New face of babudom?

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – CBI)

We have so many committees and commissions set up by the Government that often duplicate or triplicate what has already been done. Some of them do not have even half-a-day’s work. But one common feature shared by the members of these committee and commissions is that all of them have the trappings and perks of Government, including bungalows, chauffeur-driven cars, telephones and a plethora of personal assistants and private secretaries who are as under-worked or under-employed as their bosses.

One of my friends, belonging to an all-India service, had annoyed the powers that be. So he landed up with one of those jobs which are euphemistically called consultants or advisers. One day I dropped by his office and asked him how much work he had. He said that he had five files. He committed the mistake of disposing of one of them. He asked his private secretary as to why files were not coming to him. The private secretary, also called ‘principal private secretary’, as those attached to senior officers are called, told him that for the last couple of years only five files were with the office. So, to keep busy, his predecessor would raise the same perennial queries and see to it that some scope was still left for raising further questions. It did not matter, whether the questions were relevant or irrelevant.

Against 25 secretaries to the Government of India at the time of Independence, the number has crossed 350 if all the posts of secretaries, special secretaries and those holding equivalent rank outside the secretariat are counted. Before the First Pay Commission, the age of retirement for Government servants was 55; it was raised to 58 in 1963; and to 60 in 1998. The reason given was that since people were living longer, Government servants could also work longer.

The truth is that longevity has nothing to do with efficiency. What matters most is physical fitness and good health. Most people after 50 and definitely after 60 survive only on medicines required to control ill health and diseases, which are a natural concomitant to aging.

Whether one admits it or not, the fact remains that age catches up with men and women and the capacity to work decreases as we grow older. If all Government servants were subjected to a thorough medical examination, a vast majority would be found to be suffering from one or the other medical problem and some of them would be declared unfit to work.

Besides, when the entire world is moving towards harnessing youth power, India is probably one of the few countries which still believes in giving jobs to old people on the ground of experience. With all their experience, the regulators or people heading commissions and committees have not made an iota of difference to the quality of governance.

There used to be an exception to give extension in service. Now the exception is practised in another way. Instead of allowing a service extension, now each department, whether it has work or not, has created the posts of so-called regulators or members of commissions and committees for specific work or negotiations whose tenure is elastic. It is amazing that the Law Commission, comprising a full time chairman and one part time member and other supporting staff has recommended an increase in the retirement age for others and for itself and those heading tribunals indirectly. It says, “Barring few exceptions, a person is fit and fine at the age of 62 or even 65 years.”

People in such jobs keep a low profile so that they are not noticed, lest their existence may be detected and their services terminated. Assuming for the sake of argument, not that there is any substance, the claim for raising the age of retirement to 70 rings hollow and will have a multiplier effect, upsetting the system of governance.

The same argument can be trotted out by other services and other Government employees, that they also have 30 or 40 years of experience to back their claim, whereas any tribunal or commission chairman, if he or she is a retired judge, would never have that much experience as normally all judges appointed from the bar are aged 45 years or more. If this happens, then we will have physical and mental wrecks in the Government and we can bid farewell to good governance.

Leaving aside everything else, if retirement age is increased under one excuse or the other, then where does the younger generation get a chance for employment? We want our forces to be young so that they are alert and able to face any challenge efficiently. Then why do we want our bureaucrats and rulers to be of ancient vintage? A Hong Kong-based organisation, which conducted a survey of 12 Asian economies, says that Singapore’s civil servants are the most efficient among their Asian peers, but they tend to clam up unhelpfully when things go wrong.

It has ranked India’s “suffocating bureaucracy” as the least efficient. The report says that working with Indian civil servants is a “slow and painful” process. They are a power centre in their own right at both the national and State levels, and are extremely resistant to reform that affects them or the way they go about their duties.

The recommendation to raise the age of retirement should be rejected outright in the interest of the nation and the younger generation which is the hope of the country. Recall what William Makepeace Thackeray said: “Next to the very young, the very old are the most selfish.”
hysical and mental wrecks in the Government and we can bid farewell to good governance.

Leaving aside everything else, if retirement age is increased under one excuse or the other, then where does the younger generation get a chance for employment? We want our forces to be young so that they are alert and able to face any challenge efficiently. Then why do we want our bureaucrats and rulers to be of ancient vintage? A Hong Kong-based organisation, which conducted a survey of 12 Asian economies, says that Singapore’s civil servants are the most efficient among their Asian peers, but they tend to clam up unhelpfully when things go wrong.

It has ranked India’s “suffocating bureaucracy” as the least efficient. The report says that working with Indian civil servants is a “slow and painful” process. They are a power centre in their own right at both the national and State levels, and are extremely resistant to reform that affects them or the way they go about their duties.

The recommendation to raise the age of retirement should be rejected outright in the interest of the nation and the younger generation which is the hope of the country. Recall what William Makepeace Thackeray said: “Next to the very young, the very old are the most selfish.”

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