On the eve of the general election, the IC Centre for Governance (ICCFG) hosted a lecture series on the changing role of the civil services. The lectures on the critical topic of the relationship between the bureaucrats and the political leadership were delivered on April 4, 2014, at the India International Centre, New Delhi.
In his opening remarks, Prabhat Kumar, former Cabinet Secretary and Governor of Jharkhand and currently the President of the ICCFG, said that Sardar Patel, the founder of the civil services in independent India, had visualised a clear role definition for the two crucial categories of bureaucrats and politicians. The political leadership defined the policies and the bureaucracy implemented these policies. The politicians had the vision and perspective, and the civil servants the domain knowledge and institutional memory. They started with feelings of mutual trust and interdependence. But over the years, they failed to delimit their respective roles with precision and clarity and this created feelings of mistrust and suspicion among them.
Vinod Sharma, Political Editor of the Hindustan Times, traced the history of the relationship by narrating some telling anecdotes about the confidence that leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru had in senior civil servants and the fearlessness and courage with which the bureaucrats tendered their frank advice. He felt that the recent trend of bureaucrats joining political parties immediately after retirement cast suspicion on their neutrality and non-alignment, and this tendency should be nipped in the bud.
BK Chaturvedi, former Cabinet Secretary and at present Member, Planning Commission, expressed the view that both politicians and bureaucrats need to build a strong value system. They should join hands in working for the welfare of the common masses through ethical governance. He said that if the civil servants expressed their views fearlessly and with courage, the political leadership would accept their advice much of the time.
It was good that the Supreme Court had laid down certain policy parameters to protect bureaucrats from premature and vengeful transfers. A concerted effort by the political and administrative leadership would surely give an impetus to the country to move rapidly on the trajectory of economic growth and social development.