Monday, June 22, 2009

CIVIL SERVICES BILL 2009: THE SILENT CIVILIAN COUP

India's first Prime Minister's self-confessed biggest failure is now set to become complete surrender. In the 21st century, instead of putting in place a contemporary and responsive bureaucratic set up, India is on the verge of making its dysfunctional colonial babudom that Nehru wanted to dismantle but could not, even more unaccountable and powerful than it was during the Raj.

So dangerous is going to be the result of a proposal under consideration that it is surprising that there are no voices being raised against it. Perhaps that itself is an indication of the power and reach of India's babus even today.

Let us get some basic things straight. This country is meant to governed by political leaders who are chosen by the people, the real sovereigns, to whom they are accountable. In effect, Chief Minister are CEOs of their states while the PM is the CEO of the whole nation. All organs of the government, including the IAS and IPS that are about to give a fatal punch to this fundamental concept, are no more than changeable instruments that exist solely to assist these CEOs to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

As it is, thanks to the colonial bureaucracy that frustrated and defeated even a tall leader like Nehru, these CEOs have only a very small pool of talent from which they can select individuals who can faithfully execute their plans and projects. Unlike in modern countries like the US, a PM cannot, for example, appoint a Cabinet Secretary of his choice; he has to pick from less than half a dozen IAS officers who fall in that seniority bracket. The same constraint is faced by CMs in states. They all have to appoint generalist babus of the IAS cadre alone to head the secretarial support staff in all departments. Due to this constraint that will be unacceptable in any modern and responsive administration anywhere in the world, over time, the IAS cadre has become extremely powerful.

As things stand today, all that an individual has to do is get through one Civil Services exam. After that, he need not do anything at all. The system has been systematically sabotaged in such a manner that he will rise to a very high rank and retire a very rich man. Unless he does something criminally unacceptable and is caught and convicted, he is set for life. There is no pyramid; it has been turned into a vertical cylinder. And the very few who do not reach the rank of Additional Secretary are assured many other usurped and lucrative alternative options, including in the public sector.

In addition, having successfully sidelined the military and other professions and cadres from all top positions in the government, the babus - and that includes IPS officers who think they are IAS guys in uniform and not the cops that they are meant to be - are now all set to push even politicians aside. As it is, most politicians, having never worked a day in their lives in a result-oriented organisation, are led by the babus who make them take most decisions that the babus want. So much is the control execised by these babus that, often, decisions pushed through against their wishes are simply not implemented till the minister changes, after which in any case they do not need to be. All this and more will get exposed if the notings on files are made available under the RTI. That is why they are opposing that proposal so strongly.

See the trick and the dysfunctional aberration here? Babus wield the real power already; they compel politicians to take most decisions due to their written recommendations which, unless a minister is well-informed and strong, are accepted. But, the babus don't want to be held accountable for them in any manner. The accountability has to rest with the political decision making authority alone.

There is no doubt that responsibility and accountability of the government has to rest with leaders chosen by people to lead them. If that be so, then, it logically follows that such leaders should have the freedom to choose and appoint the secretarial staff and professionals to help them do so. Unfortunately, over the years, politicians have not covered themselves with glory and some have actually gone berserk in misusing their powers.

The deterioration in the quality of political leadership is a matter of serious concern and measures need to be taken to correct it. But that should be done by politicians at the political end. However, what the unresponsive bureaucracy that is effectively not accountable to anyone, is trying now is insidious and dangerous. In the garb of "insulating" IAS and IPS officers from politicians, it is taking the country backwards in colonial time. Let no one be under any illusion that if the proposed Civil Services Bill 2009 is passed, bureaucrats, who are essentially no more than secretarial support staff to leaders, will become even more powerful than the leaders chosen by the people.

The world has not yet seen "collective dictatorship" of the kind that India is in the danger of being taken over by. If this bill goes through, India's colonial bureaucrats, including those in khakis, will go almost totally beyond the pale of control of even the elected, and will become the nation's real rulers without being answerable to its people in any manner whatsoever.

