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Valley of errors - The Congress, Sonia Gandhi and Kashmir

Politics and Play- Ramachandra Guha

Both during and after the 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi told voters that they had given the Congress 60 years in power, and all he asked for was 60 months. His supporters on social media use that same trope, albeit in more forceful language. All that is wrong with India, they assert, is the product of 60 years of Congress (mis)rule. The Congress, for its part, retorts that all that is right with India must likewise be a product of their years, or decades, in power.

One place where things have mostly gone wrong for India since Independence in 1947 is the Valley of Kashmir. The place has always been troubled; many, and at times perhaps a majority, of its residents have never been entirely comfortable with being part of our republic. Now the Valley is seething with discontent once more. There is deep resentment at the paltry compensation given to the victims of the terrible floods of 2014. The attempts to enforce a beef ban in the Valley have been (rightly) opposed. The promises made by the Bharatiya Janata Party when they formed a coalition government with the People's Democratic Party have been violated (which is why it took so long for a fresh government to be formed after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's death).

As I write, a fresh controversy has erupted after a clash between Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar. It does appear that the non-Kashmiri students were treated harshly by the police. Yet the cure prescribed by their supporters seems to be worse than the disease. Posting more than a thousand paramilitary troops inside a college campus is surely a gross over-reaction. If even the educational institutions in Kashmir become armed garrisons, what hope is there for peace with honour in the Valley?

In the two years it has been in office, Narendra Modi's government has not handled Kashmir or Kashmiris with either wisdom or compassion. From a long-term perspective, however, the Congress hold greater responsibility for the failure of the Indian State to effect an emotional reconciliation with the people of the Valley. Jawaharlal Nehru put Sheikh Abdullah in prison for more than a decade. Nehru released him in 1964, but then Lal Bahadur Shastri placed the acknowledged leader of the Kashmiris back in detention again. In 1966, Jayaprakash Narayan urged Indira Gandhi to release Abdullah in time for the 1967 election, so that Jammu and Kashmir could have a credible government at last. She declined to do so, only releasing him several years later when the Sheikh was old and tired, and willing to become a vassal of New Delhi's.

In 1982, Sheikh Abdullah died, and was replaced by his son, Farooq. The following year, Indira Gandhi, angry that Farooq Abdullah was in dialogue with other non-Congress chief ministers, engineered a split in the National Conference and had Farooq replaced by his more pliant brother-in-law. Then Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and her son, Rajiv, succeeded her as prime minister. Rajiv Gandhi's government rigged the J&K state elections of 1987, provoking massive anger, which fuelled the insurgency that began shortly afterwards.

Sonia Gandhi once said she entered politics only to honour the sacrifices made by Nehru, Indira and Rajiv. In the matter of Kashmir, she has certainly followed in their footsteps. In her time as Congress president, she has been party to, or instrumental in, some key decisions that have deepened the alienation of Kashmir and Kashmiris from India. I list four such below:

1. In April 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Srinagar - the first prime minister to do so in more than a decade. A PDP-Congress government was then in power in the state, after the first free and fair assembly elections in 25 years. In a petty display of partisanship, the Congress ministers in the state government (almost certainly directed by the high command in Delhi) boycotted the prime minister's speech. Vajpayee had come with a healing hand, speaking of how any solution to the Kashmir dispute "within the bounds of humanity [insaniyat ké daire mé]" would be considered. This was a time of hope in and for Kashmir; militancy was down, and tourism was on the rise. But when the Opposition needed most to stand behind the prime minister, it boycotted him instead.

2. Mufti Sayeed had been a reasonably competent chief minister, and with a Kashmiri party in power and relative peace in the Valley, some hope remained. Had Sonia Gandhi had the wit and the will, or had she been better advised, she would have let Mufti continue for the full term of six years. But, in 2005, the Congress insisted that it was now time for them to occupy the post of chief minister. So Mufti stepped down, and the First Family loyalist, Ghulam Nabi Azad, was sworn in as chief minister instead. Once more, partisanship had triumphed over common sense and the national interest.

