(Text of the concluding speech delivered at the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini workshop on ‘Quality Manpower for Good Governance’ on 26-05-12 at Delhi)
After 60 years of experience with governance in India more and more people feel that it is not working. This system of governance is not delivering.
What is after all the ultimate objective of governance? It is the Yogakshema – security and welfare of the people. Acharya Chanakya, in his seminal treatise Artha Shastra, delineated two principle functions of the government and administration: one is Vitta Shastra – the science of managing wealth; and the second is Danda Neeti – the security policy. The government and administration should strive to secure for its people ample wellbeing and security from internal and external threats.
After 60 years of Independence where do people of India stand today? We are one of the poorest nations in the world with over 612 million people – that is a staggering 50% of our population – suffering from multidimensional poverty. India stands at 161st position in terms of per capita GDP of the countries of the world. Our per capita GDP is $ 3500. We are behind even war-torn countries like Iraq, whose per capita GDP stands at $ 3800. Qatar has the highest GDP per capita of $ 160,000. USA, in its worst financial condition last year, registered a GDP of around $ 48,000. China has more than double the GDP than ours at $ 7500.
It is not just the question of GDP alone, because the GDP can sometimes be misleading. If we look at the actual figures the picture is much more horrifying. The World Bank has set $ 1.25 – roughly INR 70 – per day as the International Poverty Line. A whopping 42.5% population of India lives below this poverty benchmark. Remember, 42.5% in India means around 500 million people.
Our own Government has set a much lower benchmark for poverty. According to Montek Singh Ahluwalia led Planning Commission of India earning INR 20 in urban areas and INR 11 in rural areas can catapult you above the poverty line. The Supreme Court of India had frowned at the utterly low benchmark and demanded from the government an explanation as to how can one subsist on such horrendously low income figures.
But the real story is something else. Even this low benchmark for BPL (Below Poverty Line) couldn’t produce encouraging results. The Planning Commission claims that the poverty levels have come down from 37.5% to 32%. That means even after taking such low figures our poor population who can’t earn even INR 20 a day are around 400 million.
Yet we register an impressive growth rate of around 9% annually. Last year the Forbes magazine announced that India has 55 billionaires. Three of them – Lakshmi Mittal of the Ispat Group, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries and Azim Premji of Wipro - are among the top 50 of the world. It points to the growing disparity between the rich and poor in the country. Several top executives in our country earn INR 6 million in a year. That puts their daily income at around INR 15000. And 400 million Indians subsist on just INR 20 a day. The difference is 750 times.
In Mahabharata the king was advised that Dharma – Rule of Law - cannot be sustained in the face of not only the penury of the people but also over-affluence.
‘Abhavova prabhavova yatra nastyarthakamayoh
Samaje swatmarupeshu dharmachakra pravartanam’
- The Dharma Chakra – Rule of Law – will prevail only when there is neither shortage nor excess of Artha – the prosperity and Kama – the desires in a society
Whose failure is this? Certainly the system that we have created has not produced the desired results. Two most important wings of the Government – the Executive and the Legislature – have to shoulder this responsibility. A serious rethinking is needed in order to ensure that equitable distribution of wealth is possible. Bold and path-breaking reforms need to be envisioned.
But the problem is that those who have the power to reform the system have developed a vested interest in the existing model. They will find ways to protect their vested interest even while attempting to tinker with the system here and there. That is why neither the Socialism of the first 30 years had helped us nor the liberalization of the last 30 years.
Woodrow Wilson – former President of America – was the first senior leader to talk seriously about administrative reforms. His seminal work on the theme had led to development of a complete discipline of ‘Public Administration’. He insisted upon separating politics and administration. He advocated for a dichotomy of politics and administration. But is that really an answer today?
The politicians will argue that without their control the administration will simply go berserk. Moreover a politician can be removed in five years if he doesn’t deliver whereas an administrator cannot be. But then the administrator argues that it is too much of political intervention that is preventing proper delivery by the administration. Latest case in point is the Supreme Court mandated Police Act. The new Acts drafted by several states witnessed huge tussle between the political class and the police over the control of the police administration. While the political class wants control over police administration for obvious reasons the police administration wants to get rid of not only the political control but also the control of civilian bureaucracy. It showcased how entrenched the vested interests are when it comes to reforming the system.
