Curbing corruption has been a priority of the Modi government even since it came to power in 2014. After achieving tremendous success on the anti-corruption front in the 1st term, PM Modi has furthered the agenda in his 2nd term. In the 1st month after a receiving a massive election mandate, the BJP government has decided to cleanse one of the most corrupt institutions of the government in today’s times- the bureaucracy.
The lethargy of Indian bureaucrats was diagnosed in the 1st NDA term itself. When officers enter the stream through one of the most competitive exams in the country, they are an intelligent and bright minded lot. However, as the years go by, their performance and ethical capacity is vulnerable to deterioration. The officers retain their positions irrespective of their performance and therefore, there is hardly any motivation for them to work with honesty and diligence. Moreover, the power the position brings often corrupts even the brightest minds.
In order to pro-actively deal with this predicament, Modi government has introduced a two-fold strategy, aimed at filtering the institution and ensuring that capable individuals are brought into the fold of bureaucracy at the mid level.
The implementation of the strategy began, when, in an unprecedented move, PM Modi compulsorily retired 12 officers in the Department of Revenue of the government. The income tax officers had various charges, ranging from corruption to even sexual harassment. Thereafter, a couple of days ago, 15 more officials were retired from the same department using the Fundamental Rule 56 (j) of Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972. The rule permits compulsory retirement of government staff in public interest on account of corruption or bribery. Although the rule is a pre-existing one, it hasn’t ever been used in such an extensive manner.
The officers done away with include chief of the IRS (Customs and Central Excise) Association, Arun Srivastava, who is facing charges of illegal gratification, criminal conspiracy and demanding and accepting bribes.
The move has been widely appreciated by serving officers. An IAS officer serving in the central government told The Print, “The bureaucracy has often been criticised for allowing corrupt, lazy and status-quo-ist officers to thrive in a system that resists change. The perception does harm the entire bureaucracy even though only a few are the culprits… So if the government gets rid of them, it will make the entire bureaucracy more vibrant and productive.”
Further in line to keep the officers on their toes, Modi government has also paved way for lateral entry in the Indian Civil Services. The government has decided to facilitate recruitment of at least 40% of officers at the joint secretary level from outside the system. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, amidst resistance from the officers recruited by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), the Modi government had inducted 9 private sector professionals at the joint secretary level. Now, the government is planning a fresh batch of around 55 officers, through NITI Aayog, the think tank of the government. The new recruits would be hired for a term of five years with a re-evaluation of the appointment in three years.
With this, the government hopes to stir up the otherwise stagnant culture the bureaucracy seems to have adopted. By removing the dead woods, not only will the institution be cleansed of corrupt individuals, but will also be a deterrent against corruption for existing officers. Moreover, by recruiting officers from the private sector who are experts in their domains, the bureaucracy will become more productive and efficient. The new officers will drive a change from the lethargic culture of the bureaucracy established over decades. The new entrants at the bottom level get absorbed in the same culture as they imbibe from their seniors. Bringing in officers from the private sector at senior levels will pave way for a more productive culture, as it is no secret that the private sector in India is more professional and pro-active than the public sector and such entries shall introduce similar benchmarks in the bureaucracy. Moreover, given the fact that they are being recruited for only 5 years, with performance evaluation every 3 years, the officers will not get caught in the sluggish circle and may actually perform.
The infamously lethargic and inefficient bureaucracy is an obstacle for the desired quality of policy execution. This new strategy will not only help in revitalizing the bureaucracy but will also act as a catalyst for the growth of the country. These measures may serve a wake up call to Indian bureaucrats. With this system in place, the officers will realise that irrespective of their post or power, their jobs cannot be taken for granted. Those who are productive will be retained and those who are not, will be removed. Modi government is all set to cleanse the system and thus break the wheel which has been in place since the British era.