Current Public Administration Magazine – “Polity, Constitution and Governance – Some Ideas On Governance”

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

Polity, Constitution and Governance

Some Ideas On Governance

Introduction: The Constitution of India has clearly
articulated the social and economic goals and has specified agents for achieving
the promised social revelation. Matters concerning formation and working of the
executive agencies (both political and civil) are spelt out. Citizens have been
assured that the executive together with other organs of the State (Legislative
& Judiciary) would uphold their rights and remove the inequities from which the
anti-democratic forces derive their sustenance. Good Governance, it was hoped,
would transform the social, political and economic life of the people, within
the framework of democracy.

Inadequacies and Failures: In the beginning the
constitutional arrangements relating to governance worked more or less to
general satisfaction and provided the law abiding citizens with a fairly safe,
and secure life. However, as time passed their inadequacies have become evident
and Government has lost its élan as it has failed to live up to the expectations
of the Constitution to give real substance to the policies designed to promote
social well being even the most modest expectations have remained unfulfilled.

The present situation is characterised by a pervasive
disenchantment with the way things have worked out. It is futile to debate
whether it is the institutions provided by the Constitution that have failed or
whether the men who work these institutions have failed. Probably both, but
while we cannot abolish the men we can only endeavour to improve the environment
in which these men function hoping that a more conducive environment would
improve behaviour and performance of the men and women who command the strategic
heights of governance.

Failure to ensure the socio-economic goals is now no longer
attributable to scarcity of resources but to the failure of Governance. It is
the insufficient attention paid to such a transformation that has deepened the
fissures between the people and the administration. The failure to regenerate
society lay in the basic conceptual weakness that encouraged the untested
assumption that people are best served when the ruling classes originate,
execute and administer policies, plans and programmes for their welfare from
above. This misconceived paternalism has reinforced the tyranny of the Status
Quo and has gravely weakened forces of change. The Indian problem, Nehru had
recognised, was not to foster stability in the system but to transform it. The
‘Law and Order’ pre-occupation of the bureaucratic mind led to the entrenchment
of the system that the Constitution had promised to transform. This mind-set
thwarted the initiates for legislative to socio-economic well being of all
sections of people. Repeated surgery, in the shape of constitutional amendments,
had to be resorted to instill even minimal transformative features. Examples
include land reforms and steps to deal with the entrenched injustices of the
caste system and halting measures for evoking rights to property as

Another fundamental flaw vitiating governance emanated from
the lack of conviction that the consent of the people is the basis of democratic
government. The over-arching theme, a legacy from the Colonial days, that people
remain a passive category subjects rather than citizens remained firmly rooted
on official mind. People aroused only at intervals of five years or there about
to choose their rulers and to go back again to a life of political passivity.
Political mobilisation of masses mostly remained neglected. This produced all
manner of infirmities and has given rise to alienation of the people from the
political system.

Rights of the people are inalienable. The words “we the
people” signify not only the moral and historical insight of founding fathers
but they serve to reaffirm they are the source of all constitutional authority
and that the test of Good Governance was measure of people’s well being.
However, the functionaries of the State have failed to realize that they are
servants of the people and not their masters. Test of a vibrant democracy is the
degree of success in calling its Executive to be accountable to the people.

The words ‘we the people……’ were not empty rhetoric; they
were earnestly inscribed to recognise and respect India’s political sovereign –
the people. The highest rank of a person in a democratic country is to be its
citizen. But the new administration class, working under the mesmeric spell of
colonial attitudes, was reluctant to consider the people at large as citizens.
They continued to treat them as subjects or ‘ryots’ both owing allegiance to a
superior master. This denial robbed them of power and made it possible for the
executive to snuff out the significance of the people. It is the possession of
power that gives people control over their destiny and authority over those whom
they have chosen to serve them. Ambedkar had cautioned: “By independence we have
lost the excuse of blaming the British for any thing going wrong. If hereafter
things go wrong, we will have nobody to blame except ourselves”.

