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Government of India, Secretariat Procedure Committee

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Introduction

A move towards federation was first initiated though not formally, under the Government of India Act, 1919. This for the first time in India’s administrative history conferred definite responsibility in certain subjects on the provinces, the subjects being education, public health, local self Government, roads and buildings, agriculture, animal husbandry, cooperative societies etc. Hitherto, the Central Government was really the Government of the Governments in India. The Government of India Act, 1919 visualised a vertical division of responsibility between the central Government and the provinces. To prepare itself effectively for the new pattern of relationship with the provinces, the Government of India appointed on 12 September 1919, the Government of India Secretariat Procedure Committee under the presidentship of H.L Lewellyn Smith. Its other members were W.M Hailey, R.L.B Gall and R.L Watson, A.C Mcwatters being its Secretary. The Committee submitted its report on 20 December 1919 in less than three months.

Summary

The Committee functioned as Secretariat Reform Committee. It examined the organization procedure of the imperial secretariat and attached offices to make the system more efficient. The Committee was asked to examine the system under which business was allocated among the departments and conducted in the secretariat and attached offices and to recommend reform ‘to make the system more efficient and expeditious.’ It was also asked to examine the system of recruitment and organisation of office staff. The most significant recommendation made by the Llewellyn Smith Committee was about the establishment of the ‘imperial secretariat service to cover the clerks in the upper division of the secretariat. We consider that apart from the increased pay, are the proposals which we have to make on the subject of centralised recruitment and the extra opportunities for advancement which will be offered by the increased numbers of Assistant Secretary ships, should tend in the direction of improving the status and prospects of the service and should attract better men to join it. Members of the imperial secretariat service should not enjoy the status of ‘gazetted’ officer.’

The major recommendations of the Committee are as follows:

The subjects which are closely related should be grouped together under the same department. ‘Where cognate or related subjects are dealt with by different departments, there is a constant danger of duplication, overlapping and friction; and whereas a department which has to deal with a coherent group of related subjects gains expert knowledge and experience from the treatment of one branch which enhances its power of dealing promptly and effectively with others; a department, the work of which is formed out of a mere heterogeneous collection of unrelated subjects gains no such experience or power and its technique instead of continually improving may hardly rise above that of a secretariat pure and simple.’

The system under which the individual departments are empowered to recruit their office personnel independently should be replaced by a centralised one which should be made responsible for the recruitment of office staff for all the departments of the central Government. ‘The falling of the quality of candidates dates roughly from the year 1910, and in several of the opinions expressed to us it was connected with the alteration in the system of recruitment introduced about that time, when the Secretariat Entrance Examination was abandoned, and also with the move of the winter headquarters of the Government of India from Calcutta to Delhi. This move has resulted in a reduced flow of Calcutta candidates and an increase of “upcountry men”.’ The Committee felt that the hierarchy in the secretariat contained too many classes and must be shortened by dispensing with the class of Under Secretaries.

“We also consider that the number and proportion of officers in the three remaining grades should be so adjusted as to secure the even flow of business without over-tasking the officers of any particular grade. For this purpose the organization should be of the nature of a pyramid, the apex of which is the secretary and the base the assistant secretaries. We feel that it is natural and inevitable that the Secretary should become more and more the real official head of the department, the member taking on more and more the character of a minister. We do not favour the expedient of Joint Secretaries in the Government of India secretariat, except in cases of temporary emergency. In normal times we consider that the necessary relief to the secretary of a hard-worked department can and should be afforded by an adequate provision of deputy secretaries of whom every department with a normal organisation should have at least two. Departments with special types of organisation should be adequately provided with higher officers of analogous status. The business of the department should be properly sub-divided among the Deputy Secretaries, and further sub-divided among the Assistant Secretaries below them whose number should be regulated by the number and relative importance of the branches or sections contained in the department. In the same way, each Assistant Secretary should be in indirect contact with a definite number of secretariat assistants. While under this system all business would normally reach the higher officers through officers of the next lower grade, each officer from the member or secretary downwards should have the unquestioned right to send for any officer or clerk of any grade below him in the department for purpose of obtaining information or advice.’

