Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bureaucratic reform

This is the draft of a letter I wrote to a Bangalore newspaper on the topic...

One of the major promises made by the UPA government has been the reform of the bureaucracy. I would like to suggest through your paper, a couple of measures for the same.
First, change the selection process. It is patently obvious that the system needs the best managers. However, the screening process selects, at best, the most academically qualified people and, at worst, India's best information store-keepers. I fail to understand what good a 300-point-worth essay is in executing an infrastructure project? How will a 300-point-worth general studies paper help in improving primary education? It is not my point that language skills are unimportant, or that general knowledge is immaterial, but testing essay-writing skills selects people who can frame arcane laws in Victorian English, not people who can connect with the populace and deliver services. Interested readers may want to look up the Indian Flag Code available at ( to get a first-hand feel for the kind of candidates that the system selects.
What is needed is a screening process that selects people with the right attitude - people with integrity who can work as a team, lead in dire situations, and take responsibility for their actions. In short, the best managers, not the best academics.
My next suggestion is about taking responsibility for one's actions. Unfortunately, in today's system of 'collective responsibility', no single person gets the credit, nor does anyone take the blame. The 'system' therefore continues to plod along, not only wasting money, but more importantly wasting opportunity. This should change - every official in the government should have targets every year. Action should be taken against officials who don't meet targets, and the entire process should be made public. Only then, will we see accountability and action - not very different from in the private sector.
One hopes the UPA government recognizes these issues and takes action to remedy the drawbacks in the system. Three cheers for bureaucratic reform!


H said...

The Indian bureaucracy is a legacy of the British and I guess nothing much has changed there since Independence.
Agree with you that the civil servants should be accountable.

Remember seeing some initiatives like Janaagraha in B'lore making the Government accountable.

kattricker said...

Certainly the ICS as it used to be called during British rule had a very high reputation and was a place only for the extremely brilliant. Candidates were selected only on high merit - be it British or Indian. However the ICS code was modified to fit the new nation later. Lee mentions in his book about the ICS that was once the backbone of the executive and how it deteriorated over time.

Certainly the selection process is most important and I agree with Gops' article on the reforms. One of the founding principles of IAS has been to give freedom and empowerment to the officers both of which hardly exist today. Officers have to report to uneducated babus and are transferred left and right according to their whims. There is also hardly any incentive to perform. While we still have capable officers who would fight this cancerous system (we have seen recenlty how BDA improved from a loss making insignificant unit to fully computerised profit making unit under Jerome), its only a wonder if it can last!

Gops said...

I totally agree with you Karthi, and Harsha...

Who is Lee, BTW? And which book is this?

kattricker said...