I am very happy to be with you today, as you begin your deliberations on the occasion of the 8th Civil Services Day. In these inaugural remarks, I wish to make a few points about the topics on the agenda before you. I also propose to touch upon some issues that are not a part of the agenda but which I feel are of special relevance to the functioning of our Civil Services in the present times.
But let me first congratulate the bright Civil Servants whose work we have honored today. India’s rapid progress depends critically on our ability to be innovative and enterprising in a diverse range of areas, and especially in administration. I am happy that we have recognized the innovation and enterprise these Civil Servants have shown in finding solutions to problems. We need more creativity of this kind. And we need to build an environment in our country where creativity, entrepreneurship and enterprise are encouraged and rewarded. While on this subject, I would also like to compliment the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances for bringing out a compilation of 14 good governance initiatives from across our country titled Thinking out of the Box.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This brings me to the issue of the collective capability of our Civil Services to be innovative in their approach to solving problems and to think out of the box. This is also broadly the first subject on the agenda of this conference. Making the Civil Services Fit for Future requires efforts in many dimensions, some of which are listed in the papers that have been circulated. I would, however, confine myself to making some general remarks on this issue.
In the last two decades or so, the role of the Government has undergone a major transformation in many sectors of the economy. We have moved far away from the command and control economy of the earlier times. Ensuring good governance and managing the economy today are complex tasks. How to ensure that our Civil Services have the required sets of skills to manage this complexity is a major challenge before us. I would urge you to consider ways and means of meeting this challenge. I would also like to emphasize here that officers in the Civil Services need to be provided top class training early in their careers to equip them with the tools necessary to understand the underlying logic and complexities of our governance and economic systems.
Another issue that will determine how fit the Civil Services are for the future is whether we have an effective system in place to incentivize innovation and remove inefficiency. We could perhaps learn from best practices across the world how such a system could be evolved.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I understand that you will also be discussing ways of addressing the challenges in delivery of public services. Providing access to basic services to the people is one of the primary responsibilities of any Government. Our citizens need access to quality education and health services at affordable costs, safe drinking water, sanitation and so on. And in providing these services we have to take special care of the needs of those sections of the society which are socially and economically backward. We must recognize that we have a lot of work to do to bring the delivery of some of our public services up to international standards. I am happy that we have made good progress in putting in place a legal framework which would help us in improving matters. The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 is under consideration of our Parliament. This when enacted will give our citizens the right to receive specified goods and services in a time bound manner. It is encouraging that several States also have taken the initiative to enact similar laws of their own.
Our Government has also made sustained efforts to curb corruption and enhance transparency and accountability in the work of public authorities. There are several legislative initiatives that we have taken in this regard, for example the Right to Information Act, the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill and the Whistleblowers Protection Bill.. These are intended to also help in improving the standards of delivery of public services in our country.
However, in a country as diverse as ours, we cannot always find standardized solutions for improving delivery of public services across regions and States. These solutions would often have to be area specific and would depend on a host of local factors.
We also need to make full use of new and modern technology not only in delivery of public services but in governance in general. A good example of such use is the Aadhar program for providing all the residents of our country a unique identity, and also the Direct Benefits Transfer scheme based on Aadhar numbers that our Government launched a few months back. The Direct Benefits Transfer scheme now covers 121 districts of our country. It will lead to better targeting of subsidies and reducing delays in the delivery of benefits such as scholarships and pensions to the intended beneficiaries. It will also help in curbing wastages and leakages, and result in greater financial inclusion. I think it is also important to recognize the fact that the programs like the Direct Benefits Scheme also give a sense of empowerment to the people, increase their faith in the processes of Governance and therefore have a far larger positive effect than can be measured by the direct advantages they give. I would urge those of you who are involved directly or indirectly in the implementation of the Direct Benefits Transfer scheme to ensure that the scheme is a success.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The subjects of strengthening the rural economy and expanding employment opportunities in rural areas are vast and complex. However, the criticality of agriculture to good performance of the rural economy is obvious. I am happy that in the 11th Plan we have achieved a record agricultural growth. We need to build on this momentum. I would not like to go into the specifics of what needs to be done to strengthen agricultural performance in the country as a whole. However, I do wish to point out that some States should perhaps give greater attention to this vital sector of our economy, especially in the areas of agricultural research and extension services and selection of officers in their agriculture departments. The agriculture sector deserves the best and brightest of Civil Servants.
We must also make concerted efforts for developing skills in your young men and women, both in rural and urban areas, to enable them to gain productive employment. This is the only way to reap advantage of our potential demographic dividend. Our Government has launched a massive program of skill development, which I hope will be implemented effectively. I would also like to mention in passing the need for strengthening the implementation of our flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which by most accounts has been a success.
Even as we make efforts to strengthen the rural economy, we must keep in mind that with India’s economic growth, there will be large movements of people from the rural to urban areas. Management of urbanization is an area which requires much greater attention on the part of our planners. It is estimated that in 20 years time, nearly 50 percent of our population will be living in urban areas. We have to ensure that our towns and cities provide public services of a high quality to their residents. To that end, much greater attention has to be paid to the modernization of the processes of municipal governance. Our Civil Services also should be better equipped with skills for managing urbanization and urban spaces. Our Civil Servants should be given some training in these skills in the early part of their careers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I conclude, I would like to touch upon three other subjects that I consider important. The first concerns the safety, security and status of women in our country. It is widely accepted that, as a country, we have vast improvements to make in these areas. These issues came into sharper focus after the horrific gang-rape incident in Delhi last December. The gruesome assault on a little child a few days back reminds us of the need to work collectively to root out this sort of depravity from our society. The agitations that have followed the two incidents also point to the need for showing concern and sensitivity while dealing with the public anxiety that such incidents generate.
Our Government has moved with speed in strengthening the law to be able to deal more effectively with offences against women. However, this is but a small part of what needs to be done. All of us, as responsible citizens, have a special obligation to contribute to the social and economic empowerment of women in our country. However, as leaders in Government your responsibility to ensure this outcome is even greater.
The second subject relates to our economy which is passing through difficult times. As I have said earlier, I believe that we are facing only a temporary downturn that we should correct as quickly as possible. Without going into the reasons for the downturn, I wish to emphasize the need for boosting investment across sectors to help us emerge from the existing difficult situation. Our Government has taken a major initiative in setting up the Cabinet Committee on Investment for fast-tracking industrial and infrastructural projects. The Committee has made encouraging progress. But much more needs to be done, especially for building a climate that is perceived to be friendly to enterprise and investment. Many of you work in areas and organizations that have a direct bearing on the achievement of this task and I would urge you to give the maximum possible attention to it.
Yet another area which I would like to stress relates to the management of disasters. Owing to its peculiar geo-climatic conditions, our country has always been vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides. Climate change is likely to further exacerbate the frequency and intensity of these natural disasters. In addition, unsafe building practices in rapidly growing urban settlements also constitute a major challenge for those charged with the responsibility of managing disasters. Handling disasters requires a multi-disciplinary approach and specialized skills acquired over a long period of time. Some of our civil servants get first-hand experience in the area of disaster management very early in their career. We ought to identify best practices, document them properly and disseminate them widely so that we are prepared when a disaster hits us. While relief and rehabilitation are central to our approach to managing the fall out once a disaster happens, we should not lose sight of pre-disaster issues of prevention, mitigation, and preparedness.
I believe that each one of our Civil Servants, whatever their seniority or assignment, has a very meaningful contribution to make to our society and country. Today’s occasion gives you an opportunity to reflect on your role and performance, your successes and failures. I hope you will make full use of this opportunity to find even more efficient ways of discharging your responsibilities.