While politicians can lose their jobs, no other public servant can

Topics governance | civil servants | BJP

As it nears its halfway mark, and as the 75 year celebrations of independence start to take shape, the government is preparing vast lists of its achievements. But one can always ask: could they have been more?  And invariably the answer is yes. But what no one asks is why was more not achieved? To what extent is the government to blame and to what extent is the structure of governance — which is designed to prevent rather than enable — to blame. And it is not just the BJP which faces this problem. All governments since 1991 have faced it, a gradually increasi.....
As it nears its halfway mark, and as the 75 year celebrations of independence start to take shape, the government is preparing vast lists of its achievements. But one can always ask: could they have been more? 

And invariably the answer is yes.

But what no one asks is why was more not achieved? To what extent is the government to blame and to what extent is the structure of governance — which is designed to prevent rather than enable — to blame.

And it is not just the BJP which faces this problem. All governments since 1991 have faced it, a gradually increasing measure. 

Arguably, the two Modi governments have had the worst of it because of the way Mr Modi has chosen to govern. Nor has he chosen to communicate effectively enough when he is not electioneering.

But if you look back, all prime ministers, in order to deliver on things they think are important, have at some point or the other, adopted exactly the same ways. It’s inherent in our system of governance.

So the correct question to ask is this: what is it about our structure of governance that impedes governments? Why do they begin to lose patience around the halfway mark? 

The answer is very simple: whereas politicians can lose their jobs, no one else in our system can. This means while they are accountable, no one else is. 

Two V One

The most powerful segments of our system are the bureaucracy and the judiciary. This is because it is practically impossible to remove them from service.

The bureaucracy is protected by Article 311 of the Constitution and the judiciary by the need for impeachment. While a handful of bureaucrats have been removed by the use of Article 311, it is only in the rarest of cases. The provision benefits the bureaucracy and not the country.

As to impeachment, perish the thought. It has never happened. This has emboldened the judiciary into encroaching on executive areas — except when it comes to enabling governments to sack bureaucrats.

No prime minister has had the courage to change these shackling provisions. Not one of them has even tried. 

Surely this is a great asymmetry. You can’t have two of the three pillars of our system being completely immune and allow only one of them to carry the can.

Even if the accountability is to be unequal, it can’t be this unequal. This makes no sense at all.

That’s why I think we need to have a serious debate on this asymmetry because it has become a very heavy ball and chain round the country’s legs. 

Two suggestions

I have two suggestions to make in this regard. One pertains to Article 311, the other to the rule about impeachment. I fully understand the need for it; it is only about its disabling effects that I have a problem.

Hence my suggestion is that it should be amended only for central government employees. This will reassure the political parties in the states that their electoral chances will not be affected.

Furthermore, the amendment should make it possible for a state to adopt it if it wants to.

As to impeachment I once again understand the need to protect judges’ terms. But surely a set of objective rules that make judges think twice before they admit cases. This will make them more efficient and make litigants more circumspect. That includes the government which is by far the worst culprit. 

And just as the 311 amendment can be applicable only to the central government, the amendment to the impeachment rule can apply only to the Supreme Court to begin with.


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