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The Challenge of Good Governance in India:
Need for Innovative Approaches
The need is to go for ‘million negotiations’
that would ensure that government, market and civil society work together for the
the first Prime Minister
of India, in his famous Tryst with Destiny speech of 15th August 1947
succinctly put the task before people’s representatives and the services in the
following words; “….. to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous,
democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political
institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and
woman.” These works are still in progress. A
deeper look at these tasks would clearly establish that these goals are
entirely within the realm of governance.
is no accepted definition of
governance. There is divergence of opinion about the meaning of governance
between the conservatives and the liberals, between socialists and the communists.
recent years the word governance has become a very fashionable term and is
being used in a variety of ways and that covers a large number of organizations
both in public and private domains.
our purposes, however, we are confining governance only to public domain. We
are concerned here with that form of governance which serves the citizens by safeguarding
territorial integrity of the State and securing individual security, rule of
law and the delivery of services ranging from education, health to livelihood and
theory of governance would be intelligible unless it is seen in the context of
its time. In the beginning of the 21st century, it has become evident that
those who want minimal government are having an upper hand against the
advocates of the paternalist welfare state.
efficient, effective and democratic government is the best guarantor of social
justice as well as an orderly society. Similarly, there is also emphasis on the
fact that the administrative system has to be country specific and area specific taking in view not only the institutions of governance and
its legal and regulatory mechanisms but also its market, its civil society and
cultural values of the people. The principal response of the state, therefore,
would be to facilitate, to enable, and to coordinate. Neither the market nor
the civil society can perform this role as effectively as the government and
thus they cannot become substitutes for the government.
is not excluded from this global debate or transition from socialist order to
capitalist growth models. Fortunately, the Indian State does not have the monopoly
of the public sphere. The civil society is increasingly more concerned with
public sphere issues and government intervention is considered necessary to
provide welfare schemes to cover social safety needs, upgrade health-care to protect
children, and help provide opportunities for women and the minorities.
political leadership, policy makers and business brains are actuated by a
strong desire to make the country an economic super-power in the 21st Century. The imperatives of democracy, however, are
forcing Indian political leadership to look deeper into the causes of poverty, inequality and suffering of the common man.
concept of governance was decisively shaped by the freedom movement led by
Mahatma Gandhi and the aspirations of founding fathers of the Constitution. The
values in the Indian context at the time of the inauguration of the Republic
were those of nationalism, democracy, secularism, nonalignment and mixed
meaning of nationalism today relates more to further strengthening of a trillion
dollar gross domestic product economy and less to cohesion among states or
integration of princely order that
Sardar Patel so magnificently accomplished.
historic decision was taken to make India a secular state. Religion always had
a major place in our private lives. Politicisation of religious, ethnic and
caste ties have reached unprecedented levels. Today communal and sectarian approaches
are more prominent in our polity and also in public policy at national and
the last sixty years, our ideological frame of reference was determined by
public choice. It is another matter that it was not always real. Since 1991 we
have slowly moved towards the capitalist path.
is at the heart of governance in India. However, in its working, democracy has
revealed several inadequacies. The
chain of accountability from
the civil service to legislature and political authority is weak;
follow-through at higher levels of administration is poor; and limited
oversight by Parliamentary committees is part of the problem. Criminalisation
of politics and increasing role of caste and religion in electoral politics are
the initial years of the Republic, the executive functioned with considerable
autonomy. The hold of politicians and specially ministers began with demands
for allocation of scarce resources in favour of ruling elites and powerful interest
groups. The ‘neutrality’ of the civil service came under stress with
ministerial instability since 1960s in the states. The fragmentation of the
authority at centre characterised by coalition governments since the late 1980s
has only deepened and extended this process.
