Dialogue January-March, 2011, Volume 12 No. 3
Governance and Civil Society
At the outset, I would like to thank Astha Bharati for asking me to be present here in the seminar. I understand it is intended that we deliberate on governance and corruption in the country in general and in the North East in particular with a specific focus on the role of the civil society.
With the cherished Independence over 60 years back, we embarked on the process of democratic governance so as to lead to prosperity and welfare. The Preamble to the Constitution of India provides the vision and states that we would secure Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for all our citizens. At the dawn of Independence, the first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, while taking pledge of the service of India, had said that the service of India means the ending of poverty and the ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. Dr. Rajendra Prasad had also then said that India would attain its rightful place in the world. In the contemporary realities, however, when we try to read the balance sheet of the nation, we have quite a few positives and yet quite a few negatives.
Governance, in fact, has many facets. In its widest sense it refers to how an organization, including a nation, is run. It includes the processes, systems and controls which are used to address the issues of the organization. So in short, whatever we are witnessing in the balance sheet is a reflection substantially of the state of governance.
The very first positive which makes us bullish is the fact that we are now a trillion dollar economy the fourth largest in the world in PPP terms. We are growing at an impressive rate of over 8 per cent and are set to become the fastest growing economy in the world in the next two years. In fact, India, in all likelihood, will catch up and may even surpass the economy of the United States in the next two to three decades. But then we are also plagued by several Achilles’ Heels, particularly in the social sector. Despite the turn-around in the overall economy, the per capita average income remains at a low level of around thousand dollars and in areas such as poverty, education, health, infant morality, malnutrition, there is much to be desired. When President Obama while visiting India recently, stated that India is already a developed country, perhaps he was having in mind the size of the national economy, the growth rate and the huge market which will interest the world including the US. But the country is far away from the status of a developed one is evident from the fact that around 30-40 per cent of our population is below poverty line, half of our children are malnourished, and half of our women are anaemic. In terms of infant mortality, our records are dismal. There is hardly any progress in our ranking in the world in terms of the Educational Development Index (EDI) which is a measure of enrolment, literacy and survival up to the class V. EDI in 2010 stood at 105 among 128 countries as against 105 among 127 countries in 2001. About corruption, the less said the better. Corruption Perception Index which is compiled by Transparency International every year shows that India’s rank is 87 in 2010 and we have slipped to this level from a somewhat better rank of 72 in 2007. And scandals which have surfaced from time to time, particularly in the last few months have also led to log jam in the Parliament and this is a matter which is a cause for worry to every citizen.
When we got Independence, we opted for democracy and democracy which conceptually is of, for and by the people, is said to be the best form of government and we have the largest electorate in the democratic world and we have been conducting elections with finesse over the years. So, we have hardware of democracy which is indeed very impressive. But, then what about the software? Ramachandra Guha, in his book ‘India after Gandhi’, says that democracy’s success in India is 50-50. we have a good hardware but poor software. Malpractices are significant. Voting is influenced by money power and muscle power. Our polity has witnessed criminalization of politics. A good number of our representatives are having criminal cases against them. For democracy to function appropriately, the institutions which are to provides system control have to function properly. The political system, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, even the army and as the recent tapes have revealed, the media are not without blame. The scams of the recent past have tainted almost all our institutions. The sectoral institutions such as the Medical Council of India, the All India Council of Technical and Management Education, are all in the dock. The sale of spurious food and drugs, even sale of degrees are frequently in the news. The virus of corruption has penetrated almost everywhere.
Violence in any society is a manifestation of the discontent in the system. In matters of violence, our record is not something which was envisaged when we got our cherished Independence from the British. Insurgency in North-Eastern states, Jammu & Kashmir, the violence related to Naxalism and even killings on account of social evils such as dowry reflect the level of dissatisfaction in the society. The point is what can be done to contain all these. The Constitutional safeguards are there. The institutions do exist but they do not function as they should. Let me recall some of my experiences in Nagaland. I happened to be Advisor to Governor in the State when the Assembly election were held in 2008. There were reports published in the newspapers that the fair polls are tainted by money and muscle power. One newspaper editorial wrote that over 200 crores are being spent in a small state by a total of 213 candidates. That means that the expenditure is about a crore per candidate. What the Election Commission of India allows is only Rs. 5 lakhs per candidate. There were reports of distribution of food, liquor and pocket money starting 15 to 29 days in advance of the election date and the militant organizations moving, around in groups providing muscle power support to some candidates. These are all manifestations of poor software of democracy.
Again in Nagaland, we have the ennobling experience signifying that if the social capital in the society is channelized and harnessed properly, it can work miracles. In Nagaland when I happened to be posted as the Chief Secretary in 2000, the situation was indeed very difficult. Governance was at its lowest ebb. There was terrifying violence despite ceasefire. Even the high and mighty were scared. State finances were in doldrums. The employees would not get their salaries on time. Cynicism had gripped the whole society. I was advised by my well meaning friends to get back to Delhi after completing the two years mandatory posting but I said how to pass even two years time. So we went about doing whatever we could. We had a seminar organized at UNICEF cost by Shri Shiv Khera, the author of “You can Win”. And then we got going through some reforms in government named “Vision Nagaland” and for the society as a whole, we organized a programme called “Imagine Nagaland” in which the old, the young, the serving and the retired, and the civil society representatives; all took part to deliberate as to what will be the Nagaland of their imagination and what are the priorities before the State. The young children told us straight in our face that the first and foremost task is to improve the delivery of the government institutions. There are schools everywhere but they do not teach, there are hospitals but they do not treat, there are water and power supply systems but yet there is darkness around and the women have to fetch water from a long distance from the hills. So, what were the options before us? We deliberated on all the options and finally decided that we will communitize all the institutions and we passed an Act “Communitization of Public Institutions and Services Act, 2002”. If the empowered such as the Government staff are not motivated, why not empower those who have the intrinsic interest. Under the programme, the user community took charge of the government institutions at the grass roots in order to turn them around. The Triple T concept was followed. Train the user community; Trust them and Transfer government powers and responsibilities to them to run the institutions. They were given the powers to exercise “no work – no pay” and this worked. The attendance improved, the teaching improved, the community contribution improved, private schools’ enrolment started shifting to government schools, patients started shifting away from private doctors, power tariff collection went up by over 200 per cent and so without much extra expenditure by the State things improved significantly. This was because the government initiated the programme of Communitization to harness people’s strength, the social capital, which resided in all societies but in a dormant form. It required a trigger which the government provided through this programme and things improved. The programme received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration in 2007 and the UN Public Service Award in 2008. So, the society has tremendous strength in terms of social capital. All that is needed is an institutional framework to trigger it. We did it in Nagaland. It can be done elsewhere too. And here lies the essence of tackling governance issues including corruption. I can cite an example from Mizoram. The Mizo Students Union is a highly effective civil society group and they ensure that all the candidates who stand in the elections do not spend money beyond a point. So, even today when in many parts of the country too much money flows in elections, in Mizoram it is not so. All that is needed is some trigger – sometimes it is provided by government, sometimes it is provided by the social organizations themselves. The civil society along with the Government can do wonders. Leaders are needed. The civil society under the leaders the tallest of whom Mahatma Gandhi, who piloted the freedom movement, threw the mighty British out.
There are three essential challenges of governance before us today. These are: violence primarily because of insurgency and naxalism, corruption and poverty. Social capital of the civil society can and should be harnessed to tackle and eradicate these. There are individuals in all organisations, in government as well as private, in all walks of life, who are fired with a sense of service. They need to come forward. They need to trigger the social capital which lies latent and dormant in various social groups. The Government and the society need to incentivise them.