is government overstaffed
this is an enlarged version of article that appeared in "the journal of governance" of the IC centre for governance in January 2014.
is government overstaffed
kewal krishan sethi
it is a common belief that the bureaucracy is forever engaged in expanding its role and more and more persons are joining the force. to the question whether indian government is overstaffed, the answer to the man in the street will be invariably "yes". the ordinary citizen has to deal with members of bureaucracy daily for a multiple reasons from routine jobs to unforeseen disasters. he sees them everywhere. he realizes that without a large force working for his welfare, he would be leading a very insecure life, yet he wants to have as little bureaucracy as is feasible.
to underline the antipathy of the public towards bureaucracy, we give below a typical comment regarding them. it says "there is a general impression that the bureaucracy is overgrown beyond what is functionally needed. it is also felt that their number are increasing at a rapid pace. with scant regard for the work-load. people also speak of the bureaucracy being top-heavy. not only are public servants perceived to be too many in number, it is also believed that they do not contribute to the gross domestic product. public servants are alleged to invariably come late to office, spend a large part of the day in sipping tea, smoking and indulging in gossip. and leave office early. consequently, productivity is said to be abysmally low, estimates of their actual working hours ranging from one to two and a half hours in a day". (reforming administration in india edited by vinod mehta)
obviously this is completely one sided picture but a similar view is held by retired senior officers also. shri n c saxena, former secretary planning commission, opines (http://sabhlokcity.com /2013/01/) that "it is generally agreed by all concerned that the new policies of economic reforms and liberalization would still require massive presence of government in livelihood sectors, such as health, primary education, and poverty alleviation. unfortunately little thought has been given to the capacity building of government functionaries with a view to improve their performance. on the other hand, there is evidence to show that their output of late has declined considerably. many problems of government are however quite old and well known. obsession with rules rather than concern for output, promotions based on seniority rather than merit, delays, and mediocrity at all levels are some of the factors inhibiting output in government".
bureaucracy in india is considered to have the following characteristics:-
too large and slow.
extremely rigid and mechanical.
consequently not flexible and adaptive to cope with change.
not innovative and enterprising.
low motivation and low morale.
accountability is low.
lack of expertise."
this view about bureaucracy being too large for comfort is shared by the planners. ever since the country launched on its journey to economic prosperity through planned development, it has been the dominant theme. the budget both at the union level and the state level was divided into two water tight compartments viz. plan and non plan. the plan side was supposed to take care of the rapid development of the country by making it a great industrial power. it would also, through improved agricultural practices, become self sufficient in the agricultural production. in contrast the non plan side was to take care of the routine job of maintaining law and order, education, health, maintenance of completed schemes such as irrigation and power projects and others. a special provision was made that a project funded by the plan funds will cease to be a plan scheme on its completion and would be maintained in the non plan sector. the liabilities created on account of employment of personnel would stand transferred to non plan budget. this continues to be the rule though there are notable exceptions. the demand for a bigger plan has been insatiable. we are subjected to oft repeated statements that in order to progress, bigger plan is necessary. though it was not said in so many words, the implication was clear that since resources are limited, this means reduction, or at least freezing at a particular level, in the non plan budget. ways and means should be found to increase the productivity of personnel which would lead to reduction in numbers of the persons needed for doing the routine work and keep the non plan expenditure limited.
as a result of this line of thinking, the plan size increased from 2,068 crores in the first five year plan to rs. 47.7 lakh crores for the twelfth (in current prices) of which the centre will provide 27.1 lakh crores. comparative figures for non plan are not readily available. an idea can be formed from the central government budget for 1996-97 and 2012-13. the figures are
1996-97 2012-13 %age increase
plan 33,467 3,91,027 1168%
non plan 1,49,975 9,65,607 643 %
http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2012-13/eb/stat02.pdf) (note : non plan expenditure includes the payment of interest on loans which is a sizeable chunk).
what has this meant in terms of effect on government personnel size? we will try to analyze with whatever partial data is available. it should be noted that we will be dealing only with the civilian employees. the defence personnel will be left out since the parameters there are different.
