If the new government succeeds in restoring the morale of the bureaucracy, much of its economic agenda would become much easier to achieve.
The economic agenda of the new government was bound to command a great deal of attention. The NDA government fought and won the recent elections on the promise of better economics — governance and right policies. So much so, right from the inception of the new government, the comments of its leading lights, especially of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, have been lapped up. Obviously, many more announcements will be made.
The President’s address to the Parliament on June 10 gave a comprehensive account of what the new government proposed to do. The budget will give a more concrete shape to these proposals and most importantly indicate the sources for financing them.
The flurry of announcements such as those dealing with streamlining the bureaucracy has been well received.
These may not be eye-catching but are important both from the governance point of view and for achieving quick results. That is why the Prime Minister’s attempts early on to alleviate the concerns of top government officers in their normal functioning are extremely laudable. If the new government succeeds in restoring the morale of the bureaucracy, much of its economic agenda would become much easier to achieve.
Enabling civil servants to take ‘decisions boldly without fear of being harassed much later for their bona fide decisions’ would be a significant achievement as would be the delayering of bureaucracy. These and related measure fit into the BJP’s vision of “minimum government maximum governance”.
While the speed at which the government has approached this vital issue is commendable, it should be borne in mind that plenty more needs to be done before senior government officers feel confident enough to decide even on bona fide matters with the knowledge that the government from the PM downwards will support them totally. Mr. Modi has more than once promised such an outcome and no one doubts his assurances.
But the fact is that over the recent past the atmosphere is so very vitiated that the government’s day-to-day functioning itself has been viewed with suspicion. Every government official, irrespective of his rank, is suspect. Previously, the moniker, corruption applied to politicians and it is a reflection of the times that public perception of corruption in public places has become so much more encompassing than before.
Not a little damage to the system has been caused by the CAG’s office, whose job it is to audit government accounts and not to discover scams in every sector and announce them in a blaze of publicity.
Scrutinising commercial decisions through the lens of a government auditor is fraught with great risks and from the economy’s point of view totally counter-productive.
In their interaction with the PM, the top bureaucrats have identified CBI oversight as their principal worry, which extend into their retirement years. The Prevention of Corruption Act, especially its Section 13(1)(d), is a pernicious piece of legislation in today’s world. Prosecution can be launched against an officer if his actions enrich somebody even if he or she has not made any money. The degree of protection that senior officers had — they could be prosecuted only after it was sanctioned by a superior authority — is no longer there in the wake of a Supreme Court judgment.
The highest court of the country, which has done a commendable job in ensuring accountability, has, off late, extended its judicial reach to include areas which are strictly outside the domain of the State. This has given extraordinary powers to investigative agencies and vigilance outfits. These have worked to the detriment of government functioning.
Much of what has been said above apply to the government-dominated financial institutions and indeed to every public sector entity. But in the vast majority of cases the top representatives of these bodies owing allegiance to government in one way or another have been loath to articulate what most certainly is a major grievance.
It is to Mr. Modi’s credit that he has sought to address this problem straightaway after assuming office.
The tasks are enormous: they involve reversing decades of vigilance-centred culture in which suspicion reigns and trust takes a backseat. There are many, many instances to prove the above points. They will make for a sequel — hopefully soon.