Policy Engagements and Blogs

The ABC of the Indian Bureaucracy

May 31, 2018

31 May 2018
The ABC of the Indian Bureaucracy


Accountability Initiative’s blog and social media series deals with terms often heard in government offices which have come to be associated with the bureaucracy. Using wit and acute observation, the series unpacks some of the factors that drive government officials at work, and touches upon root causes that build a perception of the bureaucracy in the eye of the public.

Of Authorisation Letters, Samosas And Chai explores the conundrum of almost absolute obedience to authority based on ranks. It also observes how being hauled up for questioning by seniors, having a red mark on a permanent record, salary cuts, or possible suspension orders issued for deviating from norms hold officials back.

B is for Babu discusses how “Babu ki kami hai!” (there’s a shortage of clerks!) is an all too familiar concern shared by government staff in the middle and lower level offices. Babus are integral to the smooth functioning of government offices, and yet a sneak peek into their work lives and challenges (which this blog provides) has been elusive so far.

A Circuitous Journey delves deep into the all-important bureaucratic artefact- the circular. In practice, the circular acts as the official order or notice giving directions regarding any work, discussion or meeting that the bureaucracy undertakes. In an environment where officials are already inundated with more work than they can cope with, the lack of a circular implies an absence of legitimacy – used both as an escape clause, and a way of discerning the relative importance of the person/task at hand. So is the circular only a directive or a tool for crafty bureaucrats to wield based on convenience?

Lastly, How Important Are Deadlines In The Bureaucracy? delves into the management of a multi-layered, diffused and a highly interdependent public bureaucracy. What does the race to meet deadlines look like in the bureaucracy? What are organisational repercussions if a deadline is missed?

In all, the public bureaucracy, like any other organisation, has a vocabulary, work culture and an internal logic that is unique to itself. You can view the complete set of the series here.