in order to present a complete picture we should consider the number of government servants for both the central and the state governments but, unfortunately, the consolidated information for the states is scarce. the central government does conduct a census of the government employees periodically. the census provides information about regular employees and casual labor and employees are left out. according to the census for 2009 conducted by the ministry of labour, government of india, the number of employees in major ministries is as given below-
regular central government employment in major ministries as on 31st march, 2009
sr. no. ministry number of regular employess %age to the total
(1) (2) (3) (4)
1 railways 13,86,123 44.74
2 home affairs 7,48,049 24.14
3 defence (civilian) 3,64,718 11.77
4 communication & it 2,18,788 7.06
5 finance 1,08,105 3.49
6 others 2,72,7 0.24
total 30,98,507 100
(note - the data for other ministries can be seen at http://dget.gov.in/publications/ccge/ccge-2009.pdf)
the number of gazatted officers was 1,54,545 and of non gazatted 29,43,962. corresponding number on 31st march 2001 was 38,76,395 of which 1,94,757 were gazatted officers and 36,81,638 non-gazatted. this shows that over nine years the number has declined by approximately 7,75,000. the reason for this decline could not be ascertained.
further division is available based on the pay scales. (the figures are for 31st march 2008 since those for 2009 are calculated on a different basis i.e. grade pay, the significance of which is not clear. the scales mentioned here are pre 2006 scales.)
employees according to various pay-ranges as on 31st march, 2008
pay ranges no of employees %age to total
( 1) (2) (3)
below 3049 5,09,520 16.37
3050-3499 4,89,365 15.73
3500-4499 5,95,646 19.14
4500-5499 4,69,559 15.09
5500-6499 3,74,307 12.03
6500-7999 3,34,005 10.73
8000-9999 1,76,714 5.68
10000-14299 1,17,523 3.78
14300-18399 31,759 1.02
18400 and above 13,212 0.42
source : (ministry of labour statistics) last census in 2009
the results of 2011 census are not yet published but unconfirmed sources claim that the latest census gives the number of central government employees as 31. 16 lakhs of whom non gazatted employees are 96 %. a further classification is based on place of posting. of the total employees, 53% of employees are living in 'c' class and unclassified cities. 15.31 % in b2 cities. 4.61% in b1 cities. 11.10% in a cities and 15.66% in a1 cities. (http://r3chq.blogspot.in/2011/08/latest-census-of-central-government.html) once again this is the number of regular employees. the number of casual employees is not forthcoming.
the trend over the years is given in the table below based on ministry of labour statistics.
trends in central government regular employment (1971 to 2001)
as on 31st march 2001 (base 100 in 1971)
year number %age rise over previous i ndex
(in lakhs) available year
1971 26.99 - 100
1975 29.70 1.99 110.04
1980 33.21 4.73 123.05
1981 34.07 2.59 126.23
1988 36.99 2.35 137.05
1990 37.74 0.69 139.83
1995 39.82 4.43 147.54
2001 38.76 (-) 2.66 143.81
2006 31.16 (-) 19.61 115.45
2008 31.12 (-) 0.13 115.30
2009 30.99 (-) 0.42 114.82
(source : ministry of labour statistics of government servants)
(note, the years in between have been omitted to present a general trend) it would appear that the growth rate is positive up to year 2000, but the number has come down in the later years. however, these figures may be misleading because the trend in the first decade of the twenty first century was to outsource many of the functions. with the population growing continuously the proportion of the central government employees to population is coming down over the years. it would be in order to examine what is the net result of such drop in proportion.
we have remarked that information about the states is scarce. but we do get some information about some states. the highest ratios of public servants to population among the indian states are in the conflict-torn or border regions, where the central government has made special funding available for enhancing employment in an effort to contain discontent. thus, mizoram has 3,950 public servants per 100,000 population, nagaland has 3,921 and jammu and kashmir 3,586. barring sikkim, with 6,395 public servants per 100,000, no state comes close to the international levels. for the most part though, india's relatively backward states have low numbers of public servants. this means staff members are not available in adequate number for the provision of education, health and social services needed to address the worst kinds of poverty. bihar has just 458 per 100,000, madhya pradesh 826, uttar pradesh has 802, orissa 1,192 and chhattisgarh 1,175.
