Abstract

The Indian bureaucracy suffers from indecision and risk aversion, resulting in an inordinate focus on routine tasks, coordination failure, process overload, poor perception, motivational issues and a deterioration in the quality of service delivery. We argue that bureaucratic indecision, in a large part, is a form of rational self-preservation exercised by bureaucrats from the various legal and extra-legal risks to their person, careers and reputation. These risks originate from problems of organizational design, institutional norms and other political factors. The research for this working paper included a review of interdisciplinary literature on bureaucracy and policy decisions, combined with semi-structured interviews. We interviewed current and ex-bureaucrats from India and other Asian and African countries, political scientists and other policy researchers. We also conducted a document analysis of historical and contemporary, administrative and legal documents including committee reports, acts and rules, annual reports and other government publications. We summarise the evidence on factors such as penal transfers, overload, inadequate training, process accountability, contradictory rules and political patronage. The paper concludes with a compilation of administrative and normative reform recommendations taking cues from history, state experiences and other country bureaucracies.

A version of this paper was also published in the Indian Public Policy Review.

Note: This work was done by the author/s when they were a part of the IDFC Institute and is republished here with permission.