3. In 2004, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance had come to power in New Delhi. It won a fresh term in 2009. The next year, it decided to appoint an interlocutor for Kashmir. There had been serious protests in 2008, featuring stone-throwing by young boys. The attempt to appoint an independent person or body to reach out afresh to the Kashmiris was well-judged. It was suggested to both the prime minister and the home minister that Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a distinguished former high commissioner and governor, be appointed the sole interlocutor. Gopal Gandhi had worked in conflict-torn Sri Lanka and South Africa, spoke decent Urdu, was deeply knowledgeable about modern Indian history, and had a most engaging personality. He would have been a fantastic choice; as a former home secretary who knew Kashmir well told me, "Even the Hurriyat leaders would have come out to meet Gopal Gandhi."

In the event, a team of three interlocutors was appointed, whose collective expertise in conflict-resolution fell short of Gopal Gandhi's. The Hurriyat refused to meet them, and the initiative came to naught. It was speculated that, while her son was taking his first steps in politics, Sonia Gandhi was reluctant to give prominence to a Gandhi related not to her family but to the great Mahatma himself. Whatever the reason, the failure to appoint a credible interlocutor set back the possibility of peace in Kashmir once more.

4. In 2012, and again in 2013, the J&K chief minister, Omar Abdullah, urged the Central government to consider a limited, phased, withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Because it gave total immunity to the army, the AFSPA was widely resented in Kashmir (as also in other border states like Manipur and Nagaland). Omar Abdullah suggested that at least in districts away from the border, and at a time militancy was on the retreat, the AFSPA be withdrawn. These areas could return to civilian control, allowing theaam admi and aam aurat of Kashmir to breathe more freely. Sadly, the Congress government at the Centre was too timid to go ahead with this confidence-building measure. They were reluctant to assert themselves against the army, confirming the view - held by many in Kashmir - that the security establishment, and not elected politicians, largely determined New Delhi's attitudes towards, and policies in, the Valley.

There are many reasons why the 'Kashmir Problem' has persisted for so long. The malevolent hand of the Pakistani State/army is one. The supplanting of a syncretic Kashmiri Islam by fundamentalist Wahabism is a second. The expulsion of the Pandits is a third. The apathy of Indians outside the Valley to the sufferings of Kashmiris is a fourth. The human rights violations of the Indian army and paramilitary forces are a fifth. And the errors and crimes of the Congress are a sixth.

That the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or Modi does not recognize the deep roots of Kashmiri discontent is not surprising. Pluralism, whether religious or cultural or intellectual, is antithetical to Hindutva. But freedom, democracy, tolerance and pluralism were once absolutely integral to the charter of the Congress. These values and ideals were promoted by the greatest of Congressmen, M.K. Gandhi, and encoded by a Constitution framed and passed by an assembly a majority of whose members were from the Congress. Tragically, with regard to Kashmir, those values and ideals have been erratically applied by Congress leaders such as Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and, not least, Sonia Gandhi.



Govt aims to remove poverty by 2032

Grand plan: 10% GDP growth; 175 million jobs; $10-trillion economy

Archis Mohan, Jyoti Mukul & Nivedita Mookerji 

Pro-rural push on govt agendaThe near death, and revival, of MGNREGSIs the worst over for rural economy?Rural Electrification Corporation hits 52-week low; turns ex-dividendNokia ties up with IIT-Madras to boost rural broadband connectivity

Transforming India, an ambitious action plan finalised after two months of brainstorming shepherded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has recommended a slew of reforms to be implemented by ministries and departments if India has to grow by 10 per cent per annum until 2032. This, according to the action plan, will totally eradicate poverty from India in the next 16 years and also create 175 million new jobs.