this is not to suggest there is a causal link between poverty and low levels of public servants: gujarat has also 826.47 per 100,000 (the same as madhya pradesh) and punjab 1,263.34. the data could explain, though, why even well-off states like these have found it tough to ensure universal primary education and eradicating poverty. (as reported by praveen swami in the hindu – jan 30, 2012) .
despite the general impression about lack of numbers from the states, some of the states do regularly inform about the number of government servants. for example in karnataka, the position is given in the budget every year. the information for two particular years is as follows:
karnataka state budget
group‐wise details of staff strength (in units)
item state zila parishad total state zila parishad total
group -a 12083 7163 19246 10542 5515 16057
group -b 18238 48274 66512 27833 156516 44349
group-c 198213 238528 436741 241794 327702 568996
gropu-d 53622 29533 83155 30956 22824 53780
others 6522 17481 24003 13060 0 13060
total 288678 340979 629657 324185 327057 696242
vacant posts 49781 51317 100998 84895 57435 142330
working 238897 289762 528659 239290 314622 553914
in karnataka, comparing the position in 2011-12 with that of 2002-03, we have an increase in employee strength of 10.6 % in nine years. however, the increase in working strength is less than the half at 4.8 %. this is again a noteworthy feature which is replicated in other states also. in order to keep the expenditure within limit, there is an increasing trend of keeping sanctioned posts vacant. this is in accordance with the belief that expenditure on staff and on the non plan side should be kept as low as possible.
in kerala also, the budget papers have an appendix giving this information. according to this the number of government officers is 4,67,664 permanent and 31,899 temporary staff making a total of 4,99,563.
(http://www.kerala.gov.in/docs/budget/2011-12/staff.pdf) it can be observed that kerala is giving information about temporary hands also.
similar information would be available for other states as part of the their budget proposals but so far as known, no regular census is carried out in any of the states.
the question which arises is whether india, as a country is overstaffed. we have given one point of view at the beginning of this essay. but there is another shade of opinion. eminent economist v.k. ramachandran says: “one of the most important lessons of the economic history of modern nations is that the most crucial requirements of social transformation can only be delivered by the public authority. a government that does not pay for skilled personnel to deliver education, health and land reform is one that condemns its people to under-development.”
in one study, it has been said that “people keep complaining the government is too big,” ajai sahni, director of the new delhi-based institute of conflict management (icm), adds that “but the figures show that it is in fact too anemic to govern the country.” the icm, which spent over a year assembling the data, discovered that only some states even had centralized records on their employees — and there were no published estimates of staff members needed to realize new development objectives.
in another study, it is said "long reviled for being bloated, india's central and state governments in fact have just a fifth as many public servants as the united states, relative to population. the figures raise doubts, ahead of a union budget that is likely to slash social-sector spending, on whether the country has the personnel it needs to improve governance and ensure universal access to services like education and health".
according to the data compiled by another study team from multiple sources, including a 2008 official survey, right to information applications, media reports and the 2011 census show, india has 1,622.8 government servants for every 100,000 residents. in stark contrast, the u.s. has 7,681. the central government, with 3.1 million employees, thus has 257 serving every 100,000 population, against the u.s. federal government's 840.
this figure dips further if the 1,394,418 people working for the railways, accounting for 44.81 per cent of the entire central government workforce, are removed. then, there are only about 125 central employees serving every 100,000 people. information technology and communications services account for another 7.25 per cent of the central government's staff".
but all is not well even if the numbers suggest we can afford a higher number of government servants. the central government's figures also show that 59.69 per cent of public servants belonged to group c and another 29.37 per cent to group d — the two lowest paid categories. though these workers are important, the numbers suggest there are system-wide shortages of skilled staff and administrators.
thus what india really needs in not reduction in the number of government servants but a reorientation of the work force. there is a need for re-engineering of the governmental set up to make it functional, efficient, productive, cost-effective and service-oriented. though standards of performance have been published by individual organizations but they should be adhered to strictly. greater transparency has to be imparted to the functioning of government departments. government employees to be held accountable for their actions. and various methods of reward and punishment related to their performance devised. there is need for greater emphasis on productivity, quality,. courtesy and customer satisfaction.
fifth pay commission has stressed the need of civil service reforms which have been identified as a critical concern in the quest for rapid economic progress, both in developed and developing countries. the reform process has sought to define and concentrate on the core duties of government and to ensure that non-core functions be offloaded on to the non-governmental sector this has involved right-sizing of the government and reduction in its flab many functions have consequently been privatized fully or partially. corporatized or ,given out on contract.
the pay commission has recommended is action on the following lines –
(i) some ministries and departments may have to be abolished altogether or amalgamated with other ministries and departments.
