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Why India’s Bureaucracy Needs Urgent Reform

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  • Published
    25th Oct, 2021


The bureaucracy that helped India to sail through the last 75 years can’t be the one to take it through the next 75 years. Indian bureaucracy comprises some of the brightest as also some of the worst, just like in any collection of people.


  • The ability of the bureaucracy to get things done is the need of the hour and given the pace at which times are changing, urgent reforms are required to realise them.
  • Our bureaucracy is heterogeneous as any other organisation, with a mix of officials possessing a varying level of expertise, motivation, personal integrity and motivation.
  • Obsession of our bureaucracy with accountability instead of the result often gets highlighted in the form of inaction and delayed decision making.


The rules-obsessed, obdurate and unionised bureaucracy often portray a bad and ugly picture of Indian bureaucracy. There is a socio-economic cost that a rules-focused bureaucracy imposes on the country.It is essential to make the bureaucracy more responsive,efficacious and better equipped to meet the new challenges. Several reforms initiatives and suggestions have been taken since independence and the latest is being the Second Administrative Reform Commission. A few of the important observations are:

  • Indian bureaucracy is more process-driven rather aresult-oriented.
  • Over-centralization and systemic rigidities are deeply rooted which makes service delivery a complex and constraining process.
  • A large number of veto points in the hierarchies results in delayed decision making.
  • Rapid changes are taking place in the country and the response time to adapt to these changes is much shorter than it used to be.

An Ideal Bureaucracy is governed by the given characteristics:

  • Public-minded body
  • Neutrality
  • Rationality
  • Technically sound
  • Rule-based

Challenges faced by Bureaucracy:

  • Corruption
  • Nepotism
  • Political patronage
  • Lackadaisical decision making

Recommendations from other committees and commissions:

  • On recruitment: By Yoginder K. AlaghCommittee (2001), Hota committee (2004) and D.S. Kothari Report (1976)
  • On Training: By Yugandhar committee (2003)
  • On domain expertise: (First ARC)
  • On efficiency: Fifth Central Pay Commission (2000), Expenditure Reforms Commission (2001) and Hota committee (2004).
  • On Accountability: Santhanam Committee, Hota committee (2004) and Surinder Nath Committee (2003).

Reforms Required:

Train the recruits more frequently:

  • Revised periodic training is important to keep up with the pace of changing times.
  • Sectoral specialisations:
  • Inadequate understanding of the nuances and implications of the available choices restricts the capacity of the bureaucracy to take an informed view. This often results in clumsy and delayed decision making.
  • There is an urgent need for specialisation in sectors such as finance, infrastructure, social and regulatory ones.

Measuring governance quality:

  • Attempts should be made to identify indices and parameters for the measurement of rankings states based on governance.
  • Appropriate methods need to be put in place to measure the performance of states that would reflect on the performance appraisal of the bureaucratic leaders.
  • Non-application of mind and refusal to take decisions sometimes do more harm than even corruption so while encouraging the good performers, the periodic cleansing of incorrigible deadwood is also important.
  • Discouraging the appointment of retired/retiring officers:
  • Clever bureaucrats are aware of the rewards for being on the right side of the power. Most quasi-judicial posts may perhaps be offered to officers well before their retirement.
  • So, discouraging services beyond their normal age of superannuation should de be done, while the scope of advisory position must be kept open for outstanding retired officers.

Reasons for the Inaction by the Bureaucracy:

  • Reporting to short-sighted executives
  • Extensive judicial overreach
  • Role of judge, jury and executioner played by the media
  • Understaffing

If these are the incentives, the bureaucracy is bound to turn inactive and resort to audit-proof work which yields nothing.

Indian bureaucracy is understaffed if one goes by the estimates compiled by the Institute of Conflict Management. It says that about 90 percent of the workforce get absorbed in Group C and D services. Only 7 percent of its bureaucracy is available to man critical positions.

Steps that can be taken to bring reforms in the bureaucracy:

  • Prevent punitive actions: To prevent enforcement agencies from taking punitive actions without any pieces of evidence of misappropriation of funds. Instead, an expert committee can be constituted with experts from commercial backgrounds to find out whether it’s a case of corruption or just a decision that was taken in the right spirit but has not yielded.
  • Result-oriented: Doing away with the idea of bureaucracy obsessed with process and not to results. Changing inactive bureaucracy to the one that feels safe while taking genuine risks.
  • Get out of the business: Privatisation of areas where the government should not be in and allowing the bureaucracy to focus on the areas where problem-solving professionals are required. It need not be in many sectors and politicians must get the bureaucracy out of sectors that can be left to the markets.
  • Use of technology: It is not hidden that every modern bureaucracy works on technology tools. Automating every major touchpoint between the citizens, government and the businesses.
  • Recruitment process: Bringing changes in the recruitment procedures and giving weightage to psychometric tests in addition to interviewing to improve the incoming pool of civil servants.
  • Evaluation: All officers must undergo an evaluation after serving for 15 years to get a promotion and those who could not make it to the other side must only be given important departments.
  • Lateral entry: Increasing the intake through lateral entry at key positions that require expertise. It has already has been done at the joint secretory but this needs to be encouraged at the secretory or additional secretory level as a laggard top official often ensure that the lateral entrant has no work to do.
  • Doing away with obsolete rules: It is often forgotten that Indian bureaucracy is a creature of the Constitution and is governed by laid multiple rules, laws and procedures. Luckily the present regime has done a commendable job in doing away with over 1500 of them.


It is important that the honest and result-oriented bureaucracy must be rewarded by moving them up in the hierarchy and those who are dishonest and are non-performers must be sent back home.India needs an enabling bureaucracy that is proactive, imaginative and technology-savvy that can play a decisive role in India’s transformation.


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