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Priceless anecdote from Edward Luce's Inspite Of The Gods: The Strange Rise Of Modern India:

[Arun] Shourie also provided an example of the farce that sometimes results from efforts to reform a system that will go to great lengths to thwart even the smallest of changes. In April 1999, India’s ministry for steel submitted a formal query to Shourie’s ministry for administrative reforms. The grave matter, which would take almost a year to resolve and would consume the valuable time of some India’s most senior officials, was about whether civil servants should be allowed to use green or red ink , as opposed to the blue or black normally used to annotate documents. After several weeks of meetings, consultations, and memoranda, the IAS officers in Shourie’s department concluded that the matter could be resolved only by officials at the bureau of printing. Another three weeks of learned deliberation ensued before the bureau of printing returned the file to the department of administrative reform, but with the recommendation that the ministry of training and personnel be consulted. It took another three weeks for the file to reach the ministry of training, since the diligent mandarins at administrative reform needed time to consider the expertly phrased deliberations of the bureau of printing. .

And so this question of state meandered for weeks and months, in meeting after meeting through ministry, before the following Solomonic compromise was struck: ‘’Initial drafting will be done in black or blue ink. Modifications in the draft at the subsequent levels may be made in green or red ink by the offices so as to distinguish the corrections made.” said the new order. Hierarchy also has to be specified: ‘’only an officer of the level of joint secretary and above may use green or red ink in rare cases [duly set out, with appropriate caveats].” As Shourie noted: ‘’A good bureaucratic solution: discretion allowed by circumscribed!” If Franz Kafka had inserted such a story into one of his novels, critics would have accused him of going too far.

(Via Retributions)


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