Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Background, Necessity & Suggestions for Administrative Reforms in India


It all started with the Britishers who came to India over five hundred years ago and ruled for about 350 years till we got independence in 1947. That time there were two broad classes- the British rulers and the ruled natives. Even after the independence we have the similar situation- the rulers and the ruled. The relation hardly changed. The native rulers never considered themselves as the servants of the people, but the masters of them. And on the other hand the general mass thought the rulers as aliens - who deserve retaliation. The government agencies or the officers are concerned about their right rather than their duties. In fact they are immune to the ordinary punishment system which made the officers more arrogant.

During the course of alien rule and transition of power we inherited several bad things like, arrogance, divide and rule policy, conspiracy, oppression, official manipulation, etc. Similarly we ignored to learn good qualities from them like, discipline, punctuality, administrative capabilities, civilized manners, etc. Thus the division got more emphasized - the administrators think the public as untouchables, and the public think the administrators as predators. In this backdrop the basic nature of service got faded. The administrators aim now is to gratify these officers or agents. After over 61 years of independence we are not in any better state of affairs. So it needs reforms, or correction - for the better.


Now let’s take up a few important cases of specific nature, as following:

Electoral Reforms :

Democracy is the rule of majority, but it has become a rule by a handful of powerful manipulators. They use coercive methods of money power, muscle power, criminal power, and political/diplomatic power to get voted to office. For example : recently a noted inter-national criminal has applied from jail, for inclusion of his name in the voter list so that he’ll contest the UP elections. In all probability he’ll get it, because he has all the above mentioned powers. But general public like us have filed papers half a dozen times during the last eight years for the same just to be refused the legitimate right to vote, even though we are the permanent residents. Being in jail is sufficient reason that a prima facie case exists. These candidates should be debarred from electoral process. Secondly a minimum of literacy, say STD 10 or +2 should be mandatory for contesting an election.

Judicial System :

This is mainly based on a “witness system” and we all know how they are manipulated by the powerful. In one of the famous automobile hit and run cases the family of accused said that they have distributed lakhs (hundred thousand) of rupees to the victims’ family out of compassion and humanitarian grounds, so that they wouldn't testify against the accused. And rightly, the amount is worth more than several times the lives of hapless victims and their kin. Government can never protect them nor compensate their suffering even if the accused are convicted. So even if in the field of justice the powerful have their say.

Another example, one judge has reportedly said that he knows that the accused is guilty but in the absence of witness he can’t do anything. Now the question arises as to how the judge is so sure of the truth - and this was established later when the case was reopened on media’s interference - by his sheer knowledge, experience, faith, commitment, judgment, behaviour of the advocates and pleaders. If all these satisfy him, then why not the system?

Thirdly, the legal community doesn't like the cases to be decided quickly, because, there will be no work for them. So it's in their interest that the legal process keeps lingering.

Capital Punishment :

Recently a bench in the Supreme Court opined that the corrupt officials should be hanged in the public view. I support this on principle but of course with two variations. There should be more convictions and more capital punishments, but the executions should not be in public, and the method of execution should be painless and clinical, like by administering morphine or overdose of anaesthesia (silent execution).

Jail Reforms :

Now criminals are safe, enjoy life and operate crime comfortably from the jail through cell phones. Today every critical area like banks, hospitals, diplomatic area ban mobile phones, but not jails on the grounds of human rights. Now the question is where are the HRC when the crime was committed? One has to understand that they are criminals and not humans. Cell phone operators cancel operation on the ground of use by another, but they allow criminals the service and that too in jail. This should be immediately stopped.

Secondly, almost every bail getter restarts its criminal activities. Those who are not likely to restart are actually those who are not likely to get bail in the first place. On the other hand, all the under trials and accused who have already undergone the same amount of term if they are convicted for the crime they are accused for should be released. This will help in de-crowding the jails.

Euthanasia :

This is the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy. I advocate and support this. But invariably there shall be abuse of it, and the administration must find out an efficient method to execute it. By this the human suffering shall be less. As a general observation, any rules and regulations shall be abused and manipulated by the powerful to their benefit and the others will be harassed by the procedural tangles and hardly get the benefit. That applies to economical, social, judicial, and in fact all situations in our life.