"Growing at 10 per cent will transform India - India will be a $10 trillion economy with no poverty in 2032," the plan states. In 2015-16, the size of the Indian economy was a little over $2 trillion and the gross domestic product growth was around 7.6 per cent. As part of first steps in this grand plan, the government has set out to implement WTO-compatible procurement norms by 2017-18, achieve 100 per cent rural electrification by May 2018, increase rural teledensity to 100 per by 2020, reach broadband connectivity through optical fibre to all gram panchayats by December 2018 and have 175 million broadband connections by 2017.

The 23-page action plan also envisages reforms in the agriculture and allied sectors, including deregulation of genetically engineered (Bt) insect-resistant pulses by 2017-18, creation of buffer stock for pulses by 2017-18 and target 15 million metric tonnes of fish production by 2020. It also plans to implement seeding of Aadhaar number in 90 per cent of ration cards by the end of FY17. PAN (Permanent Account Number) is to be made mandatory for all businesses and entities and serve as unique business identifier also by the end of FY17.

"The entire process from ideation to action took barely two months," NITI Aayog Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant said. The process was initiated with the PM holding a meeting with all the secretaries to the government in December. At the meeting, Modi called for radical thinking which could take India forward, cutting across the silos of line departments and ministries.

The PM identified eight themes and decided to constitute eight groups of secretaries to come out with recommendations and a road map for each of the themes. The objective of the action plan was to foster development but with inclusive growth and efficiency. According to a secretary, the PM was happy with the finalised action plan. He told the secretaries that no expert group could have made such recommendations because these have come from people who think the plan is doable.

However, not all agreed with the ambitious target of India achieving 10 per cent growth for the next 16 years. "While desirable, 10 per cent growth is wishful thinking when we are struggling to maintain even 7.5 per cent increase in gross domestic product per annum," a secretary, who was part of the process, said.

Kant said the recommendations by the groups of secretaries were circulated among all ministries. "Every ministry examined it and prepared an action plan based on what can be implemented. Some of these actions were announced in the budget. The remaining we have put together in sub-themes which have target dates," Kant said. NITI Aayog has been assigned the responsibility to monitor the implementation of these action plans and would be creating a dashboard for this.

The eight themes identified by the PM were - accelerated growth with inclusion and equity; employment generation strategies; universal access to quality health and education; good governance; farmer-centric Issues in agriculture and allied sectors; Swachh Bharat and Ganga Rejuvenation; energy conservation and efficiency and innovative budgeting and effective implementation.

The government plans to have proactive consultations with the states as they "have an important role in implementation of a number of these initiatives on pan-India basis."


  • Seeding of Aadhaar number in 90% ration cards by March 2017

  • Increase rural teledensity to 100% by 2020

  • 175 million broadband connections by 2017

  • Deregulation of genetically engineered (Bt) insect-resistant pulses by March 2018

  • WTO-compatible procurement norms by March 2018

  • Third-party scrutiny of road project execution agencies by end of 2016

  • VC funds for start-ups by end of 2016

  • PAN mandatory for all businesses - to serve as unique business identifier by March 2017



