Just berating babus is a waste of time

by Jeremy

If India has to progress, Modi has to do sweeping decontrol to eliminate political/bureaucratic discretion. (Reuters/File Photo) While most applauded prime minister Narendra Modi for his full-throated repudiation of the bureaucrats-know-best policy of the last 75 years, former education secretary Anil Swarup had an interesting response.

Just berating babus is a waste of time

Tongue firmly in cheek, he tweeted that he “totally agree with @narendramodi when he questions occupation of all key positions by IAS ‘babu’ …” and then added a question to each such tweet. When Aadhaar was the creation of Nandan Nilekani, why is an IAS babu now occupying the same job; why is an IAS the head of the Competition Commission of India, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), the Insurance and Regulatory Development Authority of India or even, if you please, the committee for the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya?

Forget about replacing bureaucrats – or babu, to use the pejorative term for them – with private sector experts like Nilekani. Modi is employing them in jobs meant for domain experts. In which case, how does the prime minister expect to reduce this chokehold of the bureaucracy? That he needs to is evident given how the bureaucrats manage to thwart what seems to be the desire of their political bosses.

A few days ago, to cite the latest example, Teamlease’s Manish Sabharwal wrote a piece on the de facto ban on online degree learning with just seven of India’s 1,000-plus universities and 50,000-plus colleges licensed for online courses; yet, they plan to allow the top-100 universities to do this was first announced in 2018, repeated in the finance minister’s FY21 budget speech and then again in May 2020 as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat announcements. Indeed, while the government has spoken of freeing up institutions like the IIMs, the education bureaucracy came up with rules that would allow them to dismiss the board of the IIMs; the law ministry has just nixed the plan.

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