Some economists see India's malfunctioning public sector as its biggest obstacle to growth. Lant Pritchett, of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, calls it “one of the world's top ten biggest problems—of the order of AIDS and climate change”.The reasons trotted out for poor performance are familiar enough: declining quality of recruits (one is not sure how far this is true, the IAS remains extremely competitive), poor pay, interfering politicians, permanence of tenure, etc. But those who criticise the bureaucracy need to do some explaining: if it is all that bad, how come Indian economic growth has sprinted over the past two decades? Do we give the bureaucracy some credit for this or not?
....In India's corrupt democracy, the collectors' burden is made much heavier by interfering politicians. The problem is most grievous in north India, where civil servants tend to attach themselves to politicians for enrichment, advancement—or in despair of otherwise getting their jobs done.
The Economist notes that significant downsizing has taken place: some 750,00 jobs remain unfilled, so a leaner bureacracy is supporting higher volumes of work. Just to look at the brighter side, let me mention two areas where the bureaucracy does deliver. One is disaster management- the response to major catastrophes is much better in India than in many other parts of the world (think of the US response to the hurricane in New Orleans). The other is the conduct of elections in remote, insurgency-infested areas.
These are not the work of the office corps alone. It's the people down below, the much maligned clerks and peons, who contribute a great deal. Surely, there must be some merit in a system that can produce outcomes in these two situations?