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1991 Reforms Pushed Growth, 2014 Reforms In Bureaucracy Failed To Deliver: Lesson From Japan Is Pertinent – Analysis

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1991 reforms triggered growth. Economy leapfrogged  7-8 percent for two decades, the second highest growth in GDP, next to China. India became the sixth largest economy in the world. It emerged the net major exporter of oil refinery products, notwithstanding being the third largest importer of crude oil. It is the fifth largest automobile manufacturer, with largest manufacturer of two–wheelers in the world. It has become the second biggest internet users in the world and one of the top five digital economies in the world. Nevertheless, people’s hope for delivery of  the growth belied,  cursing lag in bureaucracy. The civil services have fallen in India in bad days. Once called “steel frame “, it is no longer steely, neither it has frame”, according to Khallige Times, the noted global media

In 2014, Modi led NDA launched Minimum Government Maximum Governance .  It ensured curb in  red tape and corruptions and delivery of good governance. It launched online application and revamped India’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business –  from 142 to 63. But it has  a long way to go to do business in India, compared to ASEAN and China. According to Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong, India fared worse in bureaucracy in Asian countries. it reeled behind Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and China. It said that Indian bureaucrats rarely held accountable for wrong doings

None other than Economic Survey, a pre- budget official document, vent frustration over the failure of bureaucratic reforms. Manufacturing sector is embroiled in the nexus of multiple rules and procedures between Centre and State, unleashing scope to the bureaucrats to seize in the power. It takes 18 days to start a business in India as compared to 8 days in China. A new manufacturing sector has to conform 6,796 compliances. To open a restaurant in New Delhi, one needs 26 licenses , as compare to four in China.

Failing  to abate CORONA Virus pandemic and the multiple death during second wave is a case in point of the failure of the reform in bureaucracy. Shortage of oxygen concentrator engulfed the nation during second wave, causing multiple deaths. It is irony that India is oxygen concentrate export surplus nation. How is it then the country underwent severe shortage of oxygen concentrate during the second wave of pandemic. Similarly, how did the social security services lapsed, when they were needed most during the pandemic. These manifest a lag in proactive approach by the concerned ministries, where major decisions are taken by the civil servants and the babus to implement them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the experience with civil servants during his Chief Ministership of Gujarat. To curb the corruption, he forcibly retired many senior bureaucrats in his second term.  He also concurred  with public perceptions about the bureaucracy, when he vented his ire against the IAS officers in February 2021 in Lok Sabha  .  He blamed the civil servants for making the growth as their hostage. He castigated Babu’s seizing of powers through their  experiences of juggling the regulatory procedures invoking red tape, instead of easing the delivary. He aired the despair of million of hapless Indians. He said, “Babus will do everything” . He outburst “ Because they are IAS, they run fertilizer factories, chemical factories and even fly planes”. He asked his fellow Parliamentarians, whether it was judicious to handover “reins of the nation to the babus”. 

There is a saying: it is easier to meet the Minster than a Secretary or  Joint Secretary. Ministers formulate policies, perceiving the nerves of the people. Babus failed to deliver because they are bereft of the public interests due to disconnect. 

 Any call to a senior bubu is reversed with private secretary voice, “ Boss is too busy” . Any clarification of the policy or spade of action of the grievances is either not replied or even if it is responded, the usual reply is “ matter has been referred to the concerned department” , which is never monitored and  responded. 

A survey by Lokniti CSDS ( Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) revealed that majority of the respondents observed that it was difficult to get work done at government offices without connections or bribes. . Most of them expressed their distrust and  dependence on government offices and preferred going to political parties for getting their work done.          

If rapid economic growth and social development are expected from civil servants, Japan should be the case to be enamoured, which triggered  miracle growth in the post War II. The first very lesson to the Japanese bureaucrats is “ Bureaucracy is the guardians of public interests”.  Japanese civil servants are very sensitive to their clean image. Any blemish on their records in media or courts causes scourge their promotion.  

Japanese policies are formulated in consultation with private sector. This leverages Japanese civil servants familiar with policies and the benefits to the nation’s growth and people. In contrast, in India the disconnect between the civil servants and  the people  lead to loss of trust. As a result,  “bureaucracy as the guardian for the people interest” takes back seat. Bureaucracy work more for Mantriji and Parliament in India. On paper , successes   are highlighted with numbers and figures.  In actuality,  people reel under despair. They are not unveiled how the successes were made. 

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Subrata Majumder

Subrata Majumder is an adviser to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), New Delhi, and the author of “Exporting to Japan,” as well as various articles in Indian media, including Business Line, Echo of India, Indian Press Agency, and foreign media, such as Asia Times online and Eurasia Review .

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