Unnecessary procedural tangles :

We all know that these are meant to prevent the fraudulent persons getting through the system. But in reality, it is the unscrupulous people who get through the system easily whereas the bona fide people can’t get past the red-tapism. For example, we routinely come across stories like when influential group personnel telephones half a dozen of passport officers, the next morning those officers deliver him at his residence with as many passports. On the other hand, genuine people are harassed on the pretext of non-compliance of certain documentary evidences.

Monopoly of service providers :

Though it is a good sign that in several areas, the degree of government monopoly is getting lessened, it still remains in several areas like electricity, railways and others. It’s common knowledge that BSNL and LICI improved their efficiency after having several competitors. So we must have one/two competitors, in each service area.

Department of Industries :

The greatest problem of state control of industry is the allocation of industrial land and others resources like water, electricity, mines, transportation, etc. (with relevance to state of Orissa). For example, in Orissa in recent years there is a spurt of Sponge iron plants which invariably use water from deep tube wells. In a state where people do not get potable water it is criminal to deplete the ground water level by industrial consumption. In the last few years, the policies adapted by Orissa government invite and encourage all unscrupulous business men to get a share of ‘give-away’ bounty of land, SEZ, mines, etc. Again this is a criminal waste of resource because neither the government nor the public get the benefit of such industrialization.

Secondly, recently, a business group has been allowed to set up a global university on twelve thousand acres of land. What we need today is not such a university but more medical colleges, hospitals and definitely more professional training schools. The check-list is what the government gains and what the public gains out of this industrialization. Forget about the company – if the company is successful, they will make money with any government, any place, any system, and any sets of rules and regulations

Education System :

This system is getting privatised as the government is continually failing to provide basic/primary education to people even if it is committed to it. So it has become a commercial activity in the hands of powerful businessmen. And the knowledge system also seems to be faulty. For example, how many engineers actually end up doing the job of an engineer. Most of the IIT and IIM alumni end up in fulfilling the company’s sales targets they work for. Thus this is a colossal waste of national and human resources.

Electricity :

It’s common knowledge that small defaulters and even general public are harassed and on the other hand big industries steal electricity rampantly, albeit in collusion with the corrupt officials. I’m very ashamed to say that a big industrial house of a state is the biggest defaulter. And then we have the power distribution company run by another big national industrial house who is a massive defaulter of the government dues. I have no practical suggestion here except of course a public retaliation.

Reservation and Minority :

Reservation was meant to give a chance to the lower echelons of society to get into the main stream, and initially it was in force for 20 years. But because of corruption and vested interest (electoral process) it got several extensions and also the proportions increase day by day. The only silver lining is that the judiciary has rightly pronounced against reservation and the minority character of some community. We suggest that the reservation should end in a definite and limited period of time (say 5 or 10 years) and should be limited to only economic backwardness and not class/caste.

The list is not exhaustive, one can go on and on. But I have tried to point out certain areas which breed corruption and positively influence other areas to be equally corruptive.

Whatever happened to administrative reforms?

By Yamini Aiyar,

Can we resolve corruption without administrative reforms? I have been struck by how silent the current debate on anti-corruption has been on the question of administrative reforms. Even the far more complex and arguably controversial issue of political and electoral reforms have found place in the debate but no one seems to be talking about administrative reforms. And yet most observers of Indian democracy would agree that the administrative structure as it exists today, the rules and structures that govern it have created a perverse incentives structure that makes accountability almost impossible. No surprise then that corruption, particularly the day to day corruption that most in India are subject to, proliferates unchecked.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that administrative failure can stymie even the most well intentioned and well implemented anti-corruption system. This was brought home to me on a recent trip to Andhra Pradesh (AP) to study the states’ social audit system under the MGNREGA. For the uninitiated, AP is the only state in India that has institutionalized social audits (pioneered by the Right to Information movement, social audit is a citizen led process of cross verifying government records with monies spent on the ground. All audits are followed by a public hearings (Jan sunwai’s) where government officials are invited to publically respond to audit findings) in the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Program (MGNREGA). Since 2006 when the MGNREGA was launched, the state has undertaken over 1,736 audits and inspected over 50 lakh government records making AP the only state in the country to have willingly opened itself up and invited public scrutiny. Addressing corruption and improving accountability was the primary objective behind initiating the social audits. The political system beginning with then Chief Minister, YS Rajashekhar Reddy put its weight behind the effort and in its early days this political support went a long way towards quelling political opposition to the process.

I’ve been studying this process from its early days. In 2007, my colleague Salimah Samji and I studied the effects of the process to find that social audits seemed to have a significant impact on people’s awareness levels and some positive impact on people’s perceptions of the government .Early on, social audit champions in the state recognized that effective grievance redressal – taking strong action against errant officials – was the key to making social audits a strong anti-corruption and accountability tool. After many experiments, in early 2010 a vigilance structure was introduced headed by a vigilance officer (a retired civil servant) at the state level and supported by a district level vigilance officer. The vigilance officers only responsibility is to follow up on issues that emerge out of social audits, ensure recovery (the official term for recovering corrupt money) and ensure errant officials are brought to book.

What did we find? The good news first. Social audits have been an extremely effective vehicle to bring out corruption and maladministration. All officials we spoke to (even those that critique the system) attested to this. What was interesting was that everyone felt that the public nature of the audit and the fact that through the public hearing officials have to respond to social audit findings are a very powerful tool to bring out such problems. And the figures prove it. According to the latest data social audits have resulted in unearthing corruption worth over Rs. 100 crore! And better still the process enables auditors to pin point responsibility to specific officers. We analyzed social audit data from 13 districts in the state to find that the top 5 officials responsible for most issues unearth include: Field Assistant (38%), Branch Post Master (11%), Additional Program Officer (8%), Technical Assistant (6%) and MPDO (5%). The top nature of complaints found in the social audits include: fraudulent muster rolls (14%), misappropriation of funds (11%), wages not paid (5%) and delay in payments (3%).

But the problem is that very little happens after that. Only 25% of the total money identified as money lost to corruption has actually been recovered. And even fewer officials have been held to account. We analyzed data on irregularities committed by officials and action taken to find that out of 19,488 officials who have been identified as having committed irregularities, action (dismissal, inquiries, suspension) has only been taken on 9,809! This, despite a vigilance structure that has both senior politicians and bureaucrats supporting it.

The problem does not lie so much with the social audit process. The social auditors seem to be doing their job fairly well- the very fact that these issues are brought out in the public domain is an indicator of that. The problem does not even lie with the vigilance structure as such – it has all the right ingredients including a senior, official who operates with a high degree of autonomy. The problem lies with the administrative system within which the process operates.

Consider this. At the mandal level the chief implementing officer for MGNREGA is the Mandal Parishad Development Officer (MPDO). The MPDO reports to the Panchayati Raj department-PRD (separate to the Rural Development Department that implements the program). As the key implementing official at the mandal level (the last mile implementation point), the MPDO is not just powerful but also responsible for all action taken based on social audit findings. At the district level the program is managed by a Project Director (PD), accountable to the Rural Development Department (RD). The PD presides over the social audit public hearing and takes decisions on actions to be taken. But when it comes to the MPDO, all the PD can do is send a recommendation to the Panchayati Raj Department (PRD) for removal of an MPDO. Senior officials in RD, the department to whom the PD is accountable to, have no authority over the PRD and thus can do nothing if PRD chooses not to take action against MPDO’s.

It gets more complicated. Our analysis finds that the Branch Post Master (responsible for MGNREGA payments at the post office) is often implicated in corruption cases during the social audits. But the Branch Post Master (BPM) reports to the postal service that is outside the disciplinary purview of the MGNREGA officials. Thus, just as in the case of the MPDO, the only action that a PD can take against an errant BPM is to recommend that the Superintendent Post Master (SPM) take action against him or her. The list goes on!

No surprise then, that the social audit is not as effective as it could be in curbing corruption. The problem is that the MGNREGA (and any other government scheme) is being implemented through an administrative structure that is simply not designed for accountability. Departments function in vertical silo’s, multiple agencies get involved in undertaking and implementing programs each with different reporting structures that operate parallel to one another, this results in confusion and often roles and responsibilities overlap enabling each level of the system to pass the buck on to the other. Given the loopholes, no grievance redressal system will be good enough. Building anti corruption systems into a leaky pipe requires a systematic approach that both plugs the leaks and also creates disincentives for corruption through a system of strong enforcement measures. The current anti corruption debate, especially the debate on the Lok Pal, is focused almost entirely on the question of anti enforcement measures and little attention has been paid to the larger question of the leaky pipe itself.

