Exploring the ‘symbols’ of Indian Bureaucracy
By Accountability Initiative, 15 Dec 2016

The Public Administration team at the Accountability Initiative (AI) brings to you a five part blog series that attempts to unpack some of the frequently heard terms and phrases in the middle and lower levels of the bureaucracy in India. Based on the team’s personal experiences, these stories give the readers a peek into the peculiar world of Indian bureaucrats. More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to rethink and question some of the common myths and narratives generally associated with government officials in the country.


Blog 1: The ABCs of Indian Bureaucracy – A Primer

The blog series begins with an introduction to the ‘Administration in Alphabetic Order’. Here the blog lists some of the frequently used terms and phrases spanning the entire English alphabet (A to Z). It then guides the series presenting terms based on the first four alphabets –

A for Authorisation

B for Babu

C for Circular

D for Deadlines

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Blog 2: Of Authorisation Letters, Samosas and Chai

The second blog represents the letter ‘A’ for Authorisation. Here we understand how ‘authorisation’ is perceived in the corridors of Indian bureaucratic offices. We see this through letters of permission, the weight of the signatory and the demeanor of the receiver on viewing the authorisation letter. As a start, it clearly unravels the subtle prerequisites (Letters, Samosas, Chai) that ensure work gets done in a government office.

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Blog 3: B is for Babu

Blog three of the series delicately exposes the world of the ‘babu’ (babudom). It introduces us to the essential employee of any government office without whom no work can get finished. A bulk of the work in any bureaucratic office involves filing, maintaining and transmitting information. It is the ‘babu’ who takes responsibility of this tedious, yet essential task. Despite their importance in the system, a number of issues surround them.

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Blog 4: A Circuitous Journey

The bureaucratic ‘circular’ (usually sent by a higher authority) is vital for most work to get done in a bureaucratic office. This blog discusses the nuanced journey of this circular and the power it can have on driving action and affecting results.

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Blog 5: How Important are Deadlines in the Bureaucracy?

The final blog of the series discusses the peculiar relationship bureaucrats have with the concept of a ‘deadline’. It links with the factors discussed in the previous blogs that drive official work in a government office. Sometimes it is more potent than any other factors even though the bureaucracy is notorious for missing deadlines. What explains this paradox? Why do the factors discussed in this series continue to hold such a sway on the system? This blogs dissects these questions to illustrate how deadlines are important in fixing work priorities as well as the vicious cycle which keeps the narrative of the apathetic bureaucracy alive.

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