election after election common people are asserting their voice, changing their
representatives in a manner that has ensured change in government in the states
and also at the Centre. This phenomenon supported by the civil society groups,
the media and an active judiciary has ushered in demands for accountability of
the executive Democracy has really moved beyond periodic elections towards ‘good’
all the world over look up to the nation-state and its organs for high quality performance. It is necessary that citizens are allowed to
participate freely, openly and fully in the political process. Good governance
is associated with accountable political leadership, enlightened
policy-making and a civil service imbued with a professional ethos. The
presence of a strong civil society including a free press and independent
judiciary are pre-conditions for good governance.
is ‘good’ governance in the Indian context? The central challenge before good
governance relates to social development. In his famous ‘tryst with destiny’
speech on 14 August 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru articulated this challenge as ‘the
ending of poverty and ignorance and
disease and inequality of opportunities’. Good governance must aim at expansion in
social opportunities and removal of poverty. In short, good governance, as I
perceive it, means securing justice, empowerment, employment and efficient delivery of services.
are several inter-related aspects of securing justice including security of
life and property, access to justice, and rule of law.
Threats to Peace
most important public good is the assurance of security especially security
of life and property. The Indian nation state is aware of complexities of
the situation and the need is to show greater determination and be relentless
in support to its instruments of law and forces of democracy and social
cohesion to defeat the elements of terror, insurgency and naxalite violence.
Access to Justice
to justice is based upon the basic principle that people should be able to rely
upon the correct application of law. In actual practice there are several countervailing
factors. Some citizens do not know their rights and cannot afford legal aid to advocate
on their behalf. The most severe challenge relates to complexity of
adjudication as legal proceedings are lengthy and costly and the
judiciary lacks personnel and logistics to deal with these matters. Systematic
solutions are, therefore, needed for strengthening access to justice. At the
same time ad hoc measures are
required to provide immediate
assistance to the needy citizens.
Rule of Law
concept of good governance is undoubtedly linked with the citizens’ right of
life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This could be secured in a
democracy only through the rule of law.
rule of law is expressed through the axiom that no one is above the law. One
has to clearly understand that the rule ‘of’ law is different from the rule
‘by’ law. Under the rule ‘by’ law, law is an instrument of the
government and the government is above the law while under the rule ‘of’ law
no one is above the law not even the government. It is under this framework
that rule of law not only guarantees the liberty of the citizens but it also
limits the arbitrariness of the government and thereby it makes government more
articulate in decision-making. The rule of law as Dicey postulated is equality before law. This is secured through formal
and procedural justice which makes independent judiciary a very vital instrument
our constitutional system, every
person is entitled to equality before law and equal protection under the law. No person can be deprived of
his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by
law. Thus the state is bound to protect the life and liberty of every human
being. The courts have the final
authority to test any administrative
action the standard of legality. The administrative or executive action that
does not meet the standard of legality will be set aside if the aggrieved
person brings an appropriate petition in the competent court.
necessary corollary of this phenomenon is called ‘judicial activism’. A
large number of Public Interest Litigations (PILs)are filed in High Courts and the Supreme Court against the apathy of the
executive. This has served us admirably but it has also highlighted the need
for circumspection and self-restraint on the part of the judges in performance
of this task.
matter of significance in
the context of good governance relates to the fact that there are virtues of
‘judicial creativity’ but this
phenomenon must not stifle ‘executive
creativity’ particularly of officials
working at grassroots level for
they are in day-to-day contact with citizens and interact with them in myriad
empowering approach to poverty reduction needs to be based on the conviction
that poor people have to be both the object of development programmes and principal
agency for development.
experience shows that when poor people are associated with public programmes,
they have consistently demonstrated their intelligence and competence in using
public funds wisely and effectively.
Constitution is committed to two different set of principles that have a
decisive bearing on equality.
First, is the principle of equal opportunities to all and the second, the
principle of redress of educational and social backwardness. The question is, not only of the extent to which reservation
in Government employment can really change things for the better, but how it could be used, in order to benefit the socially, educationally and economically
providing protectionist regulations in government employment, no special care was
taken for the poor students since the Constitution only recognized “educational
and social backwardness” and not economic backwardness as a norm to be
applied in formulation of preferential policies in government employment.