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Self Government is better than even good Governance. Unless
self-government is ensured by clear devolution of power from the centre to the
periphery, people are prevented from participation in Governance. They can not
eliminate arbitrariness in executive actions which generally tilts the balance
in favour of the privileged. Moreover the ‘top-down’ state of affairs does not
legitimise ‘self-government’ which is of primordial value. ‘Top-down’
administration stifles public initiative. To make people effective they must
consciously enjoy and assert their constitutional entitlements and not be mere
supplicants for or objects of administrative largesse. That is the rationale of
the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution. A strong sense of public duty
comes from empowerment. People’s attitude changes from one of obedience to
authority to active participation in governance. It is only when the gap between
the executive and the people is narrowed down through decentralisation that
democratisation can occur. The whole configuration of governance changes if
democratic order is conceived not as a ‘once in five year ritual’ of changing
the guard but as a continuous renewal of democratic life from a knowledgeable
and participative citizen body. A citizen as a political and social unit could
alone take responsibility for transformation of the state of the society.
Adequate constitutional amendments in this regard could alone make it possible
for strengthening people’s say in governance involving beneficiaries in
implementation, introducing flexibility through greater autonomy to States and
local bodies, enabling greater involvement of voluntary agencies, introducing
better delivery systems through self-help groups and so on. The essence of the
matter is that there should be effective participative democracy at all levels;
once people become the fountainhead of power, their role in governance becomes
meaningful and effective. It encourages an active sense of public duty,
replacing emphasis from authority and obedience to active participation. The
system can deliver the goods through devolution, decentralization and
democratization, thereby narrowing the gap between the base of the polity and
its super-structure.

Institutions and structures do impinge on the working of the
fundamental law of the land. There is, however, a substantive problem of the
philosophy that underlies such institutions and structures. And that has to do
with the role of the State. Immediately after the Second World War, when the
decolonised world began its quest for development, the intellectual context
favoured a strong, in fact a leading, role for the State in the development
process. It was partly a legacy of the Great Depression, but it was also a
reflection of the major changes brought about by the October Revolution in 1917.
An alternative route to the process of industrialisation, which held the key to
the removal of poverty, in which the role of the market in the allocation of
resources was believed to be marginal, was the lynchpin of the strategy for
development enshrined in our Constitution.

Some of the shortcomings in the governance outlined above are
inherent in the centralized nature of the Indian State which lays down the
parameters of the administration. There is an indissoluble link between the two.
This was evident when the norms of colonial administration, with their long
ancestry, came early to stamp their features on the post-independence
dispensation. Colonial administration had created a top-down system of command
and obedience in which State and local units of government were treated as
subordinate to the Central Government.

Reallocation of Subjects in the 7th Schedule: Reallocation of
subjects from the three Lists given in the Seventh Schedule is a prerequisite in
this context, to make governance come closer to the people. The Central List of
subjects should contract drastically, confining the Centre to subjects of
national importance such as defence, National Security, foreign policy,
Interstate-rivers, communication, macro-economic, planning, environment, etc.
The list of subjects meant for the States and for other layers of government
will have to be augmented with the Centre refraining from involvement in matters
best addressed at the lower levels.

Rationalisation of size of Governments & Devolution of their
functions: There is no reason why the central government should have large and
unwieldy ministries handling subjects like education, health, agriculture, rural
development, social welfare, industry, power, etc. when these areas can more
conveniently and appropriately be handled at the state, regional or district
levels. The centre can at best be a clearing house of ideas and knowledge but
for it to be actually involved in shaping policy and in allocation of resources
is an over-lapping of jurisdiction. Down sizing of the Government should also
follow Big Governments are not always conducive to efficiency and promptness.
People should know where the buck stops.

Similarly, if the state governments do not delegate authority
and resources to units below the state, similar acts of aggregation and
aggression occur depriving local bodies of initiative, capacity for innovation
and experimentation. The richness and diversity of experience across tens of
thousands of communities in locations across the country is sought to be
standardised and homogenised by such straitjacketing as is involved in the
present arrangements. We need to break away in a decisive manner from this dogma
of centralisation which had its counterpart in centralised planning. There must
be power in the local governments to ‘remould through experimentation, our
economic practices and institutions to meet the changing social and economic
needs. A single courageous unit of local government may serve as a laboratory
and try a novel, social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the

