker sections brought a gradual shift in the recruitment base from diverse background. It was hoped that people coming from widely varied background carrying with them diverse experiences would be better placed to appreciate the ground realties of the nation. The wider, the spread of recruitment net, the larger would be the talent base and richer would be the service.

Hope was belied – However, it belied the hope and made the service more vulnerable to political pressures and other extraneous influences. There was a fall in officer like qualities, which made the service object of reducible and contempt in the eyes of public. Mr. Tyagi commented, “The old zeal and stamina for strenuous work is now missing. Similarly moral considerations play a less conspicuous role in the official life of a civil servant today than formerly. As the country is moving forward in the direction of industrialization, the values and the old moral standards of its civil servants are tending to diminish. The civil service is less disciplined and less united today than it was formerly.(Tyagi, Ibid. p172).The adverse effect on the quality, work-culture and ethos of the service was not felt that much earlier, but in 1990’s groupism in the service became evident and harmed the integrity of the service to a large extent.

The Corrupt bureaucracy (1990’s)

Changes after the fall of Rajiv Gandhi’s Government – The political complexion of the nation underwent a revolutionary change after the fall of Rajiv Gandhis Government and then disappearance of Nehru-Gandhi family from the political scene. The era of instability started. The last time a general election in India producing a clear parliamentary majority was in 1984. Since 1989, the Governments are acutely handicapped by their minority status.

Criminalization of politics– It led first to politicization of criminals, then to criminalization of politics, which made it increasingly difficult for decent, peace loving people to breath freely. Mr. VN Narayan commented on the climate of 1990’s, We have a political problem (scams and scandals), but we have no political solution, we have a religious problem (Ayodhya), but no religious solution. There is an economic problem (poverty), but there is no economic solution (Liberalization). There is a social problem (Sectarian conflicts), but there is no societal remedy (Secularism and Mandalisation). There is a socio-medical disease (cancer of corruption), but there is no socio-medical cure (ministerial resignations and reshuffles) There is only one solution to all problems – a human and spiritual solution. We have to consciously move toward humanizing our social institutions and spiritualize (not communalize or secularize) ourselves(Times of India,  p1, July 27, 1994).

Transfer-posting Raj – The period between 1975 to the beginning of the 21st century was

the transfer-posting raj in the government. Successive ministers and political parties made it a money minting business. Administrators have lost out by letting the political class prevail. The critical first two decades after the independence were lost and by 70’s and 80’s the political class had come into its own.

Economic offences increased – “A dubious alliance among a section of bureaucracy, politicians and criminals led to the denials of fruits of economic development in the country. This period saw a marked shift in the complexion and scale of economic offences from the rough and tumble of gold smuggling and other merchandise to more sophisticated white collar crimes like bank scams, import andexport fraudsetc.”(Memoirs of Mr. Pande, former director general of DRI and economic intelligence bureau, quoted from TOI N.Delhi, p.14, dt.29.3.2008)

Explosive problems of this period – Instead of plugging the loopholes of the system, political leadership gave importance to electoral gains and losses and to attain political power, with an aim to lead a luxurious life at the cost of public money. The country faced many explosive problems, which made the nation weak and adversely affected the daily life of a common man in many ways. In the absence of any sound ideology and clear vision, the politicians of 1990s depended ideologically on “Caste”, “Community”, and “Political secularism” considerations, in pursuance of sectoral interests and use of power of money and muscle to widen their electoral base.

Polarization of society on caste and communal basis – This period witnessed complete polarization of society on caste and communal basis. Politics of Mandal had divided the society on a permanent basis, which suited the interests of sectional parties well. There are inter-caste and intra-caste, inter-community and intra-community and inter-tribal and intra-tribal conflicts.

Unstable governments – The result – hung Lok Sabha and Assemblies, loss of parliamentary culture and decorum, increasing fall in the standards, ability, values and conduct of legislatures, as is seen by poor quality of debates and scanty attendance in the houses of legislature, unruly behavior of members, scenes of pandemonium, all round erosion in the role of legislatures and bad image of legislator due to criminal records, corruption, manipulation, sale and purchase (horse trading) of legislators to increase their number in legislature etc.

Coalition governments – The Governments are formed, not on the basis of popular mandate, but through post election manipulations, unholy alliances, bargaining, horse-trading and give and take principle. Voter turnout in general elections hardly reaches 50% of the total population. It is difficult for any single party to get clear majority. Even the majority party in Parliament, without its alliances, could hardly get 25-26% voters support. A minority party, getting a few seats, forms the Government, with majority party supporting it from out side. Hung Parliament and hung assemblies give power to even marginal regional parties with handful of MPs and MLAs to dictate their terms and conditions to national issues and pursue their sectional plans.

