Friday, 10 August 2018

Prime Minister Modi proposes, bureaucracy disposes







 (Photographs downloaded from internet.)

An efficient, honest and committed bureaucracy is a prerequisite of rapid development of any country. By ‘committed’ bureaucracy I mean committed to the country’s development and welfare, not committed to any political ideology or party. However progressive and committed to the country’s development a political leadership may be, it cannot do much without the full support of bureaucracy. The political leadership provides vision of development, takes policy decisions, suggests projects and programmes. The responsibility for examining the feasibility of political decisions, fearlessly telling the political leadership if the decisions are not feasible or not in the interest of the country, preparation of operational details of what can and should be implemented and finally implementation rests on the shoulders of the bureaucracy.

The political leadership also expects the higher bureaucracy to give ideas and suggestions based on its rich experience. The political leadership also expects the bureaucracy to ensure that the citizens’ grievances are redressed quickly and effectively.

The higher bureaucracy is expected to provide leadership to the lower bureaucracy. If the higher progress is inefficient and corrupt, the lower bureaucracy will be more inefficient and corrupt and will take pleasure in harassing the citizens.

Over the years, the Indian bureaucracy got used to working in an environment in which success depended on dancing to the tune of political masters, in which wrong political decisions had become the norm and the higher bureaucracy’s role was reduced to approving proposals, whether coming from above or below. There was no need to give any innovative suggestion in the interest of the country. There was no pressure to take measures to redress citizens’ grievances.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to make India a developed country in which all citizens have basic amenities of life and do not feel aggrieved. Naturally, he wanted to change the old bureaucratic style and the role of the bureaucracy. When he became Prime Minister in 2014, there were murmurs in Delhi that the higher bureaucracy had become nervous and afraid of working under a hard taskmaster.

I have no idea what Prime Minister Modi thinks of the bureaucracy after more than four years in office. However, I have reasons to believe that it has not come up to his expectation. There is a vast gap between what he expected or expects and what he is getting. I will give just two examples to substantiate why I am saying so.

Failure to give innovative ideas

Addressing a meeting of more than 80 Secretaries of the Central Government on November 2, 2014, Prime Minister asked them to come up with innovative ideas for the Union Budget 2015-16. (Source: Indian Express, Delhi edition, November 3, 2014.)

Nothing appeared thereafter in the media whether the Secretaries gave ideas for the Budget or not. Therefore, on February 9, 2018, I sent an online RTI (Right to Information) application to the PMO. I wanted to know:

(1) The list of Secretaries who gave ideas for the 2015-16 Budget, list of ideas given by them and list of ideas which were accepted.

(2) The dates on which the Union Secretaries were asked to give similar ideas for 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 Union Budgets, list of ideas for each budget and the list of ideas which were accepted.

On February 27, 2028, the PMO replied that

(1) The application had been forwarded to the Department of Economic Affairs for furnishing information in respect of the 2015-16 Budget.
(2) Information sought in respect of Budgets for 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19, “does not come under the definition of ‘information’ as per Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act, 2005.”
On March 09, 2018, Deputy Director (Budget), Department of Economic Affairs, informed me that “According to RTI Act, the information which is maintained and readily available could be provided to the applicant. The requisite information is neither maintained nor compiled in the W&M Section of the Budget Division.”

On March 11, 2018, I sent an appeal to Director, PMO and the First Appellate Authority (FAA) under the RTI Act against denial of information by the PMO in respect of Union Budgets 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.

In his order dated April 10, 2018, the FAA stated that “the information sought did not form part of records” of office and, therefore, it is “not covered within the meaning of information u/s 2 (f) of the Act.”

The obvious conclusion is that the Prime Minister did not get any “innovative idea” from any of more than 80 Union Secretaries. Had the Secretaries given any idea/suggestion, the PMO would have enthusiastically furnished information.

