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Day 78 – Q 5.How does lack of accountability affect the public services? Illustrate with the help of suitable examples.

5. How does lack of accountability affect the public services? Illustrate with the help of suitable examples.  

जवाबदेही की कमी का सार्वजनिक सेवाओं पर क्या प्रभाव पड़ता है? उपयुक्त उदाहरणों की सहायता से चित्रण करें।


It is widely recognized that governance in India today faces a serious crisis of accountability. The very fact that despite significant economic growth, and substantial increases in social sector expenditures, India continues to perform far worse than countries much poorer than her on key development parameters is an indicator of just how deep the problem of accountability is. Accountability failures have meant that absenteeism, incompetence, inefficiency and corruption characterize every core service that the state is obliged to deliver to its citizens.


  • Accountability can broadly be defined as the obligation of those holding power to take responsibility and be held answerable for their behavior and actions. This obligation might stem out of a moral‐ethical need to account for one’s behavior, or out of a legal requirement.
  • In India, mechanisms for ensuring external accountability of policy makers are extremely limited. Emanating in part as a consequence of its colonial legacy which necessitated an opaque administration that was distanced from its people ‐ administrative or civil service accountability in India has always been internal. 
  • External accountability is conceptualized in the narrow framework of elections and demanded specifically of elected representatives. In this framework, civil service accountability to the people is at best ‘indirect’ through accountability to the political class. This notion has two problems worth highlighting – 
  • First, it erodes accountability of the civil services for policy related decisions and relevant outcomes.
  • Moreover, the hierarchical nature of the bureaucracy which privileges a top down approach to policy making.
  • The failure of Parliament to enforce governmental compliance with audit findings has led to ineffectiveness. Parliamentary procedure requires that all audit reports be tabled in parliament. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) scrutinizes these reports and recommends action to be taken. In practice, the PAC has failed to ensure enforcement. The figures show that more than 1/3rd are yet to be responded to.
  • Further, with regard to the public health care system, the central feature of the current public health care system is a network of primary health care centers (PHC) and sub centers where vacancies, absenteeism, incompetence and corruption show the failure to monitor performance and enforce sanctions. All doctors appointed to PHCs are hired, paid, monitored and therefore accountable only to state governments.
  • The rising impunity by those in public service who are expected to safeguard our resources and provide services with utmost humility, accountability and integrity has eroded public confidence. The growing anxiety is fueled by pervasive mega corruption and apparent indifference by those elected to rule over people. Corruption exists in every society but in varying degrees. For example, the Adarsh housing scam in India.
  • The electoral process is an exercise in vertical accountability that citizens can exercise when their elected leaders failed the accountability test. Public servants are accountable to those elected to represent the citizens. Where both the public servants and elected representatives are not accountable, the result is impunity. Failure of effectiveness of electoral process leads to this.
  • While strong accountability is not a panacea for solving the numerous challenges that government faces in a complex environment, it can improve government. It generates incentives for responsible individuals to act in the interests of the public. Sometimes this means that ‘heads must roll’ following a major failure; but a healthy system of accountability also promotes improvements in how government works. This should include:
  • proportionate rewards for good performance
  • proportionate sanctions for failure
  • a greater degree of learning than the current system contains
  • support for responsible individuals to develop, so that they are able to innovate and take appropriate risks.


There is little doubt the civil service accountability to the people is both desirable and necessary. Ensuring this accountability is arguably one of the greatest challenges that confront India’s civil services. For accountability to take root, incentives need to be built in to the system. To be sure, greater transparency and resultant public scrutiny do create incentives for better performance.

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