Monday, November 29, 2010

Put out to pasture

What would happen if fifty percent of our bureaucracy were retired overnight? Would work grind to a halt? Would it perhaps slow down? Would the quality of work be adversely affected? No, no and no! 

 There is a large number of bureaucrats who cherish the belief that having worked so hard to enter the charmed circle of bureaucracy, they are entitled to a lifetime of respect/awe/deference from the tax payer as well as a salary (which of course the humble tax payer makes possible!) without really delivering any tangible outcomes in office.If a few perquisites are thrown in as well, such as residential accommodation at a posh address, perhaps membership of the Gymkhana club(or its equivalent), all the better! They devote themselves to doing all those things that they hold meaningful and significant in life, such as playing golf, and glance in at the office for a couple of hours a day, sometimes a couple of hours a week.

Then there are those who treat the job like  the proverbial golden goose, and focus all their energies on securing those postings where they can lay their hands on the largest, shiniest golden eggs. You can't really expect them to put in 8 hours of work a day, can you, when they have better things to do?

A significant percentage of  bureaucrats are too dispirited, too de- motivated, too despondent to really work as well as they could because they constantly compare themselves with the highest paid in the corporate sector, their five star lifestyles, and rue the choice they made to work in the civil services.

If all these people were shown the door, would productivity suffer? Of course not, because the contribution they are making today is nil.

Then there is the fact that many, many of us are terribly under employed. Massive changes in government policy leading to procedural simplification and rationalisation, and the IT -led automation of many business processes have resulted in huge redundancies. However, no one ever admits that. The advice I have received most often from well wishers is that I should never, never say that I don't have enough work, even if I don't. So, there are times when we spend the best part of the day scanning the newspapers, catching up with acquaintances we hadn't thought of for years, and thanking NIC for the terrific speed at which we are able to surf the internet, because there just isn't any work to be done.

Of course, there are also areas where work has  increased manifold and if work studies were the norm in government, rather than the once in a blue moon exercise they now are, a lot of productive re- deployment could take place. What actually happens is that existing posts that have become redundant are neither abolished nor diverted even while new posts are created, so there is a large number of persons at any given time with absolutely no work to do.

So a large part of the bureaucracy is but a parasite in glorious disguise, feeding on the tax payers' money, and no one cares a hoot precisely because it is the tax payer's money, not his or hers.

This indifference is nowhere more evident than in our amazing tolerance of employees who absent themselves for long periods, who make late coming and frequent unuthorised absence a habit, who are simply incapable of delivering satisfactory work, who are prevented by chronic illness or long standing family problems from making any meaningful contribution at work, who carry on commercial businesses from office during office hours, or who simply don't wish to work. If this were a domestic help we were dealing with, he would be shown the door in double quick time. In government, however, we either laugh it off or become the picture of compassion or say a few angry words once in a while --- and then forget it!

Hence my firm belief --- reduce the government by half, and we could perhaps be better off than before, certainly no worse!


  1. Excellent. I totally agree.

  2. excellent piece
    bureaucracy is obviously to blame to a extent but people are also to blame to some extent. most of the youth when asked why they want to join govt. services,those aspiring for lower rung will say for aaram. it is not surprising that when someone get through civil services/ or any class 1 services 1st thing people say is "ab to aap ki chandi hi chandi hai, kuch ek sal lagega bada makan banne mai aapko".
    don't u think the perception of people that "those in govt. are entitled for bribe and those in office having conception that just because they have qualified a difficult exam they are entitled to take bribe from those who have not".
    restructuring of bureaucracy is the need of hour , changing the pattern of civil services exam will definitely not going to change anything on ground where things matter the most.

  3. I had written an essay around 13 years back, the gist of which was that one-third of Govt. Employees should be made teachers in Govt. Schools immediately, even if at the same pay that they are currently drawing, they would contribute more than what they are contributing at present. You have done better by raising that ratio to half.

  4. I had written an essay 13 years back, the gist of which was that one-third of Govt. Employees should be redeployed as teachers in Govt. Schools immediately. By that their contribution will go up.

    By raising that ratio to half, you have improved upon my view.

  5. Rajesh, that's a wonderful thought ---- re deployed on a a permanent basis or by rotation? do share the essay.

  6. if punishment is as swift as it was in the case of Durga Shakti for the wrong reasons then the bureaucracy would pull up its socks and work. but there is a culture of impunity that is the worst legacy of colonial rule.