India is shining at global front. We have “Digital India”, “Smart India”, “Swach Bhart”, “Make In India”, “Skill India” and many other programs which resonate with this image of India. But when we open our eyes & look around ourselves or within ourselves all these doesn’t feel real. What we feel most or do the most on any normal day is hypocrisy & corruption. These are interrelated and one leads to another. Hypocrisy & corruption are in human nature. We want others to follow rules but we want easiest and shortest way for ourselves. Their level differs from society to society & region to region. In the Indian case, this picture is quite grim.
Corruption – Political & bureaucratic
Here I want to differentiate corruption in two broad categories – ‘political-corruption’ and ‘bureaucratic-corruption’. What is bureaucratic corruption? I will say it is corruption which originates from or done by any government employee of, both Centre or state. On another hand, political corruption is corruption which done by politicians and their parties. Most of the times, corruption involves both politicians and bureaucrats together; but origination point generally differs.
Former Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) of India, N. Vittal, once stated in an interview to a journalist – “If you ask me who is more corrupt between the politician and the bureaucrat, for statistical reasons, I would say a bureaucrat. A corrupt politician can be thrown out any second. But a bureaucrat stays for 30 years in the government. In terms of the length and the numbers, bureaucratic corruption is more than political corruption.”
Corruption in India – Bureaucracy is Major Hurdle
A 2005 study done by Transparency International, an international non-governmental organization based in Berlin. They found that in India more than 62% of the people had firsthand experience of paying a bribe or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office. India now stands at 130 out of 189 countries in ease of doing business, moving up four places from last year’s adjusted ranking of 134. In 2015, India ranked 76th out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Bhutan was at 30th. There are many other indices which show shattered state of our system. Pathetic situation of PDS system, continuous losses in PSUs, rising figures of NPA, abandoned and stagnated infrastructure projects – in all such national level problem bureaucracy had played a major role.
Over time central and state government have realized this problem and have tried to control it but with little success. The problem with government is – they ask a powerful department to give away its power, which is reluctant to do it. Whenever the government tries to make laws simpler, more refined to curb infringing bureaucracy by new laws or policies or regulation, bureaucrats come up with new ways to exercise their power for misuse. Anti-profiteering clause in GST is the latest example of such manipulation. Most of the policy makers, intellectual, and thinkers (economist/socialist) believe that for any big reform or policy to generate a result at the ground level; its bureaucracy which needs reforms at the first place.
Bureaucracy – In Numbers
Now, let’s have a look at another side of this story. In 2017, there were 2138 civil services posts lying vacant (1470 in IAS, 908 in IPS, 560 in IFS). Till June 2015 center had a shortage of 88 officers at the level of directors or deputy secretaries, the backbone of the bureaucracy. Even in the central board of Reserve Bank of India which provides broad direction to the central banks; 8 of the 16 director positions nominated by the Centre were vacant and 2 directors were about to retire as on August 2016.
If we compare India with the US, we have only a fifth as many public servants as the US, relative to population. As per data compiled from multiple sources for 2011, India had 1,622.8 government servants for every 100,000 residents where as U.S. had 7,681. The Central government with a total of 3.1 million employees, every 100,000 population is served by only 257 public servants, against the U.S. federal government’s 840. The Central government’s figures also show that 59.69 per cent of public servants belonged to Group C and another 29.37 per cent to Group D — the two lowest paid categories. Though these workers are important, the numbers suggest the system-wide shortage of skilled staff and administrators.
Bureaucracy – A need for Good Governance
Seventh pay commission is in the process already. The total wage bill now is close to 6.5 Lakh Crore – around 5% of India’s GDP. As the central government has a very close fiscal target it will not be easy for the government to fill these vacant posts any sooner.
So two big questions are –
- Who will implement the government’s big plans or policies??
- Even if we increase the number of public servants; will that not increase corruption and governance inefficiency??
