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Improving governance: The key to India's transformation

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There has to be clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of each institution within the government

Improving governance: The key to India's transformation
In the article, “Whither Make-in -India” published a few weeks ago on this platform, I had concluded, “What is the way forward?”. This one is about the possible way forward. We can and we should dream and dream big but have to have our feet firmly on the ground. Mere dreaming will not help. Hence, the assessment of the ground reality is imperative. We have to realistically plan about realising our dreams.
Here are some suggestions on how India can possibly be transformed:
1. “Make-in-India” approach of glitzy road shows and grandiose announcements will have to be given up forthwith. The approach will have to be grounded. It will have to be realistic and do-able. There is no point in announcing huge targets without working out how those targets would be achieved. Each announcement will have to backed by what needs to be done to achieve those targets, how it will be done, who would do it and by when it would be done? Without such detailing, mere announcements have no meaning. Talking should not precede walking. The difference between information dissemination and publicity will also have to be understood. Information needs to be conveyed and should be conveyed to all the stake holders but publicity should happen only and only after something has happened on the ground.
Concurrent evaluation of all the initiative/projects and even institutions like NITI Aayog by independent third-party is imperative. It will enable course correction. Selective anecdotal evidence of success can keep some people happy but can be counter-productive as it can lull stake holders. It is best avoided
2. Engage intensively with the stake holders. Open forums are useful but they alone will not serve the purpose. Not every stake holder may open up in an open forum if they apprehend “punitive” action for negative inputs. This is extremely critical. If stake-holders, specially the industry, are apprehensive about action against them for speaking freely, the whole purpose will be defeated. Make in India suffered on this count. What appeared in open forums was that everything was hunky dory as the industry would not dare speaking the truth about the ground reality. It suffered on another account as well. The whole focus initially was to satisfy the mandarins of the World Bank about the ease of doing business. India appeared to climb this ladder without actually climbing it. This ladder was finally dispensed with by the World Bank itself. What a waste of time it was! It could and should have been utilised in actually making business easy for the investors.
3. The country is witnessing one of the worst “wars” ever between the Central and state governments. This is adversely impacting some critical industries like coal and power in the country. As luck would have it, all the coal ‘resides” in ‘opposition-ruled’ States (West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra all have non-NDA Governments). The adversarial relationship has impacted coal production and even precipitated a coal crisis. The power-crisis is round the corner. There is a mutual blame-game going on. Someone has to behave like a statesman and sort it out or else India can’t be transformed. As I often say, Centre is a geographical fiction. Actual action is in the States. Hence, States can’t be ignored. The approach adopted during the coal crisis in 2014 needs to studied. The “war” can be brought to an end, it should be brought to an end. It would require the sagacity that late Arun Jaitley had shown to deliver the Goods and Services Tax regime. Amicable Centre-state relations are necessary for all sectors of the economy.
4. Improving governance is the key to transforming India. Technology can be handy. Attempt should be to reduce (eliminate if possible) the physical interface between the common man and the officials of the government. This was successfully implemented in Railway reservation long ago and is working so well. Many Departments, like Income Tax are attempting to do that. However, the pace has to be expedited. There is a wonderful initiative, “Saral” being undertaken by the Haryana government wherein out of around 500 processes that require government-public interface, more than 300 have been digitized and do not require the common man to interact physically with a government official. Such initiatives need to be studied and replicated elsewhere in the country. However, before this is done, charity has to begin at home. Why aren’t all the files of all the Ministries of the Central Government digitised? This is also true of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Institutions like Project Monitoring Group (PMG) need to be revived both at the Central and state level to fast track clearance of both public and private sector projects. They worked in the past. There is no reason why they will not now.
There has to be clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of each institution within the government. The PMO monitors “everything” and “decides” every issue. Yet, the ministries are mandated informally not to mention PMO in their files and Cabinet Notes. Almost everything happens under the supervision and direction of the PMO. This is untenable. The Ministries will have to be given greater space. The Cabinet Secretariat that played a critical role in resolving inter-ministerial issues has been reduced to a post office. This Secretariat can be put to good use and only select cases need to come to PMO. The PMO is indeed over-burdened and has led to delays though no one musters the courage to speak about the delays. If governance has to improve and India is to transformed, this needs to change.
5. Finally, Human Resource Management is most critical. All the decisions relating to Joint Secretary level officers and above are taken by the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister chairs this Committee. Hence, all such files come to the PMO. Perhaps the PM himself is not aware of the delays that take place in making such appointments. The biggest sufferers are the Central Public Sector Undertakings as their performance gets adversely impacted in the absence of top-level management officers. I have seen PM getting very upset over delays. Hence, a mechanism needs to be worked out in the PMO to keep the PM updated about the status of delays. I am convinced that if he gets to know of the delays, he would find a way out.
The PM is extremely careful about the statements he makes in public. Hence, it was surprising to see him make a statement as he did in the Parliament about the IAS. It served no purpose except demoralizing a large number of IAS officers working in the field. He may never get that feedback from those that surround him but that is a fact. The Civil Services do require a make-over. There has to be comprehensive approach. The selection process, training, mentoring, career development and postings will all have to be looked at. The key issue is attitude. Expertise can be outsourced but attitude can’t.
There are many more steps that would be required to be taken to transform India but those mentioned above are the critical ones. India can and should be transformed.
Anil Swarup is former Secretary, Government of India and author of the book 'Not Just A Civil Servant'. The views expressed are personal.
Click here to read his other columns
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