(ii) the size of a ministry or department may have to be reduced drastically in order to fit it for the revised role that it has to perform.
the fifth pay commission has also recommended downsizing the workforce and has suggested that some of the work can be outsourced. let us try to understand the implications of this approach. outsourcing is the contracting out of some services to a third-party. the "outsourcing" has become popular in the recent years. outsourcing usually involves reduction in the number of employees but not always since the surplus staff can be absorbed in expansion of business or retrained for other duties. nevertheless the prime objective of outsourcing is savings. outsourcing is also used to describe the practice of handing over control of public services to for-profit corporations. examples are not hard to find. in the latter category we have the bot schemes (build, operate, transfer). the private party is given the responsibility of providing the service and reciprocally given the authority to collect fee for the same for a specified period. the cost of the project is shared by the state and the private party. at the end of the specified period the assets have to be handed over to the government which undertakes to maintain them afterwards. to cite an example, in delhi, the distribution of electric energy and collection of electricity dues has been handed over to private companies on a 51: 49 basis. the company supplies power over a geographical area of more than 500 sq km. it has instituted several customer-centric initiatives such as online bill payment, automated bill payment kiosks and complaint management systems. on the other hand the electricity charges have more than trebled since the discoms – electricity distribution companies – have taken over.
does outsourcing really lead to economies? it will be observed that uk also had the same trend of outsourcing. but it led to complaints of another nature. these concerned undue higher payments for services rendered. on november 19, 2013, the new statesman as also www.bloomberg.com reported that g4s has offered to refund an amount of £ 24.1 million following revelations of electronic tagging overcharging. the overcharging was discovered by the national audit office (nao). similar complaints were made in relation to the work programme and the probation reforms. the work programme is a narrow job-focused programme and those providing it do not control most of the factors that prevent many people from accessing work. this is why the private companies running the programme tend to 'cream' the easy candidates and 'park' the difficult cases: just 6.9 per cent of those referred in receipt of employment support allowance were found work in the latest period against a 17 per cent target. the probation reforms, based on the same model and dealing with similar complex problems, suffered the same fate. in both cases a silo of state provision is contracted out to (mainly) private providers who are paid if they achieve certain outcomes.
india has similar problems. the private bot operator is in for making as much profit as he can. the repeated delays at the delhi gurgaon road toll gates present a case study in which the high court had to intervene to ensure avoidable delays in crossing the toll gate. the complaint about overcharging by the delhi electricity distribution private holders. pointed out above, were vociferous and the rates had to be revised, at least partially. on the positive side, the revenue has gone up in the recent years not only because of higher rates of electricity consumed but also due to detection and prevention of energy theft.
several labour unions have protested against such outsourcing. their stand is that this is affecting the new recruitment as well as the existing employees who are denied the chances of promotion. the activists point out that most of the private employers, to whom the work is outsourced, are exploiting the workers. with rampant non employment and under-employment, the labour wages are falling in real terms. the workers are left without any means of sustenance when they are sick or not able to work up to the expectations. the government are indulging in false economies in that at a later stage, these employees in the private agencies would join the numbers depending on state doles.
the benefits of outsourcing are thus not beyond doubt. even as a measure of economy, perhaps its utility is suspect except in some of the smaller offices which government are certainly not. there may be isolated offices where this can be practiced with some advantage. it is felt that redeployment of staff may serve the intended purpose.
with the advent of free economy (as opposed to state run economy) another aspect of government function needs attention from the administration point of view. the introduction of private players in various fields has led to creation of regulatory bodies like electricity regulatory authority, insurance regulatory body etc. they are charged with the responsibility of intervening between the service provider and the customer to ensure that the customers are not being overcharged or otherwise harassed. the mechanism is new as yet and its efficacy is still under observation. as pointed out above, the exploitary nature of electricity dues in delhi was after approval by the regulatory authority and the very basis had to be changed later. nevertheless, the regulatory commissions are here to stay and its role is bound to grow.
