Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Time to Tackle Core Problems

The civil services are in the throes of a serious crisis of confidence. Even as the fight against corruption must be intensified, the focus in 2011 should be on developing an effective interface between the people and the officers for ensuring good governance
by V. Eshwar Anand
IF good governance is the ultimate goal of the civil services, efforts should be stepped up in 2011 to make them dynamic, result-oriented and corruption-free at the Centre and in the states.
Special attention should be given to the district administration which is the cutting edge of governance. There is a lot of disconnect between the officers and the people at present. This hiatus should be bridged. Governance can improve if special emphasis is laid on developing an effective interface between the people and the civil servants. The focus should be on a face-to-face administration rather than a file-to-file administration.
The delivery mechanism needs to be streamlined with clearer delineation of roles and functions between the district administration and the local bodies. Strong accountability mechanisms — both hierarchical and downward forms including social accountability mechanisms such as report cards, social audit, people’s budgeting, people’s estimates, participatory planning and appraisal, etc. — must be put in place.
The Right to Information Act has helped in bringing about transparency and efficiency in government services to some extent. Yet, there is need for a suitable legislation that will force civil servants to deliver on time. The work ethic in government offices must improve. The Centre and the states can usher in a new culture of administration if the principle of the right person for the right job is followed.
The Centre and the states should wage a war against corrupt civil servants. There is a need to expedite the proceedings against them and bring them to book in 2011. Over 25 of them in the rank of Secretary to the Government of India are facing charges of corruption. Is there no timeframe for the Group of Secretaries to decide and order investigation against them? The departmental proceedings against the IAS officers move at a snail’s pace. And when it comes to the crunch, the officer under a cloud retires and goes scot free. Ironically, though IAS officers are said to be rule-bound, when it comes to their own conduct, they don’t seem to bother about the rules. Moreover, there is no fear of the law. If the corrupt are punished expeditiously, it will send the right message down the line. The Bihar legislation to confiscate the property of the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians should be replicated by the Centre and all states.
There is an imperative need to review Article 311 of the Constitution which gives undue protection to civil servants against arbitrary dismissal and punishment. No other country gives this kind of protection to them. It has become a big hurdle in the fight against corruption. The eight-member Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee should take steps to get Article 311 repealed.The Single Directive clause which gives protection to officers of the rank of Joint Secretary and above should also go.
The GoM, set up in the backdrop of Congress President and National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s action plan to tackle corruption “head-on”, is timely and well-intended. However, it remains to be seen whether its recommendations (to be ready in two months) would remain on paper or implemented in toto.
What happened to the UPA government’s Civil Services Bill (2009) which sought to fine-tune the 2007 Bill to create an enforceable code of conduct for civil servants? Parliament would do well to debate the Bill and enact it fast. The Bill imposes many sanctions against civil servants found wanting: censure; withhold of promotions; recovery from pay of the whole or part of pecuniary loss caused to the government; withholding of increments; reduction to a lower stage in the time scale of pay; compulsory retirement; removal of and dismissal from service.
More important, the legislation will help IAS and IPS officers get a fixed tenure of three years in every posting. If an officer is transferred before three years, he or she will have to be compensated for the inconvenience and harassment caused due to such a move. As most transfers are whimsical and arbitrary, they will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny to remove the element of discretion in such orders. It will especially help those working in the states because the officers will not be at the mercy of the Chief Ministers, ministers and powerful MLAs.
Institutions such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission, the state vigilance and anti-corruption departments seem to be failing in their fight against corruption. While these institutions are regarded as handmaidens of the government, they also suffer from a number of inherent limitations for effectively responding to corruption.
The selection of officers for the CBI, the CVC and other anti-corruption organisations at the Centre and in the states should be made more stringent (particularly in view of the P.J. Thomas episode and the CBI’s shoddy performance chart) with accent on the officers’ impeccable integrity and good track record.
Effective implementation of the Supreme Court’s four-year-old directives on police reforms brooks no delay. If implemented, these reforms are expected to insulate the police administration from political and other influences. Unfortunately, most states have implemented only a watered down version of the reforms which will not serve the intended purpose.
The Supreme Court and its monitoring committee should bestow special attention on the time-bound implementation of police reforms by the state governments in areas like the state security commission, the selection of DGPs through a panel and a fixed tenure for the DGP, IGPs and SSPs.
There is a crying need for administrative reforms. There is no dearth of committees and recommendations. But there is no political will to implement them on the ground. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Mr M. Veerappa Moily had done a good job. Some of its suggestions such as developing specialisation and domain competency among civil servants are worthy of implementation.
Above all, to improve the quality of governance at the Centre and in the states, the civil servants should be given adequate opportunities to perform with freedom, efficacy and accountability. The focus should be on reaching out to tackling the core problems and not tinkering with peripheral issues.


  1. AGENDA 2011
     The principle of the right person for the right job should be followed giving priority to developing specialisation and core competency among senior civil servants.

