Despite being the pivot of Indian democracy, the civil services have performed rather poorly when it comes to administering the routine. Discuss. (250 Words)

Mentors Comment:

In recent times, you must have seen posts on social media about public servants donning various hats that do not belong to their core areas. They were supposed to work routine stuff according to their service domains but lately, they have been going off track and doing all kinds of other stuff. The main role of civil servants was to regulate and see the proper functioning of their administration. The question is based on these roles and why they are failing to do so.

In the intro, discuss how gradually bureaucracy shifted its role from the implementation of policies to formulating the policies. With economic reforms, how they were entrusted with development administration and they were devoid of their regulatory function.

In the next sub heading of reasons behind this trend, discuss the reasons why bureaucrats shifted their focus from their routine tasks. Politicians became handicapped without them and hence delegated their functions to bureaucrats, the expert domain became a generalistic domain for various specialist services and agencies, etc will form the first part of this discussion.

In the same discussion, provide the consequences of this effect. How scams, environmental disasters go unchecked in their nascent phase because civil service is busy in other services. Policies fail because there is no one to implement them because everyone is busy in formulating them.

Provide the solutions like delegating non-core tasks of bureaucracy to NGOs and local governments, regulating the rules and conditions of the services, binding the ACRs of public servants with their core areas, downsizing bloated institutions etc.

Answer:

The independence of the country posed new challenges to the civil servants. The welfare of the Indian subjects was viewed as the central task to be performed by the Indian state. and hence they were to be an instrument to carry out welfare functions which, among other things, included the routine tasks of providing minimum conditions for the day-to-day living of Indians. Different agencies became the pivot of democracy, such as All India Services, central government services, election commission, office of CAG, UPSC, bankers and later on CIC and CVC.

But the onset of economic planning in India enjoined on the Indian civil service the role of development administration. Now they were expected to participate in the administration of public enterprises, formulation of socio-economic and political policies, elimination of poverty, development of rural areas, combating inflation, effective monetary management, reduction of gender gap, elimination of social inequity, etc. in the process of national development. 

Coming to a micro-level, in our daily life, we must have seen teachers doing the tasks which they were not supposed to do like conducting a census or managing elections; bankers deviating from their core and the routine job of banking to other noncore services, etc. Why is this happening?

How civil services lagged behind in administering routine:

  • The role of the civil services inevitably changed from rowing to steering
  • The emphasis here is on all public services, which subsume all technical, professional, law enforcement and administrative personnel. 
  • In recent times, the services have been facing a grave crisis of identity and role definition. 
  • Top bureaucracy has neglected the mundane yet critical regulatory and inspectorial functions of government.
  • Many institutions and instruments of governance are losing their original purpose and rationale.
  • Neither, the top political leaders nor senior administrators barring some exception have displayed genuine outlook to make the desired use of these services. 
  • To work with elected representatives as partners for a common cause meant that the administration had to be action-oriented, people-oriented and result-oriented.
  • All scandals in the public sphere and deficiencies in public services are caused by regulatory and inspectorial failures.
  • From small frauds to the much larger ones, a trail can be established to track how regulatory and inspectorial lapses at various levels created them or made them possible.
  • The closure of the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, is another case in point. 
  • If the regulators and the inspectors tasked with ensuring that the plant did not pollute the environment had held the management responsibilities at the first sign of deviation from norms, Sterlite would not have been closed today, destroying jobs and hurting families in their thousands. 
  • Most reforms in government fail not because once implemented, they yield unsatisfactory outcomes, but because, they never get past the implementation stage. It happened because civil servants are busy with another stage of policymaking them.
  • Suddenly political class is relying too much on civil services in India for their task of formalizing policies. This is affecting the service domain of most of the institutions who just could not perform their routine task

Way to reform this issue:

  • Restructuring and ‘rightsizing’ central government services by decentralizing functions to states and local government and by entrusting certain functions to NGOs, cooperatives, and autonomous bodies. 
  • A downsizing of the civil service and a focus on fewer, truly public activities, where better delivery could be demanded.
  • Non-core, Non-essential activities of the government could be given up to private parties. 
  • The public enterprises in the country should be forced to categorize their activities as core and non-core and concentrate on the area of their business competence.

The Indian bureaucracy is terrific at rising to the occasion in an emergency but not when it comes to administering the routine. Officers of the civil services constitute the maintenance crew of the government, primarily in charge of its regulatory and oversight functions. Everything else they do is secondary. It is when they fail to recognize this role of theirs that things begin to go hopelessly wrong often with horrific consequences all round. Therefore, for all core tasks, it is high time the government should free our civil services from its ongoing noncore tasks.

 

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