The recent SC judgment on tenures and mode of record keeping in the bureaucracy is set to spur a revolution in the democracy, which, if it is a success, may revive the confidence of the populace in democracy.
The judgment is set to make bureaucrats more responsible and accountable. Henceforth, it will be difficult for a bureaucrat, hitherto protected by the elected class, to compromise on matters that are of public interest.
The administration is as crucial as the government it serves, and yet, the efficiency of the administration is almost never considered as a factor during elections and campaigns. Almost half of the annual budget at the Centre or the state is spent on salaries and perks given to the administration.
People pay heavy taxes to keep the system running, only to have their hopes dashed. Till date, an efficient administrative setup remains a utopian ideal, in spite of successive pay commissions that increased salaries and perks for the babus.
For the people, a government is not just the cabinet and its members, but the officers manning the local police station or the tehsildar or district collector’s office where they go seeking help or redressal of their grievances.
It’s not possible for every person to meet the local MLA, MP or the minister concerned. For him, the senior babu in such offices is a representative of the government, and the quality and speed with which he responds to a problem creates the citizen’s impression of the government.
If you take a bureaucrat to task for his slow or no response, he may say his hands are tied because he has to wait for the orders of his superiors. Or he would deliver a jargon-laden spiel that you might find difficult to understand.
Bureaucrats who genuinely want to serve society largely face the wrath of the political leaders, who do not want the babus to get away with any credit.
Politicians will have no role to play if people get a good response from courteous officers at government centres. Politicians prefer to cultivate some unrest among the electorate, so they can swoop in before elections with promises of revolution and change.
The SC’s directive on fixed tenures has received mixed reactions in the state. According to some ministers, the fixed tenure of state employees has protected babus who love to procrastinate, of which there are many.
For the earnest and hardworking government servants, the fixed tenure is certainly a boon, giving him the time and security to set his goals, make his plans of implementation and execute them within a fixed time.
The SC directive on recording oral instructions has the potential to completely change the present system of governance.
There are a set of rules on governance and discharging duties, in which there is little or no scope for oral instructions. But to please their higher-ups, babus often take oral instructions, which can create confusion and discord later. The SC’s directions say they must record the oral instructions on files or proposals.
For the few good men in governance, this comes as an incentive to serve better, giving him the security, protection and immunity to concentrate on the job at hand.
The directives can be counter-productive if a bureaucrat decides to play truant and records something other than what has been told to him orally. This may create trouble for his superiors.
For those who take up government jobs with the aim to serve, the Supreme Court judgment is a ray of hope.
An honest officer can now change the face of a particular region and there have been instances of a particular district collector, district superintendent of police, or civic commissioner who has earned laurels and the love of people for his earnestness and his efforts.
— The writer is Political Editor of MiD DAY