Thursday, August 30, 2012

Treating a Symptom is not the Cure

        Recently I had to meet a special fact finding team sent by a National Commission. It consisted of motley of NGOs along with a beautiful Bollywood starlet who worked with the commission as a part of her social responsibility. The team was concerned about the state of affairs and was equally vociferous in articulating it. I specifically remember this starlet describing sad tales of victims, the weaknesses of our system and changes that we needed to make. Despite great diversity amongst team members there was one thing common; no one had any experience of working in government; and though we appreciated their enthusiasm, none of their ideas were implementable.

         In the last sixty five years of independence, the government has fallen short to live up to the expectations of people. Not only have we failed to provide good governance, we have corruption cases of astronomical magnitude and crimes against weaker sections of society are increasing. People have started losing patience. Their anger was visible in the support that Anna movement generated in its initial phase (How they lost it later is another interesting case study). Who has not suffered at the hands of clerk who buries file in his desk, who was not been harassed by traffic constable who searches papers diligently to find a fault and how many of us could get a driving licence without depositing the ‘convenience fee’. The feeling is of utter disgust when common man faces double digit inflation and there are scams like 2G where counting zeroes of magnitude is an exercise in itself.

       Electorate want results and in a democratic polity like ours, can a solution be far behind. To deal with corruption we have Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Lokayukta in many states and CBI. Finding it to be insufficient, we are en-route to formulate a leviathan Lokpal. To give justice to the weaker sections of society we have National Commission for SCs, for STs, for Backward Classes and the same have been provided for Women, Children and Safai Karamcharis. We also have Information Commission, Human Rights Commission and corresponding state commissions for all these commissions. It is as good as response to stimuli, you pose a problem and we will give you a commission.

      In this hurry to deliver, we should take time and ponder if the solution that we are being offered is the best. A friend of mine who was against corruption refused to pay bribe to take delivery of his driving licence. Every time he went to the RTO office he was told that his licence was not ready. He complained to the vigilance officer, filed various queries under RTI and after these efforts received his licence without paying any bribe; indeed a way to fight corruption. An imaginative departmental secretary mandated that no driving licence will be delivered by hand and since applicants give address, it should be sent by post. This is another way to tackle corruption. A colleague of mine often found complaints that files of a vital section are frequently lost. This resulted in numerous complaints most of which related to seeking a bribe. He found its solution by implementing e-office where all files are digitally maintained and processed. No physical files exist now and hence it is not possible to hide one.

     In our hurry to find solutions, we should find time to ponder if we are putting cart before the horse. Are we serious about doing administrative reforms? Have we devised a method to punish the erring bureaucrats and reward those doing good work? We are yet to put an end to the game of revolving chairs amongst bureaucrats and provide them a stable tenure. According to a research, the average tenure of IAS officers in the period 1980-2000 was sixteen months. Even this time period would appear too long in certain cadres. In her first stint of four months and fourteen days, Mayawati transferred 550 IAS officers, in her second stint of six months it was 777 and in her third stint the number of transfers stood at 970. The total authorised strength of UP cadre is 537.

     No effort is being made to restructure work procedures. We largely follow British era rules which are based on distrust. No one has time to think why a particular thing is done, why it is being done that way and how it can be simplified. An example can be attestation of various certificates. There is a huge demand for government jobs, and even if there is a single vacancy, thousands apply. We ask candidates to submit attested copies of certificates along with their application form. These thousand applicants will run around in government offices to find that mighty yet kind Gazetted officer who will take time out of her/his busy schedule to sign these. On one hand we give extreme trouble to these applicants and on the other we waste time of government employees on an unproductive work. Some other organisations ask for self attested copies and then thoroughly verify the certificates of one who is finally selected. Why can’t we make it mandatory for all?

    There has been a consistent increase in crime but has proper attention been paid to shortage of manpower in police force. In 2010 the vacancy in the police force stood at 24.4% with more than four lakh posts vacant across the country. We have 133 policemen per lakh people against the United Nations (UN) prescribed figure of 222 per lakh. The number in some other countries is Italy (559), Mexico (491) and Saudi Arabia (386). Even if we recruit the missing personnel, our average would be way behind the one prescribed by UN.

     The magnitude of work that any government office does is huge and till Information Technology (IT) is effectively used, service delivery can never be satisfactory. An ambitious National E-Governance plan (NeGP) was launched in 2006 which consisted of 27 Mission mode projects. Some of these initiatives like e-district/digitisation of land records etc if and when implemented would simplify some extremely cumbersome government procedures. Thus to say that government is not doing anything would be wrong. To say that it is doing enough would also be far from truth.

    The budgetary allocation for entire NeGP in 2009-10 was 700 crores. The money that CBI got in the same year was 335 crores. A National Commission may roughly be allocated 20 crores per year. The figure would be around 160 crores for the eight commissions mentioned above. Then there would be corresponding expenditure on state commissions. Unfortunately there is no separate State E-governance plan. This does not mean that CBI or various commissions which have been set up are without merit. They have their legitimate role in settling outlying problems but routine issues will have to be addressed as a matter of routine.

    The point that is being made is that corruption or delayed service delivery is just a symptom. The real malady is that our governance is still not SMART i.e. Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent. All problems cannot be solved by forming special bodies or commissions. Even heinous crimes are a symptom that our police forces are not well equipped and trained to prevent such an occurrence. These initiatives do not find favour with politicians because they do not yield immediate electoral dividends. The number of opportunist politicians in our polity surpasses that of statesmen who can sell these to electorate and provide the political will to implement them.

    It is time we look beyond these symptoms and cure the real malady.


Anonymous said...

Dear Anurag,
Delighted to see your post after such a long time. Miss your silently humorous writing style though. How has your work been so far? Pls write often.

RK Karthi said...

// Have we devised a method to punish the erring bureaucrats and reward those doing good work? //

Good question. Couldn't see you here for a long time.

Just Simple said...

@Rajeev: I am good, and thanks for missing my writing :) I am partly busy with my work and partly experimenting in writing hence could not write blogs

@ RK Karthi: How have you been? Not blogging much since last few days.

In case you want to see what I have been up to, you can have a look here

Deepanjali B Sarkar said...

Hello! Glad to read your post after a long sabbatical! I had contacted you almost a year back regarding a film script I had written on the IAS. The script is ready, am now doing the rounds of producers/directors. Keeping my fingers crossed.