Politicization of Bureaucracy

Politicization of Bureaucracy

Context: Recently, a circular by Central government has asked the Senior Civil Servants to act as “rath prabharis” to highlight the achievements of Central government in past 9 years.

Politicization of Bureaucracy: It refers to the process by which Civil Service become influenced and controlled by political considerations and partisan interests, rather than being driven by the principles of neutrality, professionalism, and public service.

Ideally, Civil Servants are expected to be politically neutral and objectively serve elected governments coming from various shades of political spectrum with equal commitment.

Civil servants as citizens can have political choices and viewpoints but as a key functionary of the executive wing, he/she is expected to follow elected governments with equal commitment.

Norms with respect to Political Executive-Bureaucrat relationship

  • Being impersonal and apolitical is one of the foundational values of Civil Services in India.
  • The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules 1964 and The All-India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968 explicitly direct to maintain political neutrality and prohibit association with any political party, political canvassing or furthering of political interests of any party by Civil Servants.

Reasons for politicization of bureaucracy:

  • Patronage based appointments: While the recruitment is done based on open competitive examination, the power of transfer and posting rests with political executive.
  • High degree of discretion: Civil servants enjoy high degree of discretion with no oversight. This leads to lack of answerability makes civil servants susceptible to poetical pressure.

Outcome of politicization of bureaucracy:

Individual level:

  • Undermines the principle of neutrality and impartiality: The foundational principles of political neutrality and impartiality is violated.
  • Harassment: Leads to individual arm twisting and harassment of honest officers.
  • Integrity: It compromises the integrity of honest civil servants.
  • Erosion of independence in decision-making.
  • Attitude: It blocks the passage for attitudinal change which leads to nepotism and non-responsive conduct in civil servants.
  • Insecurity and low morale: When civil servants are appointed based on political considerations, it leads to reduced morale and motivation.
  • Fuels political ambitions: Lure of post-retirement benefits also compromises the values of honesty and integrity.

Organizational level:

  • Against Conduct rules: Central Civil Services Conduct rules 1964 explicitly prohibits Civil Servants from taking part in political activity.
  • Undermining Rule of Law: Politicization can undermine the rule of law as the bureaucracy is used to bypass legal procedures to implement decisions that are not in accordance with the law.
  • Creation of lobbies: Leads to creation of various lobby groups an interest groups amongst the civil servants which eye for offices of profit, rewards, and post-retirement benefits.
  • Weakened Public Institutions: A politicized bureaucracy weaken public institutions and undermine their credibility, erosion of trust in public institutions creates long-term negative impact for governance.
  • Impacts principle of separation of power: Taking partisan roles impacts the principle of separation of executive from partisan politics.
  • Inefficiency and lack of accountability: When civil servants start taking political sides, it is observed that they do not hold themselves accountable to organization’s hierarchy.
  • Rules centricity is compromised: They adhere to the political orders rather than duty and rule bound decision making.
  • Independence: Civil servants are supposed to function irrespective of political considerations, politicization leads to biased decision making.

Societal level:

  • Leads to a sense of apathy in civil servants.
  • Perpetuates social inequality: Politicized civil service leads to influenced decisions which serve a specific social group instead of serving the overall society.
  • Leads to corruption: Politicization of bureaucracy leads to a culture of collusive corruption, ultimately compromising with the quality of governance.
  • Lack of transparency in decision making: Leads to decisions based on political consideration and not on objective standards.
  • Loss of public trust on civil services: Politicized bureaucracy starts serving the interests of political masters instead of public leading to loss of public trust.

Suggestions and way forward

  • Civil Services board: Constituting civil services board at Center and States to regulate transfer and postings of senior civil servants as per TSR Subramaniyan case.
  • Fixed tenure: Fixing tenure at senior position to at least 2 years to insulate civil services from political interference.
  • Cool off period: No civil servant should be allowed to join any political party and hold a political office, including a ministerial position or Governorship within at least four years from the date of his retirement on superannuation. However, those civil servants who still have five or more years to superannuate may be permitted to join any political party after a cooling-off period of two years.
  • No Pension: Civil service members who are willing to waive their pension are not required to observe the above cooling-off period.
  • Independent Constitutional body for selection of senior civil servants: Selection of civil servants for various regulatory bodies and other statutory/constitutional positions should be done through an independent constitutional body whose members cannot be removed by the political executive and such members must be selected and appointed to such positions when they still have at least three years to superannuate.
  • No Extension of service: No Civil Servant shall be given any extension of service under any circumstances.
  • Appointment as Governors: The practice of appointing Civil Servants as Governors/Lt Governors should either be discouraged or only civil servants with exceptional integrity and no involvement in active politics be appointed as Governors/Lt. Governors.

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