ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ideals vs Realities

It is unlikely that the Moily panel recommendations on administrative reforms as well as suggestions made by the Planning Commission will induce drastic changes in the Indian bureaucracy. Once the tool to ensuring rational governance, as Max Weber had philosophised, the bureaucracy today remains in many ways entrenched in its own narrow class interests.

Ideals vs Realities

Limitations of Governance

It is unlikely that the Moily panel recommendations on administrative reforms as well as suggestions made by the Planning Commission will induce drastic changes in the Indian bureaucracy. Once the tool to ensuring rational governance, as Max Weber had philosophised, the bureaucracy today remains in many ways entrenched in its own narrow class interests.


here is an old saying: A man with a hump on his back desires to walk straight. The saying appears afresh in the context of the Right to Information Act in India. With regard to the prevailing state character of the Indian body polity, such initiatives have little credibility. This becomes all the more clear when a sharp u-turn was made and a number of fetters were proposed in the RTI Act. Similar has been the fate of the proposed idea on administrative reforms, that attempted to reach truly benefit the grassroots level. But in reality in India, such lofty ideals are difficult to implement. Thus, it is high time that the limitations of the Indian state character are considered threadbare before attempting such initiatives in future.

The decision of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Committee this year has caused not a little embarrassment. An IIT-trained engineer has been awarded for his exemplary role in making the movement to ensure right to information (RTI) a success. The government of India was compelled to assure this right to the Indian citizen after a very long movement from below. But the news of this award came almost simultaneous to the decision by the government to effect a suitable amendment in Parliament, one that would effectively fetter the RTI. The government made it clear that file notings would not be divulged; only decisions regarding matters of a particular public interest matter could be conveyed. It meant that the public would be virtually debarred from gaining even essential and basic information from the administration – the very fact for which the RTI was introduced. This makes one wonder whether the objectives of the RTI can ever be fulfilled in a country like India where corruption and non-transparency has become institutionalised. It begs the question as to whether India is squarely incapable of pursuing the mission of the RTI that seeks to provide honest and efficient governance to the public at large.

In another dimension, the government agreed in principle to the report of the Veerappa Moily panel regarding the RTI. It was understood that citizens would have easier access to information from the government and civil servants belonging to all tiers of the administration would remain duty bound to respond to any query from the public. The panel emphasised that even a handwritten letter would have to be responded with utmost care. But the right to information to secure easier access would be applicable to all government offices save the defence and a few other organisations. The pilferage of information from organisations of strategic importance would be protected by enacting a separate legislation. There is no doubt that the right to information provided for more transparency to the public sector which were hitherto not so in their functioning. But there is also an apprehension whether this was done to make the public sector lose its “commanding heights” in the age of privatisation and that the concern of the government would remain primarily restricted to defence and other few select organisations. If this is indeed true, then the right to information should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Moily Panel Recommendations

The recommendation of the RTI panel with Moily as the chairman has a number of interesting features. First, Veeappa Moily, the former chief minister of Karnataka was in the limelight two decades ago for recording some controversial conversations by MLAs of the state assembly relating to horse-trading. Later on, this propensity has only snowballed in various parts of India in different tiers of democratic governance. Second, the report of the panel was accepted by the government nearly three decades to the day when Emergency was declared by Indira Gandhi on June 25, 1975, a time all forms of transparency of the government were trampled. Third, the panel in its recommendation while highlighting some serious lacunae of bureaucratic apparatus also talked about certain tendencies which the great German sociologist Max Weber had highlighted exactly a century back. Fourth, the policy resolution adopted by the Planning Commission on administration is also worthy of consideration, as it seeks to remove the shackles of bureaucratism. But again the veracity of such rosy aspirations can be suspected. Thus, the content of the Moily panel offers a fathomless unrealistic promise especially as many disadvantaged Indians do not have much access to government offices even in times of dire necessity. Also, considering the magnitude of poverty and illiteracy, there are reasons to fear that the mission may remain largely unfulfilled.

The government has made its commitment in no ambiguous terms that the recommendations of the right to information panel would be soon put into practice. But it did not state what steps would be taken to make the administrative reforms gain currency. The document of the Planning Commission has sought to initiate a drastic change in the mindset of a section among the bureaucracy which may indeed be the vital push factor

Economic and Political Weekly October 14, 2006

in making the commitment of the panel a reality.

The Planning Commission’s recommendation clearly stated that many problems of the government are quite old and well known. Obsession with rules rather than concern for output, promotions based on seniority rather than merit, delays and mediocrity (and at times genuine inferiority) at all levels are some of the factors inhibiting productivity in the government. A high degree of professionalism must be the dominant characteristic of a modern bureaucracy. The fatal failing of the Indian bureaucracy has always been its low level of professional competence. The lack of professionalism is reflected in the growing reluctance of the senior civil servants to give frank and fearless advice, the inept handling of major problems that bedevil the nation, inability to innovate and up with imaginative solutions to difficult questions, failure to keep abreast of modern developments and acquire new skills, a slipshod approach to the preparation and implementation of projects, lack of cost consciousness, extreme reluctance to take decisions and above all, unpardonable neglect of routine administration: all these were some of the major observations which this public document categorically made.

The suggestions are indeed insightful and reflective of ground reality. But to make these observations a reality, a genuine social resolution must be a pre-condition.

Lack of concern for the poor is reflected in the very manner in which officers grade their jobs. Although the unofficial gradation of jobs varies from state to state, certain common points can be noted. Posts in the industrial and commercial departments and corporations occupy a very high rank. These enable the officers to hobnob with industrialists and businessmen. Next in the list would be posts which carry a lot of patronage and influence like a district charge, the departments of home, establishment, finance, etc. The lowest ranks go to jobs where excellent performance would directly benefit the poorest such as tribal and social welfare, revenue administration, land reforms and rural development.

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Since the Moily report has been accepted by the government and the policy resolution of the Planning Commission is public, there is now scope for active contemplation to implement these ideas. But the obvious impediment remains the mindset of a section of the Indian bureaucracy who would prefer the status quo to continue.

The hiatus between the advantaged and the disadvantaged sections of the Indian society has been remarkable in all spheres of life. The mindset of the advantaged sections is more appalling. It is not a matter of little concern to see that a member who once belonged to the disadvantaged social category becomes detached from his own clan, once he gets access to the advantaged social category (by virtue of his own dint and merit). Prior to the attainment of the privilege, he was found to harbour an ostensible amount of animosity to the advantaged sections. This may not be a general rule but remains an important impediment in translating many of the government’s sympathetic gestures towards the downtrodden into reality. Thus,

Economic and Political Weekly October 14, 2006 the fate of the Moily panel recommendations and the policy resolution of the Planning Commission for administrative reforms perhaps hang in balance.

Weber’s Truths

Modern governments across the world have all tended to become bureaucratic. Bureaucracy is the best apparatus to rule, had said Max Weber and the validity of this contention was proved with its large scale applicability. Weber was the first to impress upon the efficacy of a bureaucracy in running large-scale modernorganisations and identified it as an apparatus of ruling rationally. During his time, rationality did not happen to be an allpervasive benchmark. But it was indeed necessary to harness. The first use of notation in music (as a rule of music) was, as a parallel example, introduced to make the art of music amenable to an orchestral performance. Bureaucracy as a determined plan of action to rule germinated from this common tradition with the basic goal of introducing rationality in various walks of life. Weber therefore called the bureaucracy, the rational-legal structure of governance. Still it has its limitations like nepotism, corruption, red-tapism, unnecessary mystification, secrecy, depersonalisation, and its excessive reliance on rules and regulations ignoring the vital human factor. Thus, Weber was apprehensive about the bureaucracy, ability in providing succour to human society.

The Moily panel and the Planning Commission have tried separately though with a converging aspirations to make good governance more readily available to the people of India. The way the Moily panel and the Planning Commission recommendations have voiced their anguish regarding the limitations of the delivery mechanisms of various agencies of governance aptly show a convergence of concern with what Weber foresaw over a century ago. Great changes have happened in the sphere of technology and related spheres. Stateof-the-art scientific innovations have made man conceive himself as a “supra soul” – lording the universe at will. But the mindset of an average individual is found to remain as primordial as ever. This is not a matter of little concern as an orthodox and nonscientific mind is incapable to discharging due functions in spite of the checks and balances offered by Weber, Moily and Planning Commission. The bureaucracy continues to have its glaring aberrations.

This is perhaps the reason why it is said that India has a “Rolls Royce” administration with a “bullock cart” economy. The babus and the sahibs of a section of the Indian bureaucracy constitute the nuts and bolts (the content) of the administration and mere cosmetic change in form may not be able to provide the needed push factor as we have been hoping for.

Many of the lofty ideals proposed may sound good. But they hardly seem to affect the ground reality in altering the prevailing dynamics of power relations. The basic character of the Indian nation state remains elitist and pro-rich even after six decades of independence.



Economic and Political Weekly October 14, 2006

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