Politicisation of administration

The interplay of corrupt, unlawful practices has eroded capacity and credibility

Politicisation of administration

Accountability: The executive must function independently and constitutionally.

NN Vohra

Former Jammu & Kashmir Governor

While the legislature and the judiciary are vital organs of the Constitution, the executive is perhaps the most important pillar as all our nearly 1.38 billion people, in their day-to-day existence, have to approach one or the other wing of the governmental machinery for the resolution of their grievances. The executive comprises the elected representatives, i.e. the political executive, and the public servants who are the appointed or the permanent executive. For the past many years now, the functioning of the executive has been on the decline. Among the factors which have led to its continuing failures and which, in turn, have resulted in delaying the achievement of crucial nation-building goals, perhaps the most damaging have been those generated by manipulative politics, politicisation and interference in the working of the administrative apparatus, unchecked growth of corruption and unaccountability.

The unfettered interplay of corrupt and unlawful practices has severely eroded both the capacity and the credibility of the governmental machinery. It is regrettable that even the management of the day-to-day public dealing offices and agencies has been invariably entrusted, not to functionaries of proven merit and integrity, but to those generally selected on considerations of caste, community or proximity to the political masters. Continuing deficiencies in the delivery of important public services has led to enormous dissatisfaction among the people.

Accountability is the foundation of the rule of law and constitutional governance. The working of the governmental apparatus shall become efficient only when the functioning of every minister, and of all officials who work in the departments under his control, becomes accountable. However, barring a very small percentage, most of the elected persons who become ministers have no earlier experience in administration, much less of formulating and implementing policies. Also, sadly, most of them do not have the urge, and perhaps not even the capacity, to put in the required effort to adequately understand the working of the departments placed under their charge, identify problems which require solution, take sound decisions and ensure the timely achievement of the targeted goals. Instead, from day one, ministers get accustomed to exercising authority in an arbitrary manner and remain perennially engaged in ordering postings and transfers to favour functionaries who will collect funds and carry out their unlawful directions. Even worse, they pressure and influence the officers working under them to see that contracts for sales, purchases or other matters that involve financial dealings are illegally awarded to those whom the minister wants to favour. It is this manner of unethical and irregular functioning which has promoted corruption and failures in the functioning of the administrative apparatus, besides seriously eroding discipline and accountability of the public services.

Due to the politicisation of the administrative system, a certain percentage of officials, of various services, have climbed the political bandwagon and unawkwardly flaunt their loyalties to powerful elected leaders. Honest officials are invariably sidelined and the functioning of many others is severely constrained by the threats which emanate from the ‘criminal nexus’ which conveys directions how certain important matters should be decided.

The existing punishment and appeal systems relating to the cadres of the various services in the country do not deter dishonest functionaries. A speedier and perhaps more punitive approach is required to deal with corruption among government employees. However, the public services shall start mending only when the political executive starts functioning constitutionally and every minister starts enforcing accountability, answerability and timely achievement of the departmental goals and targets in all the organisations which work under his charge.

For improving the functioning of the administrative apparatus, it is necessary to create an environment in which every public servant functions fearlessly, discharges his duties with efficiency and is enabled to gain advancements in service on the basis of his proven performance and integrity.

Towards this objective it would be beneficial if the senior echelons of all services — generalists, specialists, scientists, technologists, military leaders and all others who assist and work with Cabinet ministers — are allowed to work with total independence, without being constrained by fear or pressure from any quarter. For rendering sound and objective advice, it is of vital importance that the functioning of the seniormost public servants remains conspicuously apolitical.

Many serious problems facing us today, including worrying internal security challenges, arise from corruption, mismanagement and unaccountability. It is, therefore, of prime importance that the executive functions constitutionally and ensures that welfare programmes are efficiently implemented to alleviate the lot of every poverty-stricken family, special attention being given to ensure that the problems of the tribal and other communities who live in remote areas are handled with care and sensitivity.

Naxalism, which at one time was labelled by the Union Home Ministry as the most serious threat to the Indian State, was born and took root in several parts of the country where the tribal and other local communities had faced neglect and severe economic deprivation for long. Having been denied access to resources, even to the natural produce of forests in which they lived, they rose against the established system.

There is no time to lose in putting our house in order. The millions of our oppressed and poverty-stricken people may not wait endlessly for their sufferings to end. Their anger and despair may lead them to the path of confrontation. And if such an unfortunate consequence emerges, it may not be possible to control the arising disorder merely through the application of force — an approach which has been unsuccessfully followed for decades now.

— Excerpted from the centenary year Sir Syed memorial lecture delivered online on September 9.

Full text: Sir Syed Memorial Lecture-2020: ‘Governance—Responsibility of the Polity and the Public Services’

To be continued.

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