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The Bureaucracy Hurdle

The Bureaucracy Hurdle

By Tanuj Gupta

Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

India is a land of contrasts. Cliché and written about enough. So let’s look at one of the more out- of- the- box contrasts that we see but usually ignore in society today, that being the contrast between administrative officers and the people who run the country, the contrast between our legislature and our executive.

So on one hand you have individuals who qualify ridiculously difficult examinations to be able to attain a position in the administration and on the other hand you have barely educated individuals making the laws, which the former set of individuals would then have to implement. While some may argue that this is the beauty of the Indian democracy that someone with absolutely no educational qualification can lead those with the highest academic standards, the bigger picture cannot be ignored.

Not only does this hierarchical structure make things more difficult for the bureaucrats, they often come under much criticism for delays or mistakes that in most cases, aren’t their faults. And while there is no empirical evidence to suggest that education makes one a better leader or decision- maker than others, there is enough of a hint in the way things are going to see that the current system is certainly flawed. So decision making is populist which makes implementation in many cases practically impossible and even where it is possible, there is so much interference from the higher levels that it becomes very difficult to work.

This brings us to the other aspect of bureaucracy. That of the relationship shared between the politicos and civil servants. While understandably there does exist an authority-responsibility relationship between the netas and babus, the quality of this relationship has suffered due to the attitude that most of these lawmakers appear to have towards the bureaucrats. While in an ideal world these two pillars would work hand in hand, in reality there is a great discrepancy in the way this is approached, with the officials always being undermined by the politicos.

This manifests itself in other ways as well, particularly in case of a conflict of interest between the two parties. As was evident in a recent case concerning the son-in-law of a popular politician and a high profile administrative official, it is usually muscle and political power that triumphs over the written law, so much so that every once in a while, even laws are bent in order to accommodate those in power. Not only is this massively demoralising for the administrative officers, it also leads to a situation where such individuals either have to fall in line with the practices as told to them or be transferred to some obscure part of the country where hardly any benefits would accrue to them, the accrual of which is an important incentive for many administrative officials to continue working.

While is incorrect to blame only politicians for the mess our executive finds itself in, a large portion of it can be attributed to the callous attitude that both parties involved happen to have. With a new government and a new way of doing things hopefully things will change for the better, but if early indications are anything to go by, the more things change, the more they appear to remain the same.

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