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Web Exclusive | Prosperity for the ‘babus’

Web Exclusive | Prosperity for the ‘babus’
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First Published: Tue, Apr 15 2008. 11 33 AM IST

Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Updated: Tue, Apr 15 2008. 11 33 AM IST
New Delhi: Bureaucracies across the world have one thing in common: they are the subject of popular dislike, if not, ridicule, at the hands of the people they allegedly serve and at the hands of their political masters who also they allegedly subserve.
Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
No country in the world has been able to do away with them, nor tame them into submission wholly. Sometimes, the veneer cracks a bit, but such is their resilience, they recover their superior air through smart intrigue and clever plotting.
Perhaps some civilized societies have been able to contain them, especially those which have had a high degree of transparency in governance and prosperity coupled with high literacy.
Interestingly, in the few countries where bureaucracies have exhibited a higher degree of responsiveness to the needs of its citizens, you will find them to be politically least ambitious in the realm of international affairs.
The Scandinavian countries, Icelandic nations, even Canada in the North Americas do not exhibit gross disdain for their bureaucracies. At least, when seen in comparison to the kind of specimens who inhabit the majority of the third world and quite a few of the first.
It has to be admitted that this reputation has been earned after a lot of hard work and effort. The ‘bureaucrat’ or more aptly its vernacular equivalent ‘sahib’ is a veritable modern day sultan in our context. In fact, our brand of democracy has been over fertile in proliferating sultans of manifold variety and many hues. No human being dare assert his right before this sultan.
You can, of course, humbly petition the lord of your domain, and expect a favourable grant when the ‘setting’ and the ‘sahib’s’ mood is right. Also, a mere citizen of the country has no entitlements in the august presence of this sultan, the constitution of the country, notwithstanding.
The treasury of the state and its assets are at the disposal of our symbolically ‘civil’ servant of the people. It is entirely his remit as to how he treats his trust. The law of the land nor the people of the land can seek or enforce his accountability.
Remember to endorse your petition for grant of an amenity from this sultan with ‘ I remain your humble servant’ prominently enough. Any other form of submission or use of familiar endearment could cost you your right.
The uncivil part of the service is exclusively represented by upholders of the majesty of the state – the police. Anything we say here about their conduct and demeanour would be too polite a comparison to reality. There are atleast a billion stories about how bad the cops are with each citizen having at the very least, one such story to narrate.
They are the law enforcers in the country and have therefore,a prime role in the safety and security of the citizens of the land. Over the years, their preoccupation with the safety and security of the sultans has left them with little time or stamina for their primary duty. Hence, law enforcement has rapidly descended to the last priority in their otherwise eventful days’ work.
It would also not be an honourable thing to recount their horror stories or tales of suspect heroism in encounters because we just can’t believe their versions anymore. Numerous theories have surfaced about people being eliminated in encounters for reasons that have nothing to do with the threats such assassinated characters allegedly posed.
All our angst and disenchantment with the bureaucratic monolith that drives us and our lives from the cradle to the grave – crazy most times – should not move us to grudge their forthcoming prosperity at the hands of a generous pay commission. Even though the public reactions of dismay are understandable, an average bureaucrat has to eat and raise a family in these costly times. Let’s also spare a thought for the skills needed for the job, the bureaucrat has to walk the tight rope, tighten his belt all the time and be everybody’s whipping boy.
The only case of inverse gender discrimination as women bureaucrats are never in the whipping boys’ basket, atleast not yet. Besides, one has to admit that they are overwhelmed by the volumes of demands on scarce resources and yet keep people happy. They all deserve to be paid amply, just as the Pay Commission says.
As for the ‘aam admi’, his travails will continue along the perilous path of struggle for survival and never forgetting that life is an obstacle race. Every good policy of the state will continue to have endless obstacles for intended beneficiaries and honourable exceptions that may be applicable to the benefactors.
Things will be costlier, because the natural law of prices suggest: ‘when they go up, they stay up’. We will still have to negotiate the Byzantine corridors of a million futile rules. After all, can fatter pay checks mean slimmer paybacks? Never!
Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to socionomics@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Apr 15 2008. 11 33 AM IST