Notes on the growth and control of Bureaucratic Power in India

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Constitutionally bureaucrats are only the loyal and supportive public servants, but in reality they are the most powerful and influential figures who constitute “a fourth branch of government”. In Japan, civil servants are viewed as the permanent politicians. In UK, they are known as ‘Britain’s ruling class’. Marxists complain that class interests operate through the bureaucracy. Thus there is a growth of bureaucratic power everywhere and it depends on some factors.

In the first place, the policy process is structured in such a way that in almost all the modern states, civil servants get enough scope for their influence. In their capacity as policy advisers civil servants can select policy options and present them before ministers in such a way that the politicians cannot differ. While implementing a policy, civil servant can reinterpret the content of policy as per his own interest or he can delay or thwart it’s implementation.

Secondly, the relationship between minister and civil servants is a great source for the growth of their powers. Theoretically, Ministers are political masters and bureaucrats are loyal subordinates. In practice, the relationship may be different. Civil servants are full time policy advisers, while ministers are only part time departmental bosses. The ministers have less time and energy for departmental work, as they give time for constituency work, media appearances, attendance at ceremonial and public functions, foreign visits and party meetings. In short, however dedicated and resourceful ministers may be, their role is restricted and the operational matters are left to officials. Because of their expertise and specialist knowledge, the civil servants are vested with responsibility and they can translate broad policy goals into practical legislative programmes.

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Thus the bureaucracy has emerged as a powerful instrument of government. Administrative, legislative and judicial powers are concentrated in its hands, leading to the emergence of a new despot in Liberal democracies. It is feared, as bureaucrats are responsible to no one, unchecked bureaucratic power means the death of representative and responsible government.

Control over bureaucracy

The principal forms of control over bureaucracy can be classified as follows :

  • The creation of mechanism of political accountability.
  • The politicization of the civil service.
  • The construction of counter-bureaucracy.

Political accountability

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State bureaucracy can be made accountable to the political executive, parliament, assembly, the judiciary or the public.

In parliamentary democracy, political control over bureaucracy largely depend on their respect for the principle of ministerial responsibility. Generally, ministers are alone responsible to the parliament/assembly for their acts of omission and commission including the actions of their civil servants. But in UK, ministerial responsibility implies civil servants have an exclusive responsibility to their ministers and therefore to the government. This type of political control can make the civil servants accountable.

Legislative control may also help to ensure their political accountability. The Parliamentary select committees can cross-examine civil servants relating to their actions, to probe and investigate the working of each department.

Judicial control of bureaucracy is found in systems where administrative law and public law are separate. In France, the supreme administrative court exercises general supervision over all forms of French administration.

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Bureaucrats can be made accountable to the public in a number of ways. One method is Ombudsman system, which offers a means through which individual grievances can be redressed. Informal pressure on bureaucracy can be exercised by mass media and interest groups, through which their status and public standing can be damaged by the exposure of corruption and mal­administration.

Politicization :

One of the common ways of exercising political control is to make bureaucracy committed to the party and ideological lines of the Government in power. This can be possible through spoils system which ensures higher level of loyalty and commitment towards political executive.

Counter-bureaucracies

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The final mechanism of political control is through a structure designed to support or assist politicians or to act as a counter weight to the official bureaucracy. In most of the modern states like UK, France, Italy etc., ministers have taken ‘outsiders’ as their advisers, who also share their various other responsibilities. This type of counter-bureaucracy has been developed in the

USA in the form of executive office of the President or in India in the form of PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). The purpose of counter-bureaucracy is to help the political executive to compensate for the imbalance in the relationship between amateur temporary politicians and their expert, permanent and professional officials. However, this form of political control has its drawbacks. It leads to duplication of government agencies and bureaucratic in-fighting.

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