The organization of the secretariat has always been a challenging task. The problems of rational grouping, allocation of subjects, improving the process of decision-making have always received the attention of the state administrative reforms committees. Some of the problems as pointed out by these committees and experienced by the practitioners and observes are:
1. Whenever a new government is formed, more so during quick successions, the regrouping and reorientation becomes a problem. The exercise is unending. The secretariat, more than any other segment of the bureaucracy, receives the first shock of political changes in the government. It has to make quick adaptations to the aspirations and needs of every new government. With each new government, fresh effort has to be made to win the confidence of the new masters.
2. The tenure system of staffing, which ensures recycling of personnel between the line and staff positions, does not operate rhythmically. Resultantly, several senior civil servants continue to rotate between the Central and state secretaries and thus remain largely unexposed to fieldwork and the realities of administration.
3. The severest criticism of the secretariat is that it has concentrated too much authority in itself. The heads of the executive departments generally feel that they are kept as subordinates of the secretariat departments. This is so because the relationship between the minister, the secretariat and the executive departments would be one wherein the minister represents the will of the people, the secretariat acts as the brain and the heads of the executive departments act as the ‘thinking hands’ of the government. But, this ideal is followed more in its breach than in its practice.
A committee, reporting in 1985, observed:
The heads of the departments seem to feel that instead of creating conditions which will facilitate the smooth carrying out of the work, the secretariat creates hurdles in their way, which results in considerable delays.
Since the secretariat is the repository of all the power and authority of government, the lack of proper delegation to lower authorities is also a charge at its door. Sanctions of government are even today necessary for trival matters… Some of the senior secretaries agreed that while the proper function of the secretariat was to deal with policy matters, at least forty per cent of the time of the secretariat was spent on routine matters like sanctioning small amounts of expenditure, considering service problems of individuals etc.
The secretariat is not in touch with the field organization sufficiently closely with the result that what is happening in the field is not often known to the secretariat accurately.
An effective suggestion made by the Administrative Reform Commission in its report on State Administration (1969) was that there should be a uniform delegation of authority to the to the heads of the departments and an effort must be made by the secretariat to see that such delegation is effective at all levels.
4. Due to the dominant position of the secretariat, secretariat appointments are considered prestigious and the heads of departments hanker after postings in the secretariat. A secretariat posting also ensures an officer’s stay in the state capital. Moreover, he escapes the pressures and tensions of the field, which are enormous in a functioning democracy.
On the other hand, a stay in the secretariat assures him a cozy existence with many social amenities of life. He functions in close proximity to ministers and senior colleagues, which help in winning promotions and better postings.
5. There is yet another point of criticism: The process of decision-making at the secretariat level is too slow. There are too many levels and functionaries involved in the secretariat, leading to delays in the transaction of public business.
It is no doubt true that committees have been set up by the states from time to time to suggest measures for quick disposal of the cases. But, they are hardly implemented with vigour and zeal, with the result that the system soon falls apart. The ‘cell system’ experiment in Rajasthan is a glaring example of such an innovation.
6. Lastly, there is the problem of ‘over-administration’. Since independence, due to the proliferation of the state government’s activities, the number of government departments has increased remarkably.
The need for a bigger administrative apparatus will be felt with the diversification of the functions of the government and a natural corollary is the expansion of the secretariat activities. In addition, there are human and psychological factors at work, which explain the substantial proliferation of its business.
It is easier to create new positions in the secretariat, as the persons with decision-making authority are all located in the “charmed chamber”; the human factors rather than strict Weberian reason inevitably influence the decisions. This however, can be remedied, to an extent, by clearly defining the jurisdiction of the secretariat.
Though there has been a continuing debate on the utility or futility of the state secretariat, experience underscores the point that the secretariat helps in formulating and moderating policies in tune with the broader environmental imperatives; coordinates the approaches to governance so that they are properly synchronized; smoothens the Center-state relations; maintains financial discipline and control; formulates and monitors planning; regulates the personnel policy and administration; and even maintains a close linkage with the district administration.
The secretariat is the nerve-centre of the politico-administrative system of a state and its utility is not likely to be minimized. Even when the role of the specialist increases, the value of the secretariat is unlikely to be drastically reduced, for the needs of control and coordination will always remain of paramount importance.
Thus despite obvious criticisms and lacunae, the secretariat system has a bright future. What is needed is a positive and constructive approach to administration by those who move in the corridors of power.