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'We can't have a bureaucracy that's 100 pc risk averse'

April 21, 2012 11:48 IST

Many of our civil servants would rank among the best in the world...

The civil servants in our country should fight the tendency of not taking decisions because of the fear that things might go wrong and they might be penalised for that...

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh addresses bureaucrats on the Civil Services Day: 

"On this occasion of the seventh Civil Services Day I warmly greet all members of our civil services. This annual event provides our civil services an opportunity to reaffirm their collective commitment to serve our country and our people to the best of their ability. It is also an occasion for the civil servants to introspect and reflect on their role and performance, and how these can be made more effective, more meaningful.

I have seen the three themes for today's deliberations. They all cover issues that are important for the country and of immediate relevance to the functioning of our civil servants. I am sure that you will have productive discussions during the course of the day.

But I also believe that the significance of today's event lies equally in sending out a message that we are all determined to make our civil services more competent, more professional, and alive to the requirements of the twenty first century and capable of facilitating rapid social and economic progress in our country. 

I have always believed that there is no dearth of talent in our civil services. Many of our civil servants would rank among the best in the world. They have done excellent work. They have delivered results in the face of adversity. Several civil servants have been shining examples of probity and integrity, working selflessly for the public good. Indeed, we have just been introduced to the work of some outstanding civil servants. I congratulate today's award winners and wish them even more success in the future.

As I said earlier, the Civil Services Day should also be an occasion for introspection. Even as we celebrate our successes, we should also be honest in admitting our failures and our deficiencies. I would like to take today's opportunity to flag some issues about the civil services which I believe agitate the public mind. 

There is a growing perception, right or wrong, that the moral fiber of our civil servants and public servants in general, is not as strong as it used to be some decades back and that our civil servants are now more likely to succumb to extraneous pressures in their work. These perceptions might be exaggerated but I do think that there is a grain of truth in them. 

The decisions that the civil servants take must be fair and objective in nature, based on sound evidence and deep analysis and designed to serve the best interests of our country. Their judgment and advice should not be affected by the nature and color of the political leadership. If this does not happen, the impartiality and fairness of the decision making processes in public administration would get compromised and the quality of our output would be sub-optimal.

I think, therefore, this is a vigil that the civil servants must maintain constantly. I also believe that there is a growing perception in the public that over the years the attributes of objectivity in work has been diluted. I leave it to the civil servants to ponder to what extent this perception is true and what they can collectively do to remove it from the public mind. 

This brings me to yet another issue that I would like to flag today. We live in times of great change. Our society and our economy are undergoing rapid transformation. Every day we are exposed to new technology and to new ways of doing things. Not only this, technology has made the world smaller and best practices now get disseminated much faster than ever before.

We should therefore ask ourselves the question whether, in our ways of doing things, we are keeping pace with the changes taking place all around us. I think it is generally felt that the civil services have somewhat lagged behind in this area. I am aware that it is not very easy to change systems, procedures and processes in the public sector. But this should be taken as a challenge and our civil servants should redouble their efforts to adopt more modern methods and practices. 

In my last Civil Services Day address on April 21, 2011 I had outlined the measures that our government had taken or was contemplating to tackle the menace of corruption in public life. I believe that since then we have made substantial progress towards strengthening the legislative framework and revamping our administrative practices to enable us to fight corruption better.

Even as our government moves forward in these efforts, which I don't want to list in detail today, it should be our endeavor that there is no witch hunting in the name of fighting corruption.

It is our government's commitment to put in place a system and create an environment in which our civil servants are encouraged to be decisive, and no one is harassed for bonafide mistakes of errors of judgment. We stand committed to protecting honest and well meaning civil servants who might have made genuine errors in their work. And I sincerely hope that these intentions of our government are shared by the state governments too. 

On their part, the civil servants in our country should fight the tendency of not taking decisions because of the fear that things might go wrong and they might be penalised for that.

We cannot have a bureaucracy which is hundred percent risk averse. In fact we should encourage boldness in decision making, provided that the decisions are well considered and as per the law of the land. A civil servant who does not take decisions might always be safe, but at the end of the day he or she would have contributed nothing to our society and to our country. 

Let me also very briefly comment on the topics that will be deliberated upon today. The first theme "Security for the Marginalized: Vision for a Caring India" particularly relevant to all of us in the context of our commitment and efforts towards inclusion towards the integration of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and religious minorities in the national mainstream.

As we enter the Twelfth Plan period we should redouble our efforts for building a society and country in which the fruits of development are shared by each and every citizen. Our growth would not have much meaning if we fail in building a truly inclusive society and country. Indeed, without inclusion, social and economic, the very sustainability of our growth processes comes under question. The other two themes relate to making our civil services corruption free and more transparent and accountable, and also to enable them to improve service delivery to our citizens.

These issues are of abiding relevance to all of us. I once again wish you very productive discussions on all these issues. 

Let me end by stating that we have full faith in our civil services. They have served our country well. Our civil servants have made a very substantial contribution to our country's progress. I congratulate them for their achievements. I wish them all the best for the future. But I also hope that they would constantly endeavor to improve, upgrade and modernize the systems and processes they adopt and operate in the best interests of our country."