Whither Administration?

Defence reforms

Dr. Rao VBJ  Chelikani

The waves of reforms that are touching the shores of civil service do not seem to touch military and judicial services.

Defence Services

i). In the technology-intensive world that we are living in, the recruitment to the defence services also has to be reviewed, so as to deviate from the traditional ‘Standing Army’ concept and involve other citizens in the society ‘on call’ in the deployment-strategies. Instead of increasing the numbers like China, we need to invest more in increasing the capabilities of our defence personnel and their equipment.

ii). Since the lower bureaucracy would be working, more and more following the automated procedures, the higher officers would not, any more have the heavy task of managing them. Their main job would be to take decisions more directly and fast with more specialised knowledge. Persons recruited from the open market would strengthen the hands of the officers to take decisions independent of the political considerations or pressure. This would break the complacency strongly entrenched in the system, where decision-making can be kept pending for decades even on matters of vital national security.

In our defence preparedness and procurement, delays are suicidal. In issues, such as providing bullet-proof jackets to the army soldiers or manufacturing Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, etc. the files did not come up for the final decision for more than thirty years. It can only be attributed to bureaucratic delay in the Defence Acquisition Council but not to political or policy-paralysis since several governments have meanwhile changed. Recently, a Defence Planning Committee was created under the National Security Advisor with a mandate to prepare the strategies, composed of only bureaucrats. As a consequence of which the Indian manufacturers could not undertake long-term R&D projects and set up the necessary infrastructure to compete with the long-established European and American firms. In the past, chanting the self-reliance mantra, we counted on state-owned organisations like the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, etc. These establishments are suffering from a high attrition rate and chronic missing of deadlines by decades. They give only small grants for research to other institutions, which are, once again dependent upon the government projects. New projects of crucial importance to the security of the country are being blocked due to delays in getting permissions, environmental clearances, land acquisition, financial disbursements, etc. from other departments, sometimes, up to 8 to 10 years.

  1. Judicial Bureaucracy

In order to preserve the independence of and the faith in the judiciary, the justice delivery system has to be revamped, as the current process is ridiculously slow and long. Even the murder of a railway minister could not get his final verdict in 40 years.We should admit that there is corruption at the lower levels, if not much at the higher levels. Crores of cases are in pending and the under-trials in custody are nearly half of the total persons in jails. Procedural wrangling and manual handling of documents, in addition to the paucity of tech-savvy magistrates and judges, are the real problems. One wonders why adequate number of judges are not appointed and why so much delay? The president has the responsibility to ensure that the judiciary is not blocked or starved of funds by another organ of the state i.e. the government. The lower judiciary at the district level should be recruited by an all-Indian services commission.

Once in a century, we need a one-time event. All legal and judicial fraternities and their associations should join together to form ‘ad hoc’ tribunals or to hold additional sessions and hearings in order to dispose of all the pending civil and criminal cases, older than two years. This human solidarity we can very well expect from them since they are endowed with a culture of justice as human beings. Quick justice is educative, whereas delayed justice is like post-mortem analysis.

Further, there are still some remnants of regal paraphernalia persisting from the medieval ages in the Indian judicial system, like their old-English vocabulary, judges being called their lordships, the imploring attitude of the pleaders, their medieval attire, etc. It is regrettable that like the political parties, the judiciary also refuses to abide by the Right to Information Act.

  1. Impact of e-Governance

E-governance is a golden opportunity to bring a revolution from within. Contrary to the general belief, it might bring the administrator and the administered person closer. Instead of a paper-file on the desk, a file in a computer can gradually help an officer to have direct communications with the citizen and to develop concern for the outcome of the issues and to gauge the effect of any delay. While the administrative personnel is very slowly in fine-tuning themselves into SMART (Simple, Manageable, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent) governance, the world has been heading towards real-time governance which, precisely, puts emphasis upon speed, which has not been the strong point of the bureaucracy. Management styles in the private sector have been picking up extensive use of biometrics, sensors, drones, machine learning, data science, hybrid clouds, augmented and virtual reality and block chain technologies to resolve complex challenges. The CEOs are having dash-board monitoring of the performance of their departments, for implementation of schemes and programmes in real time across dozens of parameters in view of enhancing the speed of the service-delivery systems.

A concern still arises since, in the past, the banks, land registration, customs and many other offices, have stoutly opposed computerisation and, even after reluctantly yielding, they, still continue to drag their feet. They adopted basic automation procedures but not decision-making models. The administration faces two conceptual problems: firstly, if things are automatised, they would lose their identity or the opportunity to do things according to their discretion. Exercising discretionary power is a part of the job satisfaction. Real digitalisation demands immediate response and speed in decision-making and their time of indecision would be exposed. Hence, massive investment and immediate further digitalisation would clearly reduce bureaucracy.

  1. Instead of the Existing Diarchy

It is time to challenge the age-old practice of the election of the political representatives for policy-formulation and the selection of the officers for execution of the policy decisions. Policy-formulation, rule-making and action cannot anymore be kept as separate entities. The practice of dividing them into two classes of people and calling them public servants hurts the canons of political equality and dignity among the citizens. It introduces a discrepancy in the exercise of their civic responsibilities. There is an un-confessed diarchy of powers between the bureaucracy and the political authorities, as a result of which neither of them is working satisfactorily.

i). In principle, the administrative personnel is also democratically recruited by following certain procedures which respect norms like equal opportunity, testing merit, adequate remuneration, social security protection, accountability, transparency, etc. It is a proven practice, following the canons of the ‘Open Competition System’ already initiated by the Charter Act of 1833. They are citizens who participate in the governance with social responsibility, whether in the legislature, in departments or in the judiciary. Their competence comes from their knowledge of the subject matter and they are conferred with the state-power. In parallel, we have an army of MPs, MLAs, and MLCs, as well as the office-bearers of urban and rural local bodies, around 50,000 of them in the country, who are, in fact the representatives of bits of territories and percentage of populations. Though their constitutional mission is making legislation, they do not appear, at present, to be excelling in this job and, on the other hand they are exercising a lot of power over the people, mostly outside the framework of the mandate. Political governance without direct administrative and financial responsibilities is creating oligarchies in the developing countries and retarding human progress.

ii). Hence, should we not, eventually envisage having only one single class of people in the place of two authorities, either the administrative officers are to be associated with policy-making, or the political authorities are to be entrusted with  administrative responsibilities ?There are such instances in the local bodies in the USA and in Europe, where the present division of powers between the representatives and the officers is avoided. Impatient with the diarchy of power-sources, during the revolutions, the militants, often abolished the distinction.

Such an agent would be s’elected i.e. tested, selected, and/or elected, the process being thoroughly democratic, in either case. S/He can participate fully in law-making, rule-making, as well as in the effective execution with full and entire responsibility for the results, like the director-general of a team of managers in a multi-national corporation. As in Singapore, such an agent of the people would have an attractive remuneration by the open market standards, so that the best brains would compete to join.

However, such changes would demand a radical review of several constitutional provisions, which is impossible, as the members of Parliament are more than comfortable with the status quo. Further, the present political class would lose the very justification for their existence. But, this is what it ought to be done, one day, if we cherish the democratic value that, in the long term, we should abolish the distinction between the ruler and the ruled and the administrator and the administered.