The inefficient bureaucracy…so what’s new?

Posted: June 4, 2010 in Politics
Tags: , , ,

India’s bureaucracy is the most inefficient in Asia, says Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy as reported in rediff. You might well ask, ‘what’s new?’

The report talks about the problems investors face with red tape. But is that all there is to this “inefficient bureaucracy?” The fact is when we’ve been handed down a system which has flourished for so long in Great Britain, so why look to change it – especially since it keeps all the bureaucrats in the lap of comfort (if not luxury), and most of the people in the country eking out a hand-to-mouth existence?

Some years ago, when the BJP was in power, a national magazine did a story on the ministries that were bleeding the government dry. The Heavy Industry ministry was one such and the report said that even the minister concerned had said that his ministry was a white elephant and should be shut down, because it served no purpose. Suddenly a spate of stories appeared in the media of the ‘good work’ being done by the ministry.

The thing is the babus are so well entrenched and experienced in the art of juggling fact and figures and keeping ministers in check, that by the sixth month in office most ministers are house-trained! The babus know exactly what to make the minister say and not to say. So which minister is ever going to talk about reforming the civil service? As fictional civil servant Humphrey Appleby, said in Yes Prime Minister, “Reorganizing the Civil Service is like drawing a knife through a bowl of marbles.” In other words, it’s an exercise in futility!

Doesn’t this huge bureaucratic machinery know that every single government – Central or State – managed scheme is a failure, because of a colossal mismanagement of funds? And if they want to end the wastage of funds, they can. But they won’t, because that would amount to cutting the ground beneath their feet.

The other day I read a lead story in a ‘national’ daily, which fawned over the redoubtable Mrs G and the formation of the NAC, and how it intended to deliver on its plank of social justice or some such nonsense. I was appalled at the story and how it had been displayed. When the media itself plants such stuff, how can they ever write against the slothful bureaucracy?

Take the NREGA or The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It is a complete sham. For a man who never believed that no job was below his dignity, he must surely be turning in his grave!

Someone who was working with NGOs sometime back gave me some very interesting feedback on the NREGA. They spent an evening with some NREGA workers who told them how it was a hollow programme, meant just to push Rahul Gandhi into the limelight. The scheme was supposed to give them 100 days of work. But on an average it granted them 12-15 days of employment and that depended on how lucky they got. Usually the NREGA failed to work in areas where it should really have been. Here, it was the local contractors and agents who provided work on a contractual basis. When one of the NREGA workers tried to question the person who distributed the funds, they were told the money was used for some “very important” purpose, so it was never provided to them!

In another instance another official said that if someone took a walk along the corridors of the Writer’s Building in Kolkata one would find files that were being eaten away by rats, and rotting in rooms with high ceilings. She said that these papers which contained details of such government schemes go back over a decade.

Like the NREGA, in almost every other scheme, the funds supposed to help the poor go into paying the salaries of the workers, while quite a bit of the rest is pocketed by middlemen. The ones who should be getting the funds because their very survival depends on it are not getting it. Since they don’t know any better they go along with the false promises that they are offered within the pamphlets and live in hope.

The Late Rajiv Gandhi once said that out of every ten rupees which were meant for the poor, they ended up getting just one rupee. The other nine rupees were pocketed by middlemen and officials along the way. He wanted to disband the PDS and take a relook at other such schemes. These very schemes are now being actively promoted by Rahul Gandhi in the villages of Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. It’s hard to believe that neither the politician nor the bureaucracy knows these facts.

When I read the story in the Hindustan Times a few days ago about children in Uttar Pradesh eating mud and being in the final stages of malnutrition, it didn’t surprise me at all. Not because we are a poor country, but because the money meant for the people never reaches them and is instead used to pay the salaries of the bureaucrats and line the pockets of others.

What choice do the kids have, anyway? Somewhere kids eat mud, and elsewhere other kids eat lizards, cockroaches and rats, because they haven’t got roti, dal and rice, which should have come to them from the government. And in some places mothers are busy selling their infants, because they have too many mouths to feed. And that is what they will continue to do, for the next 63 years, because the politicians and government officials want it that way. It’s a sorry state of affairs in a country with a population of one billion plus and growing. Is it any wonder that the Indian bureaucracy is the most inefficient?

  1. H V Kumar says:

    Bang on target!

  2. H V Kumar says:

    Another aspect of NREGS which is not written about so much is the manner in which it is destroying the rural economy and job hierarchy structures. Imagine rural workers are offered wages of Rs 100 + which are disproportionately higher than prevailing wages in the farm sector – workers drift away from farm work, leaving farmers high and dry for farm labour. Their farming cannot afford these high wage rates, and I know a few who have given up farming, preferring to leave their fields fallow instead of raking up losses. I have heard of workers in tribal areas who have sustained no-work drunken spells once they get the bonanza from NREGS. In the long run, one will see a major destabilisation in the farm sector, which is already weakened by decades of mismanagement, subsidies, lack of will for reform and migration to white collar jobs and cities.

    Coking back to the main subject under discussion, schemes are devised so that they can be a conduit for channeling out public funds in as many innovative ways as possible.

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