Who is best for India? - I

Krishnan Srinivasan
The big prize in the recent New York primaries was 291 delegates for the Democrats and 95 for the Republicans. It is the home state of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton stopped Bernie Sanders’ run of victories in six of the last seven contests to move strongly towards the Democratic candidacy, while Trump won 60 per cent of the votes and the lion’s share of the Republican delegates on offer, which somewhat reduces the chances of a contested nomination at the Republican Party’s Philadelphia  convention in July. With more than five state elections still to go, Trump could now argue that he should be the party’s nominee even if he does not win the 1,237 delegates necessary to claim the nomination outright.
The presidential elections in the United States are a complex and long drawn-out process but there are four main contenders -- the Republican Party represented by  Trump and Ted Cruz in that order, and the Democrats by Clinton and Sanders. The election itself is on 8 November but the preliminaries have attracted wide interest not only because of the central position of the USA in global affairs, but because of the identities of the four contestants.  Senator Cruz, 47, is on the far right of the political spectrum, so far to the right that he is one of the most disliked men in Washington. Trump, 71, is a lapsed Democrat, now independent Republican, but has never held political office. He is a billionaire real estate businessman who has funded his own campaign. Clinton, 70, contested for the presidency in 2008 and was foreign minister under Obama. She will be the first woman President if elected. Senator Sanders, 74, is a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist.
In Indian conversations on the elections, supporters of Trump, aged 70, are derided with disbelief and scorn, but the moot question is, which of the candidates would be best for India? There is no easy answer, but one assessment could be that Trump would be the best choice for India.
To begin with trade , all four candidates are exercised about ‘outsourcing’ and the deficit, namely, that America buys more foreign goods than it sells abroad which they see as a result of unfair trade agreements where the US is losing out. This is in contrast with the view of mainstream economics that trade liberalisation is beneficial for all that do it. By removing barriers that raise the cost of imported goods, countries can specialise in producing what they do best, and consumers and businesses can buy goods more cheaply. But a protectionist backlash, like an immigration backlash, is one of those things that has been coming in America. “I have voted against and led the opposition to every one of these disastrous trade agreements,” Sanders said. “Clinton has supported virtually every one.” The issue of international trade deals has swayed blue-collar voters in favour of Sanders because the North American Free Trade Agreement, which incorporates the US, Canada and Mexico, cost American 850,000 jobs and trade relations with China following its accession to the WTO led to the loss of another 3.2 million jobs.
Clinton is the only candidate who has held an executive position, and is the best known in India, She has a calculating, hawkish reputation, with her votes for interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and preference for such tactics in Libya and Syria. She can be described as a hold-over from the Cold War, and it was during her time as foreign minister that the US ‘tilt to Asia’ was initiated, whereas India has traditionally opposed great power presence in Asia. She has opted to play the woman-power theme and feminism to prove her ‘progressiveness’ against Sanders whose left-wing credentials are far stronger than her’s. Her weakness is among three key voting blocs: working-class white men, independent voters and reaching out to voters who feel betrayed by the Democratic Party’s embrace of free trade and left behind by the forces of globalisation and deregulation
Her platform is opposition to racial and sexist and homophobic inequality. But it is not likely that her’s will be a pro-woman presidency, since her record of female advocacy is uneven -- she has evaded the abortion and maternity leave debates in the past and expediency is her watch-word. She has not hesitated to cry ‘sexism’ in dodging uncomfortable questions. Women are 52 per cent of the electorate, of which single women are 25 per cent, but her popularity is with minority voters of both sexes rather than females, other than educated white women. Corporations and foreign governments that made donations to the Clinton Foundation received preferential treatment from the State Department during her tenure, which her opponents have used to attack her. 
Though Trump and Sanders differ widely, they both claim that the political system is broken and that this calls for new leadership and radical measures. Sanders focuses on class and income inequality; he promises to make university education free and medical care universal. Many young women back him. Sanders makes attacks on Clinton’s six-figure-payment speeches to Wall Street firms, her foreign policy views and her position on environmental issues. “I think we’ve got a lot of young people’s vote, working-class people’s vote,” Sanders said, “this campaign is about creating a political revolution.” He calls for European allies to contribute more financial support to NATO, echoing Trump, and though Jewish, he said the US cannot continue to be partial in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sanders will need to attract black, Jewish and Hispanic votes in numbers he has not yet achieved. If he cannot do that, Clinton is the clear front-runner. New York, however, showed that Sanders’s campaign is stumbling. When asked about Israel, he said he did not know the answer or was not qualified to respond. He did not know the right policy to deal with IS. He demurred on whether the US government has the authority to order the break-up of banks that the President determines are too powerful. After his New York defeat by Clinton, he may have to consider withdrawing from the race.
(To be concluded)

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary.


