Do bureaucrats have the leeway to take initiatives on their own? Does the current ecosystem encourage taking initiatives? Some former bureaucrats with varied experience feel that NDA government’s belief in single point control of top bureaucrats engenders dependency and stifles initiative. Anecdotes in this regard are mixed; however, one hears a good mix of bottom up initiatives getting translated into policies and programmes.
Promotions to higher levels are now based on Annual Performance Assessment Reports (APARs) and a 360-degree assessment. The 360-degree assessment structure can be fine-tuned further to take formal opinions and give an opportunity for the assessed to give their views on the opinions obtained. As the opinions offered may have some bias, based more on personal likes and dislikes, it becomes necessary to offer an opportunity to the assessed to remove the bias that creeps into such opinions. Further, it will also bring in a great amount of responsibility while offering opinions.
APARs need to be structured to take into account the performance against Result Framework for Development (RFDs). Government has not, so far, turned its attention to the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission in this regard. The Sixth Pay Commission did make some recommendations on this issue, which could not be formalised due to the time taken to put in place a structured RFD system. Now that the RFD system is formalised in 72 departments of Government of India, it is time to take up this work with the seriousness it deserves.
The RFD system itself requires further changes to detail all the tasks a ministry should undertake. The RFD system should start with the premise that the minister in charge of the ministry should function like the chairman and the secretary, the MD of the ministry. This attitude would enable the ministry to take on board all aspects that a stakeholder would probably do and avoid under reporting tasks. The Perspective Planning division of NITI Aayog must be also involved in mapping the tasks for the year as they would ensure that linkages are not missed from the three-year or seven-year indicative plans. It should be the responsibility of NITI Aayog to see that no task falls between the two stools of the departments. The present practice of just the action plans of each division getting aggregated into the action plan for RFD for the year for the department should be done away with. Finally, concordance of RFD tasks with the budgetary allocations will be required to be carried out in cases where budgetary allocations are needed in completing the RFD tasks.
Evaluation of the performance of the bureaucracy must be transparent, generate the feeling of even handedness and catalyse to improve her performance further. The present system needs some changes. As recommended by the Seventh Pay Commission, weightage must be more towards work output rather than on personal attributes. A system that takes on board the RFD parameters in deciding ex-ante the work output that the person would be evaluated against, will be the most logical way of evaluating the work output performance of the person. The sum of such work output of the individuals in the division must not be less than that of the division. This will also ensure that it is not the case where the division in which the person is working performs poorly, while a person from that division is evaluated to be a high performer.
The fashioning of the PRP system would follow the RFD tasks and output given therein. Should there be a PRP system at all when the Seventh Pay commission has given a decent hike in the pay and allowances, cannot be an issue that can be brushed aside. The Seventh Pay Commission agrees that there should be an incentive system. In para 15.15 it says “Despite the potential difficulties with the PRP, recognition for good effort and achievement, through an incentive can, over time energise the bureaucratic culture of the civil service into one that is focused on meeting citizens’ and government’s expectations for speedy and efficient delivery of services.” The important principle to follow will be to approve PRP to the division only when the division fulfils the RFD parameters. Since it will be difficult to inter se prioritise the RFD tasks in a division, it will also not be possible in the initial years of the implementation of PRP to differentiate payments for individuals. The amount of PRP has to be shared among all the individuals in the division, who are not eligible to get other incentives.
R. Gopalan last served as Member, PESB. He was Secretary in the Ministry of Finance in the Department of Economic Affairs and in the Department of Financial Services. An IAS officer from Tamil Nadu, he conducted negotiations at the WTO on behalf of India.