Water Flows Past The Rock’s Surface

All political parties lauded Right to Information as a major administrative reform. And it truly is a major reform: It is supposed to make the government accountable and transparent. It is supposed to keep a check on corruption, because the public servants will be afraid to do wrong things, as it could be revealed in information provided to a citizen in accordance with the RTI Act. However, here in Goa, as in other states, the Right to Information constantly faces erosion, even suppression, with answers that do not give out anything. Citizens are often given replies that are too short, too vague and evasive. There are exceptions, of course. Information has come out through exercise of Right to Information which has revealed things that the government would not have in normal course liked to reveal. However, these cases are the result more of unavoidable provision of information, rather than any conscious effort by the department or agency concerned to follow the Right to Information Act in letter and spirit. In short, the opaqueness, the concealment, the censorship in government continues.

Right to Information is not the only major administrative reform that has not been implemented in letter and spirit. As another example, let us take the resolution of the rulers of India after Independence “to reform the attitudes of the civil services from a colonial hangover of domination and non-transparency” and to make them “subservient to the people of India.” The civil servants in Goa and the rest of India still enjoy much of the privileges and glamour that the civil servants of the colonial powers, Britain, Portugal or France used to enjoy. Their attitude to people is one of superiority, dominance and arrogance, not of “subservience” as our democratic Constitution would want them to be. The kind of hierarchy the colonial regime had created continues in a modified form, with the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) officers claiming the higher echelons and hence most privileges.

There was a time when jobs in the private sector were rare and the government was the only employer. In those times anyone competing in IFS, IAS and IPS was considered a genius – no less! – and the successful candidates themselves believed they were beings from another planet. They looked down upon the lower echelons in the hierarchy, treated them like fools, and enjoyed all the privileges the European colonial officers had enjoyed. These privileges did not only remain confined to the automatic membership of polo, golf and social clubs but stretched to residence in the spacious bungalows in which the colonial officers had lived. They also religiously maintained the distance from the masses as the colonial officers had done.

The chasm between them and the people still remains very wide. Where is an officer who goes out to the field or the masses to check the implementation of the government programmes? The government spends lots of money on programmes. But the return on investment of public funds is very poor. Who is responsible for this? The administration. What is administration but the civil servants? If civil servants were working sincerely as custodians of public money they would have been monitoring the progress of implementation of schemes very closely. But that requires attention away from the enjoyment of privileges, power, glamour and public assets. That requires de-colonising of the mindset, democratizing of their colonial attitudes. With the kind of revelations on the poor return on public investment the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India makes year after year we would have imagined that the administration would reform not to face any more denunciation from the national auditor. But CAG reports have flown over the mindset of administrators like water past the surface of a rock.

IFS, IAS and IPS officers, when ministers are not around, behave like ministers. They move with an entourage, like ministers. There has to be a bevy of subordinates to take the commands and orders from the top civil servant when he is making an official visit somewhere. He expects an exalted treatment from them and the hosts as a minister does.

One of the major administrative reforms is supposed to be making the administration quick and effect on crisis management. Example after example will suggest that our administrators are never prepared for an emergency response, whether the emergency arises from lack of public order or natural calamity or social conflict. Even though there may be a body for emergency response, it would usually be dysfunctional and ineffective. No wonder for lack of true administrative reforms, we move from crisis to crisis.