Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Accountability of Public Servants


When we think of this topic there are three words that stand out; Accountability, i.e.: Responsibility,

public servant i.e. persons appointed to a specific position by the government for serving or helping

the public, Public i.e. ordinary people in general. Moving forward we check that how these three

words are related to each other. The basic answer, therefore, is that public servants are accountable

or responsible for their doings that concern the public at large. They have to answer for her every

action that can be right or wrong.

We are a large democratic nation. The rules are established for us by our Constitution which are

binding us together and contribute to the management of our nation. These rules in the legal

language are known as public laws. Public laws maintain a relationship between an individual and a

state. To maintain a check and balance on those laws we need someone with authority. Here comes

the need for public servants. So powers are vested in them by the government to maintain a check

and balance on the laws, maintain the decorum, and see that these laws are not violated.

Accountability in India

If we talk about India and the accountability of public servants here then we can conclude that India

is facing serious crises at this time. Although the nation is far more developed than other countries,

still are behind them in the matter of holding someone responsible. Our social, and economic

development is far better than other countries still we stand behind them. There can be several

reasons for such failure. As we know, everything here works on a chain basis, which requires trust

and respect for the work of others. But after independence, the political sector here has been in a

gap with the administrative one.

An article from The Hindu says that when Supreme Court, under a Public Interest Litigation ruled in

favor of greater order and transparency in transfers and postings. It led to the formation of a Civil

Services Board of senior civil servants to decide on transfers and postings and a fixed tenure for

postings. It also directed civil servants not to accept oral orders from their superior officers or

Ministers, and to ensure that the orders were reduced in writing before they are carried out. This

judgment was welcomed by the government officials but the political reaction here was sort of

disturbing. They wanted the political sector to be involved in the issues of transfers and postings.

The matter here was who was right and in what context.

Accountability and public servants

Being a democratic nation the public servants are accountable to both the political sector and the

public. As accountability is an important element of a good government therefore when

accountability and answerability increase the trust of the public in the government shall increase

simultaneously. The principle concept of accountability is; fairness, integrity, trust, and transparency

but up to a limit. But is it easy to hold someone accountable for their performance? The answer to

this is it's not. There is an immense number of complexities under this process for making a public

servant answerable.

Let's go for an example there is a work in the course like of road construction or sewage. The work is

being delayed and the public is affected by this. So here comes the question that, who shall be held

accountable for this delay? Who shall hold the answerability element for the justification of the

actions? The officers at higher posts shall free their names by throwing them at the lower officials or

the hired workers. The lower officers can say that they didn't receive proper materials or directions

to carry out the work. This shall create chaos among the chain of those responsible. One shall throw

dirt on the other and vice versa.

As we are a democratic country, the elections here are external accountability for the public. If we

go for an internal check, our constitution follows the theory of the separation of power, which

separates the three main organs of the state i.e. executive, judiciary, and legislature from each

other; it prohibits amalgamation and usurpation of the organs of the state, but it allows check and

balance by one organ on another. Although in India this theory doesn't work in a strict sense it helps

in checks and balances and internal oversight.

Now we will be able to answer, who will be accountable for the actions. First, the citizens have to

use the external mechanism to communicate their preferences to the political or senior

administrative officers for the fulfillment of the preferences. At a later stage, the state shall be acting

as the agent of the public and shall use the internal mechanism and communicate to the actual

service provider and should hold them accountable for the actions.

This accountability fails if either one of the internal or external mechanisms is weak.

Reasons for failure of accountability:

1. Public-administrative gap

As we already discussed the internal and external framework of accountability. As the

administrative sector has internal accountability, the political or elected representative

works as a bridge between the public and administrative departments. The main decisions

are made by the administrative department and the public can't get direct information

through the departments. The public gets no information that how and why decisions are

taken. And as here there is no direct relationship between the decision-maker and the public

on whom the policies are implemented the accountability stands weak.

Although the Right to Information Act 2005 helped the public at large in attaining

information from the authorities. This also put pressure on the authorities to work decently

as they knew that they can be questioned for their actions.


2. Politics

Since the political representatives stand between the public and the actual policymaker

where the public can get no information directly about the policies, politics can be a hurdle

in between. As many, political people want power, fame, and money, in between they forget

about the public at large. Here the interest of the executive and politics collide with each

other. And the people involved in politics go for their short-term gains by ignoring the

benefit of the public at a large. It also makes accountability weak and biased.


3. Role of Parliament

As we know that the separation of power is not strictly followed in India, therefore the

legislature can therefore consider the executive questionable. Members of Parliament can

ask questions to the ministers and ministers are bound to reply. But the questions asked are

the right questions being asked. It does not seem so. Therefore the parliament's role stands

weak when it comes to accountability.


4. Role of service providers

As the works are done on a chain basis the service providers should put check on the

practical work which is done. But as the load in such a way increases it is impossible to even

for the good-intentioned public servant to do such checks. Therefore, only the work is

diagnosed from above and not from the deep which leads to weaker answerability.


Then a question arises how can the superiors be held accountable directly for their actions.

Some of the steps are listed below:

1. Appropriate use of laws such as the Right to Information Act

When the public will know the better use of the RTI Act, the superiors will automatically

start working in an unbiased manner, as they will have to answer about their every step or

action taken.


2. Proper Decentralization

We know that India works on a decentralized basis. Following amendments 73 and 74 to the

Constitution, decentralization has functioned more efficiently in the local government units.

As the local area government is closer to the public they are to be given proper resources

and aid to help the public more effectively and efficiently. The public should be allowed

access to the government bodies to inform about the needs and to raise questions regarding

any steps. This will help the public to get the answers they want and they will know who is

accountable for any steps taken.


3. Social Audits

The concept of social audits the cross-verification of government records and data with

information on the ground and the sharing of audit findings with the government through

public hearings have gained much ground in recent years as an important tool through

which accountability can be realized. With the adoption of the National Rural Employment

Guarantee Act (NREGA) social audits of NREGA works is now mandatory and some state

governments, have taken path-breaking steps in the direction of institutionalizing social

audits into the day-to-day functioning of the government.


In order to achieve adequate accountability at any stage both the parties involved should work

simultaneously. The government and the organs of the state should work without any biases or

greed for personal profit. On the other hand, the public should also take care of the rights provided

to them to protect their interest. Though ensuring accountability, in a country like India, is a great

challenge to achieve. There are still many questions that are unanswered regarding the topic which

need to be answered to protect the public interest.

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