Friday, October 20, 2017

The insufferable attitude of IAS – India’s Arrogant Servants - By Shantanu Bhagwat in Reclaiming India

June 1, 2013, 12:57 AM IST  | India | TOI

Last week, I came face-to-face with insufferable arrogance. The kind that makes you wonder what props it up; the kind that is almost impossible to believe unless you face it yourself. Last week was my turn to face the reality of a Mai-Baap Sarkaarand its “Officers”. It was particularly galling because I was not really expecting it.
Before I tell you what happened, let me ask a simple question: “How many of you have tried to meet the Collector or Commissioner of a District in India?  How many of you have tried to do it without pulling some strings?”
Long before the days of internet and mobile phones, the District Administration and its officers in India were a formidable “black box” to most people. Such was the veil of secrecy and mystery surrounding these offices, that even the Collector’s direct phone number was something of a state secret. The web changed all that. Thanks to efficient search engines, it is actually possible today to get the mobile number (or at least one of the many mobile numbers) of a top district official with relative ease.
A few days back, armed with a couple of these numbers, I decided to call a few officials to ask if they could meet me. The purpose of the meeting was not “personal”. I wanted their time to discuss some ideas around improving the governance of our towns and cities.
I wanted a 30-minute slot. I had enough flexibility & I was willing to meet them at a time of their choosing. Not an onerous request, you would think. So I thought too.
The first conversations were invariably pleasant. And they usually ended with a promise to get back – either with a date/time for meeting or to confirm the date/time we had tentatively agreed.
I was blissfully unaware though of the norms I had already broken. The first of this is to never dial someone direct. The “protocol” is to call the Collector’s PS, explain why you wish to speak to him/her and then wait patiently for a call back by the PS before he/she connects to you to “Sir” or “Madam”.
15 years of being outside the system, working in fast-moving & informal environments had left me out of touch with this reality.  I had already broken the “protocol” by calling these folks direct – that too on their mobile numbers, with no one to “screen” the call!
I waited patiently for a call back. 2 days passed by, then 3. Then a week.  Somewhat exasperated, I decided to send an SMS by way of gentle reminder. No response. 2 days, no response still. 3 days, nothing.  
That is when I decided to call again – and ran smack into the stonewall of a ringing phone  & the reality of a “system” that does not have time for “unrecognized” numbers!
I was reminded of these words in fellow activist (and ex-IAS) Sanjeev Sabhlok’s recent post:
Such is India’s fate – to be “ruled” by either totally corrupt or totally arrogant “senior” bureaucrats who are never accountable for anything they do in their life and are ruining India through their TOTAL ARROGANCE.
This was my brush with “Total Arrogance”.  That the bureaucracy is unresponsive, heartless, arrogant and unaccountable is hardly news to most people. And yet it is sobering to confront this reality first-hand.
Just over 2 years back, Eric Ellis wrote this in the context of Commonwealth Games that had just concluded in New Delhi:
The Delhi games showed the world just what can be done when its (India’s) daunting civil service takes control – and the result wasn’t pretty. Corruption, waste, inefficiency, obfuscation and a cancerous lack of accountability in officialdom – and all of it on an Olympian scale. ...Some economists have calculated that India’s bureaucratic inefficiency costs the country 1 to 2 points in annual growth.
Eric went on to point out how
Part of the problem is its size and power. India employs about 4 million civil servants, with another 7 to 8 million in its 35 states and territories.It is the world’s biggest civil service, bigger even than China’s, which has about 15 per cent more people to administer than India. And India’s numbers don’t include the armies of non-paper shufflers; the personal staff of senior bureaucrats who manage the household and perks.”
I guess it would not surprise most to read that,
American economist Lant Pritchett of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government .. described the Indian bureaucracy as ”one of the world’s top 10 biggest problems”, up there with AIDS and climate change.”
What makes this system so formidable is the complete lack of accountability. It is virtually impossible to fire a “Class I Gazetted Officer”. Even the most egregious misdemeanors usually end with a “suspension” that is quietly revoked once the wrong has faded from public memory.
Not only are there no consequences, there is no “incentive” to do good either. Whether you are one of the best or humdrum run-of-the-mill, promotions for the first several years in these services are lock-step with the entire “batch” – regardless of ability, performance or indeed non-performance.  Unsurprisingly this system manages to corrode even the best and the brightest over the course of their careers.
“Omission” is not a sin. So the default is “no action”. There is no penalty for indecisiveness and no reward for taking a decision. The result: A system that moves at glacial speed completely oblivious, impervous to the sweeping changes happening around it. Of all the reasons why the “steel frame” needs to be dismantled, one sums it all. The frame is rusted. It no longer supports but obstructs. It is not a support but a barrier.
I realise I am probably lumping a  lot of fair, upright, decisive and conscientious officers in this sweeping generalisation. But if they are true to themselves, they will, I suspect, agree with me that the rot within is deep and is beyond the point where it can be stemmed.
As Sanjeev mentioned in another post more than 2 years back,
That COLONIAL system of bureaucracy is so badly antiquated and ineffective that it amazes me why we have not replaced it with a functional bureaucracy.
Until such a revamp happens, no amount of change at the top will sustain.  And without such an overhaul, the bureaucracy will be marked by arrogance, lack of responsiveness & insensitivity. Next time you come across this stonewall of indiffwerence, console yourself with the thought that you are not alone. And pray for a day when we can get rid of this colonial hangover. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!
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1 comment:

  1. You got the taste of your own medicine. The arrogance exhibited by commissioned officers are far more greater than the civilian officers.