Who is best for India? - II

Krishnan Srinivasan

| 23 April, 2016

Donald Trump (AFP)

Trump’s arrival was manna from heaven to a US media in decline with competition from the Internet and social media. Trump used Twitter to energise his supporters and his $2 billion free media coverage was because journalists found to their horror they were distanced from the pain of working-class Americans and the jobless. They no longer had control over what was acceptable for a candidate to say in public, and they realized that big institutions like political parties or media outlets were not trusted. Trump is leading the race to be the Republican candidate because he does not talk or act like a typical politician.

After 2012 and the rise of the Tea Party, the Republicans felt they had to appeal to the youth, women and minorities. Trump is unpopular with all those groups, popular with Tea Party diehard conservatives, older less-educated whites and disaffected blue-collar Democrats. He is on the verge of a hostile take-over of the party. He is the ‘candidate of grievances,’ not least the move of the US from a manufacturing to a services economy. The Republican Party had engineered an electoral process to assist establishment candidates like Jeb Bush, but Trump’s celebrity has brushed these obstacles aside despite questions about his bankruptcies, tax returns and charitable donations. His is a protest campaign which appeals to those who want change.
What Trump has to say on abortions, waterboarding, Muslims and a wall against Mexican immigration is the American electorate’s business, as is his call to make America great. We may note in passing that India has constructed a fence against Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, and Israel has one against Palestinians.
Trump wants better relations with Russia and eschews interventions abroad, which should be welcome to New Delhi. “We cannot be the policeman of the world,” he says, “unfortunately we have a nuclear world now.” For that reason, he said, Japan and South Korea may want to build nuclear arsenals so that they can protect themselves. He is not the only advocate of the deterrence theory. He wants Europe, Japan and South Korea to pay for the cost of keeping US troops stationed in their countries. He would refrain from America guaranteeing regional security abroad. Instead of NATO, he is open to the possibility of a new kind of Europe-based organization that focuses on fighting militant groups. He said that if the US decided to send troops to Syria, he would want other countries to participate in the undertaking, the essence being burden-sharing of fighting IS with other countries.
Cruz is described by a member of his own party as ‘a jackass’. Yet he is highly intelligent, a skilled debater, and takes insults as a badge of honour to show he is not part of the Washington élite, rather that he is an insurgent fighting the ultra-conservative battle. He is a hard-charging, hard-headed conservative who once delivered a 21-hour speech in the Senate to oppose Obama’s health programme. His platform is to abolish the tax administration, levy a flat-rate tax, restrict abortion and immigration, and dismiss the risk of man-induced climate change. Like Trump, he opposes any Middle East interventions.
The Republican Party is deeply worried that any Cruz administration would be packed with activists further to the right than the Party itself. However a number of senior Republicans back him, fearing that Trump would be a weak candidate in the November election without the support of swing voters, women, Latinos and Afro- Americans.
Trump’s insurgent presidential candidacy has proven extremely successful in besting a fractured Republican field, propelling him to a commanding lead in the race for the nomination. He will go to the Cleveland convention with more delegates than Cruz, with many more votes than Cruz, and the moral high ground for saying he and nobody else should be the candidate. Without a majority of declared supporters, however, the convention could become a free for all with any amount of backstairs manoeuvering. For believers in democracy it will be deeply unsettling, and for Trump it might mean defeat. If Trump falls short of the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination before the convention, that would result in a ‘contested convention’ where voting for candidates starts again from scratch.
The majority present will be diehard conservatives, so Cruz could win from second place as did Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Mitt Romney and Mitt Ryan are spoken of as ‘white knights’ coming at the eleventh hour to the rescue of the party, but if Cruz is a close second to Trump in a contested convention, he might well emerge the winner.

After New York, Cruz is now in the business of  ensuring that the convention is packed with loyalists who in a nominating free-for-all will stand by him. Should that happen, Trump’s supporters would have every right to feel aggrieved. It would be like the Republican Party saying, ‘thank you for your millions of votes and your exercise of democracy these past months, but we know what’s best’. In this contentious US primary season, the veneer of accountability is rubbing off, exposing the unseemly mechanisms that drive the US political system. It is difficult for anyone, whether Democrat or Republican, to claim the moral high ground.

