Civil Services Reforms

Why India’s bureaucracy needs urgent reform


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Article 312

Mains level: Paper 2- Reforms in bureaucracy


The bureaucracy that took India through the last 75 years can’t be the one to take it through the next 75 — we need a proactive, imaginative, technology-savvy, enabling bureaucracy.

Role of bureaucracy and challenges it faces

  • The civil services, and the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in particular played important role in holding India together post-Independence.
  • Much of the impressive nation-building across sectors happened because of their dedication and commitment.
  • It is also forgotten that the bureaucracy, unlike the private sector, is a creature of the Constitution and is bound by multiple rules, laws, and procedures.
  • Understaffed: As per estimates compiled by the Institute of Conflict Management, the government of India (GOI) has about 364 government servants for every 1,00,000 residents, with 45 per cent in the railways alone.
  • About 60 per cent and 30 per cent are in Groups C and D, respectively, leaving a skeletal skilled staff of just about 7 per cent to man critical positions.
  • We are grossly understaffed.
  • Inaction: Further, faced with extensive judicial overreach reporting to an often rapacious, short-sighted political executive, and a media ever ready to play the role of judge, jury and executioner, the bureaucracy has in large part found comfort in inaction and ensuring audit-proof file work.


  • Get out of business: That we need not be in many sectors is well-recognised — leave them to the markets — and politicians must get bureaucrats out of business, in more ways than one.
  • Prevent punitive actions: To increase the officers’ willingness to take decisions, one possible solution is to legally prevent enforcement agencies from taking punitive action, like arrest for purely economic decisions without any direct evidence of kickbacks.
  • Lateral entry: The toughest challenge is to change an inactive bureaucracy to one that feels safe in taking genuine risks.
  • Lateral entry needs to expand to up to 15 per cent of Joint/Additional and Secretary-level positions in GOI.
  • Recruitment process: Changes in recruitment procedures, like the interview group spending considerable time with the candidates, along with psychometric tests, will improve the incoming pool of civil servants.
  • Evaluation: Most importantly, after 15 years of service, all officers must undergo a thorough evaluation to enable them to move further, and those who do not make it should be put out to pasture.
  • Adoption of technology: Every modern bureaucracy in the world works on technology-enabled productivity and collaboration tools.
  •  India procures about $600 billion worth of goods and services annually — can’t all payments be done electronically?

Consider this question ” The civil services held India together after Independence, but if the country’s potential is to be realised, existing problems of inefficiency and inaction must be fixed. In light of this, examine the factors reasponsible for inefficiency and suggest the reforms.”


India cannot hope to get to a $5-trillion economy without a modern, progressive, results-oriented bureaucracy, one which says “why not?” instead of “why?” when confronted with problems.

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