In India, the governments come and go, political parties in power do change, and chief ministers are changed as fast as it can get in any democratic society. However, despite all this democratic process, the permanent establishment of the country remains the same- The Bureaucracy. The institution which often termed as ‘steel frame of India’ by socialist academic elites, does everything at the speed and at the time it wants.
The rigid establishment of bureaucracy is changing, or one can say that it is adjusting to new political realities since Modi government came to power, but five and half years are very little to reform an institution that is so powerful and has existed since the time of British.
The latest example of bureaucratic shrewdness, and its ability to overpower political establishment, came to light in a report by Manu Pubby of Economic Times. As per the report, the disability pension to soldiers was stopped in a decision by defence ministry without the knowledge of defence minister Rajnath Singh. The file does not only passed through the defence ministry but the finance ministry too, and there also without the knowledge of Finance Minister.
As per the report, the income tax benefits to retired officials were ended on June 24, and the file for the same passed through 11 offices, including finance ministry and the central board of direct taxes, within a single day, that too without knowledge of respective ministers.
The decision, which impacts Lakhs of retired veterans, was taken a few weeks after the new finance minister and defence minister in the second term of the Modi government, on June 24 last year. The decision was triggered by a ruling from armed forces tribunal, which, in 2015, sought to extend the tax exemption benefits to heart ailments.
The government is trying to cut down the expenditure to increase the capital expenditure, in order to modernize the military. Therefore, expenses like tax exemption for disabilities, education allowances for the children of widows of soldiers, are being cut down. The defence ministry took the decision to end the tax exemption in 2015, initiated by Armed forces tribunal ruling and their ‘scant respect for government policy’ and sent the file to CBDT. But after that, CBDT took no action on this for almost four years, and then suddenly, on June 24, the file was cleared by CBDT as well as 11 other offices, without informing the ministers or department of veteran welfare.
The haste in clearance shows two things. The delay by bureaucracy, or its infamous Red Tapism, is not due to the long process of decision making, but simply because the bureaucrats do not want to work. The lethargic bureaucracy creates unnecessary regulatory cholesterol, which slows the decision making as well as the development of the country. And the second being that, the bureaucracy is the actual permanent establishment of the country, which sometimes- or maybe many times, only God knows moves files without the nod of the ministers who are charged to lead the bureaucracy.