Two important issues facing the nation today are how the economic growth can be accelerated and how benefits of growth and development can flow to the citizens in an efficient manner. Issues of governance have increasingly come to centre stage while working out strategies for the above. There is a strong view that corruption in civil service is endemic and funds provided by government leak very badly. I recall a recent discussion during a book launch when it was argued that from the famous fifteen paisa reaching the poor man, the amount is now reduced to five paisa. There are large technological changes taking place in our society. The aspirations and expectations of citizens from the government system are of delivery of service of the highest order of excellence.
The independence of civil service in giving advice in policy-making and in performing field responsibilities is an important issue which has affected the functioning of the civil service in recent years. In the Constituent Assembly of India, on 10th October, 1949, Sardar Vallabh Bai Patel said:“If you want an efficient all-India service, I advise you to allow the service to open their mouth freely. If you are a Premier, it would be your duty to allow your Secretary, or Chief Secretary, or other services working under you, to express their opinion without fear or favour. But I see a tendency today that in several provinces, the services are set upon and told, “No, you, are servicemen, you must carry out our orders.” The Union will go, you will not have a united India, if you do not have a good all-India service which has the independence to speak out its mind, which has a sense of security that you will stand by your word and that after all, there is the Parliament, of which we can be proud, where their rights and privileges are secure. If you do not adopt this course, then do not follow the present Constitution.”
And further: “Today my Secretary can write a note opposed to my views. I have given that freedom to all my Secretaries. I have told them, “If you do not give your honest opinion for fear that it will displease your Minister, please then you had better go. I will bring another Secretary,” I will never be displeased over a frank expression of opinion." the 1950s1 and even the early 1960s, the relationship between political executive and civil service was of trust and non-partisan functioning of the civil service. This trust has gradually given way to segmentation of civil servants and their politicisation in many cases. Two different types of relationships have emerged. First covers those, who try to maintain a degree of integrity and upright behaviour. Second covers those senior civil servants, who cosy up to the political executive and go along with them, irrespective of the civil service norms, good conduct or ethical behaviour. Often, the second category is bifurcated when the political power is transferred from one political party to the other. Invariably, one group of the committed faction of civil service starts its innings in close proximity with the political executive and the other committed class is put in the dog house. Of the first category, the number is gradually dwindling. There is increasingly a feeling that civil servants who fall in this category may not be treated fairly by the political class in respect of their assignments, transfers or their other service matters.
An important point, which is often overlooked in the above context, is the requirement of citizens for good governance. This is invariably a casualty when the political executive and the civil service cosy up to each other forgetting the norms for good administration. The Civil Service provides an exciting opportunity full of challenges. There are very few services which provide such a vast range of challenges, a mix of field and policy making opportunity and opportunity to act as a key player in the national growth process. One has to be proud of one’s work and dedication to get full satisfaction from these challenges. These, however, require qualities which one has to develop.
Senior civil servants belonging to All India Services (AIS) have a special responsibility, in case they are to live up to the commitment with which they have entered the service. Business as usual cannot deliver results. The civil service has to live up to certain norms of behaviour which, in the long run will bring them success, but may be painful in the short run. At times, acting in accordance with laws and rules or pointing out their implications may be termed as risk-aversing behaviour. One may be assigned inconsequential jobs. There can be others who may try to get short-run advantages by using their closeness to political masters. In the long-run, however, persons who have acted in accordance with norms and delivered results are generally able to come up and be recognized. Such civil servants are well-respected by peer groups, subordinates, the people and even the political parties across the spectrum.
Civil Service has to follow norms of professional conduct. These will not only bring good governance agenda on centre stage, but also once again enhance the reputation of the All India Service as that of a steel frame which serves the country for growth and prosperity. It will also help in development of confidence of people in the civil services and earn them new respect.2 Let me highlight some norms for civil servants:
First, maintain high personal integrity. The strength of civil service is people’s faith in their absolute incorruptibility and honesty. This is specially so in top civil servants who should be absolutely beyond reproach. This gives you strength to get your way with the political executive who respect such officers. Even in corrupt regimes, such officers are respected.
