India’s Babus Stuck in a Bunker

June 29 Main Picture

In his first month on the job, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken bold steps to address the systemic problems in the Indian economy and government. Notably, Modi has cut in half the number of taxpayer-funded golf club memberships for senior bureaucrats valued at 300,000 rupees ($5,000) each.

Narendra Modi has wasted no time in attacking the sclerosis plaguing the Indian government. In a memo to senior bureaucrats (often disparagingly referred to as babu’s), Modi made clear that everyone would have to report to work on time, work a full day, and possibly give up holidays to increase their efficiency. Most “shockingly”, the new Prime Minister has threatened disciplinary action against all civil servants caught playing golf during work hours. In addition, the new government has informed the prestigious Delhi Golf Club that it will cut the number of state-funded gulf memberships from 200 to 100. Given that each membership costs upwards of 5,000 USD – far more than the average monthly salary of government officials – these memberships are indicative of the corruption and favoritism present in Delhi.

These bold moves by Modi have reportedly sent shockwaves through India’s civil service and have led to a massive shakeup in attitude. Such initial steps are positive indications that Modi is applying his pledge to make the Indian government more efficient and reduce the bureaucracy and stagnation that has had devastating ripple effects throughout the Indian economy.

The most notable takeaway from this decision, however, is not the reduction in tee-offs or even the new rules that Modi is imposing but rather that the Indian Prime Minister had the will and the capital to tackle India’s powerful civil service. Indeed, India’s bureaucracy is, in many ways, a vestige of the colonial rule. The current civil service closely emulates the bureaucracy under British rule. Furthermore, it has perpetuated power to the same small group and, by association, facilitated rampant corruption. To show how bad it has become, a major push was undertaken two years ago to permit the forced retiring (read: firing) of inefficient (read: corrupt) civil servants after 15 years of service instead of 30. Such a seemingly reasonable decision was seen as a revolutionary reform!

Thus, the biggest news regarding these reforms is both that Modi had the courage to reform this dated, bloated, and inefficient institution but also that golfing, and laxism was institutionalized. Modi has certainly gotten off to a strong start and his most recent efforts are promising but the fact that such basic reforms as working an entire day are needed show how far India still has to go!

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