Strengthening the steel frame of India | comment | Hindustan Times
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Strengthening the steel frame of India

A direct engagement with the bureaucracy has been one of the hallmarks of the NDA government, with the prime minister himself driving this. He set the ball rolling after assuming office when he made it clear that bureaucrats could directly communicate with the PMO on matters of importance.

comment Updated: Apr 22, 2015 21:15 IST
Indian bureaucracy

A direct engagement with the bureaucracy has been one of the hallmarks of the NDA government, with the prime minister himself driving this. He set the ball rolling after assuming office when he made it clear that bureaucrats could directly communicate with the PMO on matters of importance.

The issue of political interference was something he raised during his address to bureaucrats on Civil Services Day in New Delhi when he sought to make the distinction between interference and intervention.

The latter, he said, had to be the prerogative of the government since it ultimately had to convey the wishes of the people to the bureaucracy. Some of his earlier recommendations have been for officers to return to the place of their first posting to observe what has changed.

He also directed all secretaries to make presentations on the work of their ministries. One more, which did not go down well with some in the bureaucracy earlier, was to ensure strict attendance and timing.

All this was clearly aimed at putting back the steel in the steel frame. While the PM has taken the lead in supporting the bureaucracy, the message he is conveying should go right down the line to the political class in both the Centre and states. There have been many instances of political interference, especially when an officer has tried to take on a powerful lobby.

In fact, some of them have lost their lives in the course of such duties. The government should be a facilitator to the bureaucracy, conveying policy to it and, of course, keeping a check on it, but the principal aim should be to lessen red tape.

The PM’s exhortation to civil servants to relate their motivations and experiences to young people is a worthy one, especially when the service is no longer a preferred career option. The question of ‘punishment’ postings and transfers of bureaucrats too must be looked into if the service is to regain its lustre.

The idea of institutional memory, that of those retiring right from peon to chief secretary, recording their experiences which could be stored online is a proposal which could serve to prevent mistakes being repeated and best practices being observed. The real task before the bureaucracy is to move with the changing needs of a young India in a digital era.

If both the PM’s observations and real reform take place in the bureaucracy, India has a chance to disprove the Goldman Sachs prediction that India will take a decade to reach the Asian average on government effectiveness.