Supreme Court in a landmark Judgment (Indira Sawhney & Others Vs. Union of
India and Others) delivered on 16.11.1992, while upholding the reservation of 27
percent of vacancies in the civil posts and services in the Government of
India in favour of other backward classes (OBCs), provided for exclusion of
socially advanced persons/sections among them commonly known as “the creamy layer”.
The Supreme Court further directed the Government of India to specify
socio-economic criteria for exclusion of “the creamy layer” from the OBCs. Subsequently, the children of persons holding eminent positions
in Government and also of rich farming families were made ineligible from
reservation in services. Recently, the Government of India has stipulated that
sons and daughters of persons having gross annual income of Rs. 2.5 lakhs
per annum and above would be excluded from reservation of services.
the scheme of affirmative action that the Constitution provides, the State has
been authorized to make special provision not only for the advancement of
socially and educationally backward classes of citizens, for the Scheduled Castes
and the Scheduled Tribes but also for women and children. Significant
measures have been taken in this regard during the last sixty years. One such
step relates to reservation of seats for women in local bodies.
India has 3.3 million elected representatives in Panchayats in nearly half a
million villages out of whom over one million are women. Direct elections
have also brought into the village national life and consciousness about
strengths of democracy and the need for democratic behaviour in terms of the
Constitution of India. The print and electronic media in particular have
strengthened this process.
of gainful employment for the youth is the most challenging task facing
India’s political economy. The need is to prepare the youth with such education
that would help them acquire vocational
mastery over new technology, including internet. This would make the youth employable in
the job-market and also help those who want to work on their own.
addition, there is an imperative
requirement to pay special
attention to generation of employment opportunities in agriculture,
expand area of coverage of rural employment guarantee schemes, and accelerate
the pace of implementation of Bharat Nirman schemes and several other programmes.
Similarly, it would be essential to encourage private sector partnership and
support movement of self-help groups and micro-financing
Employment & Regional Diversity
are at a level of economic development where India’s southern and western states
have enormously developed in economic and educational terms while the northern and
eastern states are lagging behind. The level of frustration on account of this
disparity is becoming evident in the spread of naxalism and insurgency. It is true
that the nation-state is deeply concerned about this phenomenon but it is only through the quality of governance in northern and eastern states
combined with high level of investment that regional disparity could be
bridged. Generation of employment among the youth in rural areas in northern
and eastern States could be the catalyst
Delivery of Services
principal feature of the scheme of effective delivery of services needs to be
seen in the context of the fact that demands have to flow from the bottom up and not the top down.
three institutions which have played remarkable roles in improving public
service deliveryin India are: (i)
the judiciary; (ii) the media; and (iii) the civil society.
independent character of the judiciary that the constitutional architecture has
carefully provided for has been of immense help. The judiciary has intervened meaningfully
to correct failures in service delivery by the executive. Public Interest
Litigation (PIL) has emerged as a powerful tool in the hands of individuals
as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
media, both electronic and print, have emerged as a source of pressure for
change. It has brought to the fore aspirations of the common people, which in
turn has exerted enormous pressure on public
officials to deliver goods.
emergence of a large number of Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in
different fields ranging from environment to culture to education has become
instrumental in bringing forward the concerns of the public with a degree of
Indian administrative scene is marked by few successful innovations and
practices in public service delivery and a large number of pathetic
General weakness of accountability mechanisms is an impediment to improving services
across the board. The lack of transparency and secrecy that have been
associated with the administrative system from colonial times, besides
generating corruption, has also led to injustice and favouritism.
own experience has shown that when the political leadership granted key civil
servants direct access, it was possible to resolve issues that might have got complicated
due to factional interest of political leaders at the grass root levels or through conflicting circulars of the State Government. Public signalling
of support by the state leadership always helps civil servants reach the poor
people by ignoring political interferences that are aimed at securing
individuals or group interests of comparatively better off people in the
message is clear that when properly empowered by political leadership, a
Project Director or a District Magistrate can be transformed into an effective instrument
not only for innovation in service delivery but also for its quality and delivery on time.
