Thursday, August 11 2022

Every government since 1947, regardless of political affiliation, has expressed frustration with the inefficiency of India’s vast bureaucracy and the maze of red tape. Hundreds of committees made recommendations, but the basic structure of public administration has remained unchanged. Therefore, it is no small feat that the government has embarked on an ambitious effort in recent weeks to reform the administration from its roots. A keen observer would have noticed that some of its key elements have already been introduced.

Just weeks before his death in 1964, Prime Minister (PM) Jawaharlal Nehru said his greatest regret was that he had failed to change a predominantly colonial administration. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi expressed similar sentiments in Parliament in 1966. “What India needs today is a revolution in the administrative system without which no lasting change can be made in any area.” .

The first Administrative Reform Commission was established in 1966 under Morarji Desai, but it became a victim of bureaucratic laziness. His report of 20 volumes and 537 recommendations would be tabled in Parliament in 1977. Desai had then become Prime Minister, but he was unable to implement the recommendations.

The 1991 reforms freed many sectors of the economy from direct government control. But the functioning of the bureaucracy has undergone little change. Therefore, a second Administrative Reform Commission was established in 2005 under the leadership of Veerappa Moily. In the preface to a report tabled in 2008, Moily wrote about the bureaucracy: “She believes that her authority and legitimacy do not flow from the mandate of the people but from an immutable body of rules that she has prescribed for herself. , without any correspondence. to the needs and aspirations of the population ”.

This brief history is important in order to appreciate what is currently being attempted. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been experimenting with reforms such as side entry and digitization since 2014. However, the new effort has an entirely different level of ambition.

Here are the measures introduced over the past six weeks: First, a national recruitment platform. Almost all discussion around government recruiting tends to focus on that of the top bureaucracy through the Union Civil Service Commission (UPSC) exams. However, this thin layer of official officers represents only a tiny fraction of the public service. The rest of the recruiting is done through a bewildering network of agencies and exams. The lack of transparency not only makes it difficult for applicants, but has often led to allegations of manipulation. The government has therefore announced the creation of a national recruitment agency which will carry out a common eligibility test across the country. For now, this will be a standardized first level filter that will allow applicants to advance to the final selection. The scores will be shared, so that state governments, the public sector and even the private sector can use them as they see fit.

Second, compulsory retirement to remove the unfit. The health of any organization depends on the systematic elimination of dead wood. Unfortunately, entering the Indian civil service is seen as a guarantee of employment until retirement. Interestingly, the service rules have long included provisions allowing officials to be automatically retired after completing 30 years of service and past the age of 50 (or 55 even if they have less than 30 years of service). This can be done under Basic Rule 56 (j) / (l) and Rule 48 of the SCC Rules (pension). Around 320 senior officers have already been retired through this route since 2014, but the government reissued the guidelines on August 28, supporting the Supreme Court rulings. It also provided basic criteria and procedures for using these provisions to remove officials “of questionable integrity” or “deemed ineffective”.

Third, the rationalization of autonomous bodies. The central government alone has hundreds of autonomous bodies – think tanks, industry bodies, advisory councils, etc. These entities have a role to play in the delivery of public services, but inevitably there is also a great deal of duplication and redundancy. It is rare that a government agency, once established, is liquidated. For the first time, the central government is leading a comprehensive initiative to review the functioning of these institutions. In August, the Ministry of Textiles single-handedly abolished the All India Handicrafts Board, the Cotton Advisory Board, the Jute Advisory Board and the All India Handloom Board. Their tasks have been transferred to other existing organizations for better service. Other ministries are also carrying out similar exercises.

Fourth, the faceless taxpayer charter and valuation. Improving the interface with the citizen is an important aspect of administrative reform. The tax office is an obvious starting point. In August, the Prime Minister announced a taxpayer charter which clearly sets out 14 rights for the taxpayer.

The announcement of the Charter accompanied the move to a faceless assessment system where cases must be assigned by an automated system. Together, it is hoped that the measures will significantly reduce persistent complaints of harassment and rent-seeking.

The general orientation of the reform effort must be clear: to improve the entry / exit of personnel, to rationalize the processes, to eliminate the superfluous organs and to improve the interface with the citizen. The momentum will only accelerate.

Sanjeev Sanyal is Senior Economic Advisor, Government of India
Opinions expressed are personal

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