Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Bureaucracy and Performance Appraisal


 Recently I read the news of a bureaucrat Raju Narayana swamy removed from service for want of performance because some procedure of Performance Appraisal found him wanting. Conflicts between individual bureaucrats and  the Government is nothing new ..we have a long history of such events. Some time back a serving Chief Secretary of Karnataka state was imprisoned for one month for "contempt of Court", a retired Chief Secretary to Tamil Nadu Government K A Nambiar had a case hoisted against him  called the Fly Over case from which he might have  endured losses  ,and in another case a Telecom Secretary was imprisoned for a long time for some misdeamenour purportedly committed by him...The list could go on and on for there could have been various conflicts many of them un-reported. In another case a serving Chief Secretary of Karnataka state was suddenly shifted to a lower post by the establishment.


The Indian Administrative Service is an extension of the Imperial Civil Service created by the Crown when they were at the helm in India to run Administration of the country. From whence it started really functioning is unclear but  shot into prominence and was expanded with intensity post the Sepoy mutiny in 1857.The English built many Universities in India post the sepoy mutiny to engender civil servants to strengthen Administration  and one of their key roles was to act as a dictating and controlling force of  Martial establishments like the Police and the Military. They had quasi judicial powers and could make interim judgements in lieu of the Judiciary and transfer matters to the Judiciary matters that were complex. Prior to the formation if the civil service many of these powers were wrested in the hands of the Military who misused such powers and abused them too creating social dis-order. The bureaucracy was largely created to stream line and bring stability to Administration and a sense of method and cohesion. In the sepoy mutiny of  1857 Bengal and South India did not join the mutineers because of a stronger Administrative framework and the model was replicated across India by the British Establishment. Most District Collectors enjoyed absolute powers and made large scale developmental contribution to their districts and most of them were given tenures that would average a decade. 

Major General Mark Cubbon the Commissioner of Bangalore and Coorg was for all practical purposes removed from his post and replaced by an ICS officer Lewin Lentham Bowring in 1861 or so and Bowring appears to be at the post in Bangalore for nearly a decade.


This is the back-drop of the Bureaucracy as we see it today but with a major difference..Bureaucrats of the English era did not have a Political establishment above them .Post Independance the Bureaucracy works under a Political establishment. The issue is that the life cycles of these two institutions are largely different the Civil service is a much older institution with a larger heritage vis-a-vis the Political establishment which was relatively new but with time the Political establishment in our country has matured and reacts to Administrative matters in a mature way ..simply said the conflicts between the bureaucracy and the Political establishment dwindles with time and the hand shake would improve due to the sheer dynamics in which they are placed.


In the Globalized World of today where information thresholds have fallen ..added to this an explosion in Population the dynamics of Government has vastly changed catching  all machineries of Government un-awares...with increasing inputs from the common man who has a much increased say in which Administration is run and public reactions to events more pronounced and instantaneous. Add to that the various Media that are at disposal which collect and carry information globally almost instantly. The role of a Globalized Population in the running of Governments is very much pronounced today and influences social order and progress.


What is this activity of Performance Appraisal and is it a healthy phenomenon to be introduced into Government and more than anything else in the assessment of Bureaucrats. That is the moot question which needs to be answered ..


What is this area of Performance Appraisal ?Its origins could be linked to the Peter Drucker concept of MBO (Management of Objectives).It is the ability of Managers to set objectives and achieve them under the suoervision of some one who is senior to him and the objectives themselves derived fro the overall objectives of the Organization. Performance Appraisal is a phrase that has found in-roads in modern day Human Resources Management. This is largely seen in Corporates and to my observation a highly mis-used one because personnel involved in such activities primarly do not fully comprehend the larger dynamics in which these activities were envisaged and how to apply them in the right way. Iam wary Governmental establishments would make errors in the application of such jargons to the detriment of the State. Government cannot run like Corporates and Corporates cannot run like Government..their dynamics are different and so are the inputs and outputs. Performance Appraisals if not conducted properly would lead to inappropriate decisionns which will hamper the long term stability of organizations. I have seen this happen over and over in Corporates and should not be blindly adopted by Government to the deterrent of  the functioning of Government.


This is grave matter. Should Bureaucrats go un-appraised.? That is not what Iam suggesting. Performance Appraisal as we see it in Corporates if blindly applied into Government would lead to sense of fear and anxiety in the bureacratic establishment leading to various lateral conflicts and issues which can lead to other kinds of confusions. A word of Caution. Bureaucracy was not designed to create work-a-day labourers...It was created as a Maintenance and Development organization ...both these functions have to be carried out by the Bureaucracy and any mis-guided emphasis would create system where they land up doing things which are not the bedrock for which this institution was created..


I will repeat again and would like to re-emphasise it in no uncertain terms. Bureaucracy was created for the maintenance and developmental function. Maintenance is the activity of handling systemic non-conformances on a timely basis largely by collecting and acting upon information ..and the developmental component is to ensure how the complexity of existing tasks can be mitigated and the system improved. These two functions are largely intangible and any effort to bring it under a Appraisal system wrongly designed will be largely un-productive and counter-productive. 


In our country we need to put up institutes of Governance where such issues are studied in detail even under the light of national and international experiences in such matters. A wrongly created Performance Appraisal system engineered by wrong hands can have largescale damaging effects and if at all such a system is created it must be done so largely keeping in mind the age-old nature of the bureaucracy and the purpose for which it was created and any action bereft of such a hind sight could prove detrimental in the long run regarding the way Governments are run.


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