what should be the model government size is difficult to determine though attempts have been made at times to do so. it also depends upon the prevailing economic conditions. thus following the great depression john maynard keynes and john kenneth galbraith argued that an economy needs to be continually fine-tuned by an activist government to operate efficiently as an economy grows, a growing government is also necessary to correct private-sector inefficiencies. on the theoretical level, there are many theories which try to analyze the impact of government expenditure on economic growth. these generally fall in two categories viz. demand driven and supply oriented.
the demand driven theories (also called the citizen-over-state theories) of government size and growth begin with the premise that government growth occurs because citizen demand for government programs has increased over time voters decide which goods the government will provide and which negative externalities the government will correct. the supply driven theories (also known as citizen-over-state theories) of government surmise that government serves as redistributors of income and wealth. all government programs are seen as mechanisms for redistribution. this envisages constant expansion of the government size.
another theory holds that government bureaucrats maximize the size of their agencies’ budgets in accordance with their own preferences and are able to do so because of the unique monopoly position of the bureaucrat. because the bureaucrat provides output in response to his or her own personal preferences (e.g., the desire for salary, prestige, power), it is possible that the size of the bureaucrat’s budget will be greater than the budget required to meet the demands of the citizenry.
unlike private sector production, the public sector does not produce a specific number of units, but rather supplies a level of activity. as a result, this creates a monitoring problem for oversight agencies: it is difficult, if not impossible, for monitors to accurately judge the efficiency of production when no tangible or countable unit of output is available. second, the monopoly nature of most bureaus shields them from competitive pressures necessary for efficiency and also denies funding agencies (the parliament) comparable information on which to judge the efficiency of the bureaucrats. third, only the bureau knows its true cost schedule because bureau funding is provided by agents external to the bureau. this provides an opportunity for bureaucrats to overstate their costs in order to receive a larger budget. finally, the bureaucrat can make take-it-or-leave-it budget proposals to the minister and the parliament.
still another theory - the fiscal illusion theory - assumes that government, specifically legislators and the executive branch, can deceive voters as to the true size of government. it further states that collection method of some direct taxes may hide citizens’ tax bills better than indirect taxes. according to meltzer and richard groups of individuals that were freshly given the right to vote were typically from the lower end of the income distribution and demanded greater government services. this leads to devising and implementing of new schemes meant to reach them. ultimately this leads to increase in the government size.[ on the size and growth of government by thomas a. garrett and russell m. rhine (http://research.stlouisfed.org)]
considering the european scene antónio afonso and joão tovar jalles in their paper economic performance and government size (european central bank working papers no.1399) see mixed results as to the relationship between government size and economic development. on the one hand, the former may impact economic growth negatively due to government inefficiencies, crowding-out effects, excess burden of taxation, distortion of the incentives systems and interventions to free markets. on the other hand, government activities may also have positive effects due to beneficial externalities, the development of a legal, administrative and economic infrastructure and interventions to offset market failures. overall, their view based on empirical panel analysis with 108 countries from 1970-2008, employing different proxies for government size and institutional quality is that (i) there is a significant negative effect of the size of government on growth; ii) institutional quality has a significant positive impact on the level of real gdp per capita; iii) government consumption is consistently detrimental to output growth irrespective of the country sample considered (oecd, emerging and developing countries); iv) moreover, the negative effect of government size on gdp per capita is stronger at lower levels of institutional quality, and the positive effect of institutional quality on gdp per capita is stronger at smaller levels of government size.
