Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Coal Conundrum --Executive Failure and Judicial Arrogance by P.C. Parakh

This is a book by  a former Secretary Coal , Government of India  describing in detail how a senior civil servant  was made to suffer, eight years after his retirement criminal proceedings against him, for taking reforms in Coal sector forward. Mr. Parakh has impeccable reputation for integrity throughout his service career. The book also  goes on to show  that economic reforms can be  brought about only when  reforms in judiciary and administration of criminal justice are also taken up simultaneously.
           The book deals with the case pertaining to the allocation of  a coal block in Orissa,   involving Hindalco which  resulted in criminal case against  Mr. PC Parakh (the then coal Secretary),Dr. Manmohan  Singh(former Prime Minister of India) and  industrialist Kumar  Mangalam  Birla. When , due to ignorance or arrogance ,  a citizen has to lose reputation  and dignity , and has to suffer prolonged mental agony ,no court  in the country has the capacity to  compensate the citizen for such a loss.  As  Mr. Arun Shourie in his  foreword to this book says:”He must  set out the truth in words that the lay person will understand , not leave the matter to lawyers and their legalese. The reputation has been assailed in public, it must be restored in the public’s mind.”He goes on to say that in times like ours , to stand up to calumny ,to stand up to an unjust system  is itself one of the tasks  that the honest have to perform for our country.
 A law that criminalises an executive action on the basis of one of the many multiple interpretations  and which does not call for strict proof of criminal intention , can be misused and abused  on the basis of subjective thinking .Such bad laws like Section 13(1)(d)  of  Prevention of Corruption Act , 1988. ( obtaining a valuable thing or pecuniary advantage  merely by abusing official position) must be soon thrown out of the statute book by the Parliament .The sooner it is done , the better it will be  for the governance of the country. Otherwise civil servants will hesitate to take decisions, resulting in poorer governance.
       Mr PC Parakh  has revised his views about a career in civil service in India. It is not the smaller pay packet that civil servants get  as compared to their counterparts in multinationals .It is  the real possibility that a sincere and honest civil servant like Parakh , may be robbed off his/her dignity , honour and self-respect , and be financially ruined by being forced to run around  investigators, lawyers and courts  in the evening of life  (Mr. Parakh is 71 years old and still waiting for  final decision of the court).Incidentally, the book was self published by Mr. Parakh  , as no publisher was perhaps willing to publish it .

This book must be read  by  all the serving  civil servants .It must also be read by all serious aspirants to  a career in civil service in India. And it should be read by  all citizens of this country (India) who want to see a better governance and economic reforms implemented well .

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Burnout and Low Morale of Civil Services in India

    Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh in its first 100 days  transferred most of the IAS and IPS officers in the state  including    chief secretary and director general  of police  .A new transfer policy is in place and transfer of  other services and levels is continuing. But such an exercise may be give a signal that a new government has come in place of the old  but hardly any thing else. What is needed is a combination of decisions and an approach which gets the much-abused civil service out of a state of burnout and raises its morale.(I include all rungs and branches (generalist, police  as well as   technical)  of civil servants in this phrase civil services)  Without motivation and morale, all decisions of new government will  be implemented half-heartedly. In Uttar Pradesh ,  a  majority of civil servants  suffers not only from burnout , but also from cynicism , low morale and lack of meaning and pride.
                   Morale of civil  servants is essential  for  building effective , accountable and inclusive governance  institutions .It  indicates  the health and  the capacity of civil services to  deliver  services and results. Morale is the degree  to which civil servants  have respect for their own jobs and a commitment to the organization.                      
                       Burnout is  “ a condition  of emotional exhaustion , depersonalization  and reduced personal accomplishment  that can occur among individuals  who work with people in some capacity”  (Maslach ,  Jackson and Leiter ). When  employee’s resources  fall short of the demands and expectations of leadership , burnout may result.  Burnout   leads to   low morale , reduced quality of service , high rates of illness and absenteeism , indifferent and cold attitude ,a tendency to devalue one’s work(negative self-assessment) , high staff turnover, and low career satisfaction.              In India , where  unemployment levels are high ,  public servants   do not quit despite low morale , because of the  security that a government job offers .
      The factors which affect the morale of  civil  services  in India are as below:
1.Ethical climate:
 In  a work culture, steeped in corruption ,  the stress levels of honest employees are high  .They are  called upon to   exercise    inappropriate use of  powers , resources  and even  connive in frauds. .This  makes them  either  corrupt , or  if they choose to  fight against corruption , they end up  in  burnout.
2.Administrative Leadership:
If  the selection  of the  administrative leader is  not on merit  ,  integrity   and professionalism  but on the basis of connections and  loyalty to political bosses , the administrative leadership becomes weak  or absent . Such leaders lack commitment   to engage  people in organizational improvement efforts. They  have little courage  to take or recommend action against  corrupt or inefficient subordinates. They are unfit to lead. 
  John Le Carre wrote:”  A desk is a dangerous place  from which to view the world”. When leaders spend more time  behind their desk  and less time  outside connecting with the real people , they  display a lack of  empathy and  a poor understanding  of how the  government  works  for the common man  .
        Sometimes , when the top starts  behaving in retaliation , there is a fear all around and a toxic culture prevails throughout the organization .
3.Narrowing decision making powers:
The Rules of Business  vest practically all decision making powers in the departmental ministers. Secretaries and Heads of departments  and other levels have  very little powers to decide                 
4.Fair and Respectful treatment at work place:
 If there is  a perception that employees in general do not receive the  desirable level of respect from the organization. then , employees also harbour feelings of disrespect for  their bosses , though such feelings may be disguised. This results in low morale.
 5. Expectation  of  loyalty to the party in power:
Loyalty to the party in power  rather than neutrality  is being increasingly demanded by political leadership. This discourages  honest public servants  who wish to remain neutral and unpoliticised.
      6.  Criticism of civil servants by  political leadership:
 Politicians, backed by media ,  often  accuse  civil servants(babus)  of blocking plans, being overpaid and under worked ,” unhelpful and uncooperative “ “ Red tape “ “indolent pen pushers”  are some of the terms used for bureaucracy bashing . This accusatory culture  undermines the trust of civil servants in political leadership, demoralizes them  and  raises doubts about the future of civil service . Further , the   efforts  of political leadership to” reform” and  reorganize the civil service only end up in   demoralizing the civil service because     such steps are projected as   efforts to shake up the self-serving ,  lazy, apathetic  and incompetent bureaucrats .
                   Blaming civil servants  for failures  of polticians,  as a  scape goats,  to deflect public criticism  from their own inadequate leadership also demoralizes the civil servants. .Civil servants  are always   an easy targets .
7.Political and bureaucratic  turn-over and continuity:
Political leaders have brief  tenures , specific political agendas and short term perspectives .The tenure of  senior civil servants is also short , often less than a year. These  frequent  and abrupt changes in political  and administrative leadership  makes it difficult for  civil service  to  sustain engagement .
      8.Accessibility and authenticity of leadership:
Political leadership is  generally not accessible even to  the senior civil servants. Even when they are available , open-ness and authenticity seem very rare.  There are hardly any  genuine and credible interactions .This also applies to interaction between senior civil servants and their junior colleagues.         
9.Inquiries and disciplinary proceedings :
Often ,  CBI or vigilance inquiries are instituted against the senior civil servants without  proper  scrutiny and thought .If this is done against officers who have a reputation for honesty and good conduct , as  has happened recently in Coalgate scam , it demoralizes the entire bureaucracy .
10.Recognition and Rewards:
 .When  recognition/reward /award system is arbitrary and  whimsical  and awards are handed down to the favourites regardless of merit,  it results in only a contempt for the awards . Placement , promotion , rewards and awards  should be based on  merit , competence , hard work .But instead ,often ,  they depend on  loyalty , yes- man ship , recommendation of  parliamentarians  and other powerful individuals.
      11. Unchallenging Environment:
When  there is a lack of leadership and direction , it gives rise to an unchallenging and dull work environment , which in turn  offers no opportunities to rise , learn  or grow. This in turn leads to low morale.
12. Excessive reliance on consultants:
Sometimes ,  consultants are appointed at huge expense , to reform a sector .Such consultants may  have no knowledge of local background , culture and field conditions , and end up in suggesting remedies which are worse that the disease .                                  
Outsourcing services, running government like a business may  also  result in  poor  services and poor morale.
                     In India , job commitment , professional satisfaction, engagement  and ethical conduct in public services is declining.  Trust in organization  and  leadership  is also decreasing ,resulting  in poor governance. In the long term , this could  threaten citizen’s trust in state legitimacy .While we want the best and the brightest youth to join the IAS and other services , our system is actually scaring them away .A major cultural change is required that  puts data at the heart of  policy making and management practice. Government must change its relationship with citizens so as to address their ever increasing demands. A consistent monitoring of morale of the employees is  required to ensure that corrective actions are taken regularly.
 (This article was published with some editing changes in the magazine  News Times Post , Lucknow  , July22,2017 issue.)