Disinterested babudom: Here's why PM Modi's grand intiatives are failing
When the NDA government took over, it did not transfer/ change key bureaucrats as it did not want to create a fear psychosis
Process seems to be stopping progress. Disillusionment of expectation from NDA government is reaching its peak in several areas. After a slew of announcement encompassing Digital India, Make In India, Swacch Bharat and Smart Cities, the system does not seem to be responding. The Prime Minister may be pushing with all his might but the bureaucracy is not responding with the same alacrity.
The slowdown of processes for new initiatives is palpable; just take the most visible one. The Defence Minister and even the Prime Minister says that the government wants to bring in One Rank One Pension (OROP). A right snatched by the IAS lobby from defence forces in 1973. Not once but several times the government has said it wants to implement OROP but why is it not happening. Maybe because of the bureaucracy does not want to make it happen. None of the senior politicians or ministers want to acknowledge it but senior bureaucrats are delaying crucial decision. Some simply do not want to take any decision.
Sir Humphrey Appleby clones are there in each ministry who give brilliant arguments for not taking decisions. When the NDA government took over, it did not transfer/ change key bureaucrats as it did not want to create a fear psychosis. Several bureaucrats were allowed to complete their terms, but now several have been given extension. Even those who were ideologues and closely allied to UPA have got extension. Somehow the government is bending backwards to appease.
Even on the smart city front, the PMO had stepped in and gave a list of shortlisted consultants to be used for preparing the DPRs by the states. This was after three secretaries were changed in the Ministry of Urban Development and action had almost slowed down to a still. This is also micro-management and shows that the system is not responding to new responsibilities. The dependence on consultants is also rising fast in almost all ministries that have responsibilities for executing these missions. This does not augur well for the bureaucracy as the know-how is getting built in the private sector for public projects. Bureaucrats will find it difficult to move ahead if they are not on top of things and take executive roles in fulfilling these.
Even the swach-bharat mission is at cross roads as the initial hype seems to have fizzled out at state level. A systematic mechanism has still not been put in place for ensuring its goals are met. It is a difficult mission. Sanitation as a goal has three clear components: Physical infrastructure, social engagement and social behaviour. The ministry has been claiming targets being met on physical infrastructure front in terms of number of toilets built, which are disputed by fact-finding organizations like Indiaspend.com. But more importantly babus do not know how to drive engagement with the citizen or drive social change. Most babus in Delhi have forgotten how to engage with citizens. Bureaucrats only work with citizen in the first few years of their jobs as an SDM or Commissioner at district level.
They do not know how to engage, involve citizens or communities in these initiatives. There is a cultural issue also here that is a result of the meritocracy that selects them. Most babus feel that they know it all and do not need inputs from the citizens. A very high level of arrogance is a side effect of high IQ. Politicians think exactly the other way as they want every citizen to give them suggestions. They know that every citizen is a voter and needs to be acknowledged. But politicians attached to NDA or UPA cannot implement or make the system run. It is the bureaucrats who do and they seem to falling behind.
One of the principles of engaging citizens is to recognize, acknowledge them as a stake holder in policy outcomes. UPA government had tried to bring in an appraisal system for bureaucrats that would rate them on social impact of their work. It had key performance indicators for each ministry and each position even at central level. A results framework document was developed under a Performance Monitoring and Evaluation system (PMES) for bureaucrats. Driven by the Cabinet Secretary it was to be adopted by all the ministries and departments of the government. This was in 2012 after which the UPA government went into a policy paralysis of sorts and this initiative never really took off.
It's status in the current government is not known, it is effective for mid-level bureaucrats who really want to shine and showcase their efforts. The barrier is senior bureaucrats who have reached a nirvana and whose promotions are dependent on political patronage and not performance. The pain due to slowdown of decision-making is now visible and being felt by people as the hype around the announcement is wearing down. While PMES is a long term solution for energizing the system, some short-term hard decisions are equally important.
The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi, he tweets @yatishrajawat
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