Public administration
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This article is written by Muskan Kalra.


Prof. V.V Rahman rightly pointed out “If our civilization fails, then administration is held responsible for it.”

Citizens are the most important assets of any country. The government must reflect the merits and potentials of its people and give the desired shape to them also it is the responsibility of the government to maintain peace and order as well as to settle disputes among citizens.

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The government also imparts various services for the welfare of its citizens in the modern democratic state which includes education, medical care, security, care of weaker sections of the society. Thus, to perform all these functions efficiently we need an efficient public administration.

Public administration

Public administration is composed of two words ‘Public’ and ‘Administration’. The term public is derived from a Latin word ‘Populus’ meaning people in general and the word administration is originated from ‘ad’ and ‘ministrare’ meaning to serve or to manage thus in simple terms public administration refers to the rule of the state for the people. Public administrators mean all the public servants working in various departments and agencies, at all the levels of the government.

Law and public administration

Law and Public Administration are closely linked to each other. Administrators work within the framework of laws and policies so they should be well aware of the laws of the land. Without laws, public administration cannot function; it sets out their responsibilities; also, laws keep check on their authority and power so that the rights of the citizens can be protected. As the relationship of public with the authorities has become complex so for the efficient administration, we have an administrative law which determines the power structure of the administration and quasi-judicial bodies to enforce the rule of law.

Administration pervades the lives of the citizens by performing various functions such as:

  • Policymaking
  • Leadership to legislature
  • Execution and administration of regulations of the land
  • Administering both traditional and contemporary functions of the State
  • Exercising legislative powers by way of a range of bye-laws, orders, decrees, orders, etc.
  • Approaches of public administration

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson was an American President. He made his contribution by his essay named “The Study of Administration” in 1887 (see here) and he is considered as the father of public administration.  He called administration as science and believed it to be a solution for the ills in the American spoils system. He advocated the concept of political-administration dichotomy; the distinction between politics and administration. 

He was aware that public opinion is indispensable in administration but there should be no interference between both for the organised democracy.

Public administration and management

Wilson propounded that the administration should also possess ideas like business though they both are different. The administration should also work on the pillars of economy, effectiveness and efficiency and should promote the merit-based promotion, professionalization and non-political system.

He asserted that historical and comparative methods are more useful to study administration than the philosophical method but his approach was also criticised by many philosophers as he was unable to establish the proper relationship between politics and administration. Bureaucratic theory of public administration Max Weber was a German political economist, philosopher and a social scientist and is considered as one of the founding pillars of sociology. He was deeply influenced by Heinrich Rickert and Kant and introduced the concept of Rationalisation and promulgated it in all the areas of life like economy, politics, culture etc. Weber emphasised on the need of bureaucratization most importantly in power and politics. He stated the importance of communication and training in running the bureaucracy of the state as it will improve the efficiency in the government functioning. Weber also introduced the term rational-legal authority which lies at the core of the modern bureaucracies. He stated that the state always moves from charismatic authority to rational authority and then rational-legal authority. which means an individual emanates power from the legal offices they hold. He characterised certain features of the bureaucratic states such as:

  • Division of Labour
  • Hierarchy
  • Rules and Rationality
  • Impersonality
  • Rules Orientation
  • Neutrality

Public choice approach

This approach is the application of economics in the study of political administration. This approach is supported by the Chicago school of economists such as Vincent Ostram and Niskanen during the 1960s. It questioned the traditionally established public interest theory and took a poor view of the bureaucrats.

Let us focus on two words ‘public’ and ‘choice’. The word public suggests that this approach only focuses on public entities such as the legislature, executive, bureaucracies. The word choice suggests that one needs to look at the behaviour of the individuals from the available alternatives and within constraints.

William A. Niskanen has analysed the functioning of the bureaucracy. He criticised it on the following counts. 

  • First, the attitude of bureaucrats is different from the attitude of the producers working in the private sector. 
  • Second, in bureaucracy, there is no direct relation between public revenue and expenditure but in private sectors producer’s revenue comes from their customers.
  • Third bureaucrats make no efforts unlike private producers in minimizing costs and maximising profits because they gain nothing by making such efforts.

