Diana Jue-Rajasingh

What Affects an IAS Officer’s Decision-Making Risk?

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on October 20, 2012

I had to curtail yesterday’s post about “corrupt” officers because it was getting too long, and I was running late to a meeting (okay, I wasn’t really that late, since I did manage to pick out 20 pieces of specialty chocolates for my meeting folks at my favorite new café/bakery). Today, I want to flesh out a few more ideas about what affects an IAS officers’ decision-making risk.

In my previous post, I wrote that an IAS officer makes decisions based on perceived risk and not on greediness or being evil, as some people like to believe. Like any regular people, officers are going to look out for the safety and well being of themselves and their families first. Certain decisions – even if mandated by law – will put an officer and his/her family at risk because there are powerful stakeholders who dislike the decision. These stakeholders, unfortunately, can determine where the officer works and can ruin the officer’s name. Despite the power that has been granted to them as part of India’s executive branch, IAS officers these days aren’t very free to exercise their power.

With the understanding of risk as foundational to decision-making, I’m starting to see how other “corrupt” aspects of public administration fit. Bribes, for example, are less about greed and more about insurance (the thinking goes, Well, even if I get in trouble for making this decision, at least I get a house out of it). Additionally, the lack of decision-making by officers is just a consequence of there being too much risk involved. Doing nothing is safer/less risky than doing something.

For IAS officers to make the “good” decisions that I honestly believe most want to make but feel like they can’t because of reasons x, y, and zed, then we need to understand the factors that affect risk. And perhaps these factors can be examined through case studies of “effective” IAS officers, which is what I came here to study anyway. Sure, those righteous IAS might exist. But I’d like to believe that the majority of those who’ve made a positive effect on Bangalore/Karnataka did so without a martyr-like mindset. Plus, if they’re still around the IAS and didn’t get pushed out of the system for being too good (something that ex-officers tell me can happen), then, well, some of the conditions must be right.

So here is the beginning of my list of “factors that affect an IAS officer’s decision-making via implications on personal risk” (or something like that; working list name):

1. Amount of support/protection of a boss who is more powerful than those forces that can otherwise influence you.

One of my research adviser’s go-to examples of an “effective” IAS officer is a particular ex-Commissioner of the Bangalore Development Authority. My adviser tells me about how this guy kicked powerful encroachers off of BDA-owned lands and auctioned off these lands to earn more money for the agency.

The story sounds like it’s all about this one heroic dude, but in actuality, this IAS officer could only take such actions because he had the full support of the state’s Chief Minister – the elected head of government, the big boss. I can’t believe my adviser takes so long to bring this point up, either. If a boss protects his workers’ efforts to do what’s right, then they’re more likely to make those decisions.

This is just speculation, but I also wonder if this contributes to IAS officers challenging people to take them to court. Of course, no one likes being sued, but maybe officers’ hands can be tied so badly that the only way to make him/her move is through a court directive. The court directive trumps whatever other forces the officer faces. To the opposing local fellows, the officer can now say, “You can’t hold me responsible for taking this decision. The court is making me do it.”

2. Amount of risk in the decision itself. For less risky, “easier” decisions, this means that there are no powerful stakeholders working against the officer, and the decision looks good (or, at least, not harmful) for the current political party.

Who’s really going to argue with tree planting and affordable housing projects on barren, government-owned land that’s super far outside of the city? I’m not trying to dis the guy who did these projects, but the decision to push them forward is not incredibly difficult if there are not powerful vested interests involved (and admittedly, I need to do more research to ensure that this isn’t the case – though I do think that the only people who got mad about the trees were those who disagreed about the variety that was planted; it was kind of a non-issue).

Hm, those are the main ideas in my head for now. My adviser told me that he’s been working on his notes from our meetings as well. I’m looking forward to hearing about what he’s been thinking about, since we tend to think somewhat differently. He seems to focus much more on the individual personality traits and backgrounds of effective/good IAS officers, and I want to figure out how regular IAS guys make choices. We’ll see how this works out.

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5 Responses

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  1. aspirant said, on May 20, 2013 at 2:43 am

    nice article …. and i like the direction in which u r trying to go …. do u think it is possible to be corrupt free anyhow … i mean even after getting the lowest category of job available after qualifying upsc … can we still stay corruption free ? please let me know if u know if there is a way out … i mean tel me the kind of posts one can take to stay absolutely free of corruption?

  2. aspirant said, on May 20, 2013 at 2:45 am

    the above comment might show the sad state of the system presently …. though i want to be absolutely convinced that it could be before i start preparing for ias.

  3. aspirant said, on May 20, 2013 at 2:47 am

    the above comment might show the sad state of the system presently …. though i want to be absolutely convinced that it could be before i start preparing for ias. :) :)

    • D S Bagga said, on July 10, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      It is not wise to list out honest and forthright IAS officers because their strength lies in their anonymity.

  4. sri said, on November 21, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    Nice article Diana, it highlights intricate details of present course Indian administration and its inadequacies especially those relating to administrative behaviour and decision making.In case you are following up please do post more information and the current updates of your study or your mail address


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