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Lovi is life

The administrative route to growth

By Pradeep S Mehta

Urgent and transformative changes to the civil services are a must to enable successful economic reforms

All secretaries to the Government of India should have received ‘outstanding’ grading over their last five annual appraisals, by and large, otherwise they won’t be eligible to claim the coveted title. As one babu quipped, if all of them are ‘outstanding’, why is their performance so average as evident from the poor results in many cases? Granted, truly excellent officers have to work with average colleagues and an archaic system, and cannot really work as lone rangers.

This babu friend had unfortunately got ‘Very Good’ once and that meant his death knell in terms of his dream of becoming a hallowed secretary or even an additional secretary to the GoI. Usually, in civil services, promotions happen automatically. Some selection criterion does exist in the Central Government, but merit is not considered in its proper dimensions.

There are counter arguments to this — many say favouritism can allow sycophantic officers to go higher than the deserving ones. In the armed forces, it is said, promotions take place mainly on merit and officers get weeded out even before they retire. Efforts to bring in the same system in the civil services have not been successful and that is needed if economic and governance reforms have to succeed.

Perhaps the establishment is inured to the Peter Principle, that a person reaches his level of incompetence sooner or later.

Lacking a system

Consequently, we get an average administration which is good at pushing files. Many babus earn plaudits for not taking any decisions rather than for taking decisions because of the fear of vilification and/or punishment.

In my 30 years of public advocacy, I have come across a variety of babus to whom the Peter Principle applies without doubt, but the system protects them from being weeded out. And many of them, aided by a strong fraternity, end up in some sinecure post for five more years after retirement. This makes a mockery of the system and the nation has to bear the burden.

On the other hand, if one looks at the armed forces, a person can rise to the level of colonel or captain in the navy or group captain in the air force after 23 years of service. But that may be at the end of his career, unless he has successfully undergone training and promotion tests for going up. Unlike the forces to which people enter via specialised training centres, civil servants can be from any discipline but have to qualify through the UPSC exams. Thus we also find doctors, scientists, engineers, management graduates and social scientists who end up in the service that requires general skills and a good IQ.

Misplaced skills

The investment in specialised skills is lost to the society. Also, other aspirants to such an education also lose the opportunity since the seats are limited in good professional institutions.

Besides, the civil services have always opposed the lateral entry of good professionals in government. For example, in 1959, an industrial management pool was created to engage successful private sector executives in public enterprises. Many joined, sacrificing their compensation packages, and have risen up in the Government. But recruitment took place only for one year and the system was pulled back, ostensibly to protect the civil services.

Nearly 200 civil servants have been occupying posts in public enterprises since then. This is not to say that exceptional econocrats or even scientists have not held senior positions in the Government but they were exceptions. How does all this apply in Narendra Modi’s push for Make in India? Hugely. Unless civil service reforms are carried out, doing business in India will remain difficult in spite of tomes of studies and reports, and platitudes.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by Veerappa Moily had gone in depth into civil service reforms to make it more efficient, but the recommendations are yet to be implemented fully. Some simple steps have been taken but they have not been able to address the structural issues.

Need urgent reform

Recommendations have been made to mandate mid-career training as a promotion criterion. By and large, civil servants having worked for nearly 25 years are being sent, rather than phased out into 10, 15 and 20 years service.

Having interacted with many, one does not find any significant change in them or their attitudes after they have come back. Sometimes, one sees an officer working in a particular discipline being sent abroad for specialised training but coming back and spending the rest of his career in jobs where that training will never help.

The Second ARC had recommended many armed forces-like changes in the civil services. This included the establishment of a National Institute for Public Administration to run specialised degree courses for aspirants, but conceded that aspirants from other disciplines may also be admissible after doing a bridge course. Capacity building was also defined in depth and it was suggested that for every promotion a mandatory training was needed.

Most importantly, the Second ARC also recommended that officers be put into specific domains, based on their academic qualifications, experience and aptitude, so that “the most suitable for the post is selected”.

A similar practice was also followed under the ICS. The Second ARC had also suggested that there should be competition for senior positions, but that has translated into jockeying rather than being done through a logical process.

Among many sterling suggestions, the Second ARC had also recommended lateral entry for positions of additional secretary and above, which does not exist in the armed forces. Another critical suggestion was borrowing from the armed forces’ practice of weeding out officers after 20 years of service and suggesting that appointments should only be made for 20 years and their continuation would depend on their performance.

The writer is the secretary-general of CUTS International

This news can also be viewed at: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com

April 2016


Bureaucracy has had it too easy

By Pradeep S Mehta

Only now are they in the line of fire. Some lateral thinking is required to reform the administration.
This seems to be a season of some good news as far as administrative reforms for economic growth is concerned. The commerce department at the nudge of the Prime Minister’s Office is considering setting up a large specialised team to negotiate international trade deals. Such a team would comprise specialists drawn from the Indian Trade Service, Indian Foreign Service and trade lawyers..More…


Don’t blame global crisis for exports slide


The Hindu, Business Line, April 1, 2016
By Pradeep S Mehta

ndia can scale up on the Ease of Doing Business metric only if States, along with the Centre, pull themselves up
India’s distorted factor markets, poor infrastructure and an overvalued currency have played a major role in this decline
Last year on this day, the government of India had released the new Foreign Trade Policy (FTP), 2015-20. It was, by no means, a Fools Day prank. It laid a foolproof plan to enhance India’s trade ecosystem and competitiveness.More…

June 2016


Why FMCG Companies Need to Address Consumer Concerns!

By Pradeep S Mehta

The growing unrest among consumers abroad, over the safety of personal care products, has raised concerns about the safety of such products in India as well. Series of cases of death and injury filed against the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Company in the US and Reckitt Benckiser in South Korea, brings to light the associated risks to Indian consumers, given the global nature of markets, which cuts across boundaries. Moreover, the risk is not just limited to the personal care products, but is prevalent in the whole of FMCG industryMore…


August 2016


Bilateral investment pacts haven’t worked


By Pradeep S Mehta

Globally, the international investment agreement (IIA) regime is undergoing a change and the developments in India are no exception. India has decided to terminate about 57 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) whose initial duration has expired, or is soon to expire, and issue joint statements for the ones in force.More…


UNCTAD: Investing in development


Asian Age, August 05, 2016
By Pradeep S Mehta

The world is heading towards increasingly uncertain times. Gains from liberalisation are being doubted, protectionism is becoming the rhetoric, inequality is on the rise and value offered by multilateral systems is being questioned.
This was the backdrop in which the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) took place in Nairobi, Kenya, from July 17-22. UNCTAD is a subsidiary organ of the United Nations, established in 1964 to promote trade, investment and development in developing countries.More…

October 2016


Call for a multilateral competition regime


By Pradeep S Mehta

Control over the global food value chain is getting consolidated in fewer private hands, posing serious security concerns

Four current multibillion-dollar deals in the agriculture sector are ringing alarm bells around the world—the takeovers of Syngenta by ChemChina and of Monsanto by Bayer; and the mergers between Dow Chemical and DuPont, and between Potash and Agrium. Consequently, the global agricultural input market will get further concentrated, which in turn would have an impact on the global food value chain (GFVC). After ‘defence’, it is ‘food’ that is the most important consideration for a nation’s security. Thus, the fact that control over GFVC is getting consolidated in fewer private hands could pose serious security concerns. It is suggested that Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries should tackle this jointly through a coordinated competition policy.

The core of competition law enforcement is ‘economic analysis’, which in turn is guided by the ‘economic doctrine’ followed by the enforcing country. While some will emphasize ‘efficiency’ during economic analysis, others may like to include the ‘public welfare’ angle.More…

September 2016


Will traffic behaviour ever improve in our city?

By Pradeep S Mehta

I travel abroad frequently for my work, and the road discipline that I see in poor African countries is starkly far better than India. They do not even honk when traffic is crawling.
n the recent past, many new traffic lights have been installed across the city. One hopes that this move will help improve the driving habits of our vehicle drivers but it is a big no.

Many drivers continue to drive through red lights or in the opposite direction (and many a times speaking on their mobiles) creating a hazard for those who follow the rules.

Enforcement is poor: My concern as a road safety activist is that things are going from bad to worse. My angst as a car driver is that if a crazy two wheeler rider hits me and sustains injuries or dies, then I am held guilty because I am driving the bigger vehicle. If this trend of indiscipline on roads continues, my worry is how the next generations will cope with it.

More…

October 2016


Call for a multilateral competition regime

By Pradeep S Mehta

Control over the global food value chain is getting consolidated in fewer private hands, posing serious security concerns

Four current multibillion-dollar deals in the agriculture sector are ringing alarm bells around the world—the takeovers of Syngenta by ChemChina and of Monsanto by Bayer; and the mergers between Dow Chemical and DuPont, and between Potash and Agrium. Consequently, the global agricultural input market will get further concentrated, which in turn would have an impact on the global food value chain (GFVC). More October 2016