james a. kahn observes that a positive contribution may come from the government’s production of public goods, including, for example, law enforcement, national defense, and some kinds of infrastructure. on the other hand, governments may distort private decisions and push economies away from efficient outcomes. common interventions include imposing restrictions on international trade, or on labor markets (such as minimum-wage laws and restrictions on firing employees), and direct government ownership and control of major industries. the latter is particularly common in countries reliant on natural resource extraction. (can we determine the optimal size of government? center for global liberty and prosperity)
some information about the government expenditure as percentage of gdp for year 2007 is as follows - france 56.1; sweden 52.5; denmark 58.0; italy 48.83; uk 42.3; germany 43.7; canada 39.7; ghana 42.4; zambia 24.6; israel 42.8; vietnam 28.8; south africa 22.4; iran 28.3; sri lanka 22.6; pakistan 193; mexico 26.7; nigeria 30.0; thailand 17.7; russia 34.1; india 27.2; us 38.9; brazil 17.3; singapore 16.0. it will be seen that in centralized government like japan, china, singapore, and taiwan have more expenditure relative to their respective total economies. one obvious reason, though, are the lack of governmental welfare systems in these countries (with pensions, medical coverage, etc mostly provided by employers) compared to the expansive systems of western europe. in india, the welfare schemes like nrega, mid day meals, poverty alleviation subsidies account for a large percentage of expenditure leading to higher percentage of gdp being spent on administration. (the data is from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/government_spending)
despite the comparable outlay for the services in india, the general impression is that the government servants in india are a pampered lot. a large outlay is not only available for the duration of their service and for payment of pay and allowances but also for a host of other facilities. the payments are continued beyond retirement also and cost the nation a huge lot. it is conceded that this is true not only for india but many newly emerging economies. during the 1970s and 1980s, many governments’ wage bills had ballooned as developing country governments rapidly expanded, thus multiplying ministries, departments and state owned enterprises. newly independent nations, with little private sector capacity, attempted to build their social and economic infrastructures. in delivering education and health to much larger numbers than before, government workforces grew. political philosophies also allocated activities of the public or private sector. several countries found little left over for government’s investment programs after paying the public employees’ wage bill. resources had been spread so thinly that service delivery by the public sector was poor. as countries approached multilateral lending institutions, they were under pressure to reduce the public wage bill, while simultaneously improving services and developing capacity to formulate policy. the issue of civil service pay and, more generally, the incentives for performance, remained high on the civil service reform agenda since that time.
there is a view that quality of government is more important than the size of the government. it is important to note that quality of government does not equal democracy. democracy, which concerns the access to government power, is a necessary but insufficient criterion of quality of government. rothstein and teorell, link the term “quality of government to the concept of impartial government institutions – that is, when public officials who implement policies do not take anything about the citizen case into consideration that is not beforehand stipulated in the policy or the law. without limits to elected officials, democracies can end up imploding from within or with levels of governance as bad as tyrannies.
even within the democracies there is wide variation in quality of government. thus there seems to be a group of countries, such as germany, sweden or the uk, the netherlands, denmark or finland, which exhibits steadily high levels of qog irrespective of the particular index used to capture good governance. they present low corruption levels, high government effectiveness and bureaucratic quality and, at the same time, the rule of law is perceived to be very high. in the second place, there are other eu countries, such as france, italy, spain, portugal or greece, that tend to present significantly lower levels of quality of government. if any, during the late ten to 15 years, these countries have been diverging even more from the best performers in terms of quality of government.
coming to our own country, the general opinion is that there is a lot more to be desired from the government officialdom before it can be considered to score better in terms of quality of government. as pointed out above, the three characteristics of quality in government are low corruption levels, high government effectiveness and, high perception of prevalence of the rule of law. this last implies absence of red tapism which is the hall mark of present day governance. in a way this has to do with the procedures that have been in operation for a long time. the genesis of the system lays in the frequent transfers of the officers. the english officer, coming in from a different land, stayed at particular posts for short periods. he was generally unaware of the local conditions, customs and personnel. of necessity, a system was devised to preserve the institutional memory in the office. the office was expected to provide the necessary support by keeping the records, putting up the case and citing precedents about the issue at hand so that the officer could take a decision. this tradition has hardened over time and has become part of the governance. the englishman was also wary of being misled by the local personnel and, therefore, provided a large dose of checks and balances. this further delayed the decision making process. since the contentious issues arose infrequently, the government being mostly concerned with regulatory measures, the delay was not felt by the populace to be oppressive. with the development measure increasingly occupying centre stage, the delays ensuing from this system began taking its toll and thwarting the intended outcomes of the welfare measures thought out in isolation from the prevailing administrative system. this has led to deterioration in the quality of governance since the independence. frequent transfers have, if anything, increased over the past few decades.