Public choice theorists have also propounded on collective choice, or how groups in societies form collective decisions. People often try to coordinate their strategies to meet some objectives. Mancur Olson provided some insights into why collective actions are not likely to be very successful especially if the group size is large.  Since the larger the group the smaller the individual benefit, therefore the less any person is likely to volunteer or participate in the group 7 activity needed to bring a particular objective to fruition. Hence, the smaller the group, the more likely is the group activity to succeed. Public choice theorists see the danger of special interest dominating the public interest in many spheres. In many cases, lobbies and pressure groups get organised and use the political process to garner subsidies, which are inefficient from a social point of view, at the cost of the unorganised bulk of the population. When there are public interest groups and lobbies, the outcome could not only be unfair but also Pareto-suboptimal. People find it hard to come together and devise Pareto-efficient solutions because public interest is a public good, and there will be an under-supply of the privately provided public good. 

Therefore, the question arises whether the efficiency of bureaucracy can be improved?

William Niskanen insisted that to raise the performance of public bureaucracy we need to adopt more and more in terms of private markets where the structure and incentive system exist for the supply of public services. The monopoly of the bureaucracy must be reduced by exploring private sources of supply of public services.

Good governance

Governance refers to the process of making decisions and the process by which decisions are implemented or not. The concept of good governance is not new. Kautilya in his Arthashastra elaborated the traits of a King of a well-governed state: in the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness, in their welfare his welfare. Governance refers to the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are being implemented. Good a term which suggests flexibility so good governance encompasses full respect of effective participation, human rights, the rule of law, multi-actor partnerships, and accountable processes, political pluralism, transparent and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, legitimacy, access to knowledge, information and education, political empowerment of people, equity, sustainability, and attitudes and values that foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance.

In the 1992 report entitled “Governance and Development”, the World Bank set out its definition of Good Governance. It defined Good Governance as “how power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development”.

The World Bank identified three aspects of governance:

  • the form of the political regime;
  • the process by which authority is exercised in the management of a country’s economic social resources for development; and
  • the capacity of governments to design, formulate and implement policies and discharge functions.

In the 1994 report entitled “Governance: The World Bank’s Experience” it gave certain parameters on which governance can be judged.

Public-sector management – This is the most readily identified dimension of the World Bank’s governance work. The language of public-sector management is predominantly technical, changing the organizational structure of a sector agency to reflect new objectives, making budgets work better, sharpening civil-service objectives and placing public- enterprise managers under performance contracts.

Accountability – Governments and their employees should be held responsible for their actions.

Legal framework for development – Appropriate legal systems should be created that provide stability and predictability, which are the essential elements in creating an economic environment in which business risks may be rationally assessed.

Transparency and information – The themes of transparency and information pervade good governance and reinforce accountability. Access to information for the various players in the market is essential to a competitive market economy.

Eight principles of good governance by the United Nations:

  1. Participation: Citizens should voice their opinions through legitimate organisations or representatives including men, women and vulnerable sections of the society which provides freedom of association and expression.
  2. Rule of law: Without proper legal framework and rule of law we cannot have good governance and without it, politics will follow the principle of Matsya Nyaya ie law of fish which means the strong will prevail over the weak.
  3. Consensus Oriented: Consensus oriented decision making always tries to meet the broad consensus out of the different interests, everyone cannot achieve to the fullest but a common minimum can be achieved by everyone.
  4. Equity and Inclusiveness: Good governance aims towards an equitable society where everyone has the scope to improve and maintain their wellbeing.
  5. Effectiveness and Efficiency: Institutions act as the pillars of good governance aiming to meet the needs of the community. Resources such be utilized to achieve maximum output.
  6. Accountability: Good governance aims towards the betterment of society and it cannot be achieved unless the government is accountable to people.
  7. Transparency: Information acts as an asset to the citizens. It helps to judge the work of the government also it covers free media and access of the information to them.
  8. Responsiveness: Institutions and processes should serve all stakeholders in a reasonable period. It will hold the government accountable to its citizens.

