Dialogue October-December, 2011, Volume 13 No. 2


Role of Bureaucracy in Good Governance


Jaytilak Guha Roy




     Amongst the developing countries of the world, India has a unique distinction of having a well-developed system of administration and governance. It places her at par with many of the developed countries of the West, despite the country having a traditional society and a developing economy.  Even at the time of Independence of the country in 1947, the horror of partition and its concomitant upheavals were minimized to the extent possible due to the existence of an efficient system of administration well-equipped in the performance of law and order functions of the state.

       Governance is one of the most widely used concepts in contemporary Public Administration. Yet, it has often been misunderstood. Traditionally, governance can be broadly defined as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s social and economic resources for development.”

      With the adoption of the New Economic Policy by the Government of India in 1991, India not only became a partner of the ongoing globalization process, but also entered into a new era in the history of administrative reforms. This new era was particularly significant as it witnessed a paradigm shift, for the first time after Independence, from the Nehruvian philosophy of socialistic welfare state to a Westernized model of development through globalization, liberalization, free-market economy and good governance.

     The concept of governance is closely linked to the working of the nation- state or its governing capacity. Let us take, for instance, Gunar Myrdal’s concepts of hard state and soft state. The hard state sets priorities and executes them since the actual administration is based on rational bureaucratic principles. In the soft state, on the other hand, the administrators habitually defy laws and regulations, officials and politicians often collude to thwart implementation of public policies. Consequently, in such a state corruption is rampant and there is erosion of rule of law and accountability of the rulers to the people and the bureaucrats to the law and the people. 

     There is no standardized recipe for good governance. It is the result of effective learning by the state to cope with challenges and crises it comes across during its evolution. The key elements of good governance are respect for the rule of law, special care for the disadvantaged and the weak, tolerance and broad-mindedness which allow people to accept and embrace unity and diversity.


World Bank’s Conceptualization of Good Governance

     The discourse on Good Governance in recent years owes its origin in the 1992 World Bank’s document titled Governance and Development. Based on its lending experience in developing countries, the World Bank came to realize that ‘good governance’ was a concern worthy of attention in considering projects for assistance. 

     Seven specific aspects of ‘governance’ were identified by the Bank and the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD.  These were: (i) public sector management, (ii) accountability, (iii) legal and regulatory framework, (iv) transparency and information, (v) human rights, (vi) participatory approaches, and (vii) military expenditure.1                             
       Donor agencies’ attempt to prescribe an uniform model of governance seems to be too unrealistic to operationalise, in actual practice.  In fact, governance, like democracy, observes a Western scholar very aptly, ‘remains a particularly difficult variable to operationalise.  At present good governance is seemingly defined in terms of a checklist of criteria… that governance must broadly satisfy in order to justify receiving loans.  However, it is not made explicit… how they should be measured and compared.  Governance is not, a binary variable and cannot be defined in terms of ‘on/of/or present/absent criteria’.

Indian Tradition of Good Governance                                                                  
    India, being the oldest civilization of the world, has a very rich heritage of good governance under the benevolent Kings.  Public administration was also quite developed and citizen friendly.  In the Rigvedic period, administrative units were called as kul, gram, vish & rastra. Gram or the village consisted of several households. The smaller unit was the family.  The head of the village was known as Gramini. A group of villages constituted a Vish under a Vishpati.  Numerous Vishas consisted a Jan under the administrative officer called Gopa who represented the King.  The state was a developed form of these villages.
    The form of government in the Rigvedic era was monarchical and the kingship was hereditary.  But the Kings were benevolent.  The officers like Senani and Gramini assisted him.  He had ministers also, the chief of whom was the Purohit. Two democratic bodies known as the Sabha and the Samiti controlled the king.  The Sabha worked as the council of elders while the Samiti was a public body.                          
    The post-Vedic period witnessed the rise of powerful kingdoms.  The form of government in the epic age of Ramayana & Mahabharata was monarchical and public administration was sufficiently developed.  The head of the administration was the King and the ministers and councilors advised him in matters of government. The main purpose of the state was to fulfill its Dharma, to encourage morality, to increase prosperity and happiness of the people and to safeguard their interests.  For, our great ancestors believed in the highest ideal of human life – Sarve Vai Sukhino Santu – that is, let all people be happy.
    Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a monumental work that encompasses various disciplines of present day social science. According to Kautilya, the system of governance prevailing in ancient times was monarchy in which the King, called Swami, was the epitome of the state and its administrative system.  The state consisted of seven prakritis or organs like the Swami (the King), the Amatya (the minister), the Janapada (the territory with the settlements of the people), the Durga (the fortified capital), the Kosha (the treasury), the Danda (the army), and the Mitra (the ally or the friend). These seven organs, in fact, reflect the conception of state and administration being taken as an inseparable entity which fostered the existence of the state itself.

