The late Pramod Mahajan, in his perpetual quest for one-liners, once said, “Political regimes are passengers, the temporary rulers. The babus are the permanent rulers.” The homily, delivered half in jest, seems to resonate a decade later. It is debatable whether all the ills of governance must be laid at the foot of Raisina Hill. What is indisputable is that there is a telling sameness about the problems and explanations.
Like in a country that sees a million persons join the workforce every month, job creation is both a political and an economic imperative. Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has evangelised the objective in every major programme—Make in India, Stand-Up India Start-Up India, Skills India, Smart Cities or the new initiatives on housing.
Like, it is noticeable, however, that the system is not as driven, in getting people to the jobs that are already available in the system. In March this year, Shadi Lal Batra, Rajya Sabha MP, asked the government about vacancies across the Central ministries. The answer: 602,335 posts.
Like, Suresh Prabhu has promised that Railways will be the driving force of connectivity and acceleration of economic growth. The mandarins, however, seem in no great hurry to create requisite capacity. The Railways told Parliament that nearly 2.25 lakh posts were vacant across the country —across categories. Indeed, in February 2016, in response to CPI(M) MP Ritabrata Banerjee, the Railways revealed that 124,201 of these posts are related to safety functions.
Like, last week, G Hari and M Raja Mohan Reddy asked the home ministry about vacant posts in the Central Armed Police Forces. The answer: 65,739. There are then posts of teachers and principals in Kendriya Vidyalayas, posts of doctors and paramedics. Not to mention those in PSUs and in banks.
Like, the story is worse across the states. Education and security are areas government must ramp allocations in. Last week, Devji M Patil, Lok Sabha MP, asked the home ministry the number of sanctioned but vacant posts in state police departments. The answer: 5, 42,986. Uttar Pradesh has 199,160 vacant posts. The education sector is handicapped by lack of teachers. According to the HRD ministry, 37 per cent of the schools have an adverse teacher-pupil ratio. The number of vacant teacher posts across India: 514,784.
Like, the mind-boggling fact is that nearly two million government posts lie vacant at the Centre and in the states. One alibi that the states have often trotted out is that they have not found candidates. This in a country where 23 lakh persons, including PhDs and engineers, queued up to apply for the post of a peon, of which only 368 positions were advertised by the government of UP.
Like it is arguable that there is perhaps an issue of availability of right candidates. If that is so, why don’t states collaborate or commandeer the Skills India department and contract them to find, train and deliver the teachers that are needed? Again shouldn’t the Skills India group look at this as a turnkey project?
Like, the babudom seems convinced by its own explanations. The absence of initiative to resolve issues is not just in filling vacancies. It is also reflected in how the government deals with protection of public property. Over the past decade, governments have allowed encroachers a free run.
Currently, 10,125 acres of land belonging to the defence ministry has been encroached upon. As on March 31, 2016, over 2,100 acres of railways land and over 400 acres of land belonging to ports has been encroached upon.
Like there is no doubt that matters have improved since 2014—both ministries of defence and railways have tried to repossess their property. The question that must be asked is about accountability in the system—and clearly, state governments have allowed the illegality by acts of omission.
Like one of the issues haunting decision-making in PSUs is the long pendency of appointments to the top. The government told Parliament recently that 101 posts of functional directors (and around 440 positions of non-official directors) are presently vacant in various CPSEs.
Like, the latest “believe it or not” comes from the banks of the Yamuna. Liquid chromatography tests coupled with tandem mass spectroscopy have shown presence of antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, erythromycin, gentamicin etc. in the Yamuna.
It is no secret that barely a third of the sewage generated in cities is treated before it finds its way into rivers. What is surprising is the continuance of the same set of explanations for the persistence of the problems.
Like the government is very optimistic about getting Vijay Mallya and middleman Michel Christian deported or extradited from the UK. The history of India’s attempts to get people back has not been inspiring—it has not been able to
cancel passports of absconders, whether accused in the coal block allocation or other scams and scandals. Earlier this year, the Ministry of External Affairs revealed that 15 requests for extradition of criminals were pending with just the UK government, which has cited pendency in courts as the reason.
Like, last December around New Year, the Prime Minister set up a committee of secretaries to suggest ideas for transformative change. Perhaps it is time for him to form a group of experts to deliver solutions on seemingly intractable issues and design a standard operating procedure.
Finally, India desperately needs administrative reforms to exit from this eerie sense of déjà vu that envelops questions on outcomes.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change