Look at some proposals included in the bill:
  • A new Civil Public Service Authority (CPSA) will be established to "professionally manage" civil services (IAS and IPS) and serve the interests of babus and citizens. The CPSA will aid and advise the government in all matters concerning the organisation, control, operation and management of public services and servants. It will also frame public service codes to facilitate babus in discharging official duties with competence and accountability, care and diligence; responsibility, honesty, objectivity and impartiality; without discrimination and in accordance with the law.
  • The rank of the Chairman of the CPSA will be equivalent to the CEC and he will be appointed by a committee comprising the PM, HM, Leader of the Opposition and a Supreme Court Judge. The Cabinet Secretary will be the convener of the CPSA.
  • The Cabinet Secretary, Chief Secretaries and DGPs will selected out of a panel by the PM/CM, HM and the Leader of the opposition.
  • The new rules also give enough importance to performance parameters of officers considered for top posts.
  • All bureaucrats will have fixed tenure of three years and will have to be compensated for inconvenience and harassment if moved out earlier.
  • If the government deviates from these norms, it will have to inform the Parliament about the reasons for doing so.
  • These rules apply only to IAS and IPS officers only. Civil servants of other 'inferior cadres' will remain under the thumbs of these cadres as before.
Can you see what is being cleverly slid in?
  • The taking away of powers of appointment from the PM/CM and involving the Leader of the Opposition in the process will simply erode executive authority and eventually ensure that the political leadership will be left with no choice but to pick the senior most officer declared eligible for the job by the CPSA. This means that even when people vote out a government because it has failed to deliver, the new government will be forced to work with the same permanent team of not-accountable-to-anyone babus who ran the failed administration that was rejected by the people. What is this going to lead to, as even an uneducated person can tell you? Even more sloth, unaccountability and colonial arrogance of the sort not seen for 62 years.
  • As of now, the only real power that political leaders have over babus is that of transfer, particularly to lucrative appointments, because babus have already played havoc with organisational hierarchy to ensure promotions up to the near-top level, irrespective of performance (this talk of changing the system of evaluation is no more than a red herring to hijack control). If tenures are fixed at three years, the above-the-government CPSA is empowered to question it, the government has to give reason to the Parliament for moving someone out early and the concerned official has to be compensated for it, then it means that a political leader will invariably be stuck with the same failed officials (even politically inconvenient ones, rightly or wrongly) till their tenures are over. As a result, these already unaccountable officials will become the real masters wherever they are, without being answerable to any body and without any fear whatsoever of anyone other than their equally unaccountable cadre superiors.
  • Presently, the Cabinet Secretary is the senior most bureaucrat who reports to the PM and who can be appointed and removed by India's CEC at will. After the bill is passed, the Chairman of the CPSA will become the Supreme Leader of India's bureaucrats, the babus' Ayatollah, as it were. He will not only be totally out of control of the government but will actually become a superior, independent authority that can question any decision of the political leadership in the states and the Centre in all matters concerning postings, promotions and issuance of orders in accordance with the law.
In short, what India's colonial bureaucrats are attempting now is a silent but deadly civilian coup. IAS and IPS, the anachronistic and dysfunctional cadres that belong to the 19th century, have already grown overwhelmingly powerful in the last sixty two years by infiltrating into and usurping control of all the powerful wings of the government and quasi government organs and bodies. This regression has led to a situation where they are now not willing to submit even to the ultimate people-empowered authority of the political leadership.

The Civil Services Bill 2009 is, in sum, nothing but a cleverly concealed attempt designed to take away most of the few remaining powers that politicians exercise over India's bureaucrats belonging to the IAS and IPS, and make them the de facto rulers of this country, accountable to no one at all. If the bill goes through, India's democracy will effectively be dead in a few years.

You and I may keep voting politicians in and out of power. That will not effect the government at all. No matter who is in power and who is out, the real writ that will prevail will be of India's civil servants; that autonomous tail will wag all political dogs voted to power by the people of this country.
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Readers may also like to read these posts:
1. 1000 times President’s salary for India’s babus
2. Capital punishment not gain for the corrupt
3. Keeping India safe: cosmetic changes will not stem rot
4. Corrupt, colonial India faces volcano