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Delhi Governance ‘War’

By Dr S Saraswathi

The ongoing ‘war’ between AAP ministers and government employees has put a big question mark on the inter-relationship between different authorities engaged in governance. Not only the Chief Minister or the Lt Governor, but the Union Home Ministry too needs to take stock, as at the end of the day it is governance which becomes a victim. More importantly, Delhi should not set a destructive precedence.    


Whether it is official-nonofficial conflict in local bodies in village panchayats and panchayat samitis, or revenue and development functional rivalries in district collectorates, or politician-bureaucrat or minister-administration struggle in State and Central secretariats, the issue is the relative roles and responsibilities of the two sides and their limits.


Recall last week, the Chief Secretary being assaulted by two MLAs in a midnight meeting in the presence of the Chief Minister hit headlines. Worse, the Delhi police, under the Home Ministry swung into action and searched the CM’s residence without intimation to seize CCTV footage of the alleged attack. This marks the lowest level in the politicians-bureaucrats relationship in the country which is going through various experiences.


It is near total breakdown of working relationship between the Ministry and civil servants in Delhi government — a situation that demands swift action not only to patch up the present crack, but to plug the holes in the system. Emphasising the need to “remove mistrust” between government employees and the elected representatives, the Lt Governor has now asked the Chief Minister to “reach out directly” to the officers, who had decided to boycott meetings with political executives till the CM apologised! 


Indeed, the mistrust growing up ever since AAP government came to power in Delhi burst out on the night of 19th February. It is not secret that the relation between politicians and bureaucrats was not cordial ever since AAP came to power in the union territory of Delhi. It is part of the manifestation of AAP’s discontent with the Constitutional arrangement governing administration of Delhi that has bestowed substantial powers to L-G thereby lessening the stature of the Chief Minister compared to the CMs of other States.


The CM had already revealed his expectation from his officials in unmistakable terms. In his address to mark the celebration of the Civil Services Day in 2016, he had said that the bureaucracy would have to “follow AAP agenda,” and those who had a problem, could “get themselves transferred, or resign”. The message is straight and simple and defined AAP’s relationship with the permanent civil service.


The unmatched electoral victory of the AAP that won 67 out of 70 seats deserves complements, but is no justification for granting full Statehood for Delhi. Electoral performance does not and cannot decide Constitutional arrangements. Nor does it permit assumption of powers that are not granted by law and Constitution. The argument that people will decide through the ballot box often offered by politicians and even political analysts regarding the validity of any position is fallacious as votes cannot legalise illegal actions or condone crimes.


To refresh our memory, the old ICS was re-created as IAS after independence as an elitist administrative cadre to function in the same way. The intention was that public service should remain separate and distinct from the government apparatus and maintain similar standards of efficiency.


The central feature of the ICS expected also from the IAS at its creation was neutrality — political by having no loyalty to a particular party or groups and administrative by being rule-abiding and impartial. Efforts to introduce political control over bureaucracy to ensure loyal implementation of government policies were initially overruled by protagonists of neutral and procedure-bound bureaucracy.


The tussle between upholders of committed bureaucracy and neutral bureaucracy started long time back in the early days of socialistic pattern of society, that is, in the regime of Jawaharlal Nehru.


The term “committed bureaucracy” has come in common usage in the 1970s during Internal Emergency. The Personnel Department was taken up by the Prime Minister. The Weberian   model of ideal bureaucracy began to struggle for survival against political need for committed bureaucracy and administrative requirement for initiative, innovation, and speed.


Any government wants loyal implementation of its policies by officials, and some governments and ministers expect in addition personal loyalty towards political masters. The Administrative Reforms Commission (1966) recommended that the PM should take special interest in arresting the growth of unhealthy personal affiliations with individual ministers among civil servants.


The trend towards conversion of “public servants” into “private servants” was noticed and condemned by the Supreme Court in 2013. It recognised the problems faced by the bureaucrats and asked the Centre to reform the bureaucracy. It recommended fixed tenure for bureaucrats and recording of oral instructions of political bosses on files. 


In actuality, officials because of their expertise and knowledge, have become indispensable for policy-making and have gradually crossed their traditional limits. Post of Special Advisors have been created to enrich government machinery, a development criticised in the UK as political appointees hoisted over civil service. Parliamentary Secretaries appointed by AAP government faced similar criticism.


On the other hand, political competition becoming more and more bitter, policy makers began to insist openly and secretively on personal loyalty for their survival and success. The two developments taking place simultaneously, clashes became inevitable.


Power of politicians over bureaucrats is supreme through the power of posting and transfer which had grown as an industry. The Civil Service Survey Report, 2010 noted that this power was a means of coercion and harassment of honest officers. The power is extensively used and results in wholesale change of Secretaries, higher-up officials of the police, and heads of various boards whenever government changes. Indiscriminate use of these powers as a punishment for neutral and inflexible bureaucrats unable to appreciate and bow to the loyalty factor causes friction in governance.


In parliamentary democracies, tussle between ministers and his department secretary is quite common. In the orthodox model in Britain, the Minister is viewed as the overlord of his department and his civil servants as officials to carry out his orders “faithfully, ungrudgingly, and unhesitatingly”. This doctrine has changed after 1954. The strict division of responsibility between Ministers and civil servants weakened.  Civil servants legally act on behalf of Ministers, but have no legal responsibility in their own right.


There are instances of Secretaries losing their posts for failure to implement policy decisions in UK. Political loyalty also offers remunerative and lucrative openings besides direct benefits to bureaucrats. The politics of patronage has entrenched itself in politician-bureaucrat relationship.

The midnight Drama enacted in Delhi is a wake-up call for reform of our system and to insulate public administration from political pressures. The question before us is to infuse ethics in governance. Who will respond better–politicians or bureaucrats? A million dollar question!—INFA


(The writer is fFormer Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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