However we need a few cautionary sign posts. A major
achievement since the attainment of independence has been the creation of a
common Indian market that approaches in size some of the biggest markets in the
world. This is the foundation of political unity. Anything that weakens or
threatens to weaken or destroys India’s political unity has to be prevented.
Therefore no unit of the Union can be empowered to weaken the foundations of the
common market. It is because of this predominant consideration that currency
belongs pre-eminently to the realm of the Union government. So does the defence
of the realm, the hallmark of national sovereignty. Further it should always be
kept in view that when the Centre does not hold societies become polarised.
Similarly, the fact that some items belong to the union list does not mean that
the Union can act in any manner it things fit as long as it is assured of
legislative support. The concept of continuous renewal of consent means that,
within limits central policies are publicly debated and agreed to. The citizens
should have access to information, data, arguments that go into the making of
executive or legislative decisions. Only then can citizens feel that they have
contributed to the functioning of the polity.

This has to be considered with devolution of authority,
responsibility and resources to appropriate levels. Decentralisation cannot work
without the devolution of resources. If the major sources of revenue remain with
the centre then the notion of the state autonomy would lack substance.
Therefore, along with re-configuration of the three lists of the constitution
there has also to be a re-configuration of the sources of revenue. The states
should be able to raise resources for the tasks they have to undertake. This
would bring into broad relief issues of regional imbalance. However they cannot
be swept under the carpet by making the comfortable assumption that the centre
can act as a big brother to help the weaklings. The last four decades have amply
demonstrated that regional imbalances have grown in spite of these subventions
provided by the centre to help the weaker states.

The principle that responsibility must be accompanied by
corresponding resources can be dispensed with only at the cost of perpetuating
the beggars mentality. The gap between the rich and the poor states within the
country has to be bridged by policies that stimulate growth in the poor states,
rather than by handouts which end up in the hands of the undeserving. The
existing policy regime has only stimulated competition between the states on the
size of the plan. The bigger the size the more successful is the political
leadership of the state supposed to be. Performances and outcomes do not matter.
Thus U.P. and Bihar can continue to wallow in illiteracy while state leaders go
about trumpeting the size of the plan they have secured from the Planning
Commission. The states must have the matching resource to do what they ought to
but they must also take the responsibility, fiscal, political and
administrative, for what has to be done.

The present policy regime is an elaborate subterfuge for
seeking scapegoats. The Constitution has encouraged this charade. The sooner it
ends the better it will be. This is the only way to harmonise the imperatives of
all round development with those of reducing, and ultimately eliminating,
caste-based iniquities. The list of subjects allocated in the 3 lists indicated
under Schedule 7 will have to be drastically reallocated to make the States
operate on a more federal bases than at present. This is inseparable from an
equal insight in financial framework in which generation of fiscal resources
acquires greater and balanced autonomy. Consistent with this principle, it would
be desirable to provide in the constitution that the additional terms of
reference under Article 280(3)(d) in the interests of sound finance should be
finalised in consultation with the States, preferably through an endorsement of
the National Development Council. Also the time would appear to have come to
give to the recommendations of the Finance Commissions the status of a legally
binding award. This would enforce accountable and responsible behaviour
throughout the spectrum of the institutions of governance.

Human Resource Management and Involvement of Community:
When one talks about resources it does not only mean financial resources, it
implies human resources as well. You cannot ask a district councillor to take
charge of primary or secondary education at the district level without giving
the elected district council control over administrators and teachers who run
the school system. If a primary school teacher looks to a distant education
director or the education minister or state level elected representative from
the area for his promotion or any other improvement in his conditions of
service, he is not going to be accountable and responsive to the needs of the
local community. This simple example raises the question of the present
structure of social and economic services and how it needs to be remodelled or
refashioned to bring it in line with the requirements of the age of
decentralisation. We have to think in terms of services being owned by the
communities which use these services. There is no reason why the district
councils cannot recruit, train, manage cadres of school teachers, supervisors,
administrators for primary and secondary education, leaving the area of high
speciality professionals like curriculum developers to be handled by regional or
state level bodies. This would bring local communities in intimate relationship
with the education personnel and create appropriate environment for bringing
forth responsibility and accountable behaviour from services to the local
communities that pay them. It will also ensure that the communities themselves
fulfil their obligations towards such personnel and towards the larger
objectives of creating and sustaining a healthy and vibrant education system.
Similar logic can be employed in regard to other services which are needed at
the district levels and it can be extended upwards to the state level.

