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English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture.

Vol: 50  No: 01


15 August 2003

Yes, Minister

C. Subramaniam

The civil service is the repository of experience and has the relevant training, it is an essential arm of policy making. The minister has to depend on the civil service to give him the facts, analyse alternatives and assist in evaluating them.

- C. Subramaniam

Administration at the highest level involves a close partnership between the Minister and his Secretary. The civil service is at the cutting edge of implementation. This does not and should not mean however that civil servants are in total control of government. The leadership should be that of the Minister. To what extent the Minister leads or is led depends on his quality and dedication.
In a parliamentary democracy such as ours, the Minister is ultimately responsible for policy. Policy itself results from interaction between the Minister, the civil servant and the public which, after all, is the ultimate constituency. To the extent the civil service is the repository of experience and has the relevant training, it is an essential arm of policy making. The minister has to depend on the civil service to give him the facts, analyse alternatives and assist in evaluating them.
My experience shows that the civil service welcomes—indeed demands—leadership from the Ministers in initiating and examining new pathways of change. Contrary to the common illusion that civil servants revel in routine administration, my experience leads me to think otherwise. I have drawn forth the best from civil servants when I initiated the processes of change both at the State and Centre.
What civil servants need is an understanding leadership from a Minister who would take the knocks of public criticism and feed back such reactions which help the new policies.
I would like to recall here the close cooperation which I obtained from civil servants both in the Ministry of Agriculture in Delhi and in the States when I took the decision in the sixties to introduce high yielding varieties of grain. There was a risk involved that if the new varieties for some

reason proved unacceptable, there would be public criticism. At the same time, the potential gain to the country in the event of success was enormous.
In discussions with my Secretaries and scientific advisers, I found them free and frank. Only after the fullest deliberation was the decision taken to import substantial quantities of Mexican wheat into the country and introduce them to the farmer.
The enthusiasm with which the initial outlines of the new strategy were worked out and the policy implemented in the face of immense difficulties, fears and criticism is a standing monument to the inner vitality of India’s Civil Service.
There could be an inevitable conflict here to the extent that a Minister represents the popular will and a civil servant may, perhaps, not be aware of the political ramifications of a particular policy. Ultimately a Minister’s responsibility is to the public. He should not himself become a prisoner of the fears of the establishment.
The Minister has, therefore, to have the right of overruling a civil servant.
I believe that Ministers should delegate full authority for detailed decisions to their civil servants. There should, of course, be a system of ministerial review, but this review should be confined to ensure that policy guidelines are observed. One does encounter at times many civil servants who find a problem for every solution. There are also persons who genuinely believe in the axiom that a better solution is always to be preferred and, in the search for the better, they give up the good. Fear of post facto criticism, audit and enquiries, dedication to minutiae prevent many a timely and proper decision, ultimately costing the country a great deal.
Given our requirements of public

Bhavan's Journal

15 August 2003

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