India's Revenue Secretary, Dr Hasmukh Adhia, embodies the spirit of a new-age bureaucracy, writes India Inc. CEO Manoj Ladwa.
Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, independent India's first Home Minister, famously dubbed the bureaucracy as the “Steel frame of India'.
It was, and is, India's multi-layered bureaucracy that keeps the wheels of the vast nation in motion. But over time, the edges of the steel frame have rusted and parts of the core have become weak.
Result: India's governance structure has become lax over the last 70 years since Independence. Enter another man from the state of Gujarat - Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who earned his spurs as an effective administrator during his 13-year stint as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Focused on delivery of services to the ordinary Indian, Modi encouraged and supported bureaucrats who were highly motivated, empowered and results driven - a clean break from the traditionally negative impression (and experiences) of the Indian bureaucracy - of a class of highly educated but corrupt, inefficient and uncaring mandarins who are a hindrance to progress. We have featured one such “supercrat” bureaucrat - Revenue Secretary Dr Hasmukh Adhia - on our cover this time because I feel he is at the vanguard of the arrival of this new breed of honest, hardworking, diligent, and fiercely independent set of bureaucrats that the Modi government is spawning - and empowering.
Adhia has spearheaded the tricky implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which in effect makes India's 1.2 billion people members of one common market, at last.
He also was at the helm of the department that rolled out India's record breaking financial inclusion programme - the Jan Dhan Yojna. As a politician and the Chief Minister of Gujarat, his job - and that of his ministerial colleagues - Modi had said, was to focus on policy and public engagements. It was the duty of the empowered bureaucrats to focus on delivery and implementation. Now, Modi is bringing his tried and trusted success formula to New Delhi.
The modern bureaucrat can no longer think like the proverbial bureaucrat. Instead, he or (increasingly and thankfully) she has to be the CEO of the department(s) under his or her charge.
India's top tier bureacrats can no longer depend only on precedent to show them the way; they have to think out of the box to support Modi's vision and resolve the many issues that governing a complex country like India routinely throws up.
The Indian government has recently announced that it will no longer follow the practice of awarding automatic time-served promotions to the positions of Secretaries and Principal Secretaries. Instead, aspirants will be subject to 360 degree reviews - and only those who have shown initiative and ability to deliver on difficult targets will be promoted to coveted posts. At one stroke, the highest levels of the Indian bureaucracy will be rid of mere time servers and only the best will rise to the top. Adhia is just one example of this new breed of mandarins.
There are many others waiting in the wings to follow in his footsteps. And, the Indian Prime Minister and many of his colleagues in the Cabinet are encouraging them to do so. There are other, far reaching proposals as well. The chief of Niti Aayog, the Indian government's in-house think-tank, Arvind Panagariya has suggested that senior positions in the government be opened up to talented personnel from the private sector as well. If implemented, this will provide a further much-needed blood transfusion to the system and challenge the cosy, clubby world that senior Indian mandarins currently live in. Doubtless, there will be many more suggestions and hurdles, like addressing the massive pay gap between the public and private sector. I'm glad though that the journey has begun on a positive note, and with role models like Adhia and others, the emerging go-getter legion of Indian “supercrats” will stand the country in good stead for the future.