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ADMINISTRATION & GOVERNANCE - 2nd A.R.C. PERSPECTIVE - Vineeta Rai

Former Revenue Secretary, Govt. of India

The word "governance" is derived from the Greek Kubernao which means to "steer" and was used for the first time in a metaphorical sense by the Greek philosopher Plato. Governance is defined as the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country's affairs at all levels. It consists of mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and government articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences.

The issue of reforms in governance and administration has become the focus of attention in recognition of the fact that good governance is necessary for ensuring success of development schemes, bringing about improvements in the quality of life of citizens, eradicating poverty and generally for realization of the goals of equity and equality enshrined in our Constitution. On the contrary if the power of the State is abused or exercised in weak or improper ways it can subvert all efforts to promote good governance and those with the least power in society - the poor are the most likely to suffer.

The 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission which had been set up in 2005 was given the mandate to suggest measures to improve governance so as to achieve a proactive, responsive, accountable, sustainable and efficient administration for the country at all levels. Specifically 13 areas were identified for making recommendations which inter alia included issues pertaining to the Organizational Structure of Government of India, Civil Services Reforms, Public Order, Ethics in Governance, Strengthening Financial Management Systems as well as local self-government institutions. The common underlying theme in all these Reports was promotion of good governance, the core principles of which are:

• Rule of law which requires that laws and their implementation be transparent, predictable, equitable and credible.

• Accountability at each level of administration.

• Minimization of unfettered discretion.

• Putting the citizen first.

• Governance to be built on strong ethical foundation.

• Principle of subsidiarity (which implies both devolution and delegation of authority).

To achieve these ends, the Administrative Reforms Commission also identified key priority areas which includes decentralization of powers and citizens' empowerment, effective people's participation through State and non-State mechanisms, greater synergy and consolidation among various agencies and programmes of Government, civil services reforms, transparency, rationalization of government schemes and mode of financial assistance to

States, improved access to the formal justice to enforce rights, reforms strengthening land administration and harnessing the power of technology for governance.

During the last few years, government has taken several significant initiatives to improve the quality of governance and a series of reforms e.g. electoral reforms, the path breaking Right to Information Act, a new value-added tax regime and introduction of regulatory mechanisms in several sectors of the economy have been initiated. A number of committees have also been set up and have made recommendations in respect of specific areas like Police reforms. These welcome initiatives indicate that our political system is willing to respond to the growing challenges of governance and at times of crises we have been able to marshal our resources to deal effectively with situations.

All these and competent election management show that we have an administrative infrastructure which responds well when objectives are clearly defined, resources are made available and accountability is surely enforced.

However, a lot more remains to be done and in this context the Commission has identified four broad areas where the non-negotiable goal of the State needs to be clearly recognized and governance strengthened.

The first is in the area of public order, justice and rule of law where the State needs to do much more to ensure access to speedier and efficient justice, protect the rights of citizens and maintain public order. These are the bedrocks of civilized society and the deficiency in this area needs to be plugged through police reforms, better citizens participation in governance, transparency and an integrated approach to public order maintenance. The ARC's reports on Maintenance of Public Order, Combating Terrorism, Conflict Resolution and Ethics in governance have made a number of recommendations in these areas which need urgent implementation.

The second area is human development through access to good quality education and healthcare to make every citizen productive and fulfilled. Of course, more resources need to be directed to human development but even more importantly we need to redesign our delivery mechanisms in an innovative manner for optimum results.

Recommendations of the ARC in respect of the above are contained in its reports on Citizen Centric Administration, Social Capital and Trusts and promoting E-governance.

The third area is infrastructure and sustainable natural resource development. While the economic aspects are well recognized, the governance challenges are not adequately addressed. For instance, effective land administration is crucial to capital formation in agriculture and conservation. Urban management involves much more than resource allocation for infrastructure and poses formidable challenges of governance. Power distribution management through local people's involvement and ownership in a consumer-friendly way is more a governance issue than merely an economic or tariff problem. Among others, Reports on Local Self-Governance have addressed and made recommendations in some of the above key issues.

Finally, social security, a relatively new and growing area of State activity involving matters such as guarantee of employment, education, food security and healthcare need special attention and the many mega programmes launched in these areas and which suffer implementation shortcoming e.g. NREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), NRHM (National Rural Health Mission), JNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission) etc. As an illustrative example, we have examined how NREGA can be streamlined and enhanced for better results. We have suggested that skills development can be dovetailed as a part of this important programme.

It is to be noted that all these challenges have to be addressed in the context of serious resource constraints and law alone cannot address these issues. Nor can revenues be increased by enhancing tax rates in a centralized administration. We have to reduce unproductive subsidies and get better outcomes for every rupee utilized.

This will only be acceptable to people through good governance and our conscious efforts to establish a transparent link between taxes paid and services rendered. Pervasive corruption is the most disturbing element of our governance and the perception that every party and politician and public servants are corrupt have to be seriously addressed. Restructuring the systems whether political, bureaucratic and judicial is, therefore, of paramount importance. This situation is further aggravated by the phenomenal asymmetry of power in our society. Only about 8 per cent of our work force is employed in the organized sector with a secure monthly wage and attendant privileges, and over 70 per cent of these workers are employed in government at various levels and public sector undertakings. Such a privileged position gives even the lowliest of public servants enormous power over most of the citizens, given the abject poverty, illiteracy, excessive centralization of power, a culture of exaggerated deference to authority, hierarchical tradition in society, and the legacy of colonial traditions and practices. So any serious effort to make our governance apparatus an instrument of service to the people has to address these issues.

In its Reports, the ARC has made far-reaching recommendations on how best these challenges can be addressed and what are the reforms required. The reports are separate but are interlinked and interconnected with the leitmotif bring the core principles of good governance which have been highlighted earlier.

Because of constraints of space, it would be difficult to go into the details of the recommendations in the various reports. It would, however, be relevant to state the broad areas where recommendations in respect of Civil Services Reforms have been made because in any system the quality of its public servants is critical in determining outcomes.

The contribution of the civil services in our socio-economic, political development is well acknowledged but yet today there is a perception that our civil services have become wooden, inflexible, self-perpetuating and inward looking. While the bureaucracy responds to crisis situations with efficacy, colossal tardiness and failure to deal with normal situations is evident in most cases. The systemic rigidities, endless complexities and over centralization have further compounded the situation and have made it difficult for even the most conscientious and competent functionaries to deliver optimal results. Effective horizontal delegation and a clear sense of accountability at every level is, therefore, at the heart of the civil services reforms suggested by the Commission. To this end, the Commission has made recommendations covering the following broad areas:

• Recruitment and capacity building,

• Placement and transfer policy,

• Performance management and accountability; and

• Ethical code for civil servants.

These comprehensive recommendations are contained in the Commission's 10th Report on Personnel Administration. It is hoped that these reforms when implemented would play a critical role in substantially improving our governance system. In the words of Shri M. Veerappa Moily who was the Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission, "it is our hope that with the implementation of these reforms India will have a civil service that is a valuable resource of expert and objective policy advice, which delivers high quality citizen-oriented services, which attracts best talents from society, where objectivity, impartiality and accountability are the norm and not the exception and which commands the confidence and respect of the people".

Government in its pronouncements has indicated its firm commitment to expeditiously examine and implement the recommendations made which are necessary to improve in the interest of good governance at all levels. This will require strong political will and sustained political guidance at the highest level which, it is hoped will be forthcoming.

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