it is not that the effect of red tapism was not felt and attended to. some measures to correct the imbalance were initiated but not followed up with as much sincerity as needed. one such measure was the introduction of desk officer system. efforts to convert the central secretariat into a desk officer system began in 1973 and led to the abolition of sections and unnecessary supporting staff, a reduction of the number of levels by at least two, a reduced accent on noting and increased stress on oral communication. the effort helped to foster greater participation and commitment to organizational goals among officers.
under the desk officer system, each desk was given a defined area and placed under an undersecretary or section officer who was helped by an assistant and section libraries of files. there are 1816 sections and 427 desks in the central secretariat. it is now realized that the desk officer system is more suited to certain functions than others. new departments such as information technology have adopted officer oriented systems from the start. the officer oriented system have been accompanied by steps to create a multi skilled position of executive assistant to replace the posts of clerks and assistants. the long term goal is that the desk officer system supported by a computerized environment, an institutional memory and a revised management system will be extended to all areas of administration.
desk officer system carries with it some obvious difficulties. if more stress is to be paid to oral communications, the danger is that defending a particular decision afterwards will present difficulties. in the current atmosphere where an officer had a fir registered years after his retirement for action taken during service days, the dependence on oral communications would make defence difficult. an obvious way to ensure that a decision can be defended is to make as many parties to it as possible so that, if nothing else works, responsibility can be divided. this entails large amount of written word which can survive the passage of time.
to overcome such a scenario, the entire mindset of not only the person responsible for day to day working will have to be changed but also the mindset of the inspectors, investigators and the judicial officers who may be called upon to adjudicate on the matter at a later date.
another feature of the british system of administration in india was the large auxiliary force with the officers which was intended to assert supremacy vis a vis the local population. a large retinue was considered to be essential since the native was used to pomp and show exhibited by the local ruler. this was adopted by the english masters even though in england itself, there was no such institution. the number of peons, orderlies and other attendants were apportioned to the officer in keeping with the dignity and power which his office was expected to demonstrate. dignity of labour has never been a hallmark of our existence since the medieval ages. we have continued this show of status which we inherited from the british. in fact, we augmented it by providing for security cover ranging from provision of one constable to z and z+ security. this has led to deployment of a large segment of government servants whose productivity is always suspect.
before we consider further action about reduction in government workforce or its reorientation, we should examine what is required of the government. what are the expectations from the government? in united states, this question was posted on the net in http://answers.yahoo.com/question. the answers varied from "essentially in my belief nothing. yes, they need to ensure that there is law and order, that the people are protected both internally through law enforcement and externally by the armed forces, but outside that the constitution does not allow for anymore than that." to "feed, clothe, provide housing, provide stable long lasting jobs, provide health care, and stop them from doing unsafe things, free education for life, freedom from greedy businesses that rip people off, you know that kinda stuff". of course, in between, there are various shades of opinion. building support public infrastructure such as high way roads and a few other things is amongst them.
in india,, we would tend to agree with the latter comments i.e. the government is not there just to protect the citizens. theirs is responsibility for a large number of duties. chanakya, in 300 bc, listed some of these tasks a
1. protect forests and natural resources. 2. houses should have proper fire protection. 3. protect cultivation, irrigation and properties of citizens 4. the state should take an active role in price determination of various goods. 5. interest rates are to be rigidly fixed by the state. 6. land is to be distributed for various uses like agriculture, pastures, factories, forests, water reservoirs and irrigation networks, habitations etc. 7. the state should have monopoly power over most of the natural animal-products and plant-products.
