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This article is written by Komal Saloni from Jamnalal Bajaj School of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidyapith, and Millia Dasgupta from OP Jindal Global Law School. This is an exhaustive article that deals with bureaucracy’s role in forming and implementing policy in developing countries like India.


A policy makes our government run smoothly. Especially in today’s world where everything has been put in a system for it to run smoothly. When talking about policymaking, it would be a fallacy to ignore the contributions made to policymaking by the bureaucracy. Now, the bureaucracy does not have a good name and for good reasons, but it would be a mistake to ignore its influence. It was Alvin Toffler who stated that “You may bash a bureaucrat or ban bureaucracy, but you cannot do anything without bureaucracy, neither can you do away with bureaucracy, for bureaucracy has the stubborn survival capacity.”

In this article, the authors try to understand what bureaucracy is and the very valid reasons for its negativity. We also try to highlight why they play an important role in policymaking.


What is bureaucracy?

Bureaucracy is the permanent and professional part of the executive wing of the government. It is neutral and is not affected by the change of political parties. They are made of trained professionals, mainly trained in the area of civil service. In modern times, the word ‘bureaucratic’ is usually used to describe the setup of the executive wing of any organization. 

The bureaucracy runs according to laws and policies enacted. Work is based on efficiency and rationalization. Individuals such as civil servants, those in civil service, government servants, those in government service, officials of the government, permanent executive and non-political executive are usually associated with bureaucracy. 

Features of bureaucracy 

Permanent character

Those who are bureaucrats hold permanent jobs till retirement. They do not change with the change of political parties. 

Hierarchical organization

There is a structure where work is delegated to various subunits. Various individuals overlook the work of many and within those units, some individuals look over the work of others. This forms a structure that is hierarchical where individuals not only have more responsibility but also have power over others within the organization.

Not political in nature

They are not involved in politics and their job is not jeopardized with the change in political parties. Despite the change in power, they must stay true to the work assigned to them and carry it out diligently. 

Professionally trained

Bureaucrats are professionally trained individuals who help the executive carry out functions. They get training before they are appointed and are given the job based on merit. 

Fixed salary

The members are given a fixed salary that is fixed when given the job and is increased on promotion. Their salary depends on their place in the hierarchical structure. 

Bound by rules and regulations

The bureaucratic structure is extremely efficient and thus those within the structure need to adhere to strict rules. When carrying out their work, these rules and laws must be adhered to. 

Functions of the bureaucracy

  • They must carry out and implement the rules and laws implemented by the government. Such laws can only be fulfilled to their best capabilities if they are carried out properly. 
  • They play an important role in policy formation. Despite the Executive (One of the main branches of the government) being the one who enacts the law, it is the bureaucracy that provides data to executives formulating the laws. They also play an important role in analyzing the draft of laws, providing merits, demerits and alternatives to the bills. 
  • While the executive enacts laws to guide the government, it is the bureaucrats who do the government’s actual work. 
  • Bureaucrats play a major role in advising political executives. Due to the permanent nature of the job and the fact that they are skilled professionals, they have the advantage of experience and skill over newly-elected ministers. Thus, they are good sources of advice and guidance to ministers. 
  • While it is the legislature that passes the law. It is the bureaucracy that drafts them. Thus, they play an important role in lawmaking. 
  • They also have semi-judicial roles to play. With administrative justice becoming more popular and with the increase of dispute resolution under the executive, bureaucrats perform the job of dispute resolution through the grant of permits, license, tax concessions, etc.
  • Bureaucrats play an important role in financial administration through various roles. They advise ministers on aspects such as financial planning and tax structure. They also play a vital role in budget and tax proposals and preparing them. They also carry out granting of financial benefits, tax reliefs and other concessions to citizens. 
  • They play an important role in record-keeping which is essential to the smooth running of the bureaucratic structure. 
  • They are agents that help the executive maintain good relations with the public. They communicate decisions of the government to the people and on the other hand communicate the needs, interests and concerns of the people to the government. 