Evolution of Indian Administrative System

    The Mughal state was primarily an Islamic military state. It was purposely designed and perpetrated on the non-Islamic people of India.  The administration which the alien rulers brought from Central Asia could neither wipe out the native system nor could it be superimposed on a vast country of India’s size and diversities. As the Mughal government settled down, its revenue and police functions became prominent. Allauddin Khilji and Sher Shah initiated the process of welfarism which Akbar took over with special efforts in the fields of military, revenue, police and judicial administrations. However, Aurangzeb destroyed the legacy of Akbar. He imposed the Jazia tax on the Hindus. He also destroyed the holy temples of the Hindus. His policy ultimately led to  the downfall of the Mughal empire.                             The Mughal administration provided the British imperialist with the foundation to build up an anglicized system of administration which was conducive to carry out the functions of the colonial state. Like the Mughal administration, the most important preoccupation of the British rulers was the collection of revenue as much as possible. However, unlike the Mughal rulers, the British administration was also involved in the exploitation of our resources for sending them to their own country for prosperity at the cost of its colonies.

     The British innovations in the administrative system of India came in response to the felt needs of the time. Consequently, the assumption of the land revenue functions of the East India Company necessitated the creation of a professional cadre of civil servants in 1765. The outstanding contribution of Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India, was to bring about a paradigm shift in the character of the civil service from commercial adventurers and fortune hunters to public servants in the modern sense of the term.

    The contribution of Lord Cornwallis lies in evolving a system of administration with separation of various departments of the government in such a way as to ensure precise responsibilities for each department with a sense of accountability for their proper discharge. For example, he took away the subject of custom from the revenue department so that two distinct sources of revenue could be developed in order to augment the earnings of the government in the long run. 

     The revolt of 1857 led to the end of the rule of the East India Company and the beginning of the rule of the British government headed by the Secretary of the State, who was a responsible minister for Indian affair in the British cabinet. However, the successive Acts entrusted the powers and functions of the Secretary of the State to the Governor-General and Governors in the centre and the provinces respectively. The long journey of political and administrative reforms from the Indian Council Act of 1861 to the Government of India Act of 1935 was characterized by the following features:

                 i.  The expansion of legislative councils in the centre and the provinces.

ii.  The introduction of indirect elections and limited suffrage with the objective of enlarging the
              elective element.

iii.  Progressive Indianization of the Indian government at the lower levels and also opening up
              the civil service positions to the Indians.

    The Indian Civil Service (ICS) was the specific innovation of the British colonial rulers which led to the growth of bureaucracy in India. It was based on the merit system rather than the age-old patronage system of the East India Company. The ICS played an important role in sustaining the imperial rule in India, and that was why, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and other national leaders were very critical of the ICS. Nevertheless, they later on favoured its continuity as the Indian Administrative Service for the security and stability of India particularly in the aftermath of the partition, as well as for the unification of the country after the departure of the British rulers.


Role of Bureaucracy

      Since time immemorial bureaucracy has been the lifeline of any nation. It is responsible for translating the policies and programmes formulated by the political authority. The quality of the citizen’s life depends on the attitude and performance of bureaucracy. Moreover, in all walks of life of a person, bureaucracy plays a very significant role.

