Prof. V.P. Gupta
Rau’s IAS Study Circle, New Delhi – Jaipur – Bengaluru
“I do not minimise the difficulties that lie ahead on the long and arduous journey on which we have embarked. But as Victor Hugo once said, ‘No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.’ I suggest to this august House that the emergence of India as a major economic power in the world happens to be one such idea. Let the whole world hear it loud and clear. India is now wide awake. We shall prevail. We shall overcome.”
– Dr. Manmohan Singh
These momentous lines were spoken by Dr. Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister while presenting the historical budget of 1991 which changed India not only economically but also administratively. This budget will always be preserved in history as it traced a new path for India away from pure Nehruvian socialism towards free trade, liberalisation and privatisation. Prior to this budget, India as a country was facing severe economic and administrative challenges. India’s external debt was pegged at 23 percent of Gross Domestic Product and internal public debt amounted to 55 percent of the GDP. Closed economy in India led to establishment of an elaborate system of licences, permits, regulations and monopolistic behaviour of Indian government in almost all spheres of social and economic activities. Dr. Manmohan Singh through his budget of 1991 tried to break the economic and social shackles but the historical hangover of licence raj continued and this also impacted Indian bureaucracy as the bureaucrats were used to the licence raj and administering in a newly created world became a challenge both at the ground level and also at the level of policy making. So, in this backdrop of changing socio-economic and political atmosphere in India, let us understand how civil services adapted to this change and what were the different reforms proposed and adopted by the Indian government for overall good governance in India over a period of time.
Impact of Market-oriented
Approach & Technology on
Post liberalisation saw re-orientation of various public organisations in India both in terms of administration and their functioning. However, the process to recruit and train civil servants remained the same. The 1980s saw the emergence of the concept of New Public Management (NPM) which opposed the traditional bureaucratic structure and rather emphasised on outputs by linking incentives and rewards to performance. Another important aspect of NPM was setting of standards and goal for the entire organisation and individuals, with clearly defined indicators to measure performance. This idea was well received by Indian government but the challenge was to make NPM percolate to the grassroots-level of Indian administration which functioned mostly as per traditional style of bureaucracy in sync with the social and political nature of the area. This challenge was overcome with the help of technology as towards the end of 1990s saw the emergence of technology in India and abroad.
Impact of Right to Information Act on day-to-day Governance
Right to Information Act, 2005 ushered in a new era in making functioning of government and government-aided institutions transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of society at large. The basic object of the Right to Information Act (RTI) is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the government, contain corruption and make our democracy work for the people in real sense. RTI facilitates access to information held by public authority, inspection of government documents and records including having their Xerox copy and taking sample of any material with public authority. This has made government offices to index and catalogue every record and documents which ultimately helps the Public Information Officer to retrieve the data when asked for. Another important aspect of RTI is that applicant seeking informations need not give reason. Further, the Public Information Officer is time bound (within 30 days) to give information, else he has to give reasons for delay or for grounds of rejection of the appeal.
So, the ecosystem created through RTI has resulted in better delivery of public services and also acts as a deterrent against arbitrary use of power by public authorities. Thus, RTI has proved beneficial not only in terms of theoretical understanding of transparency and accountability in governance, but also in actual delivery of important government services. So, we can say that Right to Information Act has not only helped the society to become more aware but has also helped in reforming functioning of the government by making them transparent and accountable for the work done by them in their respective fields.
Monitoring Performance of Officers
Devising performance assessment mechanisms of civil service officers has always been a challenge as it is done by seniors. Earlier, officers were evaluated by their immediate seniors through the Annual Confidential Report (ACR). This document determined their promotions, transfers and even empanelment with the Central Government. Under Dr. Manmohan Singh government, this was changed to Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) after passing of Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005. The government claimed that APAR was not a fault finding process but a tool for human resource development. The general guidelines on filing APAR revealed that the Reporting Officer and the Reviewing Officer should not shy away from reporting shortcomings in performance, attitudes or overall personality of the officer reported upon. However, this also created inconsistencies and inefficiencies in performance appraisal, as senior officials were now required to display their comments and recommendations about their juniors.
After seeing the problems in APAR, the government launched the Performance Monitoring and Evaluation System (PMES) a few years later. PMES is a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework that includes an inventory of activities, resources, performance measurement, results and governance information. However, even PMES did not prove to be successful as it failed to ensure accountability of officers to each other and to the government additionally. So, considering these constraints, the present government in 2014 had attempted to introduce supplements to the APAR that improves accountability and helps the government identify officers who actually deserve to be posted at the Centre. Senior officers, including from the Prime Minister’s Office, have been given the responsibility of doing background checks of every official who applies for a Centre posting. This is done by assessing the honesty, integrity and motivation of the officers through confidential reports from their seniors and peers.
