Thursday, August 01, 2013

PM recalls how P Chidambaram sent civil servants to IIMs in late 1980s

ON Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked about his ‘reformer’ colleague and current finance minister P Chidambaram while addressing a small gathering at his 7 Race Course Road residence. Incidentally, PM recalled how Chidambaram initiated a programme for civil servants 25 years ago, and what bureaucrats participating in that programme told Singh about it…
“Shri Chidambaram pioneered key reforms in our processes of governance. Under Rajivji’s guidance he launched a mid-career programme for civil servants, sending officers to IIMs and other teaching and research institutions. Many civil servants told me that they highly appreciated the opportunity to return briefly to academic pursuits, and benefited greatly from this experience,” PM said during his remark at the release of a book, “An Agenda for India’s Growth: Essays in Honour of P Chidambaram”, edited by Sameer Kochhar. Now, short-term mid-career programmes for IAS officers are regular features in DoPT’s agenda, and those are mandatory for promotion and empanellment.
Chidambaram was the minister of state for personnel, and later for internal security during Rajiv Gandhi’s time in 1980s.
In one of the essays in the book, deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia has given a detailed account of Chidambaram’s role in the trade policy reforms of 1991. Incidentally, Ahluwalia was Chidambaram’s commerce secretary at that time, and as PM says “his account is therefore an insider’s view”.
Here are reform lessons as articulated by Ahluwalia:
a) First, for reforms to take place, ministers must be willing to give up their discretionary power in support of a system with much less discretion.
b) Second, there has to be a willingness to take political risks in launching new initiatives.
c) Third, bureaucratic hesitation is not an impediment if the political leadership is clear about what it wants done.
d) Fourth, it is easier to bring about change when there is sufficient prior discussion and a reasonably wide consensus.
e) Fifth, one must adopt a holistic approach to reform, rather than pursue piecemeal efforts.

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