Millennium Post

Bureaucracy must up connectivity quotient

I am quite awestruck by two sentences from Chetan Bhagat’s first nonfiction, ‘What Young India Wants’. In his introductory letter to the readers Mr Bhagat says ‘The system changes with better policies and ...Society changes with better values’. The sentences indeed are an undisputable and undeniable fact of our collective existence, however, the question that needs to be begged to be asked is whether policies exist independent of social values or does one beget the other. 

The question assumes immense importance because policies are products and by-products of our collective social requirements, needs and demands. However the manner in which they are churned out and executed successfully depends, to a large extent, on the value orientations of the policy makers both elected and appointed. For long it has been argued that policies of the system are most effective when the deliverers operate in sync with values that characterise the social setup.

So far as the value orientations of the elected representatives (policy makers) are concerned it must be noted that a democratic setup has mechanisms embedded in its structures to ensure that those who govern can take the governed for granted only at their own perils. This is not to say that all elected representatives are very sensible and humane in their approach towards their people but then the governed at least have the required ways and means to set them right. While the electoral accountability of the representatives to their electorate ensured through a resilient civil society as well as an ever expanding influence of the media both conventional and social ensures that the elected policy makers remain within bounds and accessible (or at least appear to be) to the public at large, the absence of any apparent parallel or countervailing mechanisms vis a vis the bureaucracy makes it prone to arrogance, more often than not resulting in usurping of power over the people and for itself. 

In fact, the attitude and value orientations of the appointed officials have been and remain one of the biggest concerns in all post-colonial societies.  Even in the context of developed societies aphorisms such as ‘trained incapacity’ and ‘overload’ have been used to describe bureaucratic inefficiencies. The noted American sociologist, Robert Merton in his seminal work Social Theory and Social Structure (1957) was very emphatic in pointing out to what he called ‘trained incapacity’ of the bureaucracy which he saw emanating from its tendency of ‘over conformity’. Merton believed that bureaucrats have the tendency of prioritising their personal interests over that of the organization. He also saw them as being resistant to changes in established routines. Most importantly Merton argued that because they emphasized formality over interpersonal relationships, and had been trained to ignore the special circumstances of particular cases, they appeared ‘arrogant’ and ‘haughty’.

All these points assume renewed significance in the Indian context for the obvious reasons that the newly elected government in India has chosen to follow the bureaucratic model of delivery. The government is well within its legitimate rights to choose the delivery model that it thinks would best serve the interest of the people and if it goes with the bureaucratic delivery mechanism so be it, however it must ensure that not only the deliverers deliver but they do that with a sense of ease, humility, and respect towards the public. Accessibility of the governors to the governed is of utmost importance in this regards.

Right from his victory speech at Vadodra and Varanasi to the national address from the historic Red Fort, Mr Modi has been forthright in dovetailing his visions of a resurgent nation with that of an inclusive one and he for sure knows that it is impossible to achieve that unless the administrators have a real understanding not just of the social realities but also of the norms and values that inherently, characterise us. For instance, his idea that the elected representatives adopt a minimum number of villages in their respective constituencies is laudable and remarkable for it is one way in which the representatives can in humble ways remain in touch and bonds with their electorates.

As far as the bureaucracy is concerned, with loads of administrative experience behind him Mr Modi is well aware of the clogs that could possibly hinder his designs. Though, one needs to appreciate the way he has gone ahead disciplining the bureaucrats not just through clear instructions but also by walking the tight rope of punctuality himself yet, he must ensure that they remain accessible and within bounds. One way to do that could well be by making the higher bureaucracy get a feel of the real India and that may require a relook at the codes and the service conditions of the bureaucrats especially those under the coveted banner of All India Services. Assigning them responsibilities to oversee and coordinate the developmental works in the villages that are to be adopted by the members of legislature (as per the call given by the Prime Minister) is an idea worth examining.

It is an axiomatic truth that many of our career bureaucrats at top levels of their career are today cut off from the harsh realities of our social existence. The vertical mobility of their careers could plausibly be a reason for that. It is not being suggested that vertical mobility must be stopped but it also needs to be ensured that complacency does not creep in them and that they remain in touch with the social realities despite moving up and high in the service ladders. Sending high officials to live in districts once in a while could be another idea worth having a look at.  Being amidst people would surely rekindle modesty and humility in them. It would also reequip them with the much required hands-on approach of problem solving. Most importantly, being in sync with social norms and values would plausibly make them more humane, humble, civil and efficient.

The author teaches at Hindu College, University of Delhi. He is currently the India Research Outreach Coordinator and the Universitas 21, Doctoral Fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK
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