Need for balance

There is no certainty whether anything will come out of the petition filed by former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian and 82 former public servants in the supreme court seeking urgent reforms in the administrative services. It is also debatable whether reforms in the administrative set-up should be the result of a judicial fiat. But the courts are pushing governments to do many things which are otherwise not done. The distinguished civil servants who have approached the court would not be unaware of the boundary between the judiciary and the executive. If they, some of whom may have even resisted judicial activism in their official careers, have gone to the court to reform the system of which they were a part, the desperation must be clear to all.

The petitioners want an independent civil services board to be set up at central and state levels. They have said that “there is an urgent need depoliticise management of transfers, postings, inquiries, promotions, rewards, punishment and disciplinary matters relating to civil servants.” One cannot agree more with them because the quality of the civil service has deteriorated very badly. A large section of the service is inefficient, corrupt, compromised and people-unfriendly. There are exceptions but they go only to prove the rule. The reasons for the slide are many. Detailed studies have been made by many commissions  whose recommendations are also being studied without any good result. Politicisation of the administrative system is a major cause of the degeneration, for which both politicians and officials are responsible, perhaps in equal measure.

Systemic reforms are needed but it is unlikely that politicians will have a system where the civil servants are independent-minded. A bureaucracy which is too independent may not be desirable either. The need is to have an administrative system which is both independent and accountable to the people. It is by misusing their power as representatives of the people that politicians have suborned the civil service. In a democracy the bureaucracy cannot be separated from political government and it cannot be wholly autonomous. The challenge is to find the fine balance between independence and accountability to the people. Ideally there should not be a contradiction between these two requirements but that is not the case in practice. There is no doubt that things are progressively getting worse and they need to be improved either from inside or by compulsion from outside.

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