The heads of attached officers should be allowed to note direct to the Secretary of the Department. ‘This proposal that they should note direct to the Secretary has its origin partly no doubt in the reluctance of officers who occupy the office and by the Under Secretaries; but it is also based on the ground that its adoption would often make for expedition, and on this ground we give our support.

The attached offices should also have the freedom to correspond on technical matters directly with departments other than, which they are directly subordinate but this right should not extend to questions involving any large commitments for new work expenditure on the part of the attached office. Such questions should always be referred to the department to which the attached office subordinates. The tenure system of staffing in the secretariat should continue but the present term of office (three years) should be extended to four years.

We do not propose to disturb the present system under which the posts of Secretary and Deputy Secretary are temporary, since we fear that the disadvantages of cutting off the secretariat from living contact with the higher administrative work of the provinces would in the long run outweigh the immediate advantage gained through rendering these officers permanent. But we are disposed to think that their present term of office (three years) is unduly short and that it might with advantage be extended to four years.

Supervision of the office is presently neglected and needs to be ensured by appointment of an officer specially charged with supervising office procedure and ensuring its progressive improvement and adaptation of changing conditions.

The characteristic procedure of the Secretariat of the Government India is not the result of any deliberate or comprehensive plan, but has gradually grown up under the pressure of powerful forces, some of them peculiar to India and still in full operation. In ordinary circumstances, it would naturally be presumed that a procedure which had been thus evolved would be found the most suitable Indian conditions and that it would therefore be rash as well as difficult to make any drastic change. In the present case, however such a presumption is negative by the fact that owing to causes, which have been described in previous chapters, the offices have not hitherto been subject to any continuous and systematic supervision by responsible officers of broad outlook. We are not attributing any blame to individual officers on this account, as we have fully explained elsewhere the causes, which have hitherto made effective supervision difficult or impossible. But when we look into the details of office procedure we see everywhere the inevitable fruits of the want of supervision, coupled with the natural tendency of unsupervised subordinates to continue mechanically carrying out instructions and rules after the circumstances which gave rise to them have changed. We have made a very careful and detailed examination of the actual working of the present procedure in selected offices and we have come to the conclusion that it needs very considerable modification and simplification to adapt it to modern requirements.’

The Committee, in particular, sought the strengthening of the staff of responsible officers, especially the assistant secretaries, and the appointment of an officer ‘charged with supervising office procedure and ensuring its progressive improvement and adaptation to changing conditions.’

Assistant Secretaryship should be a prize appointment open to the best men while they are still comparatively young. For long and meritorious service other rewards such as special grade pay are suitable, but for the type of work required of an Assistant Secretary, too long a period of subordinate office work is a disqualification. The post of Assistant Secretary, the incumbent of which should be a permanent ‘section’ officer, should be filled partly by direct appointment and partly by promotion of suitable men who have shown special ability, and promotion should not be delayed until too late a period of their service.

The Committee laid stress on the early submission of all receipts to an officer. The advantages of this procedure are that it enables the direction as to the correct handling of a question to be given at the beginning by the officer who will afterwards deal with it; it reduces the amount of noting and referencing required and may permit of simpler cases being disposed of by the officer at once without noting or referencing by the office being required at all. ‘For this reason, we recommend that… all receipts, except such as the superintendent is empowered to deal with himself, should be submitted to the assistant secretary by the file keeper at fixed hours on the day of receipt, the only operations performed before submission being the preliminary diarizing and (so far as time permits) the entering of file numbers and indexing. The rule for submission of receipts at fixed hours would not apply to urgent or immediate receipts. It will be the duty of the assistant secretary to give explicit directions on such receipts as he cannot dispose of himself as to the manner in which the receipt should be handled by the office and as to any referencing, noting, or drafting that may be required.’

