In what must be a particularly galling development for the entire bureaucracy, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has floated a Request for Proposal (RFP) for hiring a private consultant, with experience in human relations (HR) consulting and competency enhancement, to design and develop a Framework of Roles, Activities and Competencies (FRAC) for civil servants, so that the country can have a “fit-forfuture civil service.”

Hiring a private consultant to reform the bureaucracy is a great comedown for the civil service which credits itself with having run the country competently from the inception of the Indian Civil Service in 1858, and also the development of the country since then. In the not-too-distant past, ‘boxwallahs’ trying to talk down to members of the steel-frame would have elicited scorn and disbelief in civil servants, but sadly, it seems that the shoe is firmly on the other foot now.

The RFP floated by DoPT for developing the Framework is of a turn-key nature. The successful bidder would be required to complete the entire process, starting from defining the FRAC for all levels of employees to implementing FRAC in the selected seven key ministries/ departments of the Government of India, within one year. At the end of this exercise, along with enhanced competencies and better-defined roles and activity profiles at all levels, the bureaucracy is expected to have a ‘Roles based HR Management’ system instead of a ‘Rules based’ one. Reforming the bureaucracy, in order to align it with twentyfirst century requirements, is urgently required, but changing the ethos and work culture of a massive and well-entrenched bureaucracy, from the outside, within one year, is a daunting task.

Bureaucratic reforms have been attempted before ~ there have been two Administrative Reforms Commissions ~ but key recommendations made by the Commissions were never implemented. That the Prime Minister was not satisfied with the performance of the bureaucracy was an open secret. Right after assuming office, Mr Modi introduced the biometric attendance system which was supposed to keep government employees in their offices rather than on the greens of golf courses.

Realising that there had been little substantive improvement in the performance of the bureaucracy, in September 2020, the Government launched the National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building (NPCSCB) popularly known as Mission Karmayogi, aimed at capacity building of Government employees by upgrading the postrecruitment training mechanism of officers and staff members.

The FRAC, being developed now, is slated to dovetail into Mission Karmayogi; FRAC would re-define the roles, the competencies required and the desired activities of Government employees of all levels, while the digital platform of Mission Karmayogi, Integrated Government Online Training (iGOTKarmayogi, for short), would deliver the learning and testing part of FRAC. Being a digital platform iGOTKarmayogi would be available at all times to upgrade the professional skills of Government employees.

The Mission Karmayogi project would initially cover the 46 lakh Central Government employees, and would, thereafter, be extended to all 2 crore Government employees. Presently, officers recruited to elite services like the IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS etc are trained first at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) and thereafter at departmental academies, such as the Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service in New Delhi for Indian Foreign Service officers, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Secunderabad for Indian Police Service officers and the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy in Dehradun for Indian Forest Service officers, National Academy of Direct Taxes at Nagpur for Indian Revenue Service officers, etc. All these training academies also run inservice training courses.

Almost all Government departments have training facilities for their staff also. However, there are myriad problems in imparting training to serving employees. As far back as 1986, realising the importance of training, PM Rajiv Gandhi had prescribed a week’s annual training for all Government employees and 30 per cent additional remuneration for all trainers. These path-breaking initiatives were soon discarded because as they say it is difficult to teach new tricks to old dogs ~ chiefly because old dogs do not want to learn. As for the additional remuneration, seniors in other posts resented their juniors getting more pay, so the monetary incentive for trainers was soon dropped.

Thus, one can conclude that the way to reform the civil service is well-known but resistance from within makes implementation of reforms difficult. If the Government pushes civil services’ reforms seriously, a much cheaper and better course could be to have the staff training colleges impart the required competencies and also prepare department-wise repositories of knowledge, instead of a digital platform common to all government employees. Computerisation of Government departments has rendered the roles of many employees, particularly at the subordinate level, redundant, while the roles of many others, especially officers, have expanded because ministerial activities that were earlier performed manually, are now almost fully automated.

Therefore, a worthwhile goal of Mission Karmayogi is the re-definition of roles and activities of Government employees. Another welcome initiative is the re-drafting of SOPs for all departments, because, at present, through passage of time, there are a surfeit of often contradictory circulars and instructions for the guidance of employees, which inhibit action at all levels. However, reforming Government processes, which are the root cause of inefficiency of the Government, has not been given sufficient importance in the FRAC. As anyone who has dealt with the Government knows, all processes are incredibly complex and convoluted.

Even a simple thing like replying to a letter involves getting comments of several levels of officers on the contents of the letter and then putting up a draft reply and getting it approved by a superior. Any action, even in an emergency, is approved only after the relevant file has travelled from the bottom functionary to the top level. Often, other departments also have to be consulted; if money is to be spent the file goes to the finance department, if a law point is involved the file travels to the legal department. Such antediluvian practices ensure that little is achieved despite a surfeit of efforts. Only files move in Government offices, real work is seldom done.

The importance of procedure in the bureaucracy is such that a bureaucrat can literally get away with murder, if it is committed according to procedure. ‘Due procedure was followed’ is a complete and acceptable reply to any question that may be raised about an employee’s performance. Most procedures are designed so that a large number of employees get involved and if things go wrong no one can be held responsible for the outcome. In any case, the procedure for action against delinquent employees is designed in a way that it is almost impossible to punish a corrupt or inefficient Government employee.

One wishes that the FRAC shows a way to loosen the stranglehold of ‘due procedure’ on Government functioning.  Moreover, the FRAC should be so designed, that in case of malfeasance, responsibility could be quickly fixed on the guilty. One thing the FRAC would not be able to improve is the constraints under which Government employees work. The recent incident involving the PM, West Bengal CM, and West Bengal Chief Secretary (CS) is illustrative of the contradictory forces that are often at play in the dayto-day working of an officer.

Reportedly, action has been initiated against the CS, for what was considered an act of les majeste vis-à-vis the PM. The situation was of double jeopardy for the CS; if the CS had not obeyed the CM, then the CM would have been unhappy with him, so the CS had no safe option to choose. In more mundane settings, the conflict is often between doing the right thing or succumbing to the pressure of moneyed people, corrupt colleagues or superiors. Since the corrupt and inefficient operate without any hindrance in Government offices, performance suffers and even hardworking and honest employees often go off-track.

Finally, the corruption, inefficiency and lack of initiative of the bureaucracy is intriguing given the fact that Government service is the employment of choice for the flower of Indian youth, which excels even in the competitive American corporate world. Perhaps, to have an efficient and performing bureaucracy, along with a Framework of Roles Activities and Competencies, the Government also needs to put in place a framework of evaluation where good performance, excellence and initiative are rewarded and corruption and non-performance are punished.

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