And so it comes back to administrative reforms. The sad truth is that none of this is new and we even have a menu of solutions. In 2005, the UPA government appointed the second administrative reforms commission which over a period of 4 years came out with 11 thick volumes of analysis and recommendations for administrative reforms. Like most committees these reports are gathering dust and the idea of administrative reforms has faded from public discourse. If we are serious about anti-corruption then we need bring administrative reforms back in the debate.


The attitude of the government officers towards their duties is a tendency to harass people – to get a sadistic pleasure out of it – to keep people waiting in a queue and gossiping. For example in a water cess collection department we have a receipt book with handwritten counterfoil which takes double time for a single deposit. When I pointed it out to the clerk suggesting him to use a carbon copy, he replied they can’t change it because the number of stationery already printed will last for next five years. This is a classic example of wastage of manpower. On the other hand, all the collection counters can be kept open for a longer period in view of the enhanced cash transaction timings in the banks.

The basic idea of reforms is of two-fold :

  1. Increase in efficiency – servicing more people in less time, improving quality of services, making them more comfortable and convenience, adding more services, reducing the cost and wastage involved in it, etc.
  2. Decrease in level of corruption or malpractices – reduction of red-tapism, reduction in greed, elimination of victimization of certain clients, etc. Today because of the stringent vigilance activities the officers don’t spend the sanctioned development quota, for they can’t get their share/cut- and it’s returned unused. It's the attitude of “If we don't get, let none get too”.

Surprisingly, most of the government policies are meant for the welfare of the people, and if they are implemented in the letter and spirit they would benefit the mass. But they are twisted and implemented to make money for the enforcing officers, and not for the benefit of the people. And on the other hand many rules and regulations have been so drafted that they positively encourage malpractice and corruption and the defaulters are rewarded. In my opinion these should be framed in such a way that normal/general people would understand easily and naturally tend to follow, and generally tend to discourage malpractices.

And the basic actions for reforms are therefore of two-fold :

  1. Rules and regulations should be made simple and short (KISS- Keep It Simple and Short), so that people have a natural tendency to follow.
  2. Implementation should be made strict and massive (this seems to be a tall order if you look at the size of our population and our national character).

There’s a third point which is worth mentioning is the slave mentality of we Indians which was acquired during the last 400 years. It is apparent everywhere and it needs to be shed. A classic example is the wearing of black blazer by government officials as their official uniform. Can’t we have a more comfortable attire which suits our climate, culture and ethnicity.

Red-tape babus out of sync with new India

By Nitish Sengupta

In India, we have been talking about administrative reforms ever since Independence. There was an administrative reforms commission set-up long ago, and another one is currently deliberating on the subject. Yet, in all these years, we have achieved precious little in altering our administrative system, procedures or the ethos of our personnel. There were too many safeguards and an undue emphasis on the written word and the correct procedures so that no one escapes responsibility. These had their advantages at one time but they cannot meet our current requirements when the emphasis should be on high-speed decisions, trust and responsibility of subordinates and achievements of results. Administrative reforms should necessarily evolve in the following areas:

Structural or organizational


Manner and style of functioning by officials and staff

Organizationally, the entire system is marred by obsolete forms, a plethora of institutions which have outlived their utility and seem to induce a kind of administrative paralysis. Horizontally, there is division of authority along a large number of ministries or agencies, none of which are competent enough to take decisions by themselves, instead all play a collective role in decision-making. Decisions take very long to emerge and often a single ministry or agency can hold a veto over the process. Vertically too there are long lines of hierarchy in every office. This pattern, which leads to organizational deadlocks, is repeated at both the Centre and states.

A lot of ministries and agencies have outlived their utility but still exist, playing an altogether counter-productive role. Some of them, created during the heydays of the license-permit raj, have not been wound up though the purpose of for which they were created has long since disappeared.

On top of it all, there is a general abundance of manpower, much larger than the amount of work. While the government's work is steadily decreasing, there is no let up in the staff increase.

Procedurally, we need to drastically axe the current time-consuming and wasteful procedures, particularly the structure along the line of hierarchy in offices where files go up and down with officers raising queries which lead to delays.

