Time to reform

The changes made in the All India Services (Death-cum-Retirement Rules), 1958, which will enable the government to get rid of non-performing officers will, hopefully, ensure efficiency and accountability in administration, if they are enforced well.

The prime minister had promised reforming the bureaucracy many years ago and the second administrative reforms commission made specific recommendations to that end three years ago. The government’s decision now is in line with the commission’s proposals. The new rules make it mandatory for members of all-India services like the IAS, IPS and other categories to undergo performance review after 15 years of service.

Those who pass the test will have to face another review after 25 years of service or attaining 50 years of age, whichever is earlier. Till now such reviews were held only after 30 years of service. Those who fail the performance test can be asked to quit service in public interest with all duly sanctioned retirement benefits.

Fixed tenure is the bureacracy’s strongest privilege as it is difficult to sack a government employee on any ground. It is not easy to pursue allegations of corruption, misconduct or other criminal charges, especially against those in the higher rungs of administration. The Supreme Court’s path-breaking ruling last month makes it easier to prosecute an errant  public servant. A citizens’ charter and time-bound delivery of services is also being legislated on. The Indian bureaucracy is among the most slothful, inefficient and corrupt in the world and any move to improve its performance is welcome. What often happens is that competent officers, who have conscience and a sense of public duty, have to leave service on their own or are forced to quit, leaving the corrupt and the deadwood to remain.

It is not clear what the parameters of the performance reviews are, who will conduct them and how objective and unbiased they will be. A bureaucrat’s performance has many elements like conduct, efficiency, ability to achieve goals and improve skills and sense of public purpose and commitment. Officials have to be judged on these yardsticks. It is also doubtful if any performance assessment system will work well when there is a strong nexus between politicians and the bureaucracy. The amended rules and the new process should not become another weapon in the hands of  entrenched interests to hound out the few good but inconvenient persons in administration.

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