Should the final round for the US presidency turn out to be Clinton versus Trump, it will not be a walk-over for Clinton. There are already signs that Trump’s previously brash campaign is being retuned for the remaining months. He has tapped into a huge popular groundswell of dissatisfaction with the American political establishment, and will also draw disaffected Democrats away from Clinton. There may be long odds against him, but he may still be India’s best bet.




Maximum governance - What ails the Indian civil services?

Brijesh D. Jayal

The ultimate responsibility for governance in the Indian parliamentary democracy rests with the elected representatives who are ministers in the state or Central government. They, in turn, are assisted by the civil services that form the backbone of the entire administrative machinery. Hence, the ministers are expected to lay down policy and priorities and it is for the civil services to implement these in letter and spirit within laws and governance rules so established. The Indian administrative service, police service and foreign service are the three all-India civil services set up under constitutional provision. They, in turn, are supported by the Central civil services group A & B and the state/provincial civil services.

It is Vallabhbhai Patel, the first home minister of the country and referred to as the "Iron Man" for his role in the integration of various states into the Indian Union, who is also considered the patron saint of the civil services for having conceived and brought into effect their modern day versions. Patel referred to these services as the "steel frame" and on April 21, 1947, first addressed probationers at the All India Administrative Service Training School at Metcalfe House, Delhi. Fittingly, this day has come to be commemorated as the annual Civil Services Day. According to Wikipedia, in an unprecedented and unrepeated gesture, on the day after Patel's death in Mumbai, more than 1,500 officers of India's civil and police services congregated at his residence in Delhi to mourn and pledged "complete loyalty and unremitting zeal" in India's service.

It is the fading of the spirit of this pledge, and indeed of the memory of Patel's vision of governance, that has resulted in the people at large now viewing the Indian bureaucracy in somewhat indifferent terms - a perception not divorced from reality, as some recent studies would show. In 2012, the Hong-Kong- based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy had rated the Indian bureaucracy as the worst in Asia, rating it at 9.21 out of 10. In the same year, a paper prepared by the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions reported that corruption was prevalent at all levels in civil services and was institutionalized. To any individual outside the charmed circle of the Indian bureaucracy, none of this was new.

As chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, now the prime minister, had embarked on a project to build a Statue of Unity dedicated to Patel to inspire people to inculcate Patel's visionary ideologies of unity, patriotism, inclusive growth and good governance. Subsequently, during his campaign in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections, Modi's promise of "minimum government, maximum governance" was alluring to many who were fed up with the daily dose of bureaucratic corruption, high-handedness and sloth in governance.

But as the National Democratic Alliance government settled in to take on the onerous task of fulfilling its electoral promises, it must have dawned that the tools of administration through which it can attempt "maximum" governance are the very ones that enjoy constitutional protection, which make it impossible for civil servants to be dismissed or demoted by the elected representatives. While the spirit of these constitutional provisions was to enable an independent and impartial bureaucracy, within our system of governance this stands distorted with politicians controlling policy outcomes by using the unorthodox tool of the indiscriminate transfer of civil servants. This, in turn, has had the deleterious effect of the politicization of large sections of the bureaucracy. Ashok Khemka's 44th transfer in 20 years of service, which caught national attention some years ago, was merely the tip of the iceberg. The current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh created his own record of sorts when he reportedly transferred nearly one thousand officers within his first month in office.

Such examples abound in our administrative system and are taken as routine. The authors, Lakshmi Iyer and Anandi Mani, from the Harvard Business School in a 2009 study titledTraveling Agents: Political Change and Bureaucratic Turnover in India indicate that their micro-economic analyses of the interaction between politicians and bureaucrats (using unique data for the IAS) indicate significant political influence on the bureaucracy, despite constitutional insulation provided to them against political pressures. They conclude that this results in two types of inefficiencies: first, that not all important posts are given to the most competent bureaucrats and second, given that competence is not the only consideration for obtaining important positions, junior officers under-invest in developing competence. The study suggests instituting limits on the politician's power to frequently transfer bureaucrats, and points to the fact that these are included in the proposed public services bill, which will reduce the politician's ability to appoint loyal bureaucrats to important positions.