We need to radically reduce the number of hierarchical levels on which files move, restricting it to not more than two to three, including the minister. There should be a flat order that no officer is to keep any file for more than 24 to 48 hours. And if s/he detains any file for longer, s/he must do so by giving reasons and obtaining the approval of his superior officer.

After Independence, there has been a general emphasis on discretionary or administrative controls exercised by particular officers rather than on non-discretionary systems of control where general policies are formulated and publicized in writing so that every applicant knows where he stands. Wherever a government decision is needed in a specific case, we should operate the principle of management by exception. That is, a person doing a project or activity which falls within the guidelines, s/he need not approach the authorities for approval and should just inform them. It is only when a departure is proposed from the guidelines that there should be need for seeking approval. The advent of IT has made the situation abundantly suitable for simply axing many of our old procedural requirements.

It is when we come to attitudinal issues that I am afraid the biggest change is called for. A majority of officers still behave as if they are administering the country and don't imbibe a managerial approach where their aim should be the achievement of a goal in relation to the development of the nation, rather than dispensing a favour to applicants. We have to lay much greater emphasis on acquiring knowledge and experience and stop treating a young IAS officer's amateur standing as a virtue.

Rather, the officers must be encouraged to specialize in areas of their interests. They should then be retained in that area for a much longer time than it is done at present.

We should ideally follow the French administrative system where young entrants to its civil service are, from the very beginning, branched off into broad areas such as economic, social and general administration and are not normally pulled out of their areas of specialization. Officers accustomed to dealing with distribution of permits or so, for which long queues are indispensable, should be made to start their training in queues to teach them to be time-conscious, friendly and courteous. Officers who work in agriculture should be made to do real farming for at least one or two years to understand the problems of land and those who make a living off of it.

Nowadays, the average entrance age of IAS officers is 30. Ergo, the old concept of catching them young has actually been given up. It is necessary to reduce the age of entry to the IAS to 24 or 25, as in the past. The stranglehold of the IAS on all top jobs should be ended, and while many of them deserve to occupy the top jobs, other officers who show adequate promise and ability, should be co-opted into higher services. Jobs at the top should be opened up to eligible persons, wherever they come from. The emphasis should be on managerial skills and realizing goals, rather than on routine problem solving or being fixated with procedures.

We have to accept that globalization and the dramatic march of new information technology are inevitable and unstoppable developments of modern times.

There are constraints no doubt, but there are also opportunities. The administrative organisation and attitude of our personnel are survivals from the 19th century, and do not meet the requirement and challenges of the 21st century.

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India.


Everything said and done, it’s not an easy task of reforms. For this we need courage - we have seen many honest officers sacrificing their lives for a good cause. For a successful reforms process, two main parties are involved:

  1. The Officers (Implementing Authority) : Officers need to be honest, upright, and importantly must have a helping attitude, a tendency to ease the things for the common man.
  2. The Public: Public has an important role to play. What normally happens is one section of the public who are powerless and suffer the injustice and exploitation silently, whereas the other powerful section gets the system to work to their benefit. The corrupt officials get a strong support group in them.

So we must have a two-pronged attack - setting the corrupt officials to the honest track and preventing powerful members of public from manipulation. Of course this is a Herculean task. Without casting aspersion on any individual we can say that in a country where the highest and most responsible officials are NOT beyond doubt of their character, intention and integrity what can you expect from the lesser mortals?

There’s no dearth of real genius in any field in our country, but still we are in poverty, corruption- why? Because they are busy in their self-actualization. Since the genius can’t do anything or don’t have support and means to do so, so the powerful manipulate the government for their benefit.

The human nature is such that the strong always oppresses the weak - in any field/walk of life. We come across numerous examples of it since time immemorial, or recorded history. The stronger section manipulates the governance, and in turn the governance exploits the weaker section. For this I don’t see any easy or quick solution. What went on for over 400 years can’t be undone in just 61 years. But the most important thing is to START at some point, which I think we haven’t done so far.

To start with we have to build our national character. But that can't be done for two-thirds of our population don't get two square meals a day, and one-third of our population don't get one square meal a day. The have-nots are busy in collecting food, and the haves are busy in manipulating things. The reforms involve a collective process of controlling: (1) poverty, (2) population, and providing (1) shelter, (2) education, (3) health, (4) employment, (5) old-age security, etc.


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