Starting at the top

The onus of bringing about structural change in the Indian bureaucracy and its methods of functioning rests with its political masters


Speaking to bureaucrats on Thursday, Civil Services Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi advised them not to work in silos but as a team; to experiment in order to bring about change. These are laudable sentiments. But the onus of bringing about structural change in the Indian bureaucracy and its methods of functioning rests as much with its political masters.

As we have written in this space, there have been various recommendations, such as in the Fifth Pay Commission’s 1996 report, for a minimum tenure for bureaucrats. In the absence of such safeguards, and with political interference rampant—the Puttingal temple tragedy seems to be the latest example—a change in the bureaucratic mindset that prioritizes not rocking the boat is unlikely.

And coordination and cooperation are tough sells when the governance structure is replete with redundant ministries and departments. Modi must start at the top in order to rejuvenate the bureaucracy.