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8th March 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. Five measures to reform the bureaucracy
  2. Railways and a question of transparency

Editorial: Five measures to reform the bureaucracy

Context:

  • The Prime Minister’s recent remarks in Parliament criticizing, rather uncharacteristically, the pervasive influence of IAS officers on our system of governance has met with low-key but predictable reaction.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Role of Civil Service in Democracy

Mains Questions:

  1. Catch them young, train them frequently, invest in specialization, measure governance quality and desist from appointing retired officials. Discuss the statement in context of civil service reforms in India.

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Need of civil Service reforms in India
  • Measures to Improve the Performance of Civil Services in India
  • Way Forward

Need of civil Service reforms in India

  • Accountability: The traditional measures of accountability that rely upon line or top-down measures do not necessarily provide a good guide to the accountability culture as a whole. Thus, the need is the recognition that multi-dimensionality of accountability.
  • Emphasize Performance: The present promotion system in civil service is based on time-scale and is coupled by its security of tenure. These elements in our civil service are making the dynamic civil servants complacent and many of the promotions are based upon the patronage system.
  • Need for Specialist Knowledge for Senior Level Appointments: The task of policy making is becoming increasingly complex and needs specialist knowledge of the subject. Under the existing system, the most senior level appointments in the Central secretariat as well as top field level posts are made from amongst the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers who are generalists.
  • Effective Disciplinary Regime: Presently, the provisions of discipline rules are so cumbersome that it becomes very difficult to take action against a delinquent employee for insubordination and misbehavior. Thus, once appointed, it is almost impossible to remove or demote an employee.
  • Transforming Work Culture: Most government departments suffer from poor work culture and low productivity.
  • Streamline Rules and Procedures: A large number of rules and procedures relating to citizen’s day to day interface with government are outdated and dysfunctional and give opportunity to public servants to delay and harass.
  • Stability of Tenure: The ever-present threat of transfer also affects the morale of the officers and their capacity to stand up to undesirable local pressures.

Measures to Improve the Performance of Civil Services in India:

Reform at the recruitment stage:

The IAS and other services should start attracting at a much younger age some of the best products of our finest educational institutions. In order to achieve this,

  • First, a national campaign should be mounted to motivate the brightest to take the plunge;
  • Second, the age of entry and the attempts allowed to appear for the preferred service should be substantially reduced;
  • Third, the examination process should be compressed. The recruits should spend their most productive years serving the nation, not in the arduous examination process. Besides, merit should be valued as much as diligence.

Train the recruits frequently:

  • The curriculum at the academies, as in Mussoorie, should be revised periodically in keeping with the challenges of the time.
  • Administration is far more complex these days and nothing can prepare a trainee better than an intensive exposure to a well-conceived and rigorous programme. Both induction training and subsequent in-service ones, tailored to specific needs, should be integrated with one’s career progression.
  • Training should be valued much more, not as relaxation time after an exhausting examination or a break from the rigours of field/office work. This issue can be handled by a group of experts alone, with a clear mandate.

Sectoral specializations within broad generalisation:

  • IAS officers have always been, at senior and policy-making levels, using the services of subject-matter specialists. But even to discuss matters with specialists, a clear understanding of technical issues is often necessary.
  • Inadequate appreciation of the nuances and implications of available choices restricts their capacity to take an informed view and render the right advice to the Minister. This results in delay and clumsy decision-making.
  • There is, therefore, an urgent need for specialisation in broad sectors such as the financial, infrastructural, social and regulatory ones, after the officers complete 10-12 years at the sub-district and district levels.
  • State governments, in consultation with the IAS associations, and other experts, can start identifying officers — based on their qualification, aptitude, preference and track-record, from the seventh year onwards in an open and participative manner — for such specialisation verticals.

