It is in times of grave economic crisis that the attention of a nation’s leadership turns to administrative reform. After the armed conflict with China in 1962 and the successive years of drought, the economic situation of the country was worsening. Around 1965, India apparently found itself at the nadir of its fortunes.
In 1966, the most comprehensive examination of India’s public administration was entrusted to a high-powered Administrative Reforms Commission under the chairmanship of Morarji Desai (later K. Hanumanthaiya). Hitherto, similar commissions were as a rule manned by civil servants.
The ARC made a departure from such a practice as its membership was drawn from public life, which was a distinct feature. The ARC was the single most comprehensive investigation into the country’s public administration in independent India. It produced nineteen reports, making a total of 581 recommendations. This was in addition to the reports of the study teams and task forces set up by it.
The most momentous report submitted by the ARC relates to personnel administration. In the report also, its most critical recommendation is about opening the ‘road to the top’. The Commission wanted to promote specialisation among civil servants and to make even the “heaven-born” IAS to specialise, thus curtailing its all-purpose character. Selection to the top posts was to be based on the result of a mid-career competitive examination open to all officers. It recommended a scheme of reform which envisaged entry into the middle and senior management levels in the central secretariat from all the services.
Where the regularly constituted services were already in existence to attend to specific functions, the middle and senior level positions in the corresponding areas in the secretariat were normally to be occupied by the members of the concerned functional services. And, in non-functional areas the middle level personnel were to be drawn, through the device of a mid-career competitive examination, from all the sources on the basis of equal opportunity for all.
The selected persons were required to gain specialized knowledge of and experience in one of the following eight areas of specialization at headquarters, the allocation in a particular specialty depending on their qualifications and previous background:
1. Economic Administration
2. Industrial Administration
3. Agricultural and Rural Development
4. Social and Educational Administration
5. Personnel Administration
6. Financial Administration
7. Defence Administration and Internal Security
This recommendation about specialization was not accepted by the Government. The ARC wanted the generalist India Administrative Service to specialize, but the Government turned down its plea. A unified grading structure was recommended; posts entailing similar qualifications, difficulties, and responsibilities were to be grouped in the same grade. This also was not accepted.
The knowledge and expertise relevant in the various specializations are as follows:
Economic Administration : Currency, banking and financial institutions, international trade, foreign aid and foreign exchange for company affairs, problem relating to incomes, wages and prices.
Industrial Administration: Economic growth, industrial licensing, import of technical know- how and also problems relating to incomes, wages and prices in common with specialism
Agricultural and Rural Development: Rural cooperatives, community development, irrigation, rural electrification, agricultural science, agricultural economics, rural sociology.
Social and Educational Administration: Education, social welfare and family planning, urban development. Labour welfare and industrial relations, factory and labour inspection, information and public relations.
Personnel Administration: Management analysis involving work-study, grading and of posts, organization and methods, selection techniques, training and career management; supervision and control, motivation, morale and staff welfare.
Financial Administration: Cost-benefit analysis, budgeting and expenditure control, pert’ budgeting, programme evaluation review technique (PERT), etc.
Defence Administration and Internal Security: Intelligence, concepts of strategy and logistics, weapons systems, systems analysis, defence industry, defence research and develop etc.
Planning: Assessment/projection of demand and resources, models of economic growth, output ratios, inter-sectoral balances, cost-benefit analysis of projects and schemes, program methods, techniques of progress reporting and feed-back, and of evaluation of results, opera research, and systems management.
The implementation of the ARC’S recommendations was weak, colorless and tardy. The Com had given considerable thought to the question of implementation. In a bid to enlist political sup wanted a specially constituted cabinet committee assisted by the cabinet secretary to be in charge of implementation.
A minister was to be co-opted to this committee when reports concerning portfolio were under examination. To ensure speedy action, it was recommended that the Governor should place before Parliament, within three months of the receipt of a report from the Commission white paper indicating decisions on its recommendations.
