Good Governance-Crying need of the hour

It is striking fact that all the institutional pillars of our great democracy, despite talented and qualified persons who manage them, are showing some signs of terminal decay. Where do we go from here? Is it all gloom and doom — as the Supreme Court observed in August 2008 that “In India, even God cannot help…”? Is India moving inexorably towards becoming a failed state or can something be done to prevent a looming catastrophe?
Problems in political governance, administration of justice and delivery of public services
Among the vital pillars of our democratic state, the government is supposed to be “collectively responsible” and accountable to Parliament. The present reality, however, is very different. Parliament does what government wishes it to do without sufficient accountability. Parliament, as well as state legislatures, are convened and adjourned at the discretion of the executive. Each session of Parliament then approves whatever the government wishes — with or without discussion.
The discretionary role of ministers in the decision-making process has increased substantially, while their accountability has decreased. There has also been an increasing politicisation of bureaucracy, and exercise of discretion by ministers in posting and transfer of civil servants at all levels of the administrative hierarchy.
While India’s rank in the Corruption Perception Index is high, its rank in the Human Development Index is low in respect of delivery of public services to the poor in areas of health, nutrition, literacy, sanitation and shelter.
There is a sharp increase in the rural-urban divide in terms of levels of living. Restlessness among disadvantaged communities is also spreading.
Administrative Reforms Needed
Two most urgent priorities for the forthcoming Budget session of Parliament are: (a) to establish a system of accountability in the delivery of public services during 2010-11, and (b) to reduce the “demand” and “supply” of corruption in the administrative system. If ministers concerned can be held accountable for delivering what they and their ministries have promised to deliver during the year (and not over five years or in 2020), the “demand” for corruption to get things done would also automatically decrease.
The second area where immediate action is required is that of lowering the bar on tolerance of corruption. In recent years, a feeling of helplessness among the public, and the resulting acceptance of administrative and political corruption have become common. A lid has to be put on the tolerance levels of corruption. Persons who have already been “charge-sheeted” for corruption and high crimes should not be permitted to take the oath of office as members of legislative bodies or function as ministers until they have been cleared by courts. A legal procedure may be introduced for special hearings to decide pending cases against MPs and MLAs, particularly those who are proposed to be appointed as ministers.
“The politics of a soft state, the sociology of a hierarchical society, the economics of a poor country, the laxness of a system of public administration that gives zero priority to accountability … the predatory and exploitative nature of the state that has yet to shed its colonial provenance, the historical experience of a people who have experienced good governance only episodically — each contributes to the dysfunctionality of the Indian state, which worsens with each passing year…” B S Editorial-24/04/08 :NOTE: The observations made above hold good even now in 2010.
Source: Excerpts from:  Bimal Jalan: Where are we, and where are we going? BS 130110
Annexure: Public Services Extremely Unsatisfactory
India’s long experience in providing public services is extremely unsatisfactory. We have too many government schools where teachers don’t show up (or don’t bother to teach), too many primary health clinics with absent doctors, nurses and paramedics and too many police posts which citizens fear to approach. As Rajiv Gandhi pointed out long ago, corruption and leakages plague most public programmes and services, including those aimed at alleviating poverty. What’s more, most of the available evidence suggests that matters have worsened since his observations, as public services have become increasingly politicised and standards of probity have fallen steadily.
Recently, a Hong Kong based consulting firm undertook a survey of the efficiency of civil servants in 12 Asian economies. Singapore came first and India last, trailing Indonesia and Philippines. Too much of our bureaucracy is not only inefficient and corrupt, but it is all-pervasive in its influence; even most of the supposedly independent regulators are manned by retired bureaucrats. Another characteristic of our bureaucracy is its complete lack of accountability for anything it does or does not do.
Five years back, on coming to power, Prime Minister had made a commitment to giving priority to administrative reform and improved governance. But nothing worthwhile was achieved on the issue. Will there be any better results now? The public sector will never get the autonomy it badly needs because the netas and babus will not give up the powers of control over the units, both for personal benefit and for patronage. “And, so long as the bureaucratic stranglehold remains, it will breed complacent, not “learning”, organisational cultures.  Apart from fiscal resources going to the public sector and starving more vital social services and welfare schemes, it is high time we recognise that the government’s managerial/administrative capabilities are nowhere near performing the minimum functions a state needs to with a modicum of efficiency.”
Reflections :
‘The real problem with the Indian state is its social location in three different ways. Access to state power is seen as an instrument of social mobility and that legitimises all kinds of uses of state power. Second, in a deeply hierarchical society, the attraction of state power is precisely that it gives you power over others; it is the intrinsic delight of the exercise of power that animates individuals more than any idea of reciprocity. Too much importance is given to the IAS, very little importance is given to inculcating a sense of professional identity to lower level officials. As the classic study on American anti-corruption measures The Pursuit of Absolute Integrity pointed out, a sense of professional identity is far more productive of integrity and efficiency than rules or incentives. Reforming the state will require nothing less than a social revolution.  There is a reason why there is little pressure on the state to reform. Frankly, big business in India can get away with almost anything. It has the resources to manipulate the system and can absorb the costs of government rules. It is small business that really suffers. But the result is that big business has never been a serious lobby for genuine bureaucratic reform. It is a lobby for special exemptions for itself and will never put collective pressure on government to reform.  Finally, there must be ideological clarity in the state. The bureaucracy confuses ends with means, rules with outcomes, control with efficiency because we do not often ask the question: what is the state for? The more tasks that are indiscriminately given to the state, the more distorted its priorities and functioning. If the question of objectives is confused, the level at which decisions are taken is even more confusing. We are still amongst the most centralised states in the world. If we are serious about bureaucratic reform we need to ask questions about the character of our state and society; merely having more commissions will not do’. FE050609 – KRSR/160210


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