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Friday, June 2, 2023

Reforming Indian Bureaucracy Part III: Recommendations for Overhaul of the system

Part I of the article dealt with the structure of the bureaucratic system and critique of its performance. Part II dealt with efforts made in Modi Sarkar 1.0 and 2.0 to reform the system. This part will deal with recommendations offered by former bureaucrats for overhauling the system

Suggestions from experts and former bureaucrats  

1) “What ails the IAS and why it fails to deliver”: N.C. Saxena

The 2019 book “What ails the IAS and why it fails to deliver” by retired civil servant NC Saxena examines the failure of the Indian civil services. While pointing out the failure of the civil service, he also notes that to some degree, the performance of the services is affected by political leadership citing Bihar as an example where the same bureaucracy has delivered better results under Nitish Kumar as CM vis-a-vis its performance in the past under Lalu Yadav as CM [5].

In his opinion, several factors contribute to the failure of the bureaucracy:

  • Low officer to population ratio
  • Brief tenures
  • Frequent transfers by state politicians
  • Inadequate staff in some instances
  • Dilatory budget procedures
  • While on one hand, funds are not released on time, on the other, certain poorer states with shortage of staff are unable to spend the small amount of funds assigned to them
  • Badly designed pro-poor programs like ICDS, PDS, NREGA which should be better designed [5].

His suggestions include:

  • Fixing tenures of officers
  • Improving information systems for better monitoring
  • Allowing citizens to have an oversight role to tackle matters like absenteeism of officers
  • Scaling up lateral entry
  • Bringing in staff from NGOs and professional institutes [5].

Some of his more radical suggestions include:

  • Reform must address determining the kind of work environment in terms of deciding whether civil servants should be generalists or specialists or a combination of the two
  • Retiring 25% to 50% staff between the ages of 52 and 55
  • Drastically reducing the cadre and super cadre posts in a super time scale
  • Redeploying the 70% staff which is support staff (drivers, peons, and clerks) to other public services with manpower shortage like the judiciary, health, education, and police [7].

Some of the issues he has raised are being addressed. For example, as seen in Part II, lateral entry is being gradually scaled up. Similarly the issues of frequent transfers of officers by state politicians and short tenures are sought to be addressed through new rules framed in 2016 to curtail this.

Thus, the 2016 rules framed by DoPT make the PM and CMs the final authorities to decide on the transfer and posting of civil servants before the completion of their minimum prescribed tenure. The rules mandate that all states have a civil services board or committee dealing with minimum tenure to decide on transfers and postings and to record the reasons for transferring a civil servant before the completion of the fixed two-year tenure in a posting.

The civil services board is entitled to obtain the information from the administrative department of the state concerned while considering such a transfer [16].

2) Lateral entry and Generalists versus Specialists: Views of Economist Santosh Mehrotra

Santosh Mehrotra worked at the Secretary level in the Planning Commission during UPA rule. His book “Planning Commission: Its Past and Future” looks at governance issues in Bharat. Speaking on bureaucracy reform [19], his view on lateral entry and the generalist and specialist debate are:

  • Lateral Entry: Lateral entry will be ineffective unless it is scaled up. Even if scaled up to 30% of total recruitment, there would be 70% regular recruits who would pull back progress due to their emphasis on following procedures.
  • From generalist to specialist: He recommends that regular recruits be allowed to serve as generalists for 10 to 15 years, after which they should be given around 4 years to obtain a specialisation and one year after that, they should be assigned as officers on special duty to the ministry in their area of specialisation–so as to learn on the job.

In other words, they should be given a 5 years transition period to become specialists, so that they can serve as specialists in the last 20 years for their career. He suggests that there should be three kinds of specialisation: social sector, economic sector, or infrastructure. The civil servant would not be allowed to change the sector once he has opted for a given specialisation.

The civil servant should not be allowed to become a joint secretary until he has obtained a specialisation.

 3) Restructuring the Bureaucracy: Praveen Kishore

As seen in Part II, the merging of all services under the Indian Railways has been initiated and will be completed in November of this year [17] and [18]. Restructuring of other services is imperative. In his working paper [2], Praveen Kishore has called for streamlining the existing bureaucratic structure by reorganizing all Group A services and also some Group B ones.

Kishore’s in-depth analysis of existing branches, domains, and functions uncovers the clumsy design of the current structure. He proposes ways by which it can be streamlined and systematized. Analysing 25 of the 48 Group A services, he suggests how the required institutional reorganization can be achieved.

  • His basic premise is that administrative functions must not be confused with specialisation or domains. Overlaps and confusion have arisen due to not distinguishing between administrative functions and specialised services/domains. Various branches of the services should represent broad functional domains.

Functional domains must be broad because some overlap between functions is inevitable. Broad domain branches would ensure the required degree of flexibility, fluidity and permeability. Domain branches would relate to specific functions rather than serving a specific department or ministry.