But one thing appears to be certain. The role of political involvement in a society should shrink. It was Chanakya who explicitly stated that the best government is one which governs the least. In our times renowned management guru Peter Drucker emphasized this aspect in his writings. “The government can’t do everything” he insisted. He called upon the governments of the world to understand what they can do and give up on what they can’t do.
What we need today is less of government. Karl Marx looked at the administration and bureaucracy as instruments of exploitation in the hands of the ruling class. That may be a bit far fetched but the fact remains that concentration of powers in the hands of a few in Delhi and in various state capitals leads to severe anomalies. We are experiencing them day in and day out. Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia described Civil Services bureaucracy as the cancer of our polity. What Marx and Lohia said about the bureaucracy should be taken in a context. We need to decentralize the powers of authority. Let there be decentralization of powers to various rungs.
The success of the western democracies lies in their decentralized power structure. As Lohia said, the answer to non-functioning democracy is not corporatization but more democracy. Delegation of more powers to lower rungs of governance is an important reform that needs to be given a try.
In mid-80s we introduced the Panchayat Raj reforms. But it remained only a half-hearted measure, more of political expediency than real reform. Under Panchayat Raj reforms the Union Government sought to bypass State Governments - most of which in 80s and 90s had been opposition-ruled ones – to provide funds directly to Village Panchayats. What is needed is not funds alone, but delegation of powers. In western democracies a County or a City Municipality enjoys enormous freedom and authority. But in our system a village has no say even in decisions like whether the said village should have a liquor shop or not. Everything is decided at a State capital or the national capital.
This is another way to reduce corruption and red tape too. The more the decentralization is the less the scope for corruption would be. Delivery also would improve because of the limitations of jurisdiction and local factors like acquaintance etc.
It calls for reorientation of our training mechanism also. A bottom-up training model should be developed where the functionaries of a Village Panchayat also get training similar to the administrators of a state or central bureaucracy.
The bottomline should be a small government. In the last few years governments in India have adapted some innovative methods. There is a marked increase in PPP – Public Private Partnership projects. Several infrastructure projects have now been handed over to private operators under PPP scheme. In one state the officials claimed that while the government-owned infrastructure corporation has projects worth 2000 crores under its belt the projects under PPP scheme like highways, expressways and flyways etc are worth 28000 crores.
No doubt private participation brings in efficiency and speed. But certain pitfalls have to be kept in mind while granting such projects to private parties. The same state government is contemplating handing over PHCs – Primary Health Centers – that provide for basic health needs of the people in rural areas, to private companies under PPP scheme. In some states key public services like water supply are being handed over to private – sometimes foreign companies.
This move ought to be pondered over. Providing basic public services like health, water supply etc is the primary responsibility of the government. It collects taxes from the public in order to deliver these services. Key factor in these services is that they should be treated as services in true sense. However if a private party is handed over this crucial area it wouldn’t look at it as a non-profit service. For that matter no private company would do work as a charity. Commodification of basic human needs like water is fraught with serious consequences.
Hence a new PPP model should also be thought of. That is Public Public Participation. The government can hand over certain functions to the people themselves. A shining example is the construction of over 140,000 check dams in Gujarat wherein the government got direct participation of the people of all the beneficiary villages. The dams could be completed with great efficiency in record time and with less input costs.
The bureaucracy needs to be encouraged towards such new methods by which neither corporatization nor privatization but public participation in the administration is promoted. Sadly here again no vested interest can be served if public replaces private. Hence rather than encouraging and rewarding officials who attempt such innovative methods we come across cases where the officials have been punished for the same.
All this boils down to one critical issue – the sensitivity in the administration. Swami Vivekananda had exhorted the reformers to have intense feeling for the subjects of their reform. “Feel from the depth of your heart”, he proclaimed, “Do you feel? Do you feel that millions are starving today and millions have been starving for ages? Do you feel…. That ignorance has come upon this holy land like a dark cloud? Does it make you restless? Does it make you sleepless? Has it entered your blood, coursing through your veins become almost consonant with your heartbeat? Have you become almost mad with that one idea of the misery of your people and forgotten about your name, fame and everything else?”
Today our administration lacks that ‘feeling’. It has become utterly insensitive to the trials and tribulations of ordinary citizens.
Chanakya proclaimed in Artha Shastra that the happiness of the king lies in the happiness of his subjects. But what we see today is just the opposite. Our governance is happy and nonchalant while tens of millions suffer in misery and deprivation.
Sushasan – Good Governance – is possible only when we have Sushasak – Good Administrators. We must strive to create them in large numbers.