Use big data to measure governance quality:

  • Criticizing governance quality without being able to measure it leads to subjective and often erroneous conclusions.
  • Institutions like the Public Affairs Centre,  University of Oxford have been attempting to identify indices and parameters for such measurement in ranking states in India based on governance (Public Affairs Index – Governance in the States of India – 2020) and ranking countries based on civil service effectiveness (International Civil Service Effectiveness Index 2019), respectively.
  • The Government should devise appropriate methods to measure the performance of, say, departments/state governments, based on big data. This, in turn, would reflect on the performance appraisal of the bureaucratic leaders. For example, the secretary of a poorly performing department cannot be rated as outstanding.
  • Experience shows that non-application of mind and refusal to take initiative or decision (often arising from lack of subject-matter knowledge and fear of being punished or prosecuted later) have perhaps done much more harm to governance than even corruption.
  • While good performers should be encouraged and protected for decisions taken in good faith, periodic cleansing of the incorrigible deadwood through judicious use of the Fundamental and other disciplinary rules is also as important.

Discourage the practice of appointing retiring/retired officers:

  • Clever bureaucrats know the advantages of being on the right side of power and that any “extra” help rendered will never go unrewarded. Unfortunately, this perception demotivates the honest and hard-working ones who constitute the overwhelming majority in the higher bureaucracy.
  • Therefore, except for very few Constitutional posts like the CAG’s, most of the quasi-judicial posts may perhaps be offered to officers well before their retirement, discouraging service beyond their normal age of superannuation.
  • Such a step, that no political dispensation is likely to agree to, would go a long way in eliminating the widely prevalent practice of sycophancy and favour-seeking. Outstanding retired officers can always be used in myriad other advisory capacities.

Way Forward

Only a strong-minded and reform-oriented Prime Minister, with wide public support, can take the bureaucracy by the horn and make headway, working in tandem with the state governments and other stakeholders. Blaming the system without reforming it can turn out to be largely symbolic.


Editorial: Railways and a question of transparency

Context:

  • Recent public statements about the performance of the Railways on the freight front seem to suggest that all is well with the Railways.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Infrastructure (Railway)

Mains Questions:

  1. The railways are in the midst of a financial distress and are faced with fundamental organisational issues. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Railway restructuring
  • Need for restructuring
  • Issues raised with respect to restructuring
  • Way Forward

Railway restructuring:

  • Creation of Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS): A unified central service by the unification of the existing eight Group A services of the Railways in consultation with Department of Personnel and Training and UPSC to facilitate recruitment and enable Railways to recruit engineers/non-engineers as per need.
  • Re-organisation of Railway Board: Railway board will no longer be organized on departmental lines, and replaced with a leaner structure organised on functional lines.
    • The board will have a Chairman, who will act as ‘Chief Executive Officer (CEO)’ along with 4 Members responsible for Infrastructure, Operations & Business Development, Rolling Stock and Finance respectively.
    • The Board will also have some independent members, who will be highly distinguished professionals with deep knowledge and 30 years of experience including at the top levels in industry, finance, economics and management fields to help Railway Board in setting a strategic direction.
  • The existing service of Indian Railway Medical Service (IRMS) to be consequently renamed as Indian Railway Health Service (IRHS).

Need for restructuring

  • To curb departmentalism and bring more efficiency, accountability and cohesion: Railway departments are currently working “in silos”, which manifests itself in the form of unhealthy competition among departments as well as pursuing narrow departmental goals at the cost of organisational goals and objectives; and
    • Unification of services will end this ‘departmentalism’, promote smooth working, expedite decision making, and create a coherent vision for organisation.
  • For Better personnel management: Officers from a particular service are likely to grow only within their respective departments, except some general roles such as divisional railway manager (DRM), and general manager (GM).
    • Providing three different entries in the organisation created the distinct problem of fixing seniority among all services, each having a different (and not fixed) date of entry every year.
  • Modernizing the railway: Govt has set a vision of making railways a 100% safe, fast and reliable mode of transport for passengers and freight. The plan is to modernised the entire network by investing around Rs 50 lakh crore by 2030.

Issues raised with respect to restructuring

  • Merger of services decision is said to be unscientific and against established norms, because it proposes to merge two fundamentally dissimilar entities, with multiple disparities i.e. between IAS and IES.
  • The decision that posts of some the general managers from the various departments would be raised to the “apex” level and hence at par with the board members is problematic.
  • Even after the merging of cadres, departments will continue to exist, and it would be the executive’s job to settle the disputes at the end of the day.

Way Forward

The Railways are in the midst of an unprecedented financial distress and are faced with fundamental organizational issues. This is no time for evasiveness and obfuscation but for clarity and transparency. It is also time to confront reality.

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