Steel frame of India for Sardar Patel, IAS faces 'disproportionate' blame for all and sundry

By Dr Arjun Kumar. Dated: 1/12/2021 1:58:53 PM

Reforms in the administrative apparatus of India has been a long-sought-after demand. Efforts were made by setting up the First Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC-I) in 1966 and then the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC-II) in 2005. Both the commissions came up with several observations and suggestions, most of which are yet to see the light of the day.
While much water has flown under the bridge since the last of the two ARC reports, the focus has yet again shifted on the need for administrative reforms in the event of the current government’s aim to ‘reform, perform and transform’ to build a self-reliant or Atmanirbhar Bharat.
In a webinar organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, on the subject Administrative Reforms towards Atmanirbhar Bharat, retired IAS officer and incumbent director, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), SN Tripathi, shed light on how this aim of building an Atmanirbhar Bharat can be achieved and what would be the role of the State and the Bureaucracy in achieving this. He also dwelled upon several aspects of the state, the bureaucracy and on how India needs to focus on new IBM’s – Innovative Business Models to become truly self-reliant or Atmanirbhar.
The state
The state is entrusted with the duty of providing physical, financial and economic safety and security. It is expected to not only provide equality of opportunity but also equality of outcome. Tripathi drew a comparison between the approach of the state post-independence and in the contemporary context.
He added that initially there existed an expansionist state approach that promoted the largesse of the state. Governance was equated to the presence of the state in every domain and not on governance per se. This approach culminated with the huge BOP crisis that India faced in the 1990s. The current government is a departure from this approach and is working towards reducing the bureaucracy and making the citizens Atmanirbhar, added Tripathi.
While explaining the desired role the state, Tripathi said that the government has no business in doing business and it must be liberated from these responsibilities.
Bureaucracy
The ‘patron saint’ of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel famously referred to IAS as the ‘Steel frame of India’. And rightly so, over the years, the IAS produced able administrators that built the country that India is today.
Albeit, it is to be remembered that modern-day India is not just the product of the work of IAS officers but that of the cumulative efforts of the entire gamut of politicians, the state-level bureaucracy, the citizens and the other stakeholders involved. The credit accrues to all.
However, when it comes to criticism, when something falls apart, when a policy or program doesn’t meet its expectations, the bureaucracy is subjected to equivocal and unilateral blame. In the words of Shri Tripathi, “From sunset to sunrise all blame falls on the IAS officers, the MPs and MLAs”.
He added that the bureaucracy has to satisfy the 5 Cs: CBI, CIC, CAG, CVC, and Court while coming up with policies and actions that are feasible, sustainable and acceptable to all and sundry. However, the disproportionate blame charged onto the bureaucracy is a major reason for poor functioning and lack of improvement in the Indian Institutions.
Bureaucracy has to satisfy 5 Cs CBI, CIC, CAG, CVC and Court while coming up feasible, sustainable and acceptable policies and actions
As regards the structure of the bureaucracy, Tripathi notes that it must become leaner as a high Bureaucracy Mass Index -- BMI is undesirable. This is corroborated by the recommendations of the ARC-II and as reflected by the 5th Pay commission which called for right-sized and better-paid bureaucrats.
He also spoke about how Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi had gone on record to say that their greatest regret was that they could not change the colonial mindset of the Indian bureaucrats. He concluded, the aim should be to make bureaucracy Jantanirbhar or dependent on the citizens and to make the citizens Atmanirbhar or self-reliant.
Innovative business model
Tripathi emphasised that the role of the state and the bureaucracy must be clearly understood and defined. Such an understanding along with new IBMs or Innovative Business Models any country can become Atmanirbhar.
He pointed out that the most striking feature of the Indian political system is the legitimacy that it enjoys. This legitimacy is present at all the three tiers of the Indian federal system. It is from this legitimacy that power, accountability and transparency flows.
Such a democratic legitimacy is a unique feature and innovation of India that has helped the country manage contradictions, retain statehood despite the diversities and continue to remain a state after so many years. Whenever this legitimacy was on a shaky pedestal, like the period from 1977 to 2014 when coalition governments ran the show, governance took a backseat.
Additionally, added Tripathi, to tackle our issues and problems, the academicians and the academic sector must produce innovative tailor-made solutions that are India centric. These solutions should be suitable for our culture and rely less on western ideas.
Further elaborating on the IBM concept, Tripathi spoke about the business model that was adopted by India post-independence. He pointed out that the system that was put in place subsidized private goods with state money. Such an approach created a dependence where people expected government support from cradle to grave.
He noted that there exist over 700 centrally sponsored schemes and other facilities in the form of employment schemes, housing schemes, subsidised food distribution schemes amongst other things that led to lack of focus on the provision of public goods and public facilities. It is creating a crippled society.
Tripathi stressed that we need better business models and solutions that will assist to create wealth and employment for all rather than spending on programs that creates dependence and makes the society crippled. He said that the government does not create wealth, rather it is the individuals who do that and therefore the private sector should compete with the public sector to create more wealth and employment. Citizens must become self-reliant for the country to become self-reliant; he adds.
Speaking on the models that are needed to achieve Atmanirbharta, Tripathi added that the academic world should work to create world-class universities like Harvard and Carnegie in India. Such a model which will develop an educated and knowledge society will demand good governance and this will in turn usher in good governance.
In his closing remarks, Tripathi agreed that the Indian macroeconomy is strong and adds that the revival in the GST collections and power consumption post the Covid-19 induced lockdown proves that the bureaucracy is working diligently along with the other stakeholders. He also appraised the various innovative policies of the current government that are aimed at saving money and enhancing the public sector and public good.
While responding to a question, Tripathi said that going into the future, India needs a state that has a lesser role, entrepreneurs that have larger roles, stronger banks, simplified bureaucratic processes, an education system that is delivering and ruthless implementation mechanisms.
Additionally, he advised that we must not put India in negative conservation and collectively project India’s growth story first and critical aspect second, while avoiding hostile elements as much as possible.
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*Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi; acknowledgement: Nikhil Jacob, research intern with IMPRI, pursuing post graduate diploma in Environmental Law and Policy from National Law University, Delhi

 

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