December 10, 2023

COVID-19 epidemic has revealed the shortcomings in the bureaucratic response to crisis-management.

  • System inadequacy is the reflection of the outdated nature of public bureaucracy.
  • In the 21st century, democratic countries are still relying on traditional bureaucracies to perform public policy formulation and implementation roles. 
Weberian bureaucracy:
  • It prefers leadership based on position.
  • In today’s system, a generalist is still preferred over a specialist.
    • A generalist officer (IAS and State civil service officials) is deemed an expert and as a result, superior, even if the officer works in one department or ministry today and in another tomorrow.
    • Specialists in every government department have to remain subordinate to the generalist officers. This has cost us dearly as policy formulations have been left to the generalists when they should be in the hands of the specialists.Dr. Anthony Fauci has been the prominent leader in USA fight against COVID whereas in India it has been the health secretary.
Traditional bureaucracy:
  • It is still stuck with the leadership of position over leadership of function.
  • The leadership of function is when a person has expert knowledge of a particular responsibility in a particular situation. The role of the leader is to explain the situation instead of issuing orders.
  • Every official involved in a particular role responds to the situation rather than relying on some dictation from someone occupying a particular position.
  • Following up of orders and strict adherence to rules has taken prominence over innovative problem-solving.
  • The reform movement promotes privatisation and managerial techniques of the private sector as an effective tool to seek improvements in public service delivery and governance. 

However, this is not viable in India where there is social inequality and regional variations in development.

Way forward:
  • It must be remembered that the steel frame of the country should be strengthened by implementing necessary reforms instead of blaming them for problems.
  • Collaborative Governance:
    • The most appropriate administrative reform of new public governance.
    • This model is based on collaborative governance in which the public sector, private players and civil society, especially public service organisations (NGOs), work together for effective public service delivery.
    • There is no domination of public bureaucracy as the sole agency in policy formulation and implementation.
  • During the pandemic, civil societies are playing a major role in saving lives and this role has to be institutionalized.
  • The need of the hour is: 
    • The flexibility in the hierarchy
    • relook at the generalist versus specialist debate, and
    • Openness to reforms such as lateral entry and collaboration with a network of social actors. 

All major revolutions with huge implications on public service delivery have come through the collaboration of public bureaucracy with so-called outsiders. E.g.Green Revolution (M.S. Swaminathan); The White Revolution (Verghese Kurien); The Aadhaar-enabled services (Nandan Nilekani) and the IT revolution (Sam Pitroda).

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