Second, be fair in administering law, policies and administrative decisions. The biggest strength of civil servants is people’s faith in their impartial and fair actions and transparent functioning. Do make positive efforts to ensure that your decisions appear fair and transparent in people’s eyes as well. It is worth several battalions of paramilitary forces.
Third, people respect you for your knowledge and skills. Acquire thorough knowledge and develop an analytical ability to fully assess and understand issues which need to be addressed with adequate attention to details. Decisions arrived at, after full understanding of issues, are likely to be implementable and deliver expected results.
Fourth, field jobs, on which civil service often has to spend time, provide an opportunity for change in the system. Your motto should be to deliver results and work as an effective field officer. This may require taking tough and unpopular decisions. It often requires “out of the box” thinking and taking action against the corrupt. Don’t hesitate while taking the right action. But be fair and just in your decisions. You may have to face difficult times in some cases.
Fifth, Good Governance is a Fundamental Right of the citizen. Identify gaps in public service delivery and implementation of schemes. Identify rules and regulations which are hampering progress and suggest changes to Government. Use innovation and adoption of best practices in implementation and encourage its development in your team. Be openminded and mentally receptive to new ideas. Delivery of public services, if done efficiently, leads to consumer satisfaction, optimum use of financial resources, economic betterment and lower corruption.
Sixth, the biggest disservice to the governance structure is to hesitate in taking decisions or deliberately avoiding it. Do not hesitate to take decisions. If you have reservations on your ability or are worried about being responsible for its consequence, don’t join the civil service. The entire career in civil service is about taking decisions and making clear policy recommendations for decision taking. Acts of omission often may go unnoticed or not punished. These are, however, extremely harmful for good governance.
Seventh, in civil service you may invariably be the leader of the pack. Assume full responsibility for achieving the targets and key performance parameters of the organization which you are heading. Learn to delegate authority but ensure effective leadership. This can come if you are perceived by your organization as not prone to blaming subordinates for shortcomings in any targets. This will earn respect from subordinates, colleagues and even seniors. It is an excellent remedy for success of leadership.
Eighth, be sensitive to the needs of poor, especially marginalised groups, women, SC/ST and minorities. These are the groups which need your support the most. By effective implementation of programmes for them and your empathy for their welfare, you can help build an egalitarian society. Affirmative actions in their favour build confidence in civil service.
Ninth, the political executive makes policies in consultation with civil servants for attaining certain objectives for the welfare of people. While advising Ministers and working as senior civil servants, analyse all the reasonable policy options which can be considered on the issue under examination. Examine also whether a policy, that the government is wanting to implement, is under any political compulsion and has short-term benefits only and not in the long-term national interest. If so, put forth your views clearly and logically. Suggest quite clearly, with reasons, why you consider any policy option as the most appropriate and meeting the policy objectives.
While giving advice, do not anticipate what the Minister may like to hear. State what you consider the most appropriate course of action. You will be respected in the long run by peers, as well as the political executive.
Tenth, do not criticise Government policies in public discussions. As a civil servant, the responsibility on you is to provide support to the government to enable it to defend the policies. By criticising it, you are undermining government, as well as yourself. If the issue is really serious and you do not think that you can live with such government policies, you should consider quitting the job and undertake other assignments.
Eleventh, develop inter-personal skills. In the modern world with wide range of organisations, private sector expansion and technological explosion, it is important that you have good relations with persons from different sectors to enable you to access them when needed. It increases your effectiveness while handling difficult issues in the field.
Twelfth, adapt to IT use, new technologies and their use to ensure good governance. Information technology can help reduce delays, ensure efficient delivery of public services and cut down corruption. You must be, therefore, fully cognisant of its use and potential. Simplifying administrative procedures promotes good governance.
Thirteenth, prepare well in advance to ensure effective articulation of the view point of your Ministry. Put forward your point of view concisely and in a focused manner. It is important that you absorb fully the issues at hand and are clear in your mind about the approach which you wish to take in any inter-ministerial forum.
