Reforming the bureaucracy

While ‘Mission Karmayogi’ is laudable, it needs careful planning and a high degree of transparency

AuthorPublished: 14th Sep 2020  12:00 amUpdated: 13th Sep 2020  7:47 pm

Though touted as a major administrative reforms initiative, the ‘Mission Karmayogi’, a skill-building programme for civil servants, faces the risk of ending up as yet another failed experiment unless the Centre displays diligence and alacrity to iron out the implementation irritants. Under the programme, recently approved by the Union Cabinet, the officials can choose their field of interest and they will be provided with the wherewithal to perform their jobs effectively. While the objectives of the scheme — a transformed bureaucratic work culture that is tuned to international best practices, enhanced, technology-driven competency and improved state capacity — are quite laudable, there is a need for a diverse and decentralised learning ecosystem and the methodology for performance assessment must be consistent, credible and transparent. The policy’s core offering to nearly 4.6 million Central government employees is a new digital platform called iGOT Karmayogi for the delivery of training to civil servants and a centralised institutional architecture for planning and coordination. It is to begin right at the recruitment level and then invest in building more capacity through the rest of their career. Linking training to career progression and performance of civil servants is complex in practice and needs careful planning and a high degree of transparency and credibility. Multiple expert committees were formed in the past to suggest reforms in the bureaucracy but their recommendations are gathering dust in government archives. The bureaucracy’s aversion to change is largely responsible for the prevailing status quo.

At present, the civil servants find themselves working in silos. There is a need to shift from rule-based to role-based functioning, linking training and development to competencies and continuous learning opportunities at every level. The lateral entry of specialists at the level of joint secretary and deputy secretary has been a laudable initiative to bring in fresh ideas into the middle rungs of bureaucracy. The Yugandhar Committee had, in 2003, recommended a system of linking incentives and penalties to performance in training and the Mid-Career Training Programme (MCTP), introduced in 2007, linked career progression to the completion of training programmes. On similar lines, the current reform aims to link training with career milestones and department performance through “continuous performance analysis, data driven goal-setting and real time monitoring”, including the use of annual scorecards and rankings. A committee headed by former chairman of the Union Public Service Commission PC Hota gave a detailed set of recommendations to transform the bureaucracy which has, over the decades, lost its neutral character, stopped taking bold decisions and become the handmaiden of politicians. While the emphasis on incentives and motivation is important, previous attempts to link training to performance had thrown up implementation challenges. The collective values that Mission Karmayogi highlights require systemic engagement and change.

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