83% bureaucrats support states’ autonomy in crafting pandemic response: Survey

About 83 per cent of the civil servants in the country support the autonomy of the states in pandemic response, that is, they should be allowed to craft their own responses to emergencies like the pandemic, based on their needs and capacities.

‘The Pandemic and Public Administration: A survey of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Officers’, a survey carried out by the Center for Policy Research (CPR) reveals several interesting views and responses of IAS officers in the country with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic response of the state, bureaucracy, citizens, and key non-state actors and agencies.

The survey was carried out between August-September 2020 with 570 respondents who are serving and retired IAS officers.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • With regards to the state’s response and measures, 36.3 of the respondents felt that limited testing was responsible for the reports of the low spread of the COVID-19, while 23.4 percent blamed under-reporting.
  • A large percentage of officers believe that effective communication is the key to tackle a public health emergency. The civil servants expressed low regard in the case of communicative abilities of political executives and felt that speeches made by politicians are the least effective form of communication.
  • According to the survey, 85 per cent of the respondents think that effective communication strategies to secure people’s understanding and cooperation work better in tackling a health crisis than strict enforcement of measures to curb their tendencies towards indiscipline.
  • Concerning the lockdown, 45.1 per cent of the IAS officers felt that it was the fear of the law that made the public comply with the lockdown restrictions, while 54.9 per cent said it was due to understanding and willing cooperation.
  • 51.1 per cent of the respondents found that the preparedness of India’s health system increased reasonably in anticipation of a large number of infections while 27.6 per cent stated that it only increased only marginally.
  • 73 per cent of the bureaucrats agreed that hard work ranks above all during a crisis and expressed that the pressure to compromise on one’s own values is high during times of crisis.

While the respondents had a clarity of thought on the Indian state, bureaucracy, and crisis response, opinions on trade-offs and tensions were largely ambiguous. Although many acknowledged the state’s failure in delivering key health services, they also blamed the social stigma on the poor uptake. 87% of the officers were also in favor of the state harnessing public data while retired officers were divided on it. However, the short minority who are strictly against data collection are strongly committed to the cause.

The survey was a part of the State Capacity Initiative at CPR, an interdisciplinary research program focused on addressing the challenges of building state capacity in the 21st-century Indian state.