For years now there has been serious discontent about
the progressing decline in the governance of the country,
and about the widespread corruption that permeates the
functioning of the elected representatives and the bureaucracy.
Today, the public believes that political influence and
bribes can get virtually anything done, notwithstanding
the law or the laid-down policies.
responsibility for delivering good governance rests on
the performance of the executive. The bureaucracy is required
to function under political direction. However, whenever
failures take place politicians tend to attribute them
only to the lapses of the bureaucracy.
we look back at the course of the outgoing century, it
would be of interest to reflect upon the approaches of
two distinguished civil servants: the late P.N. Haksar
-- he passed away in 1998 -- and B.K. Nehru (both Kashmiris;
both born on September 4, in 1913 and 1909, respectively).
Both attended Allahabad University, London School of Economics
and the Inns of Law and were influenced by Harold Laski's
who had already made his mark as a brilliant lawyer, was
inducted into the ifs in 1947. After two decades of outstanding
diplomatic service he was recalled to serve as secretary,
and later as principal secretary, to the prime minister.
Till he fell out with Indira Gandhi's approaches and left
her (1973) he exercised potent influence on the shaping
of domestic and foreign policies.
issues of maladministration, Haksar refused to consider
piecemeal approaches. A political thinker and social scientist,
he was more concerned with systemic changes. Convinced
that "old thought structures will not do" he sought to
delineate how India could become "cohesive and coherent"
and be able to carry out the "historic task of our country's
political, economic, social and cultural transformation".
On the minister-civil service relationship Haksar held
the view that "ministers must have the skill, the will
and sense of direction for riding the bureaucratic horse
... this will require not merely ability but character
a Punjab civilian, joined the ICS in 1934 and enjoyed
a distinguished career: as an expert in financial and
economic affairs, a successful diplomat and an outstanding
governor of the north-eastern states, Jammu and Kashmir
about the vital role of the bureaucracy, Nehru holds that
a modern civil service is linked with democracy and the
rule of law which is one of its prime functional features.
He concedes that over the years the position of the all-India
services has changed significantly. Today, the politicians
value only those functionaries who unquestioningly carry
out their orders and marginalise those who work according
to the law and rules. The ministers have limited experience
of administration and fail to realise that good governance
can be delivered only by a competent and honest civil
service; and good laws passed by the legislatures cannot
automatically enforce themselves.
Constitution is based on ideas of western origin whereas
for thousands of years the Indian tradition of governance
has been that of "raja and praja". The powers of the ruler
are absolute. In this ethos the civil servant's duty to
enforce the law is viewed by the politician as an unacceptable
check on his power. Hence, Nehru explains, the continuous
strife between ministers and civil servants, resulting
in repeated transfers and harassments. He laments that
while there is no shortage of good laws the means of implementing
them stand destroyed; there is no political will to reform
the governmental machine; valuable recommendations of
earlier reform commissions have remained unimplemented
onset of coalition governments at the Centre has seen
the enhanced role of regional and sub-regional political
parties and, consequently, increasing importance attaching
to their demands. Many states have often complained that
they need to provide larger opportunities for the sons
of the soil who man the state civil services and, therefore,
do not require any more IAS and IPS officers. Vallabhbhai
Patel's vision of the key positions in the states and
the Centre being manned by competent officers of apolitical
all-India services, selected from among the best talent
available in the country, seems to have become defunct.
the Centre proceeds with its intention to establish a
Constitutional Reforms Commission, it would be important
that this body redefines the future role, if any, of all-India
services in the administrative apparatus.
home secretary N.N. Vohra
is director, India International Centre, Delhi.