Bureaucratic Indecision and Risk Aversion in India





The Indian bureaucracy suffers from indecision and risk aversion, resulting in an inordinate focus on routine tasks, coordination failures, process overload, poor perception, motivational issues, and a deterioration in the quality of service delivery. We argue that bureaucratic indecision, in large part, is a form of rational self- preservation exercised by bureaucrats from the various legal and extra-legal risks to their person, careers and reputation. These risks originate from problems of organizational design, institutional norms, and other political factors. The research for this paper included a review of interdisciplinary literature on bureaucracy and policy decisions, combined with semi-structured interviews. We interviewed current and ex-bureaucrats from India and other Asian and African countries, political scientists, and other policy researchers. We also conducted a document analysis of historical and contemporary, administrative, and legal documents, including committee reports, acts and rules, annual reports, and other government publications. We summarise the evidence on factors such as penal transfers, overload, inadequate training, process accountability, contradictory rules, and political patronage.


Bureaucracy, Risk aversion, decision-making, Administrative Reforms, Norms, Rule-Based, Accountability


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Authors Bio

Sneha P, Hertie School

Sneha P is a PhD Candidate at the Berlin School of Economics and formerly, a Senior Associate at IDFC Institute.


Neha Sinha, IDFC Institute

Neha Sinha is Deputy Director & Associate Fellow at IDFC Institute

Ashwin Varghese, BCG

Ashwin Varghese was an intern at IDFC institute and is currently a consultant at BCG.

Avanti Durani, IDFC Institute

Avanti Durani is an Assistant Director and Junior Fellow at IDFC Institute.

Ayush Patel

Ayush Patel is a former Associate at IDFC Institute.