Good governance in India

Right to Information Act, 2005

RTI proved as a shift in an Indian democracy it provided them with access to information which in turn will hold the government liable for their acts. It promotes openness, transparency in the administration.


The National e-Governance Plan envisions to make all government services accessible to the common man in his locality, through common service delivery outlets and ensure efficiency, transparency reliability of such services at affordable costs. Programs launched under e-Governance: Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI), Digital India Program, MCA21 (to improve the speed and certainty in the delivery of the services of Ministry of Company Affairs), Passport Seva Kendra (PSK), online Income tax return, etc.

Its motto is minimum government, maximum governance.

Ease of doing business

Steps were taken by the government to improve business conditions including legislation meant to improve the country’s business environment and policy ecosystems (such as the Bankruptcy Code, the Goods and Services Tax or GST, and the anti-money-laundering law). The government has also launched the Make in India Initiative.

New public management

Globalisation ushered not only economic growth but it also made significant changes in the society and enhanced the scope of the public administration. It challenged the traditional state on its bureaucratic efficiency and presented a new perspective of market orientation.

This significant management orientation is labelled as New Public Management (NPM). It led to the series of reforms for the efficient government functioning in the globalisation scenario.

Bureaucracy acts as an instrument for the implementation of the policies made by the state. In the 1980s there was a widespread attack on the bureaucracy and there were various factors which contributed towards New Public Management such as: 

Interest in Government expenditure: During the 1980s, there was a massive increase in government expenditure. Wastage, mismanagement of resources, increasing debts led to the questioning on the working of the government and it paved the way towards privatisation, quasi- privatisation and disinvestment.

Neoliberalism: During the 1980s and 1990s, neo-liberalism gained predominance. It focused on maximising individual liberty, market forces, efficiency to achieve equitable outcomes than the welfare state. Removal of restrictions by the government on market forces, free flow of the goods filled the space with privatisation.

New Right Policy: In the 1970s the UK and the USA favoured the new right policy which favoured market mechanisms for the better allocation of resources. This perspective got consensus globally and markets were given the space in the creation of wealth and employment.

Washington Consensus: The 1980s and 1990s characterised the questioning of the state in the development process. It was realised that poverty and economic stagnation in developing countries can be eradicated by bringing market forces into operation. This created the Washington consensus and brought some reforms promoted by Bretton wood institutions (International Monetary Fund and World Bank).

Characteristics of NPM

Productivity: It aims at gaining more efficiency from lesser revenues. 

Marketisation: Adopting more market-centric strategies by replacing traditional bureaucracy.

Service Orientation: Aiming at increasing efficiency and keeping customers at priority.

Decentralisation: It refers to the transfer of the responsibilities to the lower levels for increasing efficiency and reducing workload.

Policy-Administration dichotomy: To make a distinction between policy and its execution. Opting for private ownership and making services more responsive to the needs of the customers. Accurate information about services and their cost. Access to redressal mechanisms.

Cutting red-tapism: It is aiming towards streamlining the budgeting process and abolition of insignificant rules to cut out red-tapism.


Public administration plays a vital role in betterment in the lives of the citizens. Numerous approaches have emerged in the arena of public services. Most of the time it faced a conflict between self-interest and public service. The basic question arises whether market philosophy (private sector initiatives) can fulfil public service motives. State role always differs from the market philosophy based on equality, justice and accountability but it is getting over empowered by privatisation due to productivity.

In the present times, the scenario of public administration is becoming more complex but at the same time, we are also trying to move towards public governance. It refers to the co-existence of government, civil societies for the well-being of citizens. No doubt privatisation leads to efficiency and provides better consumer services but we need to take care of both haves and have nots thus the solution lies only in balancing managerial reforms and governance reforms which will call out for community values, citizen interests and efficiency in public service.

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