Net result – The developments of 1990s threw challenges before the nation to run a viable, assured and stable Government to check casteism and communalism, to tackle separatist movement tactfully, keeping the unity and Integrity of the nation intact and to decentralize excessive concentration of authority at center.

“Toe the line” bureaucracy of 21st century

Rot in the steel-frame – The beginning of 21stcentury has seen the steel frame shaking

under political pressure. Transfer has become a powerful weapon in politician’s hands enough to make a bureaucrat compliant. “….Rarely are factors like competence, aptitude, past experience and public spirit taken into account while making appointments to responsible posts. Instead, these attributes are often a disqualification. Pliable functionaries, who are not overburdened with ethics, are handpicked for plum postings.” (Javed Chowdhary, 1965 batch IAS Officer, Quoted from Steel Frame to His Master’s Voice, Sakina Yusuf Khan, Sunday Times of India, New Delhi, May 4, 2003). There is a general acceptance that “toeing the line is better than standing up for principles and paying the price” Bhasker Ghosh (also an IAS Officer, ibid}. One wonder is the new age bureaucrat less idealistic, more pragmatic?

Simple living and high thinking – “In the fifties and sixties, bureaucrats could live comfortably on their salaries. Not any longer. More and more bureaucrats today use the system to make money.”{ A former diplomat G Parthasarthy, ibid}. Attuned to today’s highly competitive and material world, expediency, money and power are the main attractions in life for the youth of the day. Now-a-days nobody believes in the principle of ‘Simple living and high thinking’. The luxuries and comforts of modern materialistic world have lured everybody including the bureaucrats. Now Corruption, casteism and unhealthy competition to get hold of a few influential posts in the corridor of power has corroded the steel frame. Whatever salaries officials get is not enough for them to live the way they want in the modern world. It is one of the reason for increased corruption, casteism and unhealthy competition to get hold of a few influential posts in the corridor of power, so that they can make more money. It has corroded the steel frame beyond repair.

Critical analysis of the present day situation

Disintegration of society – At present, the country is facing caste-communal divide; forward-backward divide, urban-rural divide and division based on class, gender, language and region. The feeling of oneness has almost disappeared with the emergence of many myopic, local regional parties pursuing sectional interest. They, hypocritically shout slogans like, Socialistic pattern of society, Equity, Share in power structure or Secularismetc. which have, more or less, run out of steam all over the world. These abstract ideologies have been proved unable to solve the problems of poverty, overpopulation, deteriorating condition of law and order, violence and general coarsening of the moral fiber of the whole society.

Morale of the service at an all time low – The old values are dying, but the new ones could not be created for the benefit of the society as a whole. It has its adverse effect on bureaucracy, as well. Today, the morale of the service is at an all time low. Mrs. Gandhi started the concept of committed bureaucracy in early 1970’s, except for a few positions, but she usually honored the principle of seniority in making appointments. In the first instance, Rajiv Gandhi overlooked the principle of seniority, when he brought Mr. Kaul as cabinet Secretary, then brought Mr. Deshmukh. After that began the musical chair for higher posts and generally by-passing the seniority-rule.

Blatant use of ‘transfers’, ‘postings’ and ‘extensions’ – Every leader wishes to have his own men in senior positions, so that he could manage his course of action without much resistance. Politicians use the tool of postings and transfers arbitrarily and blatantly, while making senior appointments in the states or the center. With every change in the Government, be it in center of state, there is a shuffle and reshuffle in the bureaucracy. Some IAS officers in the states have been even suspended by the Chief Ministers in recent past. IAS association in UP had passed a resolution in 1997 saying, We are the leaders of the state administration. IAS officers can not be suspended on anyone’s whims and fancies. There is a procedure to follow… It is a simple rule of administration….”. Mr. Narsimha Rao, during his Prime Ministership, started giving extensions, year by year, to chosen officers, so that they could be put under control. Top posts were filled only for a short periods. In his 5 years of Premiership, Mr. Rao had four Cabinet Secretaries. There had been frequent changes in the position of Secretaries also.

Adverse effect on Work culture’ – The trend of having a following of one’s own in the service and giving plum postings to one’s loyalists has mortgaged the national interests. It led the nation to chaos, criminality and corruption. It has adversely affected the work culture. The Vohra Committee has vividly described the nexus that has developed between unscrupulous politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and criminals. The appointment of tainted officers at crucial positions itself makes the intentions of the politicians clear. It has also been felt that young recruits are acquiring more and more skills but are deficient in understanding and attitude.

Misappropriation of public funds – Corruption and misappropriation of public funds was always there, but not so rampant, as has been witnessed after 1990. The corruption has deeply entrenched into the system and become its integral part. It has acquired a kind of legitimacy, as a price to be paid for “Getting a job done in the Government and saving citizen’s Time, energy and money. Otherwise, one has to run from pillar to post to get a job done.