Surinder Nath Committee
Government of India constituted Surinder Nath Committee to review and make recommendations with regard to the present systems of performance appraisal, promotions and lateral movement in respect of the All India Services and other Group A services. The committee among other recommendations, recommended to implement “360 degree” reporting whereby the formal performance appraisal system shall be supplemented with an institutionalised means of ascertaining the reputations of civil servants. Accordingly, each cadre controlling authority may, at its discretion, set up an “Eminent Persons Group” (EPG) whose names would be kept strictly confidential). The EPG may, through appropriate means (e.g. discreet personal enquiries or more structured surveys) ascertain from a range of peers, juniors, and clients (e.g. public representatives, media persons, NGO functionaries, business persons, etc.), the reputation in respect of financial and moral integrity, professional competence, attitudes, and personal qualities of each civil servant of the concerned cadre once every five years, starting from the 10th year of service. It would set out their findings in a confidential report to the concerned cadre controlling authority. This information may be compiled separately from the Performance Appraisal Report, and may be useful in the context of:
ê Placements to sensitive or special appointments
ê Counselling officers at 20 years of service or 50 years, whichever is earlier, regarding the advisability of their accepting VRS
ê Confidential counselling of officers regarding their attitudes or conduct (e.g. with respect to juniors or public representatives), or activities that have a bearing on moral or financial integrity, so that they may remedy themselves.
The Union Public Service Commission had constituted an Expert Committee under the chairmanship of Shri B.S. Baswan to comprehensively examine the various issues, raised from time to time regarding the CSE, with respect to the eligibility, syllabus, scheme and pattern of the examination. The important aspects of the recommendations are:
ê The Committee has recommended to fix the number of IAS officers to be appointed at 180 per year as it will help in reducing the backlog of more than 500 vacancies.
ê Has recommended reducing the maximum age limit of general candidate from 32 years.
ê Has recommended removing optional paper for Mains Examination.
ê A meaningful assessment should be done about the requirement of IAS officers every year to send a realistic requirement of Direct Recruits to the Government of India each year, and to monitor the vacancies under the promotion ceiling.
ê The process of settlement of disputes by the various state governments in relation to the promoted officers should be done in a speedy manner, in order to minimise the gap.
The recommendations of the committee have been forwarded to the Department of Personnel for taking a final decision on the same and its consequent implementation.
PRAGATI stands for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation and is a unique integrating and interactive platform. The platform is aimed at addressing common man’s grievances, and simultaneously monitoring and reviewing important programmes and projects of the Government of India as well as projects flagged by State Governments. PRAGATI is the best combination of addressing issues of governance with the use of technology. The PRAGATI platform uniquely bundles three latest technologies: Digital data management, video-conferencing and geo-spatial technology. It also offers a unique combination in the direction of cooperative federalism since it brings on one stage the Secretaries of Government of India and the Chief Secretaries of the States. Through PRAGATI, the Prime Minister is able to discuss the issues with the concerned Central and State officials with full information and latest visuals of the ground level situation on a monthly basis. PRAGATI meetings started in March 2015 and the government has designated every fourth Wednesday of a month as PRAGATI Day. Issues to be flagged before the PM are picked up from the available database regarding Public Grievances, on-going Programmes and pending Projects. Such an effort is an innovative effort in e-governance and good governance and timely appraisal of important schemes and projects by the Prime Minister not only helps in addressing the problems faced by common man but makes the entire administrative set up more responsive and efficient in public delivery of service. Thus, PRAGATI is a robust system for bringing e-transparency and e-accountability with real-time presence and exchange among the key stakeholders and can be said to be an important reform in monitoring of government programmes and schemes by Prime Minister Office, Union Government Secretaries and Chief Secretaries of respective states.
Lateral Entry in Bureaucracy
In the backdrop of shortage of officers at various levels and also with an eye on bringing diversity on the floor, the Department of Personnel and Training had published invitation of applications for senior positions in Government of India at the level of Joint Secretary. Persons from Private Sector Organisations and public institutions including state government, Union Territory Administration, Public Sector Enterprises could have applied for lateral entry for the post of Joint Secretary. Based on the application, the government has recently appointed nine private sector specialists as joint secretaries in various departments through lateral hiring. The purpose of lateral entry is aimed at bringing fresh ideas and new approaches to governance and also to augment manpower.
Lateral entry will help in bringing expertise from the private sector in diverse fields who is not accustomed to the practices and procedural labyrinth of bureaucracy. Such persons can help in infusing new thought process and help in imbibing best practices of both worlds. This will help in providing new approaches to governance. This will encourage bureaucrats to gain expertise in specific fields in their early stage of careers. Specialisation in diverse fields will help serving bureaucrats in having longer tenure as officer in their respective field of expertise. Even the NITI Aayog in its Three-Year Action Agenda under the civil services reform has suggested increasing specialisation and inducting talent through lateral entry in bureaucracy. In this regard NITI Aayog had even suggested amending rules of recruitment to accommodate lateral entry.
Recommendations of NITI Aayog
on Civil Services Reforms
NITI Aayog in its strategy for New India @ 75 has elaborated on Civil Services Reforms in Chapter 38 the part of Governance. As per NITI Aayog, the objective of civil services reforms is to put in place a reformed system of recruitment, training and performance evaluation of the civil service to ensure more effective and efficient delivery of public services to achieve the development goals envisaged in New India 2022. In its recommendations, NITI Aayog has said that the strategy for 2022-23 should be centered on the implementation of the Second ARC recommendations that have been accepted by the government. Broadly, the constraints can be tackled through interventions in the following areas namely recruitment, training and evaluation, and governance.
