A policy by itself cannot solve problems: it has to be implemented and an implementation strategy requires to be meticulously planned which demands efficiency to implement a reform and what is more, institutionalize it.
Mere acceptance of a report is not enough. As functionaries are accustomed to the older order of things there is always a risk of their reverting to past practices unless strong efforts are made to institutionalize the reforms. Civil servants, looking after implementation must definitely be a cut above the rest, as they would be called upon to display vision, drive and imagination in the handling of administrative reform. Administrative reform must not be taken as a routine job: the ringing in of a new order requires extra effort and drive.
A strong minister must be put in charge of the reform agency: this is part of the larger requirement of an assured political stability in the country. A systemic reform necessarily confronts numerous problems strewn all over
its path including its follow-up stages. All this demands high-quality leadership. Nor must one expect miraculous change in public administration immediately after the administrative reform has been implemented fully. Reform is a slow, complex exercise and quick results cannot be expected.
Monitoring, reporting and evaluating mechanisms too require to be developed. Implementation has been the proverbial Achilles’ heel of administrative reform in India. Recommendations of administrative reform are too plentiful, easily remindful of the leaves in Vallambrosa.
The distressing fact is that India’s implementation record has been dismally poor. Implementation must be consciously taken into account and well planned while engaged in the tasks of formulation of administrative reform recommendations. Implement ability of any particular recommendation must be seriously weighed by administrative reformers. Also administrative growth confronts definite limits which a reformer may ignore at his own peril.
It has never been contended that administrative reform in India has no future. What is asserted here is that a bold non-stop instrumentalism must preferably inform administrative reform: the administration can be strengthened only gradually. It requires continuous top level leadership and monitoring particularly at the follow up stage.
What generally happens is that the more pedestrian a recommendation the greater is the chance of its acceptance and implementation. But the critically crucial recommendations in a report may be one or two: when such recommendations do not gain implementation, little impact is likely to be made on the system.
One such recommendation for example, made by the much-quoted Administrative Reforms Commission (1966-70) was in its report on personnel administration relating to ‘road to the top’: By side-tracking this recommendation the much-needed structural reform of Indian administration was overlooked and a rare opportunity was missed.
In short, administrative reform is a slow meandering process, requiring enormous patience and tact. In his book Administrative Reform Comes of Age, Gerald Caiden concludes, ‘Administrative reform is difficult and fraught with problems.
It rarely succeeds as expected and usually fails through faulty implementation’. No proposal for reform is likely to be effective if there is no significant change in the mindset of the bureaucracy. An attitudinal and behavioural revolution must animate India’s bureaucracy, frozen as it is in the antiquated mould of colonial culture.
The new slogan should be: service with a smile, not after a mile! India’s foremost need, today, is to repair and reconstruct the country’s public administration even though the country shows a proneness to set up a committee on administrative reform at the slightest provocation. A serious approach to administrative reform must follow a systematic path. Public administration of the land has become too unwieldy picking up a lot of non-essential work, resulting in blatant oversizing.
The Constitution of India prescribes what the Government of India should pick up and what it should not. The latter should restrict it to functions included in the Union List of subjects enumerated in the Constitution. The immediate logic flowing from this is that the ministry of agriculture should be the priority item for dismantling, at least slimming.
As a general rule, the Government of India should restrict its operational sphere to the Union List of subjects only. Even in the Concurrent List which is constitutionally open to both the levels of government, the Government of India must be more circumspect and restrained in its advances.
This would result in considerable pruning of the machinery of governance. Better methods of work and improved administrative practices must be introduced. Recourse must at the same time be taken to delay ring to save manpower and quicken decisions.
Accountability and transparency must be vigorously enforced, and reference here must be made of the need for citizens’ charters and the freedom of information law. Corruption, which is presently India’s greatest shame, must be brought under firm control.
Citizens’ charters are to guide citizens through details of services they are entitled to. But the government including the civil service appears to have paid little attention to its blueprint. A citizens’ charter enjoys but paper existence carrying little operational meaning in government departments.
The charters tell the citizens details of the services they can avail of, the officials who will do the job and the time frame in which such services are to be carried out. The charters mostly cover public works, transport, industry, health, food and civil supplies, sales tax, and excise departments among others, and organizations entailing extensive public dealings.
Officials, however, continue to behave in a feudal manner and the charters are treated as mere pieces of paper pasted outside government offices. This is the finding of a study into the implementation of the citizens’ charter and corruption in Delhi government departments.
According to a study, charters are incomplete and cannot be implemented as they do not provide detailed information. The transport department does not mention bus routes or timings, while the food and civil supplies department’s charter does not include ration cards. On the corruption front, touts and “middlemen” freely operate in all zonal transport department offices for all manner of services.
Police constables have been complaining that transport department officials demand a bribe even from them for driving licensees. The study suggests that in the income tax department, receipt of funds after processing under 143(1) (a) rule, issue of tax clearance certificates, and allotment of PAN card involve “mutual corruption”, while scrutiny, search and seizure operations and survey operations involve “extortionist corruption”.
In the excise department, there is a “strong nexus” between businessmen and officials. Some businessmen act as conduits between officials and other businessmen. In the food and civil supplies department, touts charge between Rs 350 and Rs 700 for getting ration cards made. Agents “working” at the industry department get “work” done at residence of department officials. The study does not just find fault. It offers a remedy too: the induction of ombudsmen or “Janta Praharis” (people’s sentinels) – on the pattern of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation – to oversee the charters’ successful implementation.
It may be said in the end that structural remedies are welcome but more crucial is the attitudinal change on the part of the local bureaucracy, which when achieved would solve most of the problems confronting the citizens of India. A list of committees and commissions set up on administrative reform since Independence is in the Annexure.