Freeing babus


The UPA government’s plan to ensure a fixed two-year tenure for senior bureaucrats is a welcome move which will ensure greater accountability on the part of the bureaucracy, give better stability  to the administration and protect officials from the vagaries of political changes and personal preferences of politicians. The terms of select senior officials at the Centre are fixed now but the proposed legislation will make it a legally binding norm for officials at the state level too. Thus chief secretaries and DGPs will also get a stable tenure, which will impart continuity to governance. The present practice of whimsical transfers and postings actually gives an excuse for bureaucrats to evade responsibility.  The Civil Services Bill, which is also awaiting introduction, proposes to make performance the major criterion for transfers and postings. The measures have been proposed in the past by various commissions  and others but have not yet been comprehensively acted upon.

An unholy nexus between politicians and bureaucrats, especially at the senior levels, is a fact of life in the country. In a democratic system the bureaucracy should be accountable to people’s representatives, but the relationship, as it has evolved in the country, goes beyond this. Politicians seek loyalty and even try to make bureaucrats accomplices in their wrong and corrupt actions. Favourites are rewarded and others are punished.
Unquestioning obedience is promoted at the expense of efficiency and professionalism.
Many bureaucrats play ball, either out of fear or in expectation of gains during their service and post-retirement. In many states the officialdom is divided along political lines and officials are sometimes identified as personally loyal to some politician or the other.  
The arbitrary manner of effecting transfers recently became evident in the large-scale shifting of IAS and IPS officers in UP after the elections. The Supreme Court has termed it a serious matter. UP is no exception; it is only that the Mayawati government has raised the problem to scandalous proportions. Therefore the present move is positive and is an important step forward in making the administrative system immune to political interference. There is likely to be opposition, especially from state governments. The Centre will have to convince them of the desirability of the move and how long-term gains from having a stable and efficient bureaucracy are better than the short-term benefits from having a pliant and captive officialdom.     

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