(Sample Material) Current Public Administration Magazine – “Polity, Constitution and Governance”

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

Polity, Constitution and Governance

Reforms in Governance and Administration:

In the words of Kofi Annan: “Good governance is perhaps the
single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development”
Governance is the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority
to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It consists of the mechanisms,
processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their
interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their
differences. Without good governance, no amount of developmental schemes can
bring in improvements in the quality of life of the citizens. On the contrary.,
if the power of the state is abused, or exercised in weak or improper ways,
those with the least power in the society – the poor- are most likely to suffer.
In that sense, poor governance generates and reinforces poverty and subverts
efforts to reduce it. Strengthening governance is an essential precondition to
improving the lives of the poor.

The Tenth Plan document identified good governance as the
single most important factor in ensuring that the Plan objectives are achieved.
Among other things, decentralization of power 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 service reforms, transparency, rationalization of government schemes and
mode of financial assistance to states, improved access to formal justice system
to enforce rights, reforms and strengthening of land administration and
harnessing the power of technology for governance have been identified as the
key priorities.

Over the past three years several significant initiatives
have been launched to improve the quality of governance. A series of political
reforms have been enacted by Parliament by unanimous consent. These include the
electoral funding reforms promoting transparency and fairness and creating tax
incentives to donors, disclosure of antecedents of candidates contesting for
public office, and the 97th Constitutional Amendment limiting the size of the
Council of Ministers to 15 per cent of the strength of the Lower House and
considerably strengthening anti-defection provisions. A new value added tax
(VAT) regime has been introduced recently, which is seen as the most ambitious
tax reform after Independence . The path-breaking Right to Information Act has
come into effect recently. This new law applies to union and state agencies,
local governments and even societies and trusts which receive public funds. This
far-reaching law also provides for independent information commissioners,
proactive disclosures and reporting mechanisms and has the potential to impact
our governance process in a profound and positive way by empowering citizens.

These welcome initiatives indicate that our political system
is willing to respond to the growing challenges of governance. The reasonably
swift and efficient response of our administration to a series of major natural
calamities – the Tsunami of December 2004, the Mumbai floods of July, 2005, and
the recent earthquake in Jammu & Kashmir – demonstrates that in times of crisis
we are able to marshal our resources effectively. All these and competent
election management show that we have an impressive administrative
infrastructure and it responds well when objectives are clearly defined,
resources are made available and accountability is surely enforced.

However, a lot more remains to be done. There is increasing
lawlessness in several pockets of the country, and armed groups are resorting to
violence with impunity for sectarian or ideological reasons. The state apparatus
is generally perceived to be largely inefficient, with most functionaries
serving no useful purpose. The bureaucracy is generally seen to be tardy,
inefficient, and unresponsive. Corruption is all-pervasive, eating into the
vitals of our system, undermining economic growth, distorting competition, and
disproportionately hurting the poor and marginalized citizens. Criminalization
of politics continues unchecked, with money and muscle power playing a large
role in elections. In general there is high degree of volatility in society on
account of unfulfilled expectations and poor delivery.

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Abuse of authority at all levels in all organs of state has
become the bane of our democracy. The perception that every political party and
politician is corrupt needs to be seriously addressed, and restructuring the
systems in all sectors – political, bureaucratic and judicial – is of paramount
importance. There is a need to restructure our political and governance
institutions and rejuvenate our Republic. Otherwise, the growing cynicism and
despair among large sections may shatter public confidence in democratic

Globalization in an interconnected world is inevitable, but
it should not be at the cost of the people. The institutions of state –
legislative, executive, and judicial – will have to be strengthened to meet the
challenges of globalization. The aspirations of the younger generations,
uninhibited by past baggage, and emerging from institutions of higher learning
and frontier technologies, will have to be fulfilled as they become the
torchbearers of the new century.

In general, the positive power to promote public good seems
to be severely restricted, making it difficult for even the most conscientious
and competent functionaries to deliver optimal results. The systemic rigidities,
needless complexity and over centralization have made most elected politicians
and appointed public servants ineffective and helpless. But the negative power
of abuse of authority in pursuit of pelf, privilege and patronage, or harassment
of public through flagrant violation of law, petty tyranny and nuisance value is
virtually unchecked. This imbalance in the exercise of power is at the heart of
the crisis of governance. As a result most agencies of government are
functioning sub-optimally, and government programmes have not yielded the
desired results. At most levels authority is divorced from accountability,
leading to a system of realistic and plausible alibis for non-performance. Most
functionaries are thus caught in a vicious cycle.

