The government of India has taken a pledge to catapult India’s economy past the $5 trillion mark by 2024-25. This would require reforms in all spheres of policy. Unfortunately, one important aspect that hasn’t gotten enough attention is an overhaul of our bureaucracy that is increasingly being seen as more of a dampener than facilitator of growth.
The Indian Administrative Services (IAS)
The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) was constituted in 2005 and in 2009, the Commission submitted around 15 reports on various aspects of governance. A bulk of the recommendations have not yet been implemented.
- In the meantime, the demands on the civil service continues to grow with the ambitious programmes of the government.
- Reforms in civil services are a continuous process and several initiatives have been taken in recent years by the present government.
- These include, the introduction of a multi-stakeholder feedback (MSF) performance evaluation, introduction of online mechanisms for appraisals and filing of various returns by employees, implementation of e-office, and strengthening training and merit-based postings.
- About 18 states and 7 union territories have also discontinued the practice of interview for recruitments to lower level posts.
The associated problems
- There is a mismatch between positions and skill sets. Recruitment is not competency specific and often, the right person is not placed in the right job
- The rigid structure of our administrative services.
- Concentration of power in the hands of the top few.
- Shortage of manpower: Surprisingly, there are just about 5,100 IAS officers for a country of over 1.3 billion people. Expansion has been tardy while the challenges have grown complex.
- Generalist versus Specialist debate: As generalists, these men and women often have to deal with matters beyond their field of expertise.
- A related issue is the opposition to lateral entry, which hinders the development process. As the complexity of the economy increases, policymaking becomes a specialized activity. This creates an inherent need for the lateral entry of professionals into government service.
- Inefficiency is inherent in an organization focused on processes more than outcomes.
- Sub-optimal incentive structure: The IAS is also afflicted by a sub-optimal incentive structure, one that makes inaction safer than action. In recent years, retrospective probes of bureaucratic decisions are said to have sent chills down many a spine.
- Nature of government employment: Government employment in general tends to instill a kind of complacency that no private sector executive, who must perform or depart, would dare slip into.
Attracting talent and nurturing excellence, ensuring transparency and accountability along with participatory and representative decision-making are some issues that need to be addressed. But what the IAS system needs most acutely right now is not status quoism, but a new openness to change, perhaps even a shift in attitude from risk aversion to action orientation.
The strategy for 2022-23 should be centered on the implementation of the Second ARC recommendations that have been accepted by the government. Broadly, the constraints can be tackled through interventions in the following areas: recruitment, training and evaluation, and governance.
- Improve the teeth to tail ratio: Promote an officer-oriented culture and focus on expanding the numbers of officers.
- Objectivity in the recruitment and placement process: Widely disseminate job descriptions and selection criteria and eliminate elements of arbitrariness.
- Reduce the number of civil services: The existing 60 plus separate civil services at the central and state level needs to be reduced through rationalization and harmonization of services.
- Encourage lateral entry: Inducting specialists at higher levels of government will provide much-needed expertise.
- Nurture specialization: The key to reform in civil services is encouraging officers to cultivate specializations based on their education and skills early on in their careers. Wherever possible, longer tenure postings need to be made based on the officers’ expertise.
- Reorient training: Alter the current system of training to meet job-outcome oriented goals. With economic gravity shifting towards cities, training should be reoriented to focus relatively more on managing urban areas.
- Introduce mid-career training modules for all services.
- Strengthen and leverage online avenues for training
- Introduce pre and post-training matching of skills to determine postings.
- Digitize human resource records across states.
- Develop a competency matrix to monitor ongoing skill acquisition and help match requirements with resources in real-time.
- Institute an e-learning platform to conduct training modules.
- Mid-career exams/skill assessment might be undertaken to evaluate and decide on future postings.
- Introduce the ‘living university’ concept of value creation based on outcomes and good ideals.
- Develop ongoing training and immersion modules on a district-by-district basis.
- Consider replacing annual confidential reports (ACRs) with multi stakeholder feedback (MSF): ACRs could be replaced with MSF. It is important for MSF to be online to retain transparency and accountability.
- Institute goal setting and tracking: Institute the online Smart Performance Appraisal Report Recording Online Window (SPARROW) template in all central and state cadres.
- Incentivization: Review existing schemes and introduce new schemes of incentives for extraordinary performance
- Citizen-centric framework: An inclusive policy framework with citizens at the center needs to be developed. Apart from improving public access to information through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the Right to Information Act (RTI), the RTI’s management information system portal needs to be expanded to cover more public authorities, especially subordinate offices of ministries and public sector units.
- Institutionalize system for effective monitoring of Suo moto disclosures: To bring further transparency to public affairs and adopt safeguards to promote accountability, effective monitoring of Suo moto disclosures is essential.
- Enhance capability of public authorities: The capabilities and knowledge base of central public information officers (CPIOs), appellate authorities (AAs) and information commissions need to be upgraded.
- Protection of civil servants: Introduce an appropriate system of checks and balances, including for the process of suspension, to ensure that officers are given their due process and are not vulnerable to vested interests and political pressures.
- Revisit Allocation of Business Rules (AoBR)/ Transaction of Business Rules (ToBR): Every ministry/department should review their AoBR/ ToBR keeping in view present day requirements.
E-initiatives and Probity
- Ensure probity in governance: Strengthen institutional mechanisms for prevention and detection of corruption:
- Reviewing existing vigilance operating manuals and instructions to ensure probity.
- Improving transparency in placement through initiatives in recruitment, placement and training.
- Reviewing performance of officers based on probity.
- Strengthen implementation of a Centralized Public Grievance Redressal and Monitoring System (CPGRAMs): Develop a reform framework for the top twenty departments for periodic monitoring of grievance receipts. A revised version of CPGRAMS became operational in January 2018, which enables citizens to monitor the grievances lodged by them on a single screen.
- Implementation of e-Office: Implementation of e-Office may be expedited in all ministries/ departments; all states/UTs may also be encouraged to adopt it.
- Prompt delivery of services: Every department should seek to simplify their processes to cut administrative delays and ensure participatory feedback mechanisms for efficient service delivery. IT tools need to be expanded for single window clearances and stakeholder consultations in policy.
The vision of New India 2022 can only be realized by putting the steel frame under a reformed system of recruitment, training and performance evaluation to ensure a more effective and efficient delivery of public services to achieve the development goals.