To reinforce this process, an all- parliamentary committee was to be set up to keep a close and continuous watch over the implement of the accepted recommendations. The Commission specifically asked the Government not to i the committee of secretaries – viewed by it as the proverbial gate-keeper to administrative reform processing its recommendations.
This was a sensible recommendation made by the ARC, but its acceptance depended upon political leadership. In India, administrative reform has rarely emerged above the level of rhetoric; the polite leadership has shown consistent passivity in regard to administrative re-inventing despite a lot of beating.
The arrangement devised by the Government of India was to entrust the responsibility of accept or rejecting the Commission’s recommendations to the ministry directly concerned.
Processing of resulting reports was made the responsibility of the Department of Administrate Reform, in which an ‘implementation branch’ was created to attend to this work.
The committee secretary was mandated to comment on the specific recommendations before these could be taking up by the cabinet. In practice, the committee of secretaries became the de facto highest tribunal sitting in judgement over the Commission’s reports. In short, the career bureaucracy socialised in the culture of status quo played a dominant role in the strategy for implementation, though the Commission had recommended just the opposite.
What is more, Parliament was kept out of the picture since no white paper on implementation was ever issued, nor any parliamentary committee established. The Governing simply placed on the table of each house of Parliament the progress report indicating the fate of each of the recommendations.
To repeat, the accountability of a civil servant must be in terms of his performance. This requires that the tasks of an organization must be defined clearly and a time frame should also be laid down. What is emphasized is that a ministry/department should ask itself well in advance what it proposes to do in the ensuing year and formulate as specific and precise an answer to this question as possible. When a blue-print of this kind is ready, it should be possible to assign tasks and responsibilities to different wings and divisions and to individual officers within them.
A pre-requisite for ensuring individual accountability is an effective system of appraisal of performance. The performance appraisal of a civil servant must be focused firmly on the performance of a task whereas at present, it is about the general assessment of a person. Another requirement is a certain minimum stability of tenure of civil servants.
All these aspects need to constitute a package and must be enforced as a whole. If administrative transfers and postings are arbitrary and too frequent, accountability would always remain an unrealisable dream.
Economy in public administration, another pressing problem, compels rationalization of business methods and procedures. The prevalent practice of involving the maximum number of people in decision making must be given up and the goal ought to be ‘to involve minimum of people in decision-making.
Equally necessary is the streamlining of the classical staffing pattern being observed in organizations. The Economic Administration Reforms Commission was unimpressed about effectiveness of economy measures such as a general ban on air travel by government servants, payment, employment of temporary staff and the like.
These serve only cosmetic purposes with lasting effect. It is also seen that an economy drive generally focuses on ‘non-plan’ expenditure, too is not altogether correct. The traditional staffing pattern characterised by the pyramidal structure with a very wide base and a narrow apex, coming down from colonial times, is no longer and must be changed.
The structure to be adopted should have fewer posts at lower levels and i posts at higher levels as it would lead to greater economy and efficiency. A restructuring which increase the number of officers and reduce the clerical levels would not necessarily result in the reduce of employment opportunities in the country.
In any case, the creation of new desk jobs in the Government as an instrument of generating employment would be a plain mistake, considering particular the cost of retaining an employee in the Central Government. Surpluses thrown up by efforts to reduce the staff requirements of different Departments can be absorbed in filling the vacancies which do aria
The reasons for the increase in the number of government employees are: (i) an enlargement oft area of governmental activity, (ii) Government’s working methods and procedures, and (iii) weakness in the organizational framework arising from an obsolete staffing pattern.
The scope of government activities and the staff needed to carry them out was bound to be enlarged in independent India, such a process need not continue indefinitely. New activities and new responsibilities should be assumed only after computing their cost.
While some new activities may have to be taken or old ones expand some others can be discontinued or curtailed, the staff requirements of the former being met by the thrown up as surplus by the latter.
This is not done. The surplus staff does not remain idle: they discover work for themselves by spending their time re-examining and what has done elsewhere! India must adopt the policy of scrap and build’ as is the mandatory practice in Jape.