attitude issue

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Jun 2018 12:16:04

THE Government’s proposal to assess the performance of Secretary or Additional Secretary level officials on the basis of their attitude towards people from weaker sections of the society, deserves to be appreciated. Unfortunately, despite all the exhortations from the thought-leaders of the society in the past seventy years, Indian bureaucracy has not been able to make major changes in their attitude towards many issues before the Administration, including towards various sections of the society. That is also the reason why the bureaucracy has drawn flak from many political or social leaders for not being alive to the societal issues. It is against this backdrop that one has to appreciate the Government’s proposal to assess the performance of top IAS officers on the basis of their attitude towards weaker sections of the society. 

There is little doubt that the successive Governments at the Centre or in the States have suffered on the social front because of the cold attitude of the bureaucracy towards the people from weaker sections of the society. The comment of the then Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi that only Rs. 15 out of every Rs. 100 reached the needy people from the national developmental allocations, stemmed from this actual experience of how the top bureaucrats conducted themselves vis-a-vis financially or socially weaker sections of the population. The Government’s scrutiny of the top officers’ attitude, however, should not be restricted only to the weaker sections, but also be applied to the overall attitude of the bureaucracy towards the entire developmental philosophy that India has adopted right since Independence. The real problem is in the wrong attitude of the bureaucracy. Having been schooled in the original British tradition of administration, the Indian Civil Services (ICS) cadres often imbibed the western ideological pyramid of the idea of governance. The stress was on serving the top, nursing the interests of the rulers, and helping the political powers-that-be to meet their own agenda. In this pursuit, the agenda for the people often got the status of second fiddle.
Once the ICS got replaced with new nomenclature -- the Indian Administrative Service -- a change of culture was expected. However, that did not happen and the IAS lobby, too, kept up the vestiges of the ICS tradition. Even seventy years after Independence, those residual attitudinal issues still crop up. It is this part that has necessitated the proposal to assess the performance of top officers on the basis of their approach towards serving the financially or socially weaker sections of the society. To begin with, the task of such assessment may not be easy. Yet, once the Government decides the norms and parameters of assessment, things would get into a desired flow. Let us hope that this happens quicker than some people may think.

Let us not make the mistake in feeling that the whole of Indian bureaucracy does not make the grade. No, that is not the case. Much to the contrary of many an accusation of incompetence, the Indian bureaucracy has generally done well. It has acted as a steel frame of Indian Government (just as the ICS did for the British Empire). Yet, the brown sahib persona of the bureaucracy has remained unwashed. That is the area of actual trouble. It is because of this persona that the connect between the people and the bureaucracy has remained tenuous rather than strong, barring of course some honourable exceptions. Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has often insisted upon change of attitude of the bureaucrats. His appeals did have a positive impact. Yet, as a man in hurry, the Prime Minister wants a quicker pace of change. That may be the reason why the Government is now insisting upon newer standards of assessment of the bureaucratic attitude towards weaker sections.