Mission Karmayogi: Rhetoric or reality?

Richa Mishra | Updated on September 18, 2020

The programme to reform the Civil Services is well intended, but its success depends on how transparently it is implemented

Successive governments have attempted civil services reforms but piecemeal. So, when the Narendra Modi government announced on September 2 the Cabinet approving ‘Mission Karmayogi’ — National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building (NPCSCB) — aimed at radically improving the human resource management practices in the government, it generated tremendous interest.

But, intriguingly, the response became muted, quickly enough.

A question that often crops up is why governance in a government set-up cannot happen as in the private sector. The reasons — in the private sector a decision gone wrong is not always blamed on one official; and the private sector does not face the fear of three C’s, namely the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Comptroller and Audit General (CAG).

Change agent

Mission Karmayogi is meant to bring transformational changes by organically linking the transformation of work culture, strengthening public institutions and adopting modern technology to build capacity with the overall aim of ensuring efficient delivery of services to citizens. It proposes a PM-led HR Council to approve and monitor capacity building plans. It also proposes a capacity building commission to ensure a uniform approach to managing and regulating the capacity building ecosystem on a collaborative basis. It is to assist the PM Public Human Resource Council in approving the Annual Capacity Building Plans among others.

The Mission envisages setting up a wholly-owned SPV to own and operate the online learning platform and facilitate world-class learning content market-place. To cover around 46 lakh Central employees, ₹5110.86 crore will be spent over five years from 2020-21 to 2024-25 for the purpose. The expenditure is partly funded by multilateral assistance to the tune of $50 million.

There will also be a coordination unit headed by the Cabinet Secretary. The official statement added that recognising this unique opportunity to drive citizen-centricity through a competency-driven HR Management policy, which aims to assign the ‘right person’ to the ‘right role’, it has also been decided to launch the NPCSCB.

Critics say the Mission sounds more like rhetoric than anything else. Individuals across party lines agree that there is a need for administrative reforms. But shouldn’t it start from the roots? In March, Manish Tewari, lawyer and MP, wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker suggesting that there should be a Permanent Standing Committee on Administrative Reforms. According to Tewari, a chunk of India’s population lives in rural areas and their contact with the Indian State is primarily with a patwari, the local village official handling land issues, and higher up in the hierarchy, a kanugo and, rarely, a tehsildar.

On law and order, they mostly interact with a beat constable, havildar or, at best, an assistant sub-inspector in charge of a thana. When the administration interacts with citizens, it is usually not a pleasant affair. The situation is identical in the urban setting, said Tewari, adding that “what is needed is a bottom-up administrative re-engineering of both the administrative and law enforcement apparatus.”

There have been two administrative commissions. The first was set up in 1966, and the second in 2005. Both commissions submitted tomes as reports. But the bureaucracy ably buried them, Tiwari argued. The one thing that stands out is that no government, irrespective of its political colour and character, would do any cosmetic administrative reform. “Therefore, it is incumbent on the legislature to step in. Parliament must constitute a Permanent Standing Committee, chaired by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to study, update, recommend and, if necessary, legislate through even the Private Member Bill process, comprehensive administrative reforms,” he said. So, how will Mission Karmayogi ensure the image makeover? Will the appraisal system be more performance-linked? How does the Mission cut red tape? Will the proposed Commission not become a parking ground for retired bureaucrats? How will the marriage of different services take place?

The road ahead

In the current form, there is a fear that the Mission is aimed at a more centralised system of man-management. Critics say the multilateral loan that the government is taking for the programme could be because some multilateral agency would be pushing it. But the government says it is to only meet the short-term funding needs. In the long run, the programme will not be dependent on funding from government or multilateral agencies.

Even though the government will hold extensive discussions with national and international experts in designing the programme structure, they will not decide the form or policies. Only the government will do that, through the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). According to the government, the returns in the form of a professional and result-oriented Civil Services will be many times the programme expenditure. Overall, the cost will work out to be less than ₹2 per day per employee.

In fact, both the National Training Policy of 2012 and the NITI Aayog’s India@75 report underscored the necessity of capacity building of officials as a critical part of the overall Civil Services Reforms.

But does the Prime Minister have time on his hand to micromanage the HR? The government believes that capacity building of the Civil Services is central to any Civil Services Reform and such a critical initiative warrants monitoring and guidance at the highest levels of executive leadership. As the highest body in the programme’s institutional framework, the Council will steer Mission Karmayogi and signal timely policy interventions, approve Annual National Capacity Building Plan, review progress reports of various tiers of the government, and take strategic calls on all aspects of capacity building and personnel management.

At the core of the programme is the development of a Civil Service Competency Framework — FRAC (Framework of Roles, Activities and Competencies) — which will contain the competency requirements for every role. The learning records of the officials will signal their existing competency details. Matching the two will help to identify the right person with the right competencies for the right job. The government would like it to be seen as preparing the system for the future. While one has to acknowledge that this is a step forward, the key will be on how transparently it will be implemented; otherwise it might just end up being another Game of Thrones.

Published on September 18, 2020

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