Fourteenth, develop the ability to listen to visitors and different points of view carefully and patiently. An enormous amount of feedback about problems in the field and different approaches can be had in this manner. This is the best learning method.
Fifteenth, develop the ability to integrate and form a consensus view point consistent with the policy objective planned. While doing so, you should be able to evaluate and assess the technical, social and political dimensions of the problem. This is extremely critical at senior policy-making levels where different approaches and points of view have to be put together. You should not be shy of taking tough decisions in the interest of effective policy implementation.
Sixteenth, make a well-informed judgement of ground realities and policies which will work. Have a feedback on the proposed policies from those working in different geographical area where the proposed policies or plans are supposed to be implemented. Ensure enough flexibility with ground realities in your plans.
Seventeenth, accept challenging assignments. Do not try to wriggle out of it. Often, these assignments involve tough decision taking and have risk of failure. Success can be assured if you have accepted the challenging job and are working diligently with all stakeholders as a team. This will give you visibility and test your ability to handle tough assignments.
Eighteenth, in face of grave provocation, stand by your principles and convictions. Do not lose your cool. The administrative challenges are varied and involve wide varieties of people and organisations with vested interests. You can handle them only if you are considering all questions coolly and objectively.
Nineteenth, civil servants are accountable to Government. There is, however, public accountability also. Identify key target areas which you must achieve during your work based on Government policy and programmes. Identify people’s felt needs and enmesh them in your programme too.
An interesting aspect, in the above context, is the relative responsibility of political executive and the civil service in improving the governance system. It has to be emphasized that onus is on civil servants to strengthen public administration and good governance. However, while working as part of policy making or field responsibilities, it may be useful to understand the nature of relationship between the political executive and the civil service. It is also necessary to appreciate the enormous inconvenience and widespread corruption faced by the people while availing public service. Following points, therefore, need special focus:
First, the corruption in governance system and delivery of public services is quite widespread. It has to be tackled initially by preventing possibility of corruption. For this, it is necessary to make public service delivery procedures simple, use of Information Technology and bringing in transparency in decision taking. Next, those guilty of corruption have to be identified and punished quickly. Second, it is useful to recall that the All India Services are creatures of the constitution (Article 312).
While the services have to follow the policies laid down by the Government headed by the political executive, they also have legal obligations under certain statutes, whenever they exercise those powers. Such exercise of power has to be done with an independent application of mind. Third, it is important that Civil Servants clearly bring out their views in writing while doing an analysis of the issues concerned when engaged in the task of policy making. If certain government policy is not in public interest and may lead to harmful results, this has to be clearly brought out in your notes and analysis. Once, however, you have clearly mentioned your view and a considered decision has been taken, it has to be implemented with full vigour.
Thus, while the civil servant is free to express his views freely, one cannot keep opposing a decision taken by the government unless there are serious intellectual differences. In such cases, one should consider quitting the job and undertake new assignments. Fourth, there may be complex situations in which Ministers and some civil servants try to push illegal orders on subordinates. This could be because of ulterior monetary interest or corruption. There could be Mafia. In all this foggy and unclear vision, the civil servants have to be clear on their course of action for handling these situations. The approach should be quite clear to
them while handling these situations. First, orders which are illegal or against any statutes or interfere with your exercise of authority vested in you under a law, have to be ignored. Second, administrative orders, if you find unfair or unjust, must be protested against with reasons. If reiterated, these have to be implemented. It may in some cases, cause damage to one’s career. In the long-run, however, peers and colleagues respect you for it. In many cases, colleagues and seniors come forward to undo the damage to your career caused by your not implementing unfair or unjust orders. Success has its price. It cannot be built on falsehoods, inequity and illegality.
The political executive which is responsible to the legislature has to also reconsider how the governance can be strengthened. The norms of conduct mentioned above will need a strong political consensus. They may need to discuss it across the country and their readiness to act on it as Sardar Patel had advised more than six decades back.
Author: B.K. Chaturvedi
Article Courtesy: http://yojana.gov.in/2014/eng/Yojana%20March%202014.pdf