It does not require a trained hypnotist to ascertain that the innermost desire of most of our young men/women is to somehow land a Government job. Cold statistics bear out this supposition. Recently, the Railways received more than 3 crore applications for 90,000 Class 3 jobs. An advertisement for recruitment of 1,137 constables in Mumbai Police got more than 2 lakh responses, which comes to around 175 aspirants for each post. Applicants included three doctors, five lawyers, 167 MBAs, 423 engineers and a large number of post-graduates.

It can be no one’s case that the earning capacity of a qualified professional is less than that of a constable or inspector, but such is the aura of a Government job that even well-educated Indians would prefer to go for low-paying Government employment rather than striking out on their own. Given this mindset, it is not surprising that Prime Minister Modi’s advice to youth to be self-employed was greeted with hoots and derision.

Even after providing loans of Rs.6 lakh crore to more than 12 crore aspiring entrepreneurs under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY), no significant dent has been made in unemployment statistics. Rather, bad loans (NPAs) have started ballooning exponentially. To avoid embarrassment to the banking sector, which is already in the throes of an NPA crisis, the Reserve Bank of India has changed the very definition of NPA for the entire Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector. This sequence of events would indicate that loans given from the taxpayer’s money for generating employment are being eaten away, with the Government strenuously attempting to keep this inconvenient fact under wraps.

Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY) or any other self-employment generation programme of the Government was bound to fail, given the fact that the apogee of ambition of any young man worth his salt is to somehow land in the Indian Administrative Service or its poorer cousins, the Indian Police Service, Indian Revenue Service or the like. Lakhs of bright young men and women live in the inhospitable environs of Mukherjee Nagar or Rajinder Nagar in New Delhi for years, preparing themselves for a shot at the Civil Service Examination. A number of brighter young people, who qualify for Government Services, other than the IAS, take the UPSC examination multiple times, meandering from one service to the other to finally get into their dream service. No one seems to be bothered about the loss of precious years of the flower of Indian youth. Many IIT passouts, IIM alumnae, doctors and law graduates from top institutes opt to join All-India or Central Services in preference to self-employment or top private sector jobs. Educational and monetary resources lost in this process are too large to be computed.

Taking an objective view, by a rough estimate, the Government sector has around 30 lakh job vacancies, which may not be filled up soon because of the tweak in the reservation policy. On the other hand, we have more than 3.1 crore job aspirants ~ a ball park figure given by CMIE, as the Government has discontinued collecting unemployment statistics. This gap between desire and reality is bound to cause heartburn to our young men unless they re-calibrate their expectations.

Clearly, there is a need to wean away our young people from Government jobs, which is not easy because traditionally, outside metros, Government jobs were the only jobs available. Add to it the power exercised by Government functionaries; folklore and movies like Singham and Simba have further convinced our youth that once they join Government service they can be lover boy and Robin Hood rolled in one.

In an official environment, our bureaucratic mentality ensures that all interactions start with an active distrust of the opposite party; we readily assume malafides in anyone that we encounter. Any request for service is almost instinctively denied. Additionally, when in a position of authority, we would go to any length to appear as dispensers of favours. No one, except the well connected, relishes the prospect of any interaction with the Government because Government rules are such that even a genuine person is reduced to a favour-seeker before the mighty bureaucrat.

The worst aspects of the bureaucratic ethos have also permeated our businesses. You may not be able to get treatment at a private hospital if you do not have your Aadhaar Card readily available. Service providers, across the board, invariably ask for your PAN card and a host of other documents which have no relevance to the service being provided.

A personal example is illustrative. Recently, when I went to my bank to get a draft of Rs 100, I was asked for my Aadhaar number and also why I was tendering cash for the draft. On telling the lady at the counter that I was an account holder, she laboriously dug out my Aadhaar number from the bank’s records and noted it somewhere. The draft was then sent for counter-signature; the whole exercise taking close to two hours.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court has struck down parts of the Aadhaar Act and upheld our right to privacy; otherwise all of us had to stand in long queues to get our Aadhaar details verified at the shops of mobile operators. Then, we had to submit our identity documents to umpteen clerks with the lurking danger of having our identity stolen. The reason for bureaucratic insensitivity and unresponsiveness is not far to seek. Go through the operating manual of any Government department and you will find that any rule granting any right to a citizen would be heavily qualified while there would be a host of provisions aimed at escaping responsibility. Accountability, the sine qua non for good administration appears to be the most hated word in bureaucracy, which by devising convoluted procedures has made it almost impossible to fix responsibility for any wrongful act.

No wonder that a bureaucrat can play fast and loose without any fear and the poor citizen readily gives in to his most outrageous demands. Corruption, which is arguably our most serious problem, is an offshoot of the facelessness and immunity granted to bureaucrats. We can rid ourselves of the twin evils of corruption and inefficiency only if we can put in place a system which demands accountability from all Government officials.

As the first step in this direction, rules of business in all Government departments should be made citizen-centric ensuring that common people approaching a Government functionary are trusted and treated with dignity. Then, bureaucrats should be required to clearly spell out reasons for refusing a request made to them. Finally, timelines can be laid down for provision of services ~ in a better fashion than in the various provisions of services acts.

A host of benefits would follow once the bureaucracy is made a bit less bureaucratic. First, the functioning of all Government departments would definitely improve, facilitating us in our quest of becoming a developed country. Second, the perennial lament of only fifteen paise out of every rupee reaching intended beneficiaries would be a thing of the past. Third, efficiency would go up and delays would be curtailed.

There would be many consequential benefits as well. Reining in of the bureaucracy would definitely lessen its allure in the eyes of our youth and with time, the private sector too may shed its bureaucratic approach. Hopefully, we would become a less bureaucratic and happier society. The de-bureaucratisation of Government functioning has often been attempted but has not succeeded so far because even the decision for de-bureaucratisation had to be entrusted for implementation to the self-same bureaucracy.

The Indian bureaucracy was created by the British to protect the imperial status quo, seeing it struggle in its present developmental role reminds one of what Madeline Albright, the former US Secretary of State, had to say about the UN bureaucracy: “The U.N. bureaucracy has grown to elephantine proportions. Now that the Cold War is over, we are asking that elephant to do gymnastics.” One can only hope that our homegrown elephant can metamorphose into a dexterous acrobat.

(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax)