Will Modi’s Mission Karmayogi Transform or Weaken Bureaucracy?

Aditya Menon
·8-min read

“Whatever the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) does, it is always a big ticket measure. One may debate its impact or viability, but no one can doubt his will to take radical decisions,” a senior bureaucrat, currently serving in a key social sector ministry at the Centre, said while commenting on Mission Karmayogi which was cleared by the Union Cabinet on 2 September.

According to PM Modi, the Mission – also known as the National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building (NPCSCB) – promises to “radically improve the human resource management practices in the government and use scale and state-of-the-art infrastructure to augment the capacity of civil servants.”

A key aspect of the new plan is that PM will be heading an HR council, the apex body for the NPCSCB, giving him direct control of the training and evaluation of the bureaucracy.

To decode Mission Karmayogi, The Quint reached out to several bureaucrats – serving as well as retired – and a few politicians, including a member of the Parliament’s standing committee on personnel.

But first a brief overview of the scheme itself.

Also Read: What is Mission Karmayogi? Can It Reform Indian Bureaucracy?

What is Mission Karmayogi?

Institutional Framework

  • At the apex of Mission Karmayogi is the Prime Minister's Public Human Resources (HR) Council, comprising the PM, selected Union ministers, chief ministers, and HR practitioners.

  • The PM’s HR Council will be assisted by a Capacity Building Commission, which would also supervise the central training institutions dealing with capacity building.

  • A Special Purpose Vehicle will be set up for owning and operating the digital assets and the technological platform for online training of government servants.

  • The programme will be delivered by setting up an Integrated Government Online Training or iGOTKarmayogi Platform, covering all government officers. This would also provide a dashboard view of Key Performance Indicators.

The government says that the main aim of Mission Karmayogi is to move from “rules based” to “roles based” management and prevent bureaucrats from working in silos.

Aims

  • To move from “rules based” to “roles based” HR management and aligning work allocation of civil servants by matching their competencies to the requirements of the post

  • To emphasise on 'on-site learning' to complement ‘off-site’ learning

  • To promote professionalism grounded in “Indian values”

  • To create an ecosystem of shared training infrastructure including learning materials, institutions and personnel

  • To calibrate all Civil Service positions to a Framework of Roles, Activities and Competencies (FRACs) approach

  • To make available to all civil servants an opportunity to continuously build and strengthen their competencies

  • To encourage and partner with the best public training institutions, universities, start-ups and individual experts

  • To undertake data analytics provided by iGOT- Karmayogi  pertaining  to  various  aspects  of capacity  building

Financial implications

To cover around 46 lakh central employees, a sum of Rs 510.86 crore will be spent over a period of 5 years from 2020-21 to 2024-25. The expenditure is partly funded by multilateral assistance to the tune of USD 50 million (Rs 365 crore approximately).

Also Read: Modi 2.0 Could Be Tougher – Quagmire of Bureaucracy Needs to End

What Are the Pros and Cons?

The Quint spoke at length with 1965 batch Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer Yogendra Narain, who served in key positions such as Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha, Union Defence Secretary and Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh. Narain laid down several things that he found positive about the scheme:

Advantages

  • “Civil servants are generalists. But to serve effectively in a changing global scenario, bureaucrats need specialised training. Mission Karmayogi will be an effective way of providing this. I think it is a very good idea”

  • “Providing access to online training to all government servants would hugely help the capacity-building process. Till now only a small percentage get to benefit.” This view was echoed by an overwhelming majority of the civil servants we spoke to

  • “The proposal for quantitative evaluation of key performance indicators is an excellent one. This will be much more effective than the current methods”

  • “For instance, if a civil servant is serving in the telecom sector, he should be evaluated based on indicators like ‘How many villages was optical fibre installed in his tenure?’ How much expansion in WiFi connectivity took place?’ and so on”

"“Providing access to online training to all government servants would hugely help the capacity building process.”" - Yogendra Narain, former Rajya Sabha Secretary General

For the disadvantages, we have compiled the points given by Narain as well as a few former bureaucrats who didn’t want to be named.

Cons

  • “Won’t the creation of another council like the Capacity Building Commission lead to more bureaucracy at a time when the government is promising minimum government?” a retired officer of the DANICS cadre said

  • A number of bureaucrats raised concerns on why over 60 percent of the funds for the scheme are being sought through multilateral agencies

  • According to Yogendra Narain, the entire process may take time. “It will take a lot of time for the relevant literature to be compiled, trainers to be identified. The aim is a good one but implementation may not be easy”

  • There’s another problem here, that of representation. When nine lateral entrants were appointed as joint secretaries, not one was from a reserved category. There is a danger that bodies like the newly created institutional framework may not have adequate representation of reserved categories, adding to discrimination against them

  • A retired IAS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre pointed out that the scheme involves greater centralisation with the Union government and this may cause a pushback from state governments

  • In the same vein, another officer said that this emphasis on “Indian values” may lead to problems. “Who defines what these values are? Would they reflect a certain ideology? Will these values be equally acceptable in UP, J&K, Kerala and Manipur?”

  • A few of the retired bureaucrats were also skeptical about the government’s entire emphasis on competence, saying that many of its appointments till now may have gone against this principle

Political Aims

It’s not as if previous governments haven’t taken such measures, but they were far more limited in scope.

“The Cabinet secretariat initiated a similar system of performance review in 2012, it ran for three years. Retired bureaucrats like us were given various ministries. and we had to give points based on output and meeting of targets. The idea was that ACR isn’t a sufficient evaluation. But this was a limited exercise. What the present government has introduced is at another level altogether,” Yogendra Narain told The Quint.

Many pointed out that this is in line with the Modi government’s broader approach towards the bureaucracy, that involved exercising much greater control.

  • “Control and centralisation. That has been the mark of this (Modi) government and this scheme is another manifestation of it,” an MP from a BJP alliance partner observed

  • Exercising greater control over the bureaucracy has consistently been a priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he assumed office in 2014. The same year, his government floated the idea of inviting lateral entrants into the services. This materialised in 2019, when nine lateral entrants were appointed as joint secretaries, which was seen as a step towards breaking the hold of the IAS

In 2019, nine lateral entrants were appointed as joint secretaries in the government. This is central to the Modi government’s plan. 

  • In 2016, PM Modi said that “India can’t progress in the 21st century with a 19th century administration” making it amply clear what he thought of the bureaucratic setup

  • Through Modi’s first term, the government slowly built a system of 360 degree evaluation of bureaucrats

  • Soon after beginning his second term, the government sent 27 tax officials on premature retirement

  • This was followed by the announcement that the government will open up even more positions to lateral entrants

  • Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Committee on Law, Personnel and Public Grievances headed by key BJP leader Bhupender Yadav submitted a report to the Rajya Sabha recommending the recruitment of “domain experts” and “specialised generalists” into the civil service

These were all indications that the Modi government may do something big with the bureaucracy. If sources within the BJP are to be believed, one event could have proved decisive in giving a final push for Mission Karmayogi – the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If I am to hazard a guess, the pandemic may have pushed PM Modi to initiate this. Sometimes big events throw up the need for radical solutions. There’s no denying that the government felt a shortage of administrators with knowledge of public health. Hopefully this mission will prepare bureaucrats for any eventuality,” a BJP functionary disclosed.

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