Liberalization – Liberalization was meant to ease government control on economy and reduce corruption. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out as desired. Numerous scams and scandals rocked the nation after 1990, like Bank Security Scam, Telecom Scam, Jain Hawala Scam, Bihar Fodder Scam, Petrol Pumps allotment Scam, House Allotment Scam, Public Service Commission’s scam in appointments (April, 2002) etc. These are the direct consequences of the nexus between the politicians and the bureaucrats. Most glaring were –

  1. Harshad Mehta Scam (1992) – The loss to banks was put at about Rs 5,000 crore. Till now (2011) banks are trying to recover what they can from the inheritors of Mehta.

  2. Enron Scandal (1992) – Dabhol power project of the US energy major in Maharashtra was always controversial. In late 2001 it came to light that Enron had for years concealed debt and overstated profits. The energy giant went bankrupt and several executives, including CEO Keneth Lay were convicted on many counts in 2006.

  3. Telecom Scam (1996) – In 2009, former telecom minister Sukhram was convicted by a Delhi court of accepting bribes to grant licences and purchase equipment from companies during 1993-96 tenure at the centre.

  4. Ketan Parekh Scam (2001) – The stockbroker was accused of engineering mayhem in the market. Parekh was banned from the capital markets for 14 years.

  5. Telgi scam (2003) – (Counterfeited stamp paper) Telgi allegedly had links with several officials anf politicians.

  6. Koda Scam (2009) – Jharkhand CM 2006-08, allegedly made Rs. 4,000 crore through graft, including grant of mining licenses, and illegally invested it in real estate, shares and other avenues in Mumbai, Kolkata, Thailand and even a coal mine in Liberia.

  7. Satyam Scam (2009) – It has falsified its accounts and diverted money to fund real estate transactions. Raju was arrested and is facing prosecution for a scam estimated at Rs 7,000 crore.

  8. 2G Scam (2010) – The award of spectrum to new telecom licenses in 2007 at 2001 prices sparked off a controversy. The CAG later held that the loss to the exchequer could be up-to Rs 1.76 Lakh crore.

Playing safe attitude of upright bureaucrats – Sincere and honest officers have lost interest in their work. They do not have much to loose, so long as they play safe, do as little as possible, take no risk, display no initiative and refer everything to the minister that involves taking important decisions. Many bureaucrats adopt the line of least resistance, though off and on, they are being criticized for their non-performance. Due to excessive political interference in day to day administration, the upright officers try their best to escape from district postings, where they are in direct contact with the public.

Adverse affects of frequent transfers and postings – For sustainable development, a bureaucrat needs a reasonable tenure in one post. In order to do justice to his work and to get a grip over the situation, one needs time to understand the atmosphere, to plan, to supplement it and to see the results. With politicization of services and tenure being increasingly insecure, offices work on the principle of short-term measures, which could yield quick results.

Senior’s support – Earlier during difficult situations a bureaucrat could depend on his seniors for help or advice. Now seniors, themselves being insecure, can not give support to their juniors. Failure to get seniors support at crucial moments further dips the morale of young and enthusiastic officers.

Career progression – At present, for moving ahead in career, competence or seniority carry much weight. It is not good enough to have right political connections, but also needs to belong to the right caste. After 1990, the card of Reservation and representation of Backwards in higher bureaucracy has been overplayed.

Politics of Reservations – A good governance is based on a delicate balance of relationship between multiple cultural communities. The politics of Mandalisation has destroyed inter cultural balance and harmony. Reservation is being used for political expediency. It has diluted the standards and integrity of the service as a whole. The poison of groupism and casteism has spread in the elite service as well. Praful Bidwani says,Social conservatism, casteism, communalism and provincialism are more apparent today in the services than in the past(Praful Bidwai, p15, Times of India, July 23. 1995).

Criminalization of politics – Some of the criminals, under-world Dons have joined the politics. They mix up freely with the bureaucrats and politicians. Mutual support is there to shield each others guilt, wrong practices and corrupt behavior. Given decline in character and morale of politicians and confusion about their objectives, the only role left for the service is to defend the deeds or misdeeds of the ministers before Parliament, Legislatures and public by twisting the arms of law in their favor. The high IQ, decline in value, expediency being the order of the day, this disastrous combination tends many bureaucrats to connive with politicians and others, whose only concern is to further their own interest and to benefit their kin and loyalists.