Theorists and bureaucracy

Max Weber 

It was Max Weber who propounded ‘Max Weber’s Theory of Bureaucracy’ when he noticed that a new form of bureaucracy was emerging in the nineteenth century. Earlier, leadership was derived from charisma and tradition. The new form of bureaucracy was more ‘rational’ as compared to the previous system. In the case of charismatic authority, subjects followed their leaders out of loyalty, respect and even devotion. With regards to traditional authority, people simply obeyed the leader because of the leader’s historical power and that his lineage has been in a position of power for so long. According to Weber, the new bureaucracy was more rational as when they ruled, they ruled according to principles of rationality, logic and efficiency. This rule derived its power from rules and law and these laws were formulated keeping in mind the best possible outcome. This new bureaucracy was more efficient as it was immune to personal biases such as the effect of irrationality and emotion. 

According to him, there are three main features of the bureaucracy- 

  • A formal and unambiguous hierarchical structure of power and authority. 
  • An elaborate, rationally derived and systematic division of labour.
  • Individuals governed by a set of general, formal, explicit, exhaustive and largely stable rules that were impersonally applied in decision making. All decisions and communications are recorded in permanent files. 

He also noted that the bureaucrats are selected based on their qualifications and not because of nepotism and that they were appointed and not elected. They were also compensated with a remuneration. The end goal of bureaucracy was to maximize efficiency. 


Despite Weber’s praise for bureaucracy, nowadays, the word bureaucratic has a negative connotation to it. Today’s concept of bureaucracy is opposite to what Weber thought, which was an extremely efficient system. He was also aware of the downfalls of his ideas and recognized that bureaucracy tends to put excessive control on its employees and put them in an ‘iron cage’. He also admitted that if the bureaucracy becomes more powerful than the society, it will become self-serving instead of serving society. 

Other Scholars have also criticized Weber’s perception of bureaucracy. RK Merton believed that bureaucracy tended to foster goal displacement which is the strict adherence to rules and laws which prevents organizations from achieving the actual goal sought out. The obsession with rules leads organizations to even apply rules to undesirable situations, causing more harm than good. P Selznick stated that bureaucracies tended to sub-optimize which is extreme delegation of work to numerous sub-units of the organization which resulted in these subunits pursuing goals completely different from what is envisioned by the organization as a whole. Burns and Stalker stated that extremely bureaucratic organizations did not adapt well to change. Alvin Ward Gouldner stated that the obsession with rules led to members of the organization following the least possible rules to get by, thus fostering a culture where doing the bare minimum was accepted. Peter Blau stated that bureaucracy gave extreme power to those who knew how to ‘play by the rules, thus giving unprecedented power to those who were not the most deserving but those who know how to play the game the best. 

Michel Foucault

Foucault is one of the most well renowned modern-day thinkers and his perception of modern-day structures and bureaucracy has changed the way we see bureaucracy to this day. According to Michel Foucault, the modern-day structure of bureaucracy is not powerful because of the people who make it function, but because of the institution itself. It becomes more powerful than the individual and controls the way they act. To understand his concept he brings forth the concept of the “Panopticon”, a prison structure introduced by Bentham. The Panopticon was a prison structure where there was a tower in the middle and the cells were built around the tower and facing it. In this model, members of the cell did not interact with each other and were confronted with the towers 24/7.

When Bentham put forward this idea, he wanted to create a structure that was so efficient that it did not matter who operated it, the structure would always work. According to Foucault, our modern-day society is also structured like this where technological advancement and surveillance agencies follow our every move which forces us to act in a certain way. While the discussion of modern-day surveillance, internalization of rules and punishment is a whole other discussion, we shall talk about bureaucracy today. The Panopticon is similar to the idea of discipline within the bureaucratic structure and its strictness with rules. According to Foucault, bureaucracy contributes to the supremacy of the system and individuals who are a part of this must act according to the machine and not what they feel is best. For example, bureaucrats say they are just ‘doing their job’ or ‘they are just a cog in the machine’. Modern-day bureaucracy turns real people into paperwork and statistics. Also despite major revolutions and the need for change, the bureaucratic system stays the same. For example, after the fall of Nazi Germany, the general bureaucratic structure of the government that was operational during the times of the Nazi’s stayed the same.

Role of the bureaucrats and policy implementation 

Bureaucracy is the social instrument that could bridge the gap between legislative purpose and its accomplishment. Bureaucratic control over policy implementation is important whether extending from the virtual revocation of some legislation to the limited discretion involved in governing a comprehensive statute, still, discretion is involved in every case.

