ABSTRACT

Historically speaking, there are two ways in which the issue of the decline of ethics in governance has been addressed. First, some hold the view that the decline of ethics in governance cannot be conclusively arrested through administrative acts, given its roots in the wider socio-economic and political milieu. What is therefore required is to create an environment in which values of integrity, honesty and the rule of law are uncritically appreciated and respected, notwithstanding provocations to the contrary. This is easier said than done since it involves an overhauling of the system, drawing its sustenance from the milieu in which it is located. To accomplish the goal, one needs to devise means that will have long-term effects on society. These means must be nurtured through socialization, beginning with one’s childhood; they are not merely means in the conventional sense of the term, but are effective designs for fundamental socio-economic and political changes that are subtle and goal-driven. As history has shown, sustained endeavour in which these means remain critical results in transformations. These also create impulses for change, a change seen as being natural and integrally connected with efforts towards building a society free from retarding influences. The second device that is resorted to quite often to arrest the deterioration in ethics in public authorities is taking steps towards reforming administration at regular intervals. Based on the belief that the key to the decline of ethics is the rising tide of corruption, some experts have sincerely pursued a line of thinking in which administrative reform is seen to be an effective mechanism. By suggesting various ways of tackling corruption and malpractices, which have an obvious debilitating effect on governance, they usually end up with a design of administration which, they think, is adequately equipped to take care of administrative decay. Logically persuasive and administratively feasible, these designs are usually aimed at putting in place a system whereby the fundamental objective of public administration – serving the public – is neither compromised nor bypassed. This seems to be relatively easier than the first option, because, drawing on its collective experience, the state is well equipped to suggest ways and means for improvement. Since designs for administrative reforms do not radically alter the ideological texture of the system, they are rather easily accepted. This suggests that administrative reforms provide a better and also far

more effective means of arresting administrative decay. There are two assumptions which are critical here: on the one hand, it is assumed that the key to change in administration is consciously chosen designs for reforms which are both contextual and futuristic: contextual, because they are usually centred around those issues which seem to have bothered the decision makers; futuristic, since these designs are prepared keeping in view the possible changes in administration and the repercussions from the public and those involved in governance following the implementation of the measures. Seeking to address the new social, economic and politico-ideological concerns for which the prevalent administration appears to be inadequate, the second assumption underlines, on the other hand, the importance of stakeholders in shaping an appropriate administrative design for them. An administration’s inner strength and capability is judged and assessed on whether it is an effective tool for fulfilling a goal. So, administrative reforms are also an attempt at adapting administration to the interests of those who are expected to be served; the failure here denotes distortions in administration that contribute to an environment in which tendencies towards undermining ethics in governance seem to have an edge. There is, however, a cautionary note. Ethics in governance cannot be ensured by administrative acts alone; they also require societal changes, in which the values of ethics are respected. The significance of administrative reforms should not be underestimated: they provoke debates on the critical nature of ethics in public life. What is argued here is the importance of the dialectical interconnection between administrative reforms and societal changes, at the same time as seeking to understand and conceptualize the processes for establishing ethics in governance. The argument hinges on the point that administrative reforms will become far more effective if they are supplemented by a consolidated societal drive against the tendency to belittle ethics in governance. Keeping in view this fundamental observation, this chapter, by delineating the salience of administrative reforms for ethics in public life, concentrates on how they have contributed to transforming Indian administration over the years. It is also argued here that administrative reforms are definite measures that nurture and also protect the ethical basis of administration, as the history of administrative reforms in India has shown. Administrative reforms are both transformative and also designs reflecting a drive towards adapting the administration to context-specific societal demands. By providing a detailed study of the various schemes of administrative reform that India has undertaken, particularly since her political independence in 1947, this chapter, reconfirms the point that administrative decrees for reform, despite being contextdependent, always have a societal impact by arresting distortions in administration and consequently reaffirming the importance of ethics in governance.