Recruitment – The focus must be to improve teeth to tail ratio by promoting new officers (also suggested by Baswan Committee). There must be objectivity in the recruitment and placement process which must be reflected through widely disseminate job descriptions, selection criterion and elimination of arbitrariness in the recruiting process. It has recommended to reduce the number of present civil services both at central and state levels through rationalisation and harmonisation of services. Recruits should be placed in a central talent pool, which would then allocate candidates by matching their competencies and the job description of the post. Concomitantly, the number of exams for civil services should ideally be brought down to one with all India ranking. States may also be encouraged to use this pool for recruitments. Encourage lateral entry by inducting specialists at higher levels of government will provide much needed expertise. This process of lateral entry has already started by the government. The government must focus on specialisation while recruiting for various services. Wherever possible, longer tenure postings need to be made based on the officers’ expertise. Upon induction, young officers should be assigned mentors, preferably with an officer having a similar functional specialisation or with high-quality NGOs for values and soft-skill mentorship. Use of Information Technology needs to be significantly up-scaled for planning, forecasting staffing requirements and recruitments. The upper age limit for the civil services should be brought down to 27 years for the general category in a phased manner by 2022-23.
Training – NITI Aayog has recommended altering the current system of training to meet job-outcome oriented goals. With economic gravity shifting towards cities, training should be reoriented to focus relatively more on managing urban areas; introduce mid-career training modules for all services. Strengthen and leverage online avenues for training to introduce pre- and post-training matching of skills to determine postings. This can be done by introducing pre- and post-training matching of skills to determine postings, digitising human resource records across states, developing a competency matrix to monitor ongoing skill acquisition and help match requirements with resources in real time and institute an e-learning platform to conduct training modules. NITI Aayog has also suggested for mid-career exams/skill assessment might be undertaken to evaluate and decide on future postings, to prepare handbooks for skill orientation to improve competency. Introducing ‘living university’ concept of value creation based on outcomes and good ideals, develop ongoing training and immersion modules on a district-by-district basis.
Evaluation – NITI Aayog has recommended replacing annual confidential reports (ACRs) with multi stake-holder feedback (MSF). It is important for MSF to be online to retain transparency and accountability. There is an inherent need to set key responsibility/focus areas and progressively reduce discretionary aspects to evaluate civil servants. Institute the online Smart Performance Appraisal Report Recording Online Window (SPARROW) template in all central and state cadres. Review existing schemes and introduce new schemes of incentives for extraordinary performance. Develop benchmarks to assess the performance of officers and compulsorily retire those deemed unable to meet the benchmarks.
Governance – As per NITI Aayog, an inclusive policy framework with citizens at the centre needs to be developed. Apart from improving public access to information through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the Right to Information Act (RTI), the RTI’s management information system portal needs to be expanded to cover more public authorities, especially subordinate offices of ministries and public sector units. The capabilities and knowledge base of central public information officers (CPIOs), appellate authorities (AAs) and information commissions need to be upgraded on a continuous basis to enable them to perform their assigned roles without external influence. To bring further transparency to public affairs and adopt safeguards to promote accountability, effective monitoring of suo-moto disclosures is an essential aspect of governance. There is a need to introduce an appropriate system of checks and balances, including for the process of suspension, to ensure that officers are given their due process and are not vulnerable to vested interests and political pressures. Lastly, there is a need to revisit Government of India Allocation of Business Rules and Government of India Transaction of Business Rules which the President is empowered to make under Article 77(3) of the Indian Constitution.
E-initiatives and Probity – There is a need to strengthen institutional mechanisms for prevention and detection of corruption by reviewing existing vigilance operating manuals and instructions to ensure probity, by improving transparency in placement through initiatives in recruitment, placement and training and by reviewing performance of officers based on probity. The government must develop a reform framework for the top twenty departments for periodic monitoring of grievance receipts. Government must strengthen implementation of a Centralised Public Grievance Redressal and Monitoring System (CPGRAMs) which enables citizens to monitor the grievances lodged by them on a single screen. CPGRAMs was launched in January 2018. Implementation of e-Office may be expedited in all ministries/ departments; all states/UTs may also be encouraged to adopt it. Every department should seek to simplify their processes to cut administrative delays and ensure participatory feedback mechanisms for efficient service delivery. IT tools need to be expanded for single window clearances and stakeholder consultations in policy.
The words of Dr. Manmohan Singh cannot be discounted as Civil Services Reforms is an idea whose time has come. Economic and Digital growth of India has not only opened various vistas of opportunities but has also made administration and governance more specialised. Digital technology and its proper regulation in the times of use and misuse of social media is another challenge for the government in the present times. With passing time, administration will require defter handling not only in terms of public delivery of services but also in terms of managing complex affairs of the government. The steel frame of India must be made stronger and more resilient so that it can endure what others cannot in times of emergency and need. In this light, the Government of India must look forward to implement the recommendations of various committees and NITI Aayog to make governance, administration and public delivery of services a much simpler, transparent and digital in times to come.