Let’s get rid of babudom

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – CBI)

The Union Minister for Administrative Reforms and Personnel recently admitted that “there is a perception that the Indian bureaucracy is inefficient and corrupt. If we are not able to provide for inclusive growth and maintain regional and social balance in the country, it may lead to conflicts which may shake the very foundations of our federal polity and our nation”. He also added that India’s performance on UNDP’s Human Development Index remains “abysmal”. India still ranks 132 out of 179 countries.

The present Law Minister had headed the Administrative Reforms Commission and submitted his recommendations to improve the administration. The Minister for Personnel has said, “It is not possible to implement all recommendations of the commission because of different reasons.” He wanted these recommendations to be deliberated and debated.

We have the world’s most unique system. First we set up commissions or committees of eminent people and then the same people, who felt that they had picked up the most competent people for the job, are also asked to examine their reports, then assess whether they should be accepted or not. Often bureaucrats, who are responsible for the mess get to decide whether the measures are acceptable or not.

In our country we have given so much power to the bureaucracy that its efforts are directed at making the possible into impossible. Any change which takes away the authority of the bureaucracy and whittles down its powers is resisted. Every law that is passed means more power for the bureaucracy and expansion of the Inspector Raj.

More than five years ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured Indian industry that a high-level standing committee with representatives from industry and the Government would review all existing industrial laws and, if required, amend them to end the tyranny of Inspector Raj. The rules and regulations, he said, would be made “more transparent and simple. The attempt would be to, as far as possible, not leave issues to personal interpretation and to ensure that discretionary power is not misused”. Five years later, things stand where they were five years ago.

The demands for ending Inspector Raj have fallen on deaf ears because of our powerful bureaucracy and incompetent political leadership. Heavens would not fall if the private sector were to be trusted with self-certification. For bureaucrats, the ultimate outcome does not matter. It is the procedure, which spawns corruption, that is important.

It is not that today all regulations are complied with, which is the actual duty of the inspectors of various departments, whose number at present ranges from 35 to 65 depending upon the enterprise in which you are engaged in. Their job is to ensure compliance with rules and regulations. Since most of the inspectors have become extortionists, the private sector rightly wants the Government to end Inspector Raj.

Despite brave statements, India has not done away with the licence-permit-quota raj. It is for this reason that domestic entrepreneurs and foreign investors fulminate against the bureaucratic obstacles race they have to run for months and years before they can get necessary sanctions.

Some checks are essential to enforce minimum standards. It will be best to outsource the same, give the option to the private sector to have its own system of doing so. It has been done in regard to pollution — you can get a certificate for your car at selected petrol stations.

The purpose of having inspectors is to ensure that establishments conform to rules and regulations framed to safeguard public interest. What is expected is the diligent performance of duties by Government functionaries, something that still remains an illusion.

According to Transparency International, India is the 83rd most corrupt country in the world, with 34 marks out of hundred. We are caught in a Catch-22 situation. We need some checks and balances to put things right, as it cannot be said that everybody in the private sector is a paragon of virtue. After all, some of entrepreneurs are as guilty as Government Inspectors as they seek to take short cuts and avoid strict compliance with rules and laws. The only solution seems to be to make all changes self-executing and self-certifying. It is a fact that as degree of discretion increases, so does bureaucratic delay, expenses and corruption.

Tragically, instead of downsizing the bureaucracy, the trend is to increase its presence. Even retired bureaucrats find a slot in some department or the other. In Government service, there is no accountability if you do not do your job. Unless performance is linked to job retention, there is no way the bureaucracy will perform There is only a microscopic minority which is putting in all the hard work, due to which Government continues to function. Unless honest upright bureaucrats are protected, encouraged and recognised, the country will remain where it is — full of corruption, sloth and inefficiency.