Indian civil service needs servicing

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Dr Saumitra Mohan, IAS | saumitra_mohan@hotmail.com
In a classical democracy, it is the elected executive, which is supposed to lead the Government of the day in terms of charting out a customized path to the desired development based on the needs perceived and felt by it. However, it is always the permanent executive i.e. the bureaucracy which not only provides a semblance of stability between many elected governments which come and go, but also ensures the systematic execution of the developmental schemes and programmes as conceived by the peoples’ representatives at the helm of affairs. That is why, it becomes quite imperative that the latter remain alert to the tasks and duties assigned.

The overall motivation, commitment, efficiency and effectiveness of the permanent executive are some of the very critical factors, which often decide the effectiveness of any Government.

Hence, it is very important that the bureaucracy always remains on its toes to deliver on the promises made by the Government in keeping with the relevant norms of Good Governance. The periodic training and capacity building are also important to ensure that the bureaucracy retains the right attitude and orientation to deliver various people-oriented services while also upholding the true spirit of bureaucratic neutrality.

The bureaucrats need to walk like a trapeze artist to maintain a fine balance between the requirements of the ruling dispensation and democratic opposition without compromising the larger public interests. Whenever the bureaucracy has failed in maintaining this equilibrium, it has ended up between the two stools, inviting flak. Of all the things, the bureaucrats should never forget that with changing times, their role has come to be more of a facilitator and a coordinator. They need to ensure, as far as possible and practicable, that most of the services are delivered on an auto mode rather than requiring their physical presence and active intervention all the time.

As bureaucrats we often get to hear that it is the bureaucracy, which is actually running the show in this country. And believe it or not, many of us are often carried away by this ego-pumping myth. One feels that what the people actually mean by the said observation is that we actually have a bigger responsibility in running the affairs of the country than many of us are ever prepared to understand and appreciate. Most of us also forget the oath taken at the beginning of the service to serve our countrymen and start behaving like invincible and arrogant monarchs of the hoary feudal days.

Times have changed and so should we. We should never forget that we are here to facilitate the development administration in a democratic country to provide the elusive ‘Holy Grail’ of good governance. And we have to do the same in cooperation with and under the stewardship of the elected representatives in our ‘first past the post’ system.

Our role ought to be confined to assisting the latter in realizing the good governance to the best of our abilities and intentions. And while we do so, we should ensure that the same is done within the precincts and norms of the relevant rules and laws while also protecting the interests of all the stakeholders and the larger society we subserve.

Many of us are often so woolly-eyed to think as if we would never go and would always be here. We should never forget that we shall soon join the rank and file after our retirement. So, it is in our own vested interests to cut the rigmarole and ensure that the overall service delivery mechanism becomes as speedier, transparent and simpler as possible.

The unsavoury experiences we had before we joined the civil service or we still have in other states or in our dealing with other departments beyond our own turfs should prompt us to bring about incremental systemic improvements for better service delivery. We ought to ensure to reduce the pain and discomforts a citizen faces in getting a particular service in a government office in keeping with the dictum, ‘that government is the best which governs the least’. However, many of us love doing diametrically opposite by making the system further complex and byzantine by further adding on to the debilitating mumbo jumbo.

The system should be such which gives less scope for discretion and procrastination and is usually in consonance with the rational norms and rules of propriety. This is more required today when we have extended the ‘Right to Information’ (RTI) to every citizen including ourselves in this country. A good number of us also find the now justiciable ‘right to information’ quite irritating.

But consider its benefits as a common citizen and the benefits that might accrue to us when we are no longer civil servants and part of the system through which we now get things done easily for us simply because of the position and authority at our command.

In fact, many of us have already been availing the same if some of the landmark RTI judgements are to go by e.g. those pertaining to the now mandatory provision of getting to peruse one’s ‘annual confidential report’ or ‘performance appraisal report’. Ergo, we should ensure the better implementation of RTI in keeping with the spirit of this epoch-making Act.

But more than that we should all do what we are all supposed to do. A teacher should teach, a doctor should treat and a government official should deliver service at his/her table without in anyway becoming arrogant, inaccessible or difficult.

This is required more so at a time when people have become more ‘rights’ conscious and educated, thanks to the reasonably successful functioning of the Indian democracy. Doing thing in any other way may actually invite us trouble, going by the way RTI has come up or the way media breathes down our throat.

We should positively think of ourselves as God’s ‘chosen ones’ a la celebrated social scientist Max Weber. The Almighty has given us an opportunity and privilege to serve our countrymen at the expense of millions of our co-citizens. Lets’ make the most of this opportunity and leave our footprints on the sands of time as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would have said.

Our attitude to work and to the service seekers i.e. the citizens must change. Only then can we actually be a great country where each of our citizens can live a dignified life without in anyway much depending on people like us. We shall grow or perish together. As permanent executives, we have greater responsibilities to shoulder.

By not treating our people well, we are putting the same society at a danger of which we are also members. So, lets’ take another oath today to improve the system as much as possible if we wish to retain the sheen and shine of the celebrated ‘steel frame’.

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