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Public Services – The Good, the Bad & the Grey

Posted on July 15, 2010 in Specials

By Shivani Ghildiyal:

The contrary approaches of a minister and a bureaucrat are best captured in their answers to a poser. “If it is a choice between taking a risk that might boomerang, but might really help your state’s development, versus just following the checklist of rules and procedures, what would you do?”

A mid-career bureaucrat would opt for the second and the minister the first. The former is settled in his ways, his idealism eroded over the years. How does this happen? For a perspective, we should go back to what our founding fathers had envisioned. “The steel frame” designed by them expected civil servants to work with a sense of freedom amd impartiality. A natural corollary of this vision is that the civil servant would work without fear of reprisal for opinions freely expressed to the minister. He would also diligently use the discretionary power delegated to him by the minister withour any sense of discomfort.

Have the ground realities changed since then? Most civil servants would agree atleast privately that  they have. For one, the vision may not have factored in very diverse social and educational backgrounds of incumbents in the two possessions today. Besides, it perhaps took a simplistic view of how the grey area between electoral and developmental considerations would be defined and managed by the two through collaborative efforts. That collaboration today may have been replaced by collusion in some cases and by self-serving  public disputes and others. These outcomes can at best be considered undesirable extremes in the process of managing the inevitable conflict.

For decades, the UPSC might have done an excellent job of selecting the best of our civil services. Admittedly, the entrant of more recent vintage is a youngster with a professional background.

His job expectations include managerial challenges that he would find in alternative opportunities with the private sector. But by the time he hits the mid career stage and has grappled with the conflict, he has a mindset that may not even remotely resemble his expectations as a fresh entrant.

Some famous career psychologists have defined four different professional life possessions that the mid career civil servant chooses to occupy –The Floater, The Dropout, Mr.Self-righteous & The True Professional.

The floater does not believe that he is achieving or is capable of achieving useful results. He is likely to lament over how we have not changed one bit since the British Raj. The dropout has decided  that he does not have the wherewithal to succeed in public service. When Mr self righteous speaks at a public forum,his comments are acerbic. In one-to-one discussions, he is likely to be less than receptive. While he may have limited definitions of integrity, he is unlikely to make genuine contributions in serving public good. Then we have the true professional. One hears about the deputy commisioner who takes it upon himself to address the water relates woes of a small town by enforcing the law against the use of on-line pumpsets by residents. The true professional thus makes all the efforts to effect improvements in the system from within, yet not adopting a confrontation at-every-step mode.