I agree with the FAA’s order approving the PMO’s reply that information sought in respect of subsequent years is not covered by ‘information’ under the RTI Act. A Public Information Officer (PIO) can supply only that information which is on record. Since there was no information on record, he took the correct stand that what I had asked for was not covered by ‘information’ under the RTI Act.
Obviously, having failed to get any “innovative idea” from the Secretaries for the 2015-16 Budget, Prime Minister did not ask them to give suggestions/ideas for subsequent Budgets.

No interest in addressing public grievances

In his monthly meeting with Union Secretaries in January 2016, Prime Minister asked Secretaries of departments having extensive public dealing to set up a system for top-level monitoring of grievances. In 2015, the Central Government received 8.81 lakh complaints, as against 2.7 lakh in 2014. Subsequently, the PMO asked the Secretaries to personally examine at least 10 grievances every week and upload the report on the Cabinet Secretariat’s e-samiksha portal to be monitored by the Prime Minister. (Source: Economic Times, Delhi edition, March 09, 2016)

Since the Cabinet Secretariat’s e-Samiksha portal does not contain any information on the examination of grievances by the Secretaries and their report, on June 03, 2018, I sent an online RTI application to the PMO to know the number of reports monitored by the Prime Minister in 2016, 2017 and (up to May) 2018.

On June 5, 2018, the PMO informed me (online) that the request for information had been forwarded to the PIO. His email ID was given as rtipmo.applications@gov.in.

The PIO has not furnished any information. Under the RTI Act, information has to be furnished within 30 days of the receipt of the application. Obviously, there is no information to be furnished.

On June 06, 2018, I sent another online RTI application to the Cabinet Secretariat. Drawing attention to the same news item, I sought information about the number of grievances personally examined by Secretaries and reports uploaded on the e-samiksha portal in 2016, 2017 and (up to May) 2018.

On June 12, 2018, Under Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat (Directorate of Public Grievances), Sardar Patel Bhawan, New Delhi, sent reply (by speed post) informing me that he “is neither the custodian of the information sought in your RTI application nor held by him. Therefore, it cannot be provided to you. Your RTI application has already been transferred online under Section 6 (3) of the RTI Act, 2005 on 8. 6. 2018 to Shri K. J. Sibichan, Under Secretary & CPIO, captured Secretary in, Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi, for providing information to you directly.” (I wonder why the application was forwarded to an officer who had no information.)

I have not received any information from Shri Sibichan so far. He is required to furnish information within 30 days of the receipt of application. He has not replied obviously because it does not have any information.

Separately, on June 15, 2018, the Cabinet Secretariat forwarded my application to the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (DARPG) with a new registration number stating that “further details will be available on viewing the status of the above-mentioned new request registration number.”

On the same day (June 15, 2018), the DARPG informed me (online) that “the information sought by you is not available with this CPIO as such information is not collected/compiled by DARPG.”

Again, the obvious inference is that the Prime Minister’s effort to involve the Secretaries in redressal of public grievances did not succeed.

Surprisingly, the Cabinet Secretariat does not know what information the DARPG collects.

These two examples cannot be ignored as minor aberrations. Instead, these are proofs of incapability of the highest bureaucracy of the country. Most, if not all, of the Secretaries the Government of India are incapable of giving innovative suggestions to the government or of redressing common peoples’ grievances. These instances prove that our senior bureaucracy does not have much interest in the real issues before the government or in the public grievances.

These instances also show the vast gap between what a dynamic leadership needs and expects and what it gets.

Most of the brickbats the Modi government is getting is due to inefficiency and corruption in bureaucracy, from top to bottom. Much of the inefficiency and corruption at the lower level is because of the lack of administrative leadership, either due to the letter’s own inefficiency and corruption or due to lack of interest in governance.

Most of the grievances the people have against demonetisation and GST (Goods and Services Tax) are also due to bureaucratic inefficiency and mismanagement. (I will write about these two issues later.)

Prime Minister Modi proposes, bureaucracy disposes.

Devendra Narain
August 10, 2018
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I have written this article on the basis of information collected under the RTI Act. If any reader has information to the contrary, I requested him/her to share. I will incorporate that and amend my conclusion.
Devendra Narain
August 10, 2018