The practice of file notings in the governmental system leads to enormous build-up of paper work and delays in decision-making and this needs to be substituted by some better methods such as parallel processing, suggests a former bureaucrat in his new book.
In "A Tide in the Affairs of Men: A Public Servant Remembers", Prateep K Lahiri talks of his days in the secretariat in the central government and in Madhya Pradesh to his varied experiences during other relevant postings.
He says that if the governments are to be "effective agents of change and be instruments for engendering speedy development and social justice, they must be unshackled from the bane of having to follow archaic rules and procedures that are a drag on decision making".
"In the prevailing governmental system, a major obstacle is the practice of everyone making copious notings, resulting in an enormous build-up of paper work and also unacceptable delays in decision-making," he writes in the book, published by Roli.
While noting is an essential part of any matter's examination or analysis and putting forth alternatives from which to decide, the experience has been that it has become an end in itself to such an extent that it has become the problem instead of the solution, he says.
"The issue to address is the extent to which this system of notings, as it is done now in a sequential or hierarchical mode, can be dispensed with and substituted by some better method, such as using emails and parallel processing," Lahiri suggests.
"In a system of parallel processing, an officer, say a joint secretary, could send references by e-mail to subordinates as well as to others, seeking their views or inputs directly, and thereafter take a decision at his or her level," he says.
"This will not only do away with time-consuming consultations on file but will make the official concerned responsible for the decision taken," he claims.
According to Lahiri, bureaucrats are a much maligned lot.
"Individually many of them are competent, honest and hardworking, but the system is such that it often renders them ineffective. Consequently, a holistic review is necessary and unless systemic reforms are actually implemented, good governance would remain a chimera," he says.
The book has a foreword by former Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung.
It talks of Lahiri's handling of the students' agitation in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh in 1964 to his special posting in Bangladesh after the liberation of East Pakistan in 1971; and from his years in Manila as executive director in the ADB to working closely with Manmohan Singh as revenue secretary.
Lahiri's career in the civil service as an IAS officer spanned 36 years, during which he also held the position of secretary in the central government successively in two ministries: mines and finance.