There is less to discuss on the first question because the answer is only “Public servants”. As said by eminent economist V.K. Ramachandran: “One of the most important lessons of the economic history of modern nations is that most crucial requirements of social transformation can only be delivered by the public authority. A government that does not pay for skilled personnel to deliver education, health, and land reform is one that condemns its people to under-development.”
We want to come at par with the European or the US standard of governance and development. But for that, we need huge public servants to serve our humongous population. Now, here starts the dependency on the second question – these public servants need to be more efficient and loyal to their duties, not to themselves of their relatives.
Hypocrisy comes to picture
Why is Indian bureaucracy in such a bad shape? We have this common notion of “Sarkari Naukri – chain ki Naukri”. Everyone tends to blame politicians, corporate and not bureaucrats? We all say these things but very few ask the question “why”. The answer is our hypocrisy.
The reason is very simple – the blame comes back to us only. Almost everyone (except the poorest of our society) has a family member or a relative in a government job. And, we seek favors from them regularly. If we start blaming them or make them accountable for corruption or misuse of their power. Then who will do our these works?
Most of us have a conception that “Police ki dosti aur dushmani dono buri”. This is because we found police irresponsible and exercising their power wrongly. But if a member of the family gets a job in the police. There would be a grand celebration in the house. Similarly, almost all of us hates government schools for their poor infrastructure, lack of quality education, irresponsible teachers, administration and for many other reasons. However given a chance, people would themselves want to settle with a job in government schools. The reason being simple is decent salary and convenient working hours with effectively zero accountability.
Bank officer will blame policemen for wrong and unethical use of power. Policemen will blame railway ticket collector for selling vacant seats corruptly. The railway employee will blame banker for sluggish working style and autocracy. In a corrupt bureaucracy, such blame game becomes a vicious circle without any end.
Roots of bureaucracy & Hypocrisy
The roots of all these problems go to our history. Exploitative and infringing nature of bureaucracy found its seeds during colonial rule. As written by Rabindranath Tagore; three months before his death in 1941 –
“The wheels of faith will someday compel the English to give up their Indian Empire. But what kind of India they will leave behind, what stark misery? When the stream of their centuries’ administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filth will they leave behind! I had one time believed that the springs of civilization would issue out of the heart of Europe. But today when I am about to quit the world that faith has gone bankrupt altogether.”
During Colonial system, the administrative services were oriented towards benefits of the Britain. Therefore Indians who were in administrative services were used to exploit their own nation. They often had narrow social, economic and political outlook. This same feeling is expressed by Professor Bipan Chandra and others in their book, ‘India since Independence’. They wrote – “When massive social change and economic development was sought after 1947, the rigidity and the outlook of the bureaucracy become a major obstacle.”
Our education system is second reason for these social problems. We adopted a theoretical framework of education which gives little emphasis on social values, ethics and more on grades, output. This education system had produced highly individualist personnel. They care very little for social concerns and are more focused on their personal benefits.
Solution Lies within us
As we start moving up the ladder; it’s very easy initially but becomes tougher and tougher to climb up as we reach higher and higher. After independence, we started to climb up from the ground. Raised ourselves up on the growth ladder, gained momentum after 1991 reforms of liberalization and moved up at faster rate. But now to move up from here we need more effort than before. With the same structure of bureaucracy, we will not be able to lift ourselves any further.
We have to shed this taming of centuries and revive ourselves to become a society of high values. Two things are quite clear; first, we need very large public services to meet our requirements. Secondly, public servants have to be of high social values. Without these our economy cannot grow; our society will not be on a sustainable path.
Shouting meaningless slogans based on caste, religion, category, opting for a narrow version of nationalism will not make our nation great. We will have to shed our selfishness, have to keep higher goals. We must adopt correct social ways and not shortcut for personal gains. Individualism gives good results for short run; in longer terms, collectivism is the only sustainable way. In a true sense, we will be developed only when we will accept our hypocrisy and will try to improve and work on it.
(The Article was first published in department Magazine “Business Economist” 2016.)