  • With respect to specialists and Generalists, he suggests that specialists are suitable lower in the hierarchy and Generalist skills such as strategy and coordination are necessary as officers move up the hierarchy.
  • Some services already correspond with broad domains of specialisation, while others are actually administrative functions. Thus, IPS already corresponds to a branch domain whose functions are law and order and internal security. So does the IFS which deals with diplomacy and internal relations.

The IFoS too is a specialised branch domain that would, in the present context, broadly cover the function of Environment and Resources and should include areas like environment, ecology, forest, flora, fauna, natural resources, and energy, which would be the Indian Environment and Resources Service.

  • The two departments of the IRS, the IRS-IT and IRS-CE deal with direct taxes and customs and central excise, respectively. IRS-CE only deals with the centre’s revenue collection. Together, the IRS-IT and IRS-CE with 9000 officers to manage 1.6 lakh staff are top-heavy services. Downsizing is essential. Further scope of IRS-CE which currently engages in revenue activities only for the centre must be extended to include revenue activities for states and local levels.

IRS-IT and IRS-CE officers must provide leadership and management inputs at the centre, state and local levels. Currently, with introduction of GST, the CGST serves for the centre and SGST for different states. Some services like the Indian Corporate Law Service can be integrated with the IRS.

  • Accounts/ Finance is as an administrative function required by every department and cannot be characterized as a specialised domain. Further, the Group A services comprise too many accounts related services which can be integrated with ease into a single Indian Accounts and Finance Service.

Since Revenue is a public finance function that deals with fiscal policies, treasury, operations, revenue and taxes, it is close to Accounts/ Finance. The Audit function is carried out after completion of finance activities. Therefore, it would be logical to synthesize Revenue, Accounts/Finance, and Audit into the broad functional domain of Indian Revenue and Finance Services.

  • The IAS cadre too needs to be broken down into broad domains. Some of the 12 domains suggested by the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) were administrative functions rather than domains, for example, General Management and Financial Management. The other domains suggested such as HRD, Infrastructure, Social Empowerment, Health, etc can also be integrated to arrive at broad domains.

Thus, the 2 broad domains possible are: 1) Economy and Industry: Economic and industrial development functions such as energy, trade, commerce, transport, urban development, infrastructure, etc, in other words, the Indian Economic Development Service. 2) Human Development: All welfare activities, public goods, and human development, public health, poverty alleviation, sanitation, social protection, rural development, education, etc, in other words, the Indian Human Development Service.

  • Some services, he suggests have outlived their utility and may need to go like the Indian Postal Service which has little relevance in today’s time. Likewise, the Indian Information Service (that used to run Akashwani and Doordarshan) is no longer relevant.

Other services that can either be disbanded or merged with other services include the Indian Defence Estate Service, The Indian Ordinance Factories Service and, the Armed Forces HQ Civil Service from Group B. Similarly, the future of the Indian Economic Service and the Indian Statistical Service needs to be debated.

Using similar logic for various other services and departments, he proposes six broad domains into which existing services can be integrated.

In the Table below he provides a proposed structure while noting that it is illustrative and not exhaustive.

Table: A mapping of the six broad domains to the type of functions and the ministries

Broad Domain Type of Function Illustrative domains, departments, areas
Police and Internal Security Sovereign, Public Goods Police, Internal security, Law and Order, Intelligence Investigation, Crime control
Human Development Public Goods, Economic and Social Management Public Health and well-being, Hygiene, Social welfare, School education, Higher education, Rural development, Social security, Poverty alleviation
Economy and Industry Public Goods, Economic and Social Management Industry, Infrastructure, Commerce, Trade and markets, Energy and power, Transport, Communication, Industrial management, Urban development
Revenue and Finance Sovereign, Economic Management Public finance and treasury, Revenue and taxes, Financial management and control, Accounting, Audit, Economic and financial regulation, Financial markets
Environment and Resources Public Goods, Economic and Social Management Environment, Forests, Ecology, Flora and fauna, Agriculture, Food, Animal husbandry, Natural resources, Minerals, Petroleum and natural gas
Foreign Relations and Diplomacy Sovereign Foreign relations, Diplomacy, Multilateral negotiation, Country’s representation at international organizations

In this part, an attempt has been made to highlight some recommendations made by experts. In Part II, it was noted that the government has taken some bold steps with a view to making the bureaucracy effective.

The next step would be acting on recommendations from experts in the subject. In fact, the Niti Aayog report “Strategy for New India at 75” also mentions reducing the number of civil branches through rationalisation and harmonisation. It appears that the government will definitely be taking steps in this direction so that complete overhaul of the system is achieved.

References (continued from Part I and II)

[19] Interview with Economist Santosh Mehrotra,  Financial Express, April 2019: https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/lateral-entry-in-civil-services-induction-of-9-joint-secretaries-will-not-change-anything-need-to-overhaul-civil-services-says-santosh-mehrotra/1550069/

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