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Accountability of Public Servant

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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