Work in the Government is transacted through notes on the file rather than through personal interviews and verbal consultations between officers. This is in sharp contrast to the practice in other bureaucracies in which personal discussions play a much more important part. The Secretariat Procedure Committee laid emphasis on verbal consultations for quicker decision-making and wished to see more of such consultations replacing nothings but did not make any definite recommendation on it. It observed:

‘It is necessary to remember the great difference in habit of mind and aptitude for various modes of transacting business, which are presented even by men of first class business capacity. Some are temperamentally averse from reading files or writing memoranda, while they are able swiftly to arrive at sound decisions by personal discussions. Others, of no less ability, find it easier and speedier to pass orders on a written case than to gather the contents of a file and come to a decision thereon from verbal explanations. In these circumstances, it is hopeless to expect that any one system of intercourse between secretaries and members and between deputy secretaries and secretaries can be made to prevail in practice to the permanent exclusion of any other. The most that we can suggest is that in all cases members and Secretaries should set aside certain days and hours every week for personal interviews with the Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries respectively with a view to the discussion and speedy disposal of business.’

On matters concerning more than one department, the Committee stood for a wide adoption of the method of consultation among, departments by means of personal discussion. Where only one department has to be consulted, a personal conversation between two responsible officers, resulting in an agreed note on the file, greatly expedites business. The saving in time is still more conspicuous where a number of departments are concerned. But it is important that each department has an opportunity of familiarising itself with the case before the conference is held, and that the result of the meeting is recorded with fidelity. The Committee was not happy with clerical personnel staying in the office after the closing hour ‘merely because some superior officer happens to remain later in the department although in fact he has no need of their services’. It called for an immediate discontinuance of this practice. The Committee was insistent on strict observance of punctuality, and, to ensure this, recommended the institution of a departmental attendance register to be signed by the clerical personnel. ‘We see no reason why a similar register should not be signed by officers, or at all events by officers below the grade of Secretary as in England and though we recognize the practical difficulty of arranging for this in the present temporary secretariat buildings at Delhi we think it advisable that it should be considered in connection with the new secretariat buildings at New Delhi. We are fully aware that the entries in the register will give a very imperfect idea of the true hours of work of the higher officers, but an officers’ attendance register might nevertheless serve a useful purpose if only as an example to the subordinate establishment’.

The Committee drew home the desirability of utilising the services of retired officials and businessmen for special work for Government such as serving on a Committee to conduct some particular inquiry. ‘Former members of the Indian Civil Service and other Imperial Services would in some ways be even better suited for such work than the corresponding officials of the Home Civil Service, since they retire at an earlier age and have frequently passed through a more varied experience. It is only natural that such of these officers as were born in the United Kingdom should look to return to the land of their birth as soon as they are released from official work. The result however to the interests of higher administration in India is very serious. We have been struck with the great difficulty experienced by the Government of India in manning its committees or in finding qualified representatives to undertake special services without depleting the active staff of the departments and thus impeding public business. Though the gradual increase of the Indian born element in the higher public services may ultimately diminish the difficulty, this remedy will only operate very slowly. We believe that a large number of retired members of the public services would willingly respond to an invitation from the Government of India to return temporarily for the purpose of some specific work of the kind indicated above; and we think that the utilisation of the experience of these, especially during the first few years of their retirement, would be of great advantage to Government, and would materially relieve the pressure on the departments. We are not suggesting that the Government of India should have any legal claim on the services of retired officials, but we think that in order that the above recommendations may bear fruit, it would be useful if a register were kept (by the Home Department or possibly by the India Office) of the names and addresses of officers of the Imperial Services of certain status and qualifications who have retired within (say) the previous five years and who on retirement have intimated their willingness to be considered for occasional employment of the kind referred to above. We believe similarly that there are many capable businessmen who have retired from work in India who would be able and willing, if approached by Government, to return to India to serve on special committees or Commissions or to undertake other work of a similar kind, and that advantage would result from the utilisation of the services of such men.’

Executive Summary

The Secretariat-the corporate office of the Government of India-has attracted the attention of a large number of committees on administration reform. Being the apex-level organisation of the Government of India, its top management is located here, engaged in policy making and its evaluation. The Lewellyn-Smith Committee Report, summaris

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February 2nd, 2012 at 7:48 am

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