Bureaucrats Haven’t Failed. But They Can Do Better

Source: The post is based on an article “Bureaucrats Haven’t failed, but they can do better” published in The Times of India on 17th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 Role of civil services in a democracy

Relevance: Civil Services Reforms

News: India is celebrating its 75th year of Independence in 2022. . This is a good time to reflect on the performance of the civil services, where it has failed, and where, if at all, it has made a difference.

Functions of the IAS: (1) Regulatory, (2) policy-making, (3) program implementation, (4) improving ease of living, (5) ease of doing business and governance, and (6) evidence-based assessments.

Issues in the functioning of the IAS

At present, the public perception is negative about civil servants. The number of civil servants who are involved in misdeeds has been disturbingly increasing.

Conformity: Conformity is preferred over competence, conviction, and willingness to take an evidence-based position in the present bureaucratic system where there are compulsions of political compliance.

Incentives: The civil servants including competent become conformist due to incentives of postings like foreign posting incentives.

Some good contributions

(1) 1991 economic reforms: The IAS has played a big role in the regulatory infrastructure, monetary and fiscal policy formulation, and in convincing the political masters to undertake liberal economic reforms, even at the cost of populism. Thus, they contributed to breaking the cycle of low growth rates and opening up the Indian economy, and allowing private sector participation with ease.

(2) Innovation in implementation of programs: (a) The use of technology for identification and portability in the Public Distribution System (PDS), and (b) Use of Aadhaar linked DBT and decline in leakages, the success of pro-poor public welfare was led by innovative civil servants.

(3) In dismantling the archaic laws in areas that were identified by the World Bank for reducing the compliance burden.

(4) The IAS officers have empowered 130 million women under the Livelihood Mission, facilitated 31 lakh elected Panchayat leaders, and contributed to poverty reduction and economic well-being like high rates of adolescent girls’ participation in secondary/ higher education; etc.

(5) They have contributed to empowering the poor through means of Technology.

(6) There are many young and idealist civil servants who are struggling to improve the lives and livelihoods of people in remote regions of the country., who are making a difference. However, they often go unnoticed.

What should be done?

The power of community organizations working with elected local governments.

There can be greater accountability through deepening democracy and the voice of the poorest.

There should be a ruthless crackdown on the black sheep, alongside a thrust for greater professionalism among the IAS.

The political democracy will have to be more tolerant to evidence-based dissent and the right person in the right place, with a lower premium on conformism.

The people should change their perception about civil servants like IAS.

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