This situation is further aggravated by the phenomenal
asymmetry of power in our society. Only about 8 percent of our work force is
employed in the organized sector with a secure monthly wage and attendant
privileges, and over 70 percent 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. Any serious effort
to make our governance apparatus an instrument of service to the people and a
powerful tool to achieve national objectives needs to take into account these
two cardinal factors plaguing our polity – the imbalance in the exercise of
power, and asymmetry in the wielding of power.

There are two fundamental, interrelated objectives, which
need to be achieved in the coming decades. The first is the fulfillment of human
potential, prevention of avoidable suffering and ensuring human dignity, access
to justice and opportunity to all Indians so that every citizen is a fulfilled
and productive human being. The second is the rapid economic growth realizing
the nation’s potential and allowing India to play her rightful role in the
global arena in order to protect the vital interests of present and future
generations, and become an important actor in promoting global peace, stability
and prosperity. We need to sharply focus the state’s role and fashion
instruments of governance as effective tools in our quest for these national

The economic reform process initiated in 1991 has posed fresh
challenges of governance. In the light of the changing domestic and global
situation, the role of the Indian state in the coming decade has to be clearly
defined. The assumption that market is the answer to all our challenges is a
dangerous and irrational one. The state needs to focus on the irreducible role
of government that is required to fulfill human potential and promote rapid
economic growth. Abdication of the state or its inefficiency in these critical
sectors will spell disaster to our future.

The non-negotiable role of the state in four broad areas
needs to be clearly recognized and reemphasized. The first is in the area of
public order, justice and rule of law. Deficiencies on this front have led to
decline in trust in the state’s capacity to protect life and liberty and enforce
rights. This in turn has aggravated the tendency to resort to violence and crime
to obtain rough and ready justice, promote sectarian interests, or achieve
ideological goals. Ensuring access to speedy and efficient justice, protecting
rights of citizens, enforcing rule of law, and maintaining public order are all
inseparable and they form the bedrock of a civilized society and sound liberal
democracy. The deficiencies in this vital area need to be plugged through
judicial and police reforms, better citizen participation in governance,
transparency and more effective and integrated approach to public order

The alacrity with which we constitute various committees and
commissions of enquiry is matched only by the inaction on the voluminous reports
laboriously produced. Public trust and confidence is shaken by such ritualism
and tokenism. We need to institutionalize mechanisms for independent enquiry and
mandatory implementation so that public confidence and social cohesion are
strengthened. Governance at all levels must ensure orderly justice and peaceful
resolution of conflicts in a complex and dynamic society.

The second area is human development through access to good
quality education and healthcare to make every citizen productive and fulfilled.
Despite our long-standing commitment to these goals, the results are uneven and
far from satisfactory. Allocation of resources is undoubtedly inadequate leading
to huge unmet demand. Even what is spent not very productive in outcomes. Yet
even private sector is not delivering effectively because of systemic
inadequacies. We need to reorient public finances in order to direct resources
to human development. But even more vitally, we need to redesign our delivery
mechanisms in an innovative manner based on past experience and best practices
and deploy the nation’s finest talent in these sectors. Most of the nation’s
gene pool is wasted because of inadequate and poor quality of school education.
Higher education too is not very successful in promoting excellence of producing
service providers, leaders, managers and wealth creators, for the future. There
are other clear danger signals, which need to be acknowledged and addressed
immediately. For instance as public health system has been unsatisfactory and
inadequate, private health expenditure, which already accounts for about 80% of
total expenditure, is growing (14% per annum) much faster than GDP. The
resultant high cost and poor access would seriously undermine our human
development and perpetuate misery and poverty. The governance system should be
geared to address these fundamental challenges through sensible and innovative
policy, effective and competent delivery, and meaningful incentives and
accountability mechanisms.

The third broad area is infrastructure and sustainable
natural resource development. While the economic aspects of these are
well-recognized, the governance challenges are not adequately addressed. For
instance, effective land administration is crucial to capital formation in
agriculture and soil conservation. Energy plantation and biofuel production
would require great administrative innovation and grassroots coordination. 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 an economic or tariff problem. We need to create
innovative modes of governance in dealing with many such growing challenges.

Social security is a relatively new and growing area of state
activity to which the administrative system must respond with alacrity,
sensitivity and efficacy. The recent enactment of the employment guarantee law,
the efforts in the pipeline to provide a measure of social security to the
unorganized sector workers, and many healthcare risk-pooling mechanisms
contemplated require effective delivery system, which can address the special
challenges posed in this emerging sector of state activity.


  1. What are the weaknesses in our Governance system ? Kindly suggest some
    measures for its overall improvement .

  2. In the words of Kofi Annan: “Good governance is perhaps the single most
    important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development”. Discuss.

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

Source: With inputs from Second Administrative Reforms Commission

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