The public services bill that the authors refer to, since changed to the civil services bill 2009, has in its introduction the aim to develop public services as professional, neutral, merit-based and accountable instruments for promoting good governance and better delivery of services to the citizens and to provide a statutory basis for the regulation of these services as enshrined in Article 309 of the Constitution.

In a piece written in 2011, titled "Is the IAS a steel frame or a steel cage?", Suvojit Chattopadhyay and Doug Johnson make the point that the "two positions - that the IAS itself is composed of exceptionally talented individuals and that it is hampering the development of modern day India - may seem slightly at odds, but they co-exist comfortably in this country." In their prescriptions for improving the IAS they quote the then professor of economics at Columbia University, Arvind Panagariya, an expert on the Indian civil service, offering two solutions. One was for more top positions in the government to be opened to competition from outside and the other that specialization among the civil services needed to be encouraged. It is fortuitous that Panagariya - a distinguished economist and author of several books, including his latestIndia: The Emerging Giant and with vast experience of working in several international institutions - is now the vice chairman of the National Institute for Transforming India. One sincerely hopes that in this new avatar, his insights into transforming India's steel frame would further the cause of good governance.

Ever since the current government took office, there have been periodic reports of incremental changes being implemented towards streamlining of the administrative machinery. Secretaries of departments were asked each to identify and repeal at least 10 archaic laws towards faster decision-making and to restrict layers of file movements to a maximum of four. Inter-departmental strife during decision-making, a common ailment, was sought to be reduced through co-operation, failing which the intervention of the Prime Minister's Office was to be sought rather than the proverbial bureaucratic norm of sitting on a file. Digitization of files for the better management of data and submission of information online were some of the technological tools introduced for administrative transparency and efficiency. Amendments were incorporated to the 1968 All-India Service (Conduct) Rules, a charter for all civil servants bringing about various dos and don'ts. Along with these, there have been many more reported from time to time, all with a view to enhancing good governance. Whether or not, the elephant that is the bureaucracy has adopted these correctives in letter and spirit will only be known with passage of time.

It has now been reported that a task force of senior trusted bureaucrats from the cabinet secretariat, the department of personnel and training and the expenditure department has also been set up by the PMO to analyze manpower requirements and appointments in some 600 departments, over 2,000 subordinate offices and over some 10,000 aligned government organizations across the country. This exercise is not just to right-size the administrative machinery, but also plug the many loopholes that have crept into the system, like posts created merely as sinecures for retired bureaucrats or posts that remain long after programmes for which they were created have ceased to exist. Recruiting highly skilled professionals and dedicated and specialist technology or communications teams in each department is also reportedly part of this major reform exercise. The report of the task force is expected to be submitted by the end of April 2016. Such an exercise was long overdue and right-sizing is clearly aimed at the objective of "minimum" government. That people are impatient for results, having suffered immeasurably at the hands of Indianbabudom, be it at the state level or at the Centre, is not surprising. What is less understood is the very institutionalization of vested interests that have come to encompass our administrative and governance space, to dismantle which no other vehicle exists, but this very "steel frame", which now stands corroded. Therein lies the challenge to the government, which will find that there are no quick-fix solutions - more so, as the same administrative machinery is also essential to keep the wheels of governance moving to meet the enhanced expectations of an aspirational India. One contribution that our elected representatives in Parliament across the ideological divide can make to this endeavour of maximum governance is by debating and adopting a suitable civil services bill. One following, now forgotten, principles of professionalism, merit, accountability, integrity and devoted service to India's citizens. Not only will this help to eliminate the rot and rust in the "steel frame", but a confident and independent civil service will also be a fitting tribute to the memory of Patel.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force

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