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The good governance: Where does India stand?

By: K Parthasarathi
Mar-14-2008
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Government effectiveness and stability, Rule of Law, Public administration, Public finance and outcomes were a few selected governance indicators taken by a study group for evaluating India’s standing amongst different countries However subjective it could be, this assessment revealed that India compared favourably with many developing countries though it had a long way to go to attain the levels of developed countries.
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India is unique in many respects with its diverse culture, languages and many states. People of some states enjoy good prosperity, high literacy, developed infrastructure and rule of law while many are wanting in different degrees in some or all parameters although they are all under a common union government with the same financial, legal and administrative system.

The differences persist amongst them depending upon the level of governance partly by the central and largely by the respective state governments. What is governance and how does its presence or lack of it impact on the people? Governance, shorn of jargon, means the way the government conducts its operations in economic, financial, industrial, agricultural, political and social spheres that concern the citizen and the country. The country/state moves forward progressively towards development and prosperity if the governance is good. In such an ambience the people enjoy higher per capita income at all levels, wide spread literacy, adequate health facilities with longer average life.

Weakness in governance results in poor and skewed growth, persisting poverty and slow development of economy and the country. It invariably leads to higher levels of corruption in all areas. It brings in its wake social disparities, neglect of the economically weak, poor financial management coupled with lack of transparency and disproportionate growth of some sections to the detriment of others.

Poor adherence to rules and regulations that accompany bad governance leads to loss of faith in the government and established institutions by the people and witnesses the emergence of alternative and often-illegal remedies. Violent outfits establish their control in pockets of the country and enlarge their sphere of evil influence. The level of parallel economy of black money generated in such an environment aided by rampant bribery and avoidance of the legitimate revenues to the governments is a certain index of the level of bad governance.

There is generally a very close relationship amongst the politicians, bureaucracy and corrupt business houses in an atmosphere of bad governance. Bribery at all levels, high taxes and poor collections, high discretionary powers, absence of an effective mechanism to oversee deviations, weak rule of law and a disdain for the observations of established institutions created by the Constitution strengthens the informal economy.

People tend to accept the hardships that arise due to weak rule of law with no easy alternatives available. The opportunity they get once in five years to elect their representatives is again thwarted by the ills in the electoral system that denies proportional representation.

Governance is therefore a vital development issue that government can ill afford to neglect. Government effectiveness and stability, Rule of Law, Public administration, Public finance and outcomes were a few selected governance indicators taken by a study group for evaluating India’s standing amongst different countries However subjective it could be, this assessment revealed that India compared favourably with many developing countries though it had a long way to go to attain the levels of developed countries.

The plus points in our favour are our vibrant democracy, unfettered press, fearless judiciary and efficient administrative service. This appraisal should not however camouflage the darker side still there in our system. There are many regions in our country where the effect of good governance is still not visible. There are several governance indicators as mentioned in a World Bank policy research paper tested on a few countries in transition. We shall see India’ status as a whole with reference to these parameters and where we are lagging behind.

Firstly, the processes, by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced is one such indicator. Unlike some neighbouring countries our method of electing the government has fully demonstrated the democratic ethos reflected in our Constitution. However the hung legislature, a recent phenomenon, with no party commanding an overall majority has brought about fragile coalition governments with a common agenda that is weak in content and strong in the desire to share the power. The larger partner, however well intentioned, is compelled to accommodate elements that they would fain avoid and to tolerate the deviations from the common purpose. It is a very difficult task to offer good governance in such a situation though efforts are not wanting in this direction. The replacement of such a coalition set up if at all wanted is frustrated on TINA principle. The growing influence of small regional parties to the detriment of national parties, their role in the government formation and their limited and narrow approach to issues is a new and undesirable development. The electoral laws are to be changed to overcome this problem to enable a two or three party systems evolve which would allow the government at the helm to carry on good administration with no let or hindrance.

Secondly, political stability and lack of violence is another indicator to assess the threat to the government by unconstitutional means. Luckily this has been in our favour all along. The supremacy of civil authority has never been questioned in our country. There are however pockets of violence and insurgency in certain parts of the country mostly by terrorist outfits and these pose no danger. They are growing in number and influence that it is feared almost one third of the country is in their vicious grip. These elements take advantage of the abject poverty, lack of employment and the government’s slow response to poverty removal issues.It is high time the government puts down with iron hand such menacing elements to country’s integrity and economic growth.In certain Northern states crime is pronounced with private armies and goons operating freely for ransom, casteist feuds and show of power abetted by poor law enforcing machinery. These states suffer consequently in their development.

Thirdly, another parameter is the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies. This is being done to the extent possible within the constraints of a coalition. There is also the predictable opposition to usher certain essential reforms that would need two-thirds majority. This again is the outcome of a defective electoral system.

There had been a steady erosion of values towards established institutions from early seventies that witnessed the imposition of emergency, committed bureaucracy, and utter disregard for established institutions and norms in administration and emergence of extra constitutional authorities. This trend has been fortunately reversed from mid eighties. The steel frame today at the centre is by and large independent and capable though attempts are made to make them committed to the ruling clique. Substantial changes in the economy have been ushered for the good of the country as a sequel to the reforms since early nineties and sound policies are in place. Nevertheless a certain amount of transparency in government’s dealings is felt necessary by diluting the rigorous Official Secrets Act and making right to information more meaningful.

Fourthly, numerous institutions like regulatory authorities/commissions are there or have been created to ensure that the institutions that govern economic and social interactions between the people and the government are properly conducted .The active and alert judiciary informed by social activism and its encouragement of public interest litigations is an able facilitator for rule of law.

This is despite the inadequacies in the legal system that needs a peremptory overhaul tuned to the needs of the times. The archaic laws, mounting arrears in the courts, delayed justice that is given after several years, the endless appeals, the unfilled vacancies and poor infrastructure need to be addressed on a war footing. This pillar of our democracy can be ignored only at the cost of good governance.The executive and legislature wings should extend greater cooperation and muscle to the judiciary to ensure rule of law enjoys primacy in all areas.

Fifthly, there is yet another disturbing feature in our country. Our rank amongst the corrupt nations as measured by Transparency International is not flattering. The government has no doubt strengthened CVC giving it a statutory recognition and bringing CBI under its supervision. The exclusion of officers above a level by single directive is a retrograde step that is not conducive to eliminating corruption. The series of cases of alleged complicity of high ranking officers in corrupt or illegal practices brought out in the recent past should open the eyes of the government not to succumb to the pressures of higher bureaucracy to exclude them from the purview of CVC. The CAG and his officers serving effectively as watchdogs of the public finance is another merit in our system. His reports highlighting irregularities should get the attention they deserve and discussed in the legislatures to avoid recurrence of the same points year after year. Corruption has become a part of our system and sustained efforts to eradicate it are needed at all levels throughout the country. This should commence from the political level accompanied by changes in the electoral system that would reduce the heavy election expenses for the parties. Besides full encouragement and hundred percent safety should be provided to whistle-blowers and under no circumstance they should be harassed

Finally, the emergence of e-governance and the importance being given to it by the governments should usher an era of good governance before long. This again is linked to the literacy level of the people and some states in the North are still very backward. Once e-governance is in place there will be greater accountability, access to information and transparency in all transactions and witness a larger the percolation of benefits to the intended classes.

The gap between promise and performance hopefully would also get reduced gradually. Finally the litmus test for good governance rests on the quality of life that the people particularly in the lower strata lead and the extent of their participation in the affairs of the society. As of now it cannot be said that the vast majority of the population are sharing the benefits of the growth so far. We have still a very long way to go.


K Parthasarathi

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