Public policies are established, implemented and assessed by public officials and governmental institutions duly authorized or specifically established to do so. The relationship between policy-makers (the legislature or the ministers), and policy implementers (the bureaucrats as well as governmental and non-governmental institutions) probably influences the policy implementation. 

The institutions established especially for policy implementation, namely, state departments, the courts and quasi-autonomous institutions, have greater contact with the public through their executive activities. The bureaucrats in this are recognized to be the agency of the government for providing the benefits of legislation to the public through the implementation of various policies, which are established by the governmental agencies timely. 

The bureaucrats play a very important role in policy implementation which helps build the credibility of political executives in the eyes of the common people. Implementing such a policy involves several steps. It is very important to study and analyze the statement of the policy which is going to be implemented and then decide whether executors should go ahead with the implementation or not, as prescribed. 

Implementation should be a problem-tracing and fact-finding exercise. The bureaucrats play a double act by performing the ‘output’ functions of executing policies and programmes and the ‘input’ functions, which relate not only to policy-making but also to influencing public attitude towards the government. 

The important duties of the bureaucrats are to: 

  1. Execute policies and orders, as prescribed by the government, 
  2. Maintain and follow the order of the overall administrative apparatus which falls within its official duty, and 
  3. To advise the political executive regarding rules and regulations of procedure, etc. 

Some relevant issues decided during the policy-making phase itself by the ministers and bureaucrats are:

  •  the problems that could be encountered in policy implementation, 
  • the resources that would be needed for execution, 
  • the work mechanism and nature of policy execution and agencies to be involved in. 

However, it can be said that the public policy legislation becomes important only when efficiently implemented, ordinarily by the bureaucrat. His actions or non-intervention can, consequently, seriously execute or prevent the success of a particular policy. Although the successful implementation of policy depends on the insight of the official. 

The decisions of the bureaucrats concerning policy implementation are limited to decisions that correspond to the political policy of the present government. Whatever the bureaucrats decide should, if possible, be in a manner which the minister would have taken if he were personally implementing the policy.

In other words, it can be said that the bureaucrats are expected to implement policies with the same goodwill as the minister and to perform services to provide results to the public irrespective of personal enmity or prejudices. 

Considering that the bureaucrats always administer their tasks in a political milieu, all their decisions are a mixture of political and administrative attentiveness, the bureaucrats cannot separate themselves from the political ideology of the government of the day; neither can they divide themselves from the policies incorporated in legislation. The exercise of discretionary power gives them a chance to examine the perusal of policy goals to which they are opposed. Hence, they are in a position to delay the implementation of policies, or only partly implement them.

The bureaucracy makes the policy objectives transparent to the citizens and encourages them to adhere to the policies. Such an attempt smoothens the task of policy implementation. While implementing policies, the bureaucrats have direct powers because of the complexities of the modern government and administration, they are conferred with the right to exercise discretion in the execution of policy. It is often found that both the political leadership and the citizens blame the permanent executive for the absence of proper execution of the policies. On the other hand, the bureaucrats feel that they do not get adequate support and assistance from the political executive. 

In practice, it is accepted that the bureaucrat is the instigator in policy implementation, while the final policy decisions are in the domain of the minister. The continued exposure of the bureaucrats to political matters and their expert knowledge of specific public issues, helps them, in due course, to learn to answer questions related to policy in such a way that the material they provide to their ministers can be advantageously used to defend a policy in Parliament and elsewhere. In practice, this means that the bureaucrats participate in defending the policy of the government, irrespective of the party in power. 

Thus, the bureaucrats have been referred to as permanent politicians, whose opinions are remarkably important in modern-day government, and as an expert, he is a co-ruler in the administration. This could lead to a position where the ministers rely on the bureaucrats, in that the minister is not fully conversant with all the aspects of policy either because of not taking cognizance of the results of policy monitoring or because of being new to the office.

Development and bureaucracy

Development means a defined stage of growth. It also means increased economic efficiency and extension of productive volumes. Although, when we discuss development, our main concern is economic development. But in a real sense development is a broad term. It includes social, cultural as well as political development. It has been found that when improvement in all these compasses takes place we call it development.

“Development is a multi-dimensional process that ordinarily connotes change from a less to a more desirable state.”

-Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics

After World War II (1939-45) many countries of Asia and Africa succeeded in political independence. But only a few years after their independence, they discerned that this political freedom couldn’t ensure economic development. These states soon realized that even sufficient investment cannot bring about progress in the economic sector. Simultaneously, streamlining the administration is important; both investment and administration are equally accountable for development. When the question of administration comes into the light, bureaucracy invades into the picture.

Bureaucracy in developing countries like India

Bureaucracy is called the sovereign factor, manpower management, labour welfare management, personnel management in public administration. But bureaucracy has a deeper meaning; it deals with classification, promotion, recruitment, compensation, retirement benefits and discipline of the personnel in government.

Role of bureaucracy in developing countries like India

Implementation of policy 

It is the fundamental function of civil servants. They administer laws and policies to accomplish the welfare state goals: social, equitable and economic development, and so on.

Formulation of policy

Formulation of Policy is the function of the political executive. But civil servants have also come to perform a role in it. Political executives being laymen unable to understand the technical complexities of policies and hence depend upon the expert advice in which the civil servants aid and advise the ministers in policymaking.

Delegated Legislation

The aforementioned is a quasi-legislative function performed by the civil servants. Accordingly, the legislative body drafts laws and delegates power to the executive body to elaborate and expand the details because of the shortage of time, work pressure and increased complexities of the legislation. Hence, Civil servants present the sub-laws, rules and regulations, within the boundaries of the parent statutes enacted by the legislature. Delegated legislation is also understood as subordinate legislation or executive legislation.

Administrative Adjudication

In this, the civil servants resolve the disputes between the citizens and the state. For this purpose, the Administrative Tribunals are established where judges hold the power. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Rent Tribunals, Industrial Tribunals and Railway Rates Tribunals are few examples of such tribunals in India. These tribunals are also in function but outside the ordinary courts.

Inadequacies of the bureaucracy in policymaking in developing Countries 

  1. Civil Servants face serious challenges in controlling the changing interfaces between Government and citizens. 
  2. Understanding between senior civil servants and politicians is inadequate, with frequent complicated issues and challenging circumstances, the inputs made by the professional’s (civil servants) are not qualified and the conflict arises with the top administrators.
  3. Rapid variations in states require more innovative ideas which are not sufficiently approaching from top civil servants.
  4. Changes in science and technology and their far-reaching connection to all aspects of society are raising issues that senior civil servants are quite incapable of understanding. 

Changing role of bureaucracy

Throughout the British regime, Indian Civil Service officers aggregated the main part of Indian bureaucracy and they were mainly concerned with the continuance of law and order. British rulers had no plan to make India economically efficient and independent. Generally, bureaucracy’s role in economic development during British rule was practically a non-issue.

It was greatly felt that besides the maintenance of law and order bureaucracy has another very important task and this is to reach targets of development. This is known as the changing role of bureaucracy. 

Multifaceted Role

Bureaucracy plays a major role in the development of a country and the role is multifaceted:

  1. Development needs continuity in efforts and administration. In case of a break, the development process and work will be affected. For this reason, it is stated that bureaucracy must furnish leadership for the development work. 
  2. It is significant to coordinate between the various departments of public administration and coordination between private and public administration for development. 
  3. To change the role of bureaucracy it is necessary to restructure society. 


Bureaucracy plays dynamic roles in the way they influence policymaking and despite one’s opinions on what type of influence they have, it would be a mistake to say that they have no influence. But despite this massive body working tirelessly to improve policy, it seems that in today’s day and age, government action is overturned by political bias and ideology. If you do not have a good power to back the policies you want to implement, then it does not matter how good they are, they will fail to be passed by the legislature. This is the opposite of what Webber wanted and what Foucault warned us of. The work of trained professional individuals is overpowered by the political leader. Thus, it is important to revamp the system so that bureaucrats get back their identity, which is of an impartial government-run, non-partisan body. Policies that they must abide by and they must help enact must not have the political colour it is being affected by in today’s times. 


It is concluded that bureaucracy has come under rising criticism over the last few years. Experts have pointed to inefficiency, corruption, delay, incompetence and inadequate standards of professionalism. Finally, it can be said that enhancement of the skills of senior civil servants does take time and is not a matter of development but of organizational settings, working arrangements etc., without political assistance and much active cooperation of top administrators, less can be done. 



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