Civil Services Reforms

The outdated nature of bureaucracy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Issues with the bureaucracy

The second wave of Covid has exposed the inherent weakness of the bureaucracy in India. The article highlights the necessity for reforms in the way bureaucracy functions in India.

Features of traditional bureaucracy

  • Preference to generalist: Weberian bureaucracy still prefers a generalist over a specialist.
  • Preference to leadership of position: The leadership of position is preferred over leadership of function in the traditional bureaucracy.
  • The leadership of function is when a person has expert knowledge of a particular responsibility in a particular situation.
  • The role of the leader is to explain the situation instead of issuing orders.
  •  Every official involved in a particular role responds to the situation rather than relying on some dictation from someone occupying a particular position.
  • Lack of innovation: The rigid adherence to rules has resulted in the rejection of innovation.

Covid exposed limits of traditional bureaucracy

  • A generalist officer IAS and State civil service officials are deemed an expert and as a result, superior in traditional bureaucracy.
  • Specialists in every government department have to remain subordinate to the generalist officers.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weakness of this system.
  • Healthcare professionals who are specialists have been made to work under generalist officers and the policy options have been left to the generalists when they should be in the hands of the specialists.
  • The justification is that the generalist provides a broader perspective compared to the specialist.

Is privatisation and private sector managerial techniques an answer?

  • The reform often suggested in India is new public management.
  • This as a reform movement promotes privatisation and managerial techniques of the private sector as an effective tool to seek improvements in public service delivery and governance.
  • But this isn’t a viable solution in India where there is social inequality and regional variations in development.
  • It renders the state a bystander among the multiple market players with a lack of accountability.
  • Further, COVID-19 has shown that the private sector has also failed in public service delivery.

Way forward: Collaborative governance

  • The most appropriate administrative reform is the model of new public governance.
  • Work together: In collaborative governance, the public sector, private players and civil society, especially public service organisations (NGOs), work together for effective public service delivery.
  • As part of new public governance, a network of social actors and private players would take responsibility in various aspects of governance with public bureaucracy steering the ship rather than rowing it.
  • As part of new public governance, the role of civil society has to be institutionalised.
  • It needs a change in the behaviour of bureaucracy.
  • Openness to reforms: It needs flexibility in the hierarchy, a relook at the generalist versus specialist debate, and an openness to reforms such as lateral entry and collaboration with a network of social actors.
  • All major revolutions with huge implications on public service delivery have come through the collaboration of public bureaucracy with so-called outsiders.
  • These include the Green Revolution (M.S. Swaminathan), the White Revolution (Verghese Kurien), Aadhaar-enabled services (Nandan Nilekani) and the IT revolution (Sam Pitroda).

Consider the question “What are the weaknesses of bureaucracy in India? Suggest the measures to improve the quality of public service delivery in India.”


New public governance is the future of governance, especially public service delivery.

Back2Basics: The Weberian Model of bureaucracy

  • The classic model of bureaucracy is typically called the ideal Weberian model, and it was developed by Max Weber, an early German sociologist.
  • Weber argued that the increasing complexity of life would simultaneously increase the demands of citizens for government services.
  • Therefore, the ideal type of bureaucracy, the Weberian model, was one in which agencies are apolitical, hierarchically organized, and governed by formal procedures.
  • Furthermore, specialized bureaucrats would be better able to solve problems through logical reasoning.
  • Such efforts would eliminate entrenched patronage, stop problematic decision-making by those in charge,, impose order and efficiency, create a clear understanding of the service provided, reduce arbitrariness, ensure accountability, and limit discretion.

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