Is ‘just being honest’ enough for bureaucrats?

Updated: January 4, 2019 1:21:45 AM

We’ve ‘able’ officers such as Parameswaran Iyer, Dinesh Arora, Ashwani Lohani and Indu Bhushan. But we also have bureaucrats who stop at ‘just being honest’.


However, for bureaucracy to thrive, honesty alone is not enough. Honesty is a necessity, but not a sufficient condition for the welfare of the people.

By Anil Swarup 

Bureaucracy has not withered away in any part of the world. We may condemn, criticise, castigate and ridicule it, but it is indeed an essential tool to carry out the programmes of the government. In order to do that effectively, it has to not only survive, but has to thrive in the interest of our country and our people. However, for bureaucracy to thrive, honesty alone is not enough. Honesty is a necessity, but not a sufficient condition for the welfare of the people.

The government pays the bureaucrat to perform, to deliver. It is a different matter that, on account of the emerging sociopolitical environment, this performance is not always expected to be in public good. It is also a pity that, on occasions, the bureaucrat is expected to perform in the interest of a few. Unfortunately, such occasions are increasing by the day and those bureaucrats who do not conform are not only shown the door, but are also harassed. What is even more appalling is the fact that far from recognising good performance, there are instances of officers being penalised for performing well. Such signals do not augur well for the system and the society. However, there is still a huge area where such pressures either do not exist or, if they do, can be managed. Whatever be the situation, honesty alone may not serve the desired purpose.

There are several categories of honest officers. There are those who are honest, efficient and non-pliable. Then there are those who are honest, efficient but pliable. These categories also include those who are honest but think that the entire world around them is falling apart. They then take upon them the task of cleansing the system. The “crusader” in them gets the better of them and the media attention adds fuel to the fire. A campaign is launched against those whom such honest officers perceive as dishonest. Honesty becomes an end on itself. Such officers forget the fact that they are paid not merely to remain honest, but to perform as well. They evaluates their own performance in terms of punitive actions that they have taken against the others, the number of people or institutions they have exposed (becoming a quintessential whistle-blower that brings “name” and “fame”), the number of disciplinary proceedings they get initiated, and the number of FIRs they get lodged. In fact, in the ultimate analysis, such precipitate actions do not even serve such officers’ professed goal of cleansing the society, as no effort is made to evolve systems that can reduce, if not eliminate, the incidence of corrupt practices. Evolving systems is a time-consuming process and may not provide immediate fodder for publicity.

Also Read: How Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella led company’s biggest turnaround in 2018

As mentioned earlier, a bureaucrat has to deliver, as he/she is the prime instrument available with the state to deliver. The “honest-only bureaucrat” does a huge disservice to this noble cause. He/she smells a rat everywhere and in every file. Hence, nothing gets delivered, and, if it does get delivered, it is too late for the desired impact. There is a “paralyses of analyses.” For him/her, honesty pays because he/she leads an honourable life as an honest officer and is recognised by many as a crusader against the dishonest. However, through an “honesty-alone” approach, he/she would have done precious little to encourage initiative or motivate those working with him/her to perform. Such officers do not have much to write home about their own performance except proudly displaying the trophies of the victims of their crusade.

In order to perform, a bureaucrat, especially in the higher echelons, has to evolve as a leader and has to cultivate such leadership qualities that do not inspire awe or fear, but respect. This is done through leading by example, focus, objectivity, consistency, empathy, commitment to the tasks and an ever-burning desire to deliver. All these are necessary virtues that need not necessarily be consumed in the crusade against the dishonest. The virtues need to be used for evolving better systems and for inspiring colleagues to perform.

Fortunately, there are indeed a number of bureaucrats who are honest and efficient. They may not be as visible as those that are going hammer and tongs against the “dishonest”. They are not crusaders. They are the “doers”. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan led by the redoubtable Parameswaran Iyer is creating an impact. Fortunately, it is becoming visible as well. The thrust on efficiency and integrity in the Indian Railways by its chairman Ashwani Lohani, who retired this week, is already yielding results. One can witness the impact of the changes he has brought about in the functioning of the Railways. He has not gone to town with what all he has done, but it is all visible. The team of Indu Bhushan and Dinesh Arora, engaged in implementing the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana Abhiyan as part of Ayushman Bharat, provides another example of honest and efficient working. What was done by the technocrat E Sreedharan to usher in metro railway revolution is legendary. These are honest and efficient bureaucrats committed to the cause for which they are paid for from the public exchequer. They are performing their tasks as professionals. Their crusading spirit is directed towards the tasks assigned to them. However, unfortunately, there are an equal numbers of bureaucrats who stop at just being honest.

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