Civil Services – Bedrock of Indian democracy

Civil servants across India annually observe Civil Services Day on April 21 so as to recommit themselves to the cause of the people. It is an opportunity for them to analyse themselves and review their approach and formulate strategies to tackle new challenges.

On this day, the Prime Minister honours officers of Central government and state governments for excellence in public administration. Under this category of awards instituted in 2006, the ‘Prime Minister Award for Excellence in Public Administration’ is presented in three different categories namely Individual (award comprises a medal, a scroll and a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh), Team (cash reward of Rs.5 lakh which is subject to a maximum of Rs.1 lakh per person) and Organisation (Rs. 5 lakh).

Indian civil service:

Civil services comprise the permanent bureaucracy of the government and act as the supporting pillar of India’s administrative system. As ours is a parliamentary democracy, the duty of ensuring smooth administrative functioning rests with the ministers. However, since a few ministers cannot deal with the wide range of issues that crop up, they devise policies that are implemented by civil servants.

Civil servants in a personal capacity are paid from the Civil List. Senior civil servants may be held accountable by the Parliament. However, Article 311 of the Constitution (Dismissal, removal or reduction in rank of persons employed in civil capacities under the Union or a State) safeguards them from politically driven or vindictive intents. It is important to note that not all government employees are civil servants. As of 2010, there were 6.4 million civil servants in India.

Sardar Patel’s vision

The civil services structure during the British rule was divided into two categories – covenanted (comprised higher positions occupied only by British officials) and uncovenanted service (comprised lower positions occupied only by Indians).

The present system of civil service was formed after the partition of India in 1947. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, regarded as the Father of Indian Civil Services, envisaged an India where the civil service machinery promotes national unity. He wanted integrity, impartiality and merit to be the guiding principles of the Indian civil services.

PM Modi’s address on Civil Services Day

During his address on Civil Services Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated Sardar Patel’s vision of the civil services and their role in socio-economic and national integration. He stated that national unity implies an end of all socio-economic inequities, be it digital divide or urban-rural divide. He said that the entire administrative machinery today should be geared up to serve the needs of society.

The road ahead

Citizens have high expectations from bureaucrats as implementation of public policies lies with them. However, the Indian bureaucracy is mired with corruption, incompetence and lack of vision in bureaucracy. What needs to be corrected?

a. Indian bureaucracy needs to adopt a professional approach towards tackling issues. Indian bureaucrats are generalists and not specialists. While they have the basic know-how of administrative techniques, they lack expertise. What India needs is specialists across government departments who have the knowledge and vision to understand the depth of issues.

b. As much as possible, bureaucrats should be able to work in their field of expertise. For example: An MBBS student should be posted in the health department. They should be trained and exposed to research studies across academic institutions to be able to build their expertise.

c. Lateral entry of domain experts for policy-making positions should be encouraged. Experts like Nandan Nilekani, Sam Pitroda and Ratan Tata can bring in a wealth of knowledge to formulate best policies.

d. Bureaucrats should be free from political interference and hierarchical pressure politics. Many times, bureaucratic decisions are politically motivated and perilous for public welfare.

e. Transfers of bureaucrats should be kept to a minimum. Untimely and politically motivated transfers is the bone of contention in effective implementation of public policies. There should be a separate board to look into promotion and transfer of bureaucrats.

f. Performance appraisals should be carried out regularly in order to ensure professionalism and accountability. Positive reinforcement in the form of incentives and awards should be given to recognise efforts and reduce ‘red-tapism’ and lethargic attitude.

g. To make the bureaucrats truly professional, a proper ‘code of ethics’ should formulated and implemented.

h. Lastly, we need a foolproof mechanism to curb corruption across bureaucratic levels. Lokpal and Lokayukta officer should be strengthened to combat corruption.

As bureaucracy is the backbone of India’s democracy, it should be free from corruption, tardiness and lack of vision. We, as future civil servants, need to change ourselves on a personal level. Sensitivity towards basic issues and an ethical build up is a soul of a good bureaucrat.