(kautilya’s arthasastra (300 b.c.): economic ideas by ratan lal basu www.smashwords.com/ books)
in addition to the above, the modern indian state has also taken up various social welfare schemes like education, health, eradication of poverty, improvement of slums, city transport and many others. it would not be acceptable to drop any of these schemes since we have become so used to their presence. it would be more realistic to list out the jobs which the citizens expect the state to continue to do. these can be divided into two main groups viz. (1) regulatory jobs and (2) development jobs.
we have listed the general expectations from the government and we have divided their duties in two segments viz. regulatory and development. it would be in order to elaborate on this aspect. some of the regulatory functions can be listed as
1. maintenance of law and order i.e. policing for crowd control and riots 2. keeping the crime under control i.e. policing for prevention and investigation 3. prosecution of the criminals i.e. maintenance of judicial courts 4. settling disputes between parties i.e. maintenance of civil courts 5. enforcing regulations for vehicles, shops and establishments, markets etc. 6. consumer protection from exploitation, adulteration etc. 7. maintenance of industrial peace and prevention of exploitation
naturally this list is not exhaustive. it is merely indicative since the regulations are varied and wide ranging.
similarly development functions can only be indicated by saying that they pertain to education, health, general welfare of the citizens. some of these services are, by tradition, provided by the government and some of them are merely regulated, but many of them embrace both aspects. for example in education, it is incumbent upon government (at least now after the adoption of right to education act) to provide elementary education to all children while regulating that this is done properly by the private organizations running different schools. to the extent that education is provided directly, a large work force is necessary. according to dise (district information system for education) report cards, there were, in year 2010-11, there were 41,97,447 teachers in government schools and 64,03,234 overall meaning about 22 lakhs teachers in privately owned schools. the government should not only maintain the government schools but also ensure that education provided in private schools is up to mark. similar is the situation for health services which are provided both by the government and private institutions. the preventive aspect of public health is more important and, presently, almost exclusively provided by the public sector.
in addition to these functions,, a new category is growing up fast. with the induction of private sector in the field of insurance, banking, telecom, electricity etc. the protection of the consumers becomes an important function of the government. a number of regulatory bodies have been constituted to regulate the price mechanism as well to monitor the quality of services.
the foregoing arguments show that compared to many advanced nations, the per capita strength of the work force in india is not excessive though there is quite a big scope for remodeling the force. we have, obviously, to begin with what may be a painful exercise for the officers. their retinue must disappear or, at least, be reduced to minimum. as has been pointed out above, this should begin with the higher levels. the symbol of power masquerading as need for security should be given up voluntarily. it is not the argument that security is not necessary but that it need not be for show off. indeed it appears to be excessive when two black cats are standing behind the prime minister when he is addressing the chief ministers of states in the parliament annexe, a highly sterilized area.
another effective method is to go in for genuine decentralization. hitherto, we have often talked about decentralization but more often than not worked in the reverse direction. whether it is the question of goods and sales tax (a high power committee is working on the draft) or the educational curriculum (ncert has drafted national curriculum framework), we work for centralization. uniformity appears to be the watchword. food security act is the latest manifestation of this trend where the states are expected to determine the number of personnel eligible for assistance on norms laid down by the centre and give food grains at the price determined by the central government. such an arrangement obliges a duplicate set of government personnel, one to implement the decisions taken and other to monitor the implementation. given that ultimately, in democracy, the people are the final arbiters, this duplication can be avoided thus removing the necessity of employing extra personnel.
the other reform needed is in the way the institutional memory is to be preserved. as has been argued by the ministry of personnel in the case of desk officers system, the officer oriented system should be accompanied by steps to create a multi skilled position of executive assistant to replace the posts of clerks and assistants. simultaneously an atmosphere of mutual trust should replace the feeling of distrust. the inspections and audit should not be carried out with a view to find the mistakes but to apply correctives where necessary before it is too late..the witch hunting which starts years after the action has been taken should be forbidden. the same applies to the investigating personnel and the judicial personnel who should be trained to differentiate between mistake and misdemeanor, between genuine activity and malicious doings, between honest decision and criminal conspiracy. the government personnel must be assured of due protection not only during his tenure but also after he has left. as has been remarked earlier, the 'thinking' level should be strengthened and feeding level should be reduced. this would result in better quality of governance while keeping the expenditure within limits.
ultimately the strength of the government personnel will be determined by the expectations from them. the citizens will be the final arbiters of what they should be getting from the government. the policy of laissez faire has long ceased to be valid and welfare governance is here to stay. the old adage of minimum governance is not going to be in vogue. keeping all this in mind, the strength of government personnel will find its own level but, in any case, no artificial or pre determined caps should be prescribed. we can work towards increasing productivity of the individual government servant to keep their number at optimum level.