Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had made a landmark speech on 8 June 2016, addressing , the staff of Kerala Secretariat for the first time after taking office. He harped repeatedly on the importance of the integration between the changing political administrators and the unchanging bureaucracy in fulfilling the popular wishes. The chief minister reminded them that each file carried in it a life and each query written in it could decide the life or death of a citizen. His firm pronouncement, full of hopes however, turned out to be empty words in three and a half years now at the face of a bureaucracy that inherited a kind of colonial class consciousness.
A leading role in this setback was played by employee unions and middlemen who consistently seek a place in out-of-the-way channels. The comparison hinted by the chief minister of the woman in Himachal had their local versions in Kerala too. Thus through the queries put forward by political masters, and obstructonist officials, Pinarayi’s left government became the cause of the death of more than one entrepreneur. And now the state cabinet has formulated a program to recapture its image and to ensure an efficient bureaucracy through which dead files could be revived. The government and the official machinery are getting geared for a 92-day long intensive drive in order to expeditiously clear files that have been accumulating in the secretariat and government offices.
As per a preliminary estimate, there are 4,36,673 files across 52 departments awaiting disposal. This does not include the figures from certain departments. The government order is that by 10 August there should be a definite count of all pending files. When that is completed, the number of pending files will exceed five lakhs. Once the drive starts, there will be a fortnightly review of progress, led by secretaries of ministries and department and district heads. In the months of September and October, there will be a scrutiny headed by the Chief Secretary. There will also be nodal officers in each department, who have to ensure that things are moving on course in their respective departments.
Certain priorities have also been set for the disposal of files based on the age and nature of the files. It has also been decided to record separately the number of files related to court cases. If the government and the officials succeed in implementing the decisions in the circular, that will definitely make history. The changes it brings about in the development, official functioning and culture of Kerala will be unequalled. The acceleration in the movement of the slow-moving official machinery will create an awakening across all sectors of state. But, one cannot help observing that the history of such endeavours so far have been only of failures. And the decadent corridors of the secretariat are replete with stories ridiculing rulers who take initiative for reforms.
Our government systems are still reluctant to employ modern technology. Much headway has been made in projects like e-governance and e-filing that make the document flow fast and paper-free. But no matching efforts have been made to reform rules in tune with the times or to shed outdated rules. Many administrative reforms stumble and fall at the plots of ‘query masters’ who beat any one with notes of objection. If one wants to know how promptly and efficiently some of the employees make haste to defeat reforms, it will suffice to look at the circular issued by Principal Secretary Public Administration, Bishwanath Sinha in February 2019.
When punching system was made strict to catch late-comers, a section of the staff made it a habit to do punching during morning walks or to skulk after punching. The circular says that it was decided to install CCTV cameras to catch them. If this vigilance had been maintained in doing work, a new Kerala would have been born much earlier. And without reining in this section adopting such a mean attitude towards work, Kerala caught in red tape cannot be saved. Employees also should realize that the public has a firm notion that a major chunk of taxpayers’ money is spent on the salary and pension of employees for nothing.
Only if there is a realization that their salary is in return for giving people’s right smoothly and fairly and not for denying and checking people’s rights, will they see the files before them as of a family or several families. If it becomes the basic and humble ideal of rulers and bureucrats that they are the servants in the system run for the welfare of the people, government offices will become the favourite spots of the people. We only wish that the three-month clearance drive initiated by the government marks a beginning of that change.d