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BUREAUCRACY AND GOVERNANCE - J.M. LYNGDOH

Former Chief Election Commissioner

The Government of India has been devastated by unending scams. In Ranchi (Jharkhand), the chief prosecutor told participants in a recent anti-corruption meet that the governor's house had been raided by the police; a former chief minister and some of his cabinet cronies were in jail; most of the senior bureaucrats were being prosecuted and he hoped, as though referring to growth rates, to soon have a thousand corrupt persons in the nick.

One cannot but be uncomfortable, therefore, at the assumption implicit in the rubric for this article - that it is just an internal matter for the bureaucracy, who had somehow only to rediscover its élan vital, and the country would be well governed.

In fact Indian electoral politics has reduced most bureaucrats to non-person-rithing collaborators of their ministers. Independents are either prosecuted in false cases or strung with fabricated vigilance charges or merely harassed and side-lined and considered unfit for promotion.

Election expenses, astronomical and less affordable in South India to an ordinary candidate - aspirant, unless backed by a wealthy party, than a Bugati or a Maserati, have now to provide for bribes to voters, paid news and VIPs helicoptering while campaigning. So a newly installed government instantly homes in to purchases and "wet" projects, plunders the budget, invests the black money abroad, recovers it through hawala, and uses it to finance the next elections. As if the government had just won a zamindari at an auction in British times.

The first-past-the-post system, based on constituency wise contest between candidates, in which if you get one vote more than me, you represent everyone, and I am no one, must take much of the blame. If first-past-the-post is replaced by the proportional representation list system no candidate would need to spend any money, (the splurging now is because one candidate sees his chances only if he outspends his rivals), all expenses being met by the party. By comparison, the clash of parties would be as dull as an abstract mathematical equation, and much less money would be needed.

Incidentally proportional representation would also be more democratic, parties securing seats in proportion to their respective percentages of the votes polled.

The Rise of the Unelected by Frank Vibert is about democracies increasingly assigning the more complex affairs of State to independent, expert, non-elected bodies. The reason is that elected representatives have neither the time nor aptitude nor knowledge to handle such matters. In India independent agencies are needed not merely for 2G, 3G ..spectra, arms purchases ……….., but also for matters of abiding national interest such as safe drinking water, environmental pollution, compulsory education, nutrition, sustained agricultural production, while addressing declining availability of water for irrigation, acreage for cultivation and farmers' profits. Government departments would not implement projects and programmes but would support the agencies and find funds for them. Ministers would be responsible for needed legislation and arguing for resources with the Planning Commission and Finance Ministry. Cut adrift from business dealings, ministers would not need to be appendage of the corporate sector. On the other hand they would have more time to tour their constituencies, meet more people than their local stooges, sense what is really wanted and also nip potential problems in the bud.

An independent Lokpal, empowered to prosecute everyone from the Prime Minister downwards (though in my scheme of things ministers wouldn't be doing the kind of things that attract prosecution) would look after corruption and mis-governance. Bureaucrats in the agencies would have free rein to do excellent work or hang themselves. And they would no longer have to do illegal things under duress or blackmail. There would instead be an objective authority in the Lokpal to judge their doings and visit them with certain and determined prosecution when they commit an offence. The bureaucracy includes the police. An independent police commissioner would secure clean efficient policing and investigation. Were this scheme of things to be implemented it would involve constitutional and other legal amendments and a willingness on the part of the political executive at the centre and in the states to accept it. All very unlikely as power is never surrendered even for the best of causes.

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