It was in the year 2001 that I first toyed with the idea of writing for a credible newspaper on matters concerning governance. I had by then spent almost four decades in the servicing the largest working democracy of the world and it was my belief that the civil services had played an important, if not a highly constructive, role in administering the country. There was, and is, a general perception among the social and political thinkers holding bureaucracy squarely responsible for nation’s sluggish development and unresponsive governance.
It is indeed an interesting perception and I would like to join issues with the proponents of this theory at some stage.
The newspaper I wished to use as the medium of my reflection was Prabhat Khabar, one of the most vocal and courageous vernacular dailies of East India. My association with the paper was short. But I was impressed by the fearlessness of its editorials and its impartial analysis of events. Further, it did not make a big noise of its missionary zeal as is the case with some of our so called independent national dailies. In other words, it did not play hero. So, I thought it worthwhile to express myself in the columns of Prabhat Khabar. However, it has taken a long time for me to give a concrete shape to my desire.
The only subject I know a little about is governance. And I think among all the crises engulfing the country today, the crisis of governance is easily the most palpable. In an international conference on the burning theme of Globalization organized by the Initiatives of Change in January 2003, one of the major conclusions was that if a developing country wanted to derive maximum benefit from the process of globalization, it must put the right policies and institutions in place. In the Indian context, it can be converted into improving the delivery of public services, creating an enabling environment and making administration at the local, district and state levels more sensitive, responsive and transparent. This is a tall order.
Curiously, the World Commission constituted by ILO to study the phenomenon of globalization has also recently come to almost the same conclusion. As a member of the commission observed,” The economy is becoming increasingly global, while social and political institutions remain largely local, regional and national. These imbalances point to the need for better institutional frameworks if the promise of globalization is to be realized. A more inclusive model of globalization is not possible unless you have both the right rules and institutions at the global level and the right policies at the national level.”
An intellectual member of the Union Cabinet says in a series of newspaper articles that it is the moment of India in World Economy. He tries to prove it by anecdotal logic, enumerating hundreds of success stories of Corporate India supplied by CII and FICCI. But from what I saw during my experience in Jharkhand as well as from countless anecdotes in development literature, it is obvious that all is not well with the Indian economy and the welfare of the common man.
I have no doubt about the positive features of the Economy , like 8.4 % growth in the third quarter of 2003, foreign exchange reserves exceeding $ 100 billion, more than 60 million tons of food grains in FCI godowns, low inflation and reasonable cost of capital, an upsurge in industrial production and exports,, the spectacular growth of information and communication technologies etc.
However, it is estimated that one third of the World’s poor live in India. There are more poor people in India than the whole of Sub Saharan Africa. Seventy percent of our population has no sanitation and 19% do not have access to potable water. According to available figures, more than half of the children below five years are severely malnourished and many of them would be wasted away physically and mentally before reaching adulthood.
One will also agree with the ECONOMIST of London when it describes the actual conditions in one Indian state, which incidentally included Jharkhand till recently. It says, “Bihar, the third most populous state with 83 million people, has become the by-word for the worst in India, of widespread and inescapable poverty, of corrupt politicians indistinguishable from mafia dons they patronize, of a caste ridden social order that has retained the worst feudal cruelties, of terrorist attacks by groups of Nexalites, of chronic misrule that has allowed infrastructure to crumble, the education and health systems to collapse and law and order to evaporate.” It will be worthwhile to ask ourselves as to what extent does this observation of the ECONOMIST represent the ground realities in Jharkhand.
Perhaps, both the viewpoints are equally justifiable. Neither, however, tells the whole truth. If we look at the regional disparities in human development indices, we find that the levels of achievement in education, health and income vary between the states. The gap in per capita income between Punjab and Bihar increased from 3.3 in 1984 to 3.78 in 1994. Literacy levels in Kerala have almost reached 100% but they remain less than 605 in Bihar and Rajasthan. Infant mortality is 12 per thousand live births in Kerala whereas it is as high as 96 in Orissa and 94 in Madhya Pradesh. Kerala and Tamilnadu have reached total fertility rates equal to the replacement level and some other states are fast approaching it, but the most populous states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are expected to reach it between 2050 and 2100 only.
India is no doubt shining but there many acres of darkness.
At the beginning of a new millennium, confusion prevails. Our problems are big and getting bigger. It is in this context that greater attention needs to be paid to the quality of governance. The development divide between relatively better states and the rest should, in my view, be studied in depth with a view to ascertain whether there is a week or strong correlation between the level of development and the quality of governance.
Besides, I believe that governance is too serious a matter to be left entirely to the state. Far too long has the task of decision making on issues concerning the lives of millions been completely left in the hands of the political executive and the bureaucratic functionaries. I think the involvement of the people, individually and collectively, is not only desirable but necessary to target the areas of governance long neglected by the state.
Social activists can also be meaningfully employed to analyze the functioning of the institutions and compel them to reform their structure and responses. There could be many ways in which a synergy between the organs of the government and the civil society can encourage institutional change. This has been amply demonstrated by the Bhagidari programme of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi and similar other programmes elsewhere.