     Tighten the selection process for posts such as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the CBI Director, the Comptroller & Auditor-General, Chief Secretaries and DGPs.

     Parliament should enact the Civil Services Bill, 2009, that seeks to prevent arbitrary transfers and ensure a fixed tenure for competent officers.

     Corruption must be checked by expediting cases against the civil servants. Article 311 and the Single Directive clause must go.

     Implementation of police reforms brooks no delay. States cannot dilute the directives of the Supreme Court. The police should be insulated from political interference.

  2. Don’t devalue public institutions

    Public institutions responsible for governance have been degraded and devalued in recent years. This must stop in the new year. The Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India have been able to keep their profile and integrity intact mainly because, as in the case of the Election Commission, for example, once the electoral process starts, nobody can interfere with it. That’s why, the Election Commission inspires immense confidence in the people.

    In spite of the Supreme Court, the other investigating bodies — the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation — seem unable to inspire confidence.

    As for the CVC, if you accept the justifiable procedure of a 3-member group for selecting him, as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha says, it is unnecessarily inviting a penalty corner because the decision to select Mr P.J. Thomas as the CVC was not unanimous.

    As for senior civil servants, there are a number of recommendations regarding their selection and appointment to various important positions. But why should the Chief Secretaries, DGP, etc. be appointed by whim and removed by caprice? The media, as Prof Amartya Sen says, should focus on the problems rather than on the personalities.

    K.C. Sivaramakrishnan,
    Chairman, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and former Secretary to Govt of India

  3. We will improve the quality of life

    The beginning of the New Year is a time for introspection and resolutions. 2010 has indeed been a watershed year for Haryana. The state has made tremendous strides in areas ranging from sports, education and health to infrastructure, metro linkages and nuclear energy. These have placed the state on the national and global canvas.

    Significant efforts have been made towards ensuring efficient delivery of services, improving the quality of life and addressing the concerns of the people. We must assess and appraise our success thus far in making governance more transparent and people-friendly and resolve to do more.

    As we forge ahead on the road to becoming a fully developed state, it is imperative that we concentrate our energies on building a people-oriented and graft-free administration. Welfare of the people of the state ought to be the cornerstone of all our policies and programmes and we must ensure that the benefits of development percolate down to the masses.
    We ought to put in place an effective redressal system and facilitate people’s participation in governance as well as in exterminating from society evils such as female foeticide, illiteracy, crime and corruption. We shall continue to focus on capacity building and development of skill sets of the human resource.

    — Urvashi Gulati, Chief Secretary, Haryana

  4. Service delivery at less cost

    The major change that I foresee in the year 2011 would be completion of initiatives taken by the present government in governance reforms. A lot of thinking and hard work has gone into these initiatives on the part of the Governance Reforms Commission and follow up work has also been done by the different departments.

    Some results have already come. For example, e-tendering has become operational in a number of departments. During 2011, we would see completion of these initiatives in the Departments of Revenue, Transport, Local Government, Police, Health, and Panchayats. The objective of this exercise is to deliver services to the citizens in a convenient and transparent manner with minimal hassle and cost.

    The Department of Police has created a friendly interface between the people and the police at the cutting edge level. Police Suvidha Centres are being set up where the citizens would be able to obtain services without experiencing any problem.

    During this year, we are also hopeful of obtaining major investments in the knowledge economy as a result of development of the Knowledge City in Mohali, the IIT Campus in Ropar and the Knowledge Park next to it. We are also hopeful of taking forward the Global Industrial and Knowledge City at Rajpura despite some initial hiccups.

    Subodh Chandra Agrawal,
    Chief Secretary, Punjab

  5. Bringing govt, people closer

    IN 2011, we will continue to strengthen the agriculture and allied sectors to bring prosperity to our farmers. We will work harder on improving the agriculture marketing infrastructure.

    We will undertake a survey of all the irrigation schemes so that corrective steps are taken to utilise the irrigation potential created so far. Special efforts will also be made for harvesting of rain water, particularly in the ‘water stressed’ blocks of the state.

    To bring the government and the people closer, we will make best use of IT tools to provide transparency in governance, enhance efficiency and eliminate corruption. All our 3,243 panchayats will have access to IT facilities.
    We are trying to make Himachal Pradesh a carbon-neutral state. In 2011, we will continue with our efforts for making HP an environment-friendly and polythene-free state.

    Health and education will be our priorities. The Atal Swasthya Sewa ambulances will reach the patients promptly. In education, our emphasis will be on quality.

    Hydel energy is a sector where we have comparative advantage. We will monitor the progress of all projects.

    Himachal Pradesh has immense tourism potential. In 2011, we will focus more on developing lesser known areas, providing way-side amenities and try to bring out the rich cultural heritage, history, folklore and traditions of our state.

    Rajwanti Sandhu,
    Chief Secretary, Himachal Pradesh