     There is no denying that an effective, efficient, flexible and responsive bureaucracy are a requisite to good governance. The competence of bureaucracy at all levels determines the performance and efficacy of an administrative system. They should be bold, honest and assertive in the discharge of their responsibilities. They should not hesitate to give right advice to the political authority no matter whether they accept it or not. They are the “catalytic agents of change by virtue of their education and exposures”.  


Towards Responsive, Transparent, Accountable and Efficient Civil Service

   The Committee on Civil Service Reforms was appointed by the Government of India on February 3, 2004 under the chairmanship of P.C. Hota, Former Chairman, Union Public Service Commission and Secretary (Personnel), with comprehensive terms of reference to examine the whole gamut of civil service reforms and to submit its report within a period of six months.  The Committee submitted its Report on July 30, 2004.

     In all, this Committee made 64 recommendations3 which, inter alia, include the following:

·  After 15 years of service, a rigorous review be carried out of performance of civil servants based on the earlier quinquennial review of performance.  If an officer is not honest and performance-oriented, he be weeded out of service on completion of 15 years on proportionate pension.

·   Each Department/Ministry should be required to identify the points of citizen interface, benchmark the quality of services and strengthen the existing grievance redressal mechanism.

·   After every five to seven years in service, a civil servant should spend at least two months with a non-government organization, academic institution or the private sector.

·     Annual Property Return of all public servants be put on the  


·     Article 311 of the Constitution be amended to enable President/Governor to dismiss/remove public servants summarily in case of corrupt practice/having assets disproportionate to known source of income.

·   Every programme of government should specify the deliverables in terms of services.

·    Functioning of government offices having large interface with the common man should be assessed once in three/four years by independent organizations.

·   Citizen Centers should be set up to build capability for analyzing and suggesting changes in government policies.

·  To provide a clean, honest and transparent government, antiquated rules and procedures in government must be discarded and new simplified ones be put in place.

·  The National Informatics Centre (NIC) should function as a vehicle for disseminating best practices across the country.

·   Government should actively support and encourage outstanding work done by civil servants through National/State awards and commendations.

·   The proposed comprehensive law on the Civil Service shall incorporate, inter alia, a Code of Ethics and a statutory minimum tenure in a post to an officer.

·   Under the new Civil Service law, a member of the higher civil service should not be appointed to any statutory commission or a constitutional authority after his retirement or superannuation.

      In pursuance with its National Common Minimum Programme (May 2004), the first United Progressive Alliance Government at the Centre had set up the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) in August 2005 under the chairmanship of Shri Veerappa Moily to prepare a detailed blueprint for revamping the public administration system and suggest measures to achieve a proactive, responsive, accountable, sustainable and efficient administration for the country at all levels of the government. The Commission has been given wide terms of reference covering various aspects of public administration. The Commission had submitted as many as thirteen reports to the Government of India.

     The Committee on Civil Service Reforms and Second Administrative Reforms Commission have indeed made valuable recommendations.  However, keeping in view the long-time practice of our governments to appoint commissions and committees from time to time to recommend measures for administrative reform as a ritual rather than a commitment, one may reasonably predict that the reports of the Committee on Civil Service Reforms and the Second ARC, like most of the earlier reports of other commissions and committees, may either gather dust or be implemented marginally so that the vested interests in public bureaucracy are not endangered.


Concluding Observations

     Our foregoing discussion focuses on the concept of good governance as well as its various dimensions. It also highlights the importance of the role of bureaucracy in good governance and the recommendations of the Civil Service Reforms Committee and Second Administrative Reforms Commission. The lethargy of the governments in implementing such valuable recommendations has reasonably been subjected to criticism. Ironically, we do not suffer from the poverty of thoughts but from the poverty of action. To quote Goethe, the great German writer:

              It is not enough to know;

              One must also apply.

              It is not enough to wish;

              One must also act.

      The sooner our governments realize it, the better for the country.




1 World Bank, Governance and Development, Washington D.C., 1992.

2 Bob Currie, ‘Governance, Democracy and Economic Adjustment in India: Concept and Empirical Problems’, Third World Quarterly, 17(4), 1996 (emphasis added).

3 For details, see Government of India, Report of the Committee on Civil Service Reforms, July 2004, pp. 94-106.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati