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To deliver well, size matters

To deliver well, size matters
Does a government’s size really matter when it comes to delivering good governance? In business, a slim management and small workforce are generally linked with higher efficiency though the desirable manager-worker ratio varies from industry to industry. Contrary to general perception, India has one of the slimmest governments in terms of the bureaucracy-public ratio. It also has one of the laziest, underperforming and ineffective bureaucracies in the world. Except the population and the number of political parties, all else are in big short supply.

Going by Planning Commission stats and other reports, India’s central and state governments have only about a fifth as many public servants as the United States, relative to population. According to the 2011 census, India has 1,622.8 government servants for every 100,000 residents. In contrast, the U.S. has 7,681. The Central government, with 3.1 million employees including over 1.3 million in the state-run Railways, has 257 serving every 100,000 population, against the US federal government’s 840.

India’s police-population ratio is also among the lowest. This explains its growing crime rate, terrorist activity and Maoist menace, police apathy towards registering FIRs, sloppy investigations, fewer crime detection, charge sheet flaws, long judicial proceedings and low conviction rates. India has only 130 policemen per 1,00,000 population as against 752 in best-governed Singapore, Italy (465), Germany (296), France (356), South Africa (370), USA (277) and Russia (546).

Irrespective of the political colour of its government, India continues to be among the worst governed countries. Rampant corruption in bureaucracy and political administration has hindered good governance. India has managed to remain nearly at the bottom of the UN human development index, occupying the 135th position both in 2012 and 2013. India’s bureaucracy is among the most incompetent, corrupt and pliable to political masters. The Transparency International’s corruption index released in December 2013 ranked India 94th among 177 countries for the second consecutive year. The position improved slightly in 2014.

The recent incidents of harassment of honest bureaucrats in partly backward Uttar Pradesh, wealthy Haryana and politically volatile West Bengal by their respective elected governments, the arrest of a former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, on charges of receiving kickback in a $500-million-plus helicopter purchase deal from Italy’s Finmeccanica and the sensational 2014 year-end disclosure of a UP civic chief engineer, Yadav Singh’s illegally acquired assets worth Rs.1,000 crore, including Rs.12 crore in cash and diamonds weighing two kilograms found in his car by tax department sleuths, point at a growing trend of institutionalised corruption in India.

Ironically, Yadav Singh, whose engineering degree itself is being questioned as fake, was found “very useful” by UP’s two successive rival chief ministers, under whose political patronage he prospered and got promoted to top executive engineer’s position, responsible for implementation of thousands of crores worth local and foreign funded projects in the state. Allegedly, Singh used to collect kickback from engineering and project contracts for both political parties. Why do political parties patronise corrupt civil servants? Answers are simple: for kickback generation and cash collection for the party in power and protection of its party members and associates indulging in questionable activities.

Unfortunately, few political parties in India, regional or national, including communist factions, are comfortable with honest, sincere and efficient civil servants. UP’s young upright woman civil servant Durga Shakti Nagpal learnt it after facing suspension on a flimsy ground following her administrative action against local sand mafia, who enjoy patronage from the ruling political party in the state. Ashok Khemka, the most frequently transferred Haryana-cadre civil servant in memory, got even demoted to a less important job after he challenged the transfer of certain government-held land in favour of Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, for a very rate. Magsaysay awardee Kiran Bedi, Nazrul Islam and Damayanti Sen, all high quality Indian Police Service (IPS) officers had incurred wrath of their respective political masters for defending what they thought were morally correct decisions. Disgusted with the menace of politically-protected Mumbai’s land mafia, a frustrated Municipal Corporation deputy commissioner Govind Ragho Khairnar exited early from the service to launch a crusade against the rampant corruption in the government.

The strong business-bureaucracy-political nexus reached its climax during the 10-year rule by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), leading to a series of financial scams and mind-boggling loss of revenues to the government totaling Rs 10,00,000 crore. Following a series of CBI inquests, ministers, parliament members, bureaucrats and businessmen had to go to jail, almost in a procession, under the last UPA regime, hitherto unprecedented in the annals of Indian administration. The sequence of these unbelievable events made the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh publicly rue his government’s “governance deficiency.”

Given the background, Prime Minister Modi’s electoral vow before voters that he stands for ‘minimum government, maximum governance” may appear to be a tall statement. His government, started with a small 44-member council of ministers, is no longer minimum. It was expanded by almost 50 per cent to 65 in November, in less than six months in office. The size is larger than Morarji Desia’s (44), Rajiv Gandhi’s (51), Narasimha Rao’s (56) and Indira Gandhi’s (59) council of ministers. There could still be at least two more ministers inducted to the Modi government, following a political accord with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Nevertheless, a bigger council of ministers may be absolutely essential to deliver ‘maximum governance’.

The concept and practice of permanent bureaucracy seems to be at the root of weak governance. Instead, civil servants may be given an initial 15-year service tenure, after which they could take a superior UPSC examination to continue. Eminent persons from academia, non-government organisations (NGOs), willing industry professionals, etc., should also be given opportunity to serve the government. “This IAS-IFS culture based on one UPSC success covering all future failures must end. The civil service promotion should be merit-based. Those falling behind must leave,” says a retired bureaucrat turned minister.

Motivating government employees is a big challenge. Modi might be able to change the work culture primarily in the central government. However, he may still have no way to influence the state-level bureaucracy, especially those under opposition rule. Moving bureaucratic juggernaut and bending the ‘steel frame’ are not easy. The years of indulgence and political manipulation have made the government anemic. It is pathetically short of energetic young blood. Almost 50 per cent of existing government employees are above 40, habitually sloppy, clock-bound and politicised. IPA

 

Nantoo Banerjee

Nantoo Banerjee

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