Perception of people about the bureaucracy of 21st century

People think that the present bureaucracy has developed some undesirable features like personal loyalty, dependent thinking, superfluous functioning, hierarchical thinking, distrust and class thinking. Its feudal framework, its tuning in British class discipline and its chaining in socialist ideology, prevent it to exhale the fragrance of free administration of a free state. Officers are inaccessible to people, resist changes, and favor status quo. They are obstructionist, inefficient and obsessed with the rulebooks, precedents and procedures. They hesitate to shoulder responsibilities for their actions. They either blame the political leadership or other technical or professional services in case of any wrong done. The decline in the standards of performance of bureaucrats can be seen in: –

 Acute law and order situation in the country, which includes Criminalisation of social and political activities,

 Half-hearted implementation and monitoring of developmental plans and policies resulting in increased number of illiterates, poor and unemployed.

 Impediments in the successful implementation of the new economic policy.

Who is to be blamed?– Most of the bureaucrats are not attuned well to the culture of creativity, dynamism, liberalism and progress, which needs open-mindedness, tolerance for listening to other’s ideas and views, giving dissent a chance, having a sense of responsibility, imagination, honesty and confidence. Majority of people blame present politicians for such a deterioration of the bureaucracy. Political parties have conditioned today’s atmosphere in such a way, that upright officers are identified very soon after joining the service and are sidelined. Key posts are given usually to ‘committed’ officers. Every change in power structure – at the centre or the state- follows mass transfers and placement of pliable officers on crucial posts.

Bureaucracy itself responsible for such a sad situation – Some people feel that it is not fair to blame the political leadership solely. The over-ambition of officers has incited the politicians. They themselves sought political interference to get desired postings and transfers. Now the politicians have learnt the tricks and interfere in administrative work, whenever and where-ever it suits them well. Disregard for merit, bloated size of the service, insecurity and changes in values have added fuel to the gradual decay of the service.

Humiliating situation for bureaucrats – Never before, the powerful bureaucrats faced humiliation and devaluation of its role and significance, as in the recent past. Ex-Minister Kalp Nath Rai, annoyed with his secretary went up to the extent of saying, Bureaucrats are just like servants… Chaprasis, who bring water, when you tell them to. They should not be allowed to act on their own. The Ministers today follow the dictum, Satisfy me, I will satisfy you.

Bureaucracy not supposed to play a secondary role –It is not fair for the elite government services to toe the lines of politicians and play a secondary role in the matter of administration, as they have Constitutional protection. There was a time, when officers could gather courage to resist irrational demands of politicians. During the times of Kairon, the Chief Minister, a chief secretary could tell Sir, you are elected, I am selected. But now in order to avoid confrontation, an officer finds it easier to provide rationale for a decision taken by the political boss.

Distracted the cream of the society to join government services – The suffocating atmosphere in the government services has distracted bright young people to join the government. They either join private sector especially information technology area or go abroad, where they get recognition for their talent, respect in their circle, atmosphere to work and handsome salaries with many perks and facilities as well as command prestige in the modern industrial world because of their calibre.

Usually, when young men join the service, they are full of enthusiasm to meet the challenges and to do something positive and creative. But the realities of life, political and bureaucratic culture evaporate their enthusiasm soon. Circumstances teach them to compromise their neutrality, creativity and professionalism. Those unable to do so, find the atmosphere stifling and unresponsive. The dream of visionary Sardar Patel of apolitical Indian Administrative Service has been throttled by the present day political leaders because of their vested interests.

Winding up

There is decline over the years in the quality, competence and commitment of the officers. In-discipline, violence and lawlessness are increasing every day allover the country. The task of governance has become very difficult. People wonder, why the steel-frame of yesteryears has been corroded to such an extent that it is 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.

Way out

The only way to get out of such a depressing situation is to form a slim and trim bureaucracy as suggested by Parthasarthy. A smaller bureaucracy with a smaller role, greater transparency should be set up and there should be a statutory Civil Service Board to control postings, promotions and transfers.

It is not fair for the bureaucrats to toe the lines of politicians and play a secondary role in the matter of administration, as they have Constitutional protection. Besides their task to work without any fear, favor, undue pressures or political interference has been made easy these days in the presence of vigilant mass media.

Many persons from intelligentsia are still hopeful that, despite all the weaknesses, the bureaucracy, which had helped the political leadership in transforming the British colonial Government with a democratic republic, met successfully the challenges of resurgent India and laid the foundation of modern India and recently pulled the nation out of the great economic depression could still perform miracles with the help of a few really brilliant officers. There are still few bureaucrats, who are committed, idealist and hardworking. They, along with some more sitting on the fence, could successfully meet the challenges of 21st Century. They only need once again, the sincere and committed leadership, which could understand their position and allow them to function judiciously.

(Fundamental causes of the deterioration of bureaucracy to be discussed in my next post – “Ailments of Present bureaucracy”)

July 4, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment