In pursuit of responsive, honest governance
Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing a mega event at India Gate on 28th May said that his administration has clamped down on corruption. He added, “Corruption has stopped…not just for a year but forever…This is just the beginning. A new dawn”. I just want to wish Modi good luck for his noble intentions. But the fact remains that the rich, who fund political parties, will still pay bribe because they have powerful links. And the genuine requests the poor, who have no money, will remain buried under Government files.
I wish Modi’s words have at least a grain of truth. Obviously, bureaucrats, for post-retirement benefits or jobs, give wrong information to the Prime Minister. Soon after Modi’s claim, a Minister in Maharashtra had to leave his office, a Sub-Divisional Magistrate in Delhi was arrested for bribery. According to media reports about five crore rupees to Rs10 crore per vote were paid during the Assembly elections in Karnataka in May-June.
The new Oxford Dictionary defines a bureaucrat as an official in a Government department who is more concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people’s needs. There is a delay in the rules and laws so that the bureaucrats can make money.
For example, in Delhi, leaving areas that are visited or used by VIP’s, roads in the national capital are in a bad condition. There are encroachments not only by the poor, but also by the rich. Let our Prime Minister, like the rulers of olden times, go incognito to any Government hospital and see queues of patients in every hospital. In reality, what happens is that a VIP does not visit a place without prior notice or information. The result is that only for that single day everything is spick and span. The latest World Bank Doing Business report ranks India as 130 out of 189 countries in ease of doing business.
In the latest report of the Ease of Doing Business Index, India’s performance has worsened. There has been no change in the following parameters of doing business when it comes to registering property, protecting minority investors, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Indian-American Republican Governor Nikki Haley was born as Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in 1972 to an Indian Sikh family in the US. She was always called Nikki (meaning ‘little one’) by her family. She said on May 27 that a “powerful” official system and a need for foreign companies to “know someone” in the Government was making companies in the US “nervous” about investing in India. Firms who want to do business in India very much realise that in India you have to know people to get things done. That is scary for them, as the fact that the Government is much more powerful than it is here (in the US). Here, we are servants. In India, Governments are very strong”. What she has said is not something new for those who have to deal with officials to get his/her due under the law or the Constitution.
Having been a civil servant, I feel the most important problem with doing business here in India is that the bureaucracy believes in multiplying paper work and makes sure that any proposal passes through innumerable hands before saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If nothing works bureaucrats are not above, blaming god for the rest.Yet another way how the bureaucracy hides its faults is that of anonymity.
I had a boss who would mention ‘please speak’, in pencil with date on all files sent to him and later he would rubber off the date to conceal the number of days he sat on the proposal sent to him. His idea was to put all the blame on his subordinates, including me, for the delay. I started putting the date under my signature whenever the file was sent to him. He was very unhappy as this would expose him. It would reveal the number of days he took to deal with the file before sending it to our common boss ie the respective Minister.
Of course, without the bureaucracy, rulers would not know as to what and when a particular thing is required to be improved. The problem happens when bureaucrats do not perceive as to when a particular rule or law is obsolete and has lost relevance. Even if they realise, they keep quiet as it will mean doing extra work. For example, the present Government has decided to delete more than 1,000 archaic and outdated laws.
There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovations that produce better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept? Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the status quo has lost its status. Unless the fear of god or of the rulers, there is very little hope that our bureaucrats are going to change. Most of them in authority do not attend to the common man’s requests but only to those matters in which the powerful are interested.