Yes minister

A sinister syndrome

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- time was when school-going children in India dreamt of growing up to be doctors and engineers. When 'nation building' wasn't a bad term. India needed solutions, and technical knowledge was considered important for solutions. With time came the realisation that solutions require tough decisions. "When you can't solve a problem, manage it," goes a management axiom. So, this is the age of the manager and the administrator. No wonder a master's degree in business administration is de rigueur. And the upsc exam for entering the Indian Administrative Services (ias) is the national hobby.

The lot of ias officers is perpetually growing in the government, often at the cost of experts with specialised knowledge. Take the case of the reorganisation of the Central Seeds Committee as proposed in the Seeds Bill 2004. It puts the secretary of the Union ministry of agriculture (moa ) as the chairperson. Expert seed policy review committee after committee has been calling for reorganisation of the seeds regulation system, suggesting that a National Seeds Board be created as an independent authority, chaired by a technical expert. Then there are provisions of other laws that bear upon the seed regulation system. All this should have been considered and dealt with in the Seeds Bill 2004. What is proposed, instead, will lead to centralisation of powers and functions in the hands of ministry bureaucrats.

The bureaucrat's job profile forbids interaction with farmers' groups and scientific institutions. Industry is as familiar with procedural matters as the ias, and hence has better access to officials. Experienced politicians often recall that in the 1950s and 1960s, technical experts used to have better rapport with and access to ministers, with bureaucrats looking after implementation and procedures. This has changed completely. Ministers today rely heavily on bureaucrats in making decisions on policy matters, more so because they don't like dealing with paperwork. Today, technical officers in ministries live under the thumb of bureaucrats with little access to ministers, except in high-profile scientific departments like atomic energy.

No wonder India struggles to find solutions to pressing problems. Not that technical experts have all the solutions -- they are human. But the job that is rightfully done by those with specialised training should by them. Seeds regulation requires that kind of input. Let the experts find solutions. And let them be accountable for them.

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