What is urgently required at this juncture is a
straightforward recognition in the fundamental law, cutting through the verbiage
of devolution, that a district is the basic unit of planning for development –
social, cultural, economic and human. Along with this it is necessary to provide
that creation of new districts has to conform to the criteria of viability.
Otherwise the political process already under pressure of the forces of
fragmentation would be unable to at least moderate the present trends.

More Powers to Local Elected Bodies: Functions, finances and
functionaries would have to be placed under the direct supervision and command
of elected bodies at relevant levels of operations. This would, to a substantial
degree, correct the existing distortions and make officials answerable and
accountable to the people. This has implications in respect of devolution of
political and financial powers from the Centre, too. Devolving as much power as
possible to local and regional levels of government increases the ability of the
system to foster citizenship and to enhance the citizen’s decision-making
abilities. Officers at local levels have greater initiative in implementation
under the watchful eyes of the people directly effected.

Dispersal of power through local autonomy maximises
opportunities for popular participation and helps change the nature of the
relationship between the State and the civil society. Instead of being merely
the passive recipients of rights, citizens become active agents. A democratic
society cannot function properly if everything in it is left only to the state
or even to statutory bodies. Statutory action will be infractuous if it is not
underpinned by voluntary action. The driving force for regeneration comes not
from the state or its institutions but from social movement. People acquire more
characteristics of a ruler than ruled where they set up associations and NGOs to
assert their rights and preferences in the domain of public policies. This
exercise of political power through civil society originated as different from
statutory (bodies) opens the way for concomitant democracy. Civil society
consists of open and secular institutions that mediate between the citizen and
the state. Thereby state and civil society do not work as antithetical or
substitutable but as complementary to each other. Private associations and
pressure groups act as a powerful brake on state Institutions and also monitor
the conduct of public servants. In the absence of civil societies the state
machinery and civil servants becomes the dominant nexus of power. The modern
idea of self-government requires emergence of civil society which would make
people self-reliant rather than remain dependent on state institutions and
subject to their control.

One of the marked weakness of the present regime has been its
failure to effectively play its role in the socializing process. It has failed
to use the machinery of the state to create a society of equals founded on the
principles of social justice, secularism and eradication of casteism. In this
regard, the situation of the Dalits and backward castes points to glaring
failure of the state. In spite of several programmes launched by it, the state
has failed to energetically lift up the Dalits and members of other lower
castes. As the executive has overwhelmingly identified itself with the
stratified sections of the privileged few, it remained insensitive to the
calamities that befell the weaker sections of the society and reluctantly took
steps to repel the most injurious actions perpetrated against them. Large
sections of these people remained docile, submissive, passive and tame.
Piecemeal changes improved the conditions slightly, but the very spirit of the
people by which the Constitution was to be sustained continued to rap.

Poverty which had its roots in the old system of land holding
and wealth accumulation also remained by and large unvanquished by the
programmes launched to eradicate it. The executive machinery failed the basic
aims of the Constitution to eradicate mass poverty and illiteracy and to improve
the standard of health and general well-being. These received scant support from
the regime in spite of big promises made to fulfil the scheme of things
enshrined in the Constitution. The administrative classes emerging as an elitist
class failed to identify themselves with the meek and helpless, nor did they
strengthen social movements wedded to social transformation. Relevant provisions
of the Constitution in this respect remained mostly neglected by the executive

The arrangements of administration (bed-rock of governance)
under the Constitution now appeared inadequate to meet the situation. The
effectiveness of premier services to play its role in augmenting the socialising
process remained limited and foreclosed possibilities of finding just solutions.

(With inputs from Paper prepared for the Commission by Dr. Abid Hussain @

Questions :

  1. What are the weaknesses in our Governance system ? Do you think our
    constitutional provisions are enough for eradicating it ?

  2. Governance is the exercise of economic, political and administrative
    authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Explain.

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