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Cracks in the governance wall
Soon after taking oath, The First Promise that our Current Prime Minister made to The Nation was to bring about Necessary Administrative reforms, Crucial for Improving The Standards of Governance in The Country. But today, as The Ruling coalition enjoys its 2nd Consecutive term, The Promise seems almost forgotten.
Issue Date - 21/07/2011
There was once a time when bureaucracy in India was termed ‘the backbone of imperial rule’ and ‘the steel-frame’ on which the whole system of administration depended. Though it was known to have mainly served imperial interests, there is no denying that it did work efficiently and effectively. Much change has also occurred in time. Some for the worse too. Today, the country’s supposed steel-frame is clearly a target of criticism due to rampant inefficiencies. It was in February, 2005, when the first steps were initiated to set up a new Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s behest to make the bureaucracy more responsive. The Commission was given the mandate to suggest measures to achieve a proactive, responsive, accountable, sustainable and efficient administration for the country at all levels of the government. The long list that the Commission was asked to consider included the organisational structure of the Government of India, ethics in governance, refurbishing of personnel administration, strengthening of financial management systems, steps to ensure effective administration at the State level, steps to ensure effective district administration, local governments or Panchayati Raj institutions, social capital, trust and participative public service delivery, citizen-centric administration, promoting e-governance, issues of federal polity, crisis management and finally, maintaining public order. In April 2005, the government finally announced the setting-up of a second administrative reforms commission under Veerappa Moily as Chairman of the body. The current ARC includes V. Ramachandran as Chairperson (after Veerappa Moily resigned with effect from April 1, 2009), A.P. Mukherjee, A.H. Kalro, and Vineeta Rai. ARC member Jayprakash Narayanan also resigned with effect from September 1, 2007.

Despite the birth of the ARC, it is interesting that it took successive governments almost 40 years to realise the need and importance of administrative reforms. This concept of “reform”, as experts put it, generally implies “progress or change in a direction that can be considered to be desirable”. Change takes place in all societies, irrespective of efforts. Some changes lead to the improvement of conditions, while others do not. Administrative reforms can be considered as planned changes which are introduced with specific purposes. But the question of who determines the desirability of the directions taken and purposes underlined, is what leads to controversies.

Before we delve into why the progress in terms of administrative reforms in India has lacked flash, let us understand the importance of this phenomena which actually dates back to the British rule in India. S.R Maheshwari, former Professor of political science and public administration at the Indian Institute of Public Administration (New Delhi) and National Fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research, has carefully followed the chronology of events and has also sought to organise his study with accounts dating right from the inception of the British rule in India. He points out that the British East India Company had more at stake in the provinces or ‘presidencies’ in the early years of rule in India, and that the concept of a centralised system of administration evolved much later. The transformation of the Company from a trading to a ruling establishment took many by surprise, and it took the British Crown a considerable amount of time to assume and consolidate its ruling power over India. “The early members of the civil service of India were merchants who were recruited on the basis of patronage and were inefficient, lazy and corrupt in the beginning with low awareness of the broader social purpose. But in course of time, the system was purged of its weaknesses and emerged as very efficient and dedicated one,” Maheshwari adds. He considers various ways of conceptualising administrative reforms and points out that it is not a static concept and should rather be linked to an ideology. While underlining the importance of ‘political complexion’ of the State in shaping public administration, many experts explain the lack of emphasis placed on public administration in India by questioning the ‘background and life-long preoccupations’ of the framers of India’s constitution. True. They were engaged in agitational politics, and had no extended opportunity of learning either the nuances or the details of administration or gaining an insight into its dynamics.

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