building at all levels of an organization is widely perceived as the most
important approach to
achieve quality of services and customer’s
federal democracy, decentralization of power is viewed as necessary to empower
people in rural and urban areas to improve their lot. The empowerment of the
local levels of administration would foster confidence and enable more
individuals even outside the bureaucracy to come forward to handle community needs
and enhance public good effectively without hesitancy or the need of approval
by higher level authorities.
most crucial element in capacity building is leadership. Good leadership aimed
at improvement of organizational culture is integral to capacity building.
Capacity building demands staff to behave responsibly and produce desired and
agreed upon results. It means a collegiate effort in which an individual or an
organization could be made accountable and responsible for any action that they
take. Access to information, participation, innovation and accountability are needed
to build an environment for capacity building.
Other Major Challenges to Good Governance
obvious risk of generalization, I would like to refer to criminalization of
politics and corruption as major challenges to good governance.
Criminalisation of Politics
criminalisation of the political process and the unholy nexus between
politicians, civil servants, and business houses are having a baneful influence
on public policy formulation and governance. Political class as such is losing
is true that public is not a mute spectator to this phenomenon nor is the
media. The process of judicial accountability has succeeded in sending several
legislators and ministers to jail. But new methods have also been devised to fiddle away with the processes of law. Criminals
facing prosecution get out on bail and even go scot-free. It is necessary
to debar criminals from contesting elections. It is imperative, therefore,
to amend Section 8 of the Representation of the People’s Act 1951 to disqualify a person against whom the competent judicial authority has
framed charges that relate to grave and heinous offences and corruption.
high level of corruption in India has been widely perceived as a major obstacle
in improving the quality of
governance. While human
greed is obviously a driver of corruption, it is the structural incentives and
poor enforcement system to punish the corrupt that have contributed to the
rising curve of graft in India.
conscious programme for strengthening of public awareness and also empowering
the existing anti-corruption agencies would be required. The statutory right to information has been one of the most significant reforms in public administration.
and culture play an important role in social cohesion. The religious attitude
of tolerance and peace and cultural values of pluralism are conducive to good governance.
And yet there is no casual relationship between religion and democracy. For
democracy does not
belong to any faith. Equally, no particular
faith is synonymous with democracy. Indian democracy is a product of freedom
movement which gave primacy to values of pluralism
and equal treatment to people
of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. The constitution guarantees, the judiciary upholds it and
the leadership believes in this value system.
democracy is at the centre of governance architecture. It creates
opportunities, sustains leadership and generates hope. The major shifts in
India’s national value system made impact both on the nitty-gritty of
administration as well as the intellectual build up of the civil service, the
police and the judiciary.
shift in national values corresponded with new democratic experiences and
change in regional and global environment. India shifted from the commanding heights
of the public sector economy policy and slowly opted for integration of markets
and moved on the path of capitalism beginning from 1991. It is true that
capitalism is not the accepted creed of the Indian nation-state. In an era of
coalition governments, the national government has had to use ingenuous methods
to push economic reforms to usher in rapid economic growth. This is also
true of foreign policy arena. For our purpose,
it suffices to say that the concept
of good governance though in vogue all the world over, the Indian product has
its own special features
is being widely appreciated that good governance is dependant not merely upon
good policy advice but more importantly on the processes and incentives to
design and implement good policies themselves. Scholars as well as administrators
agree that participation of civil society in decision-making, public
sector capacity building and rule of law are
essential for quality and timely delivery
concept and practice of good governance in a country demands that there should
be constructive mechanisms and procedures that will enable the three
principal actors - government, market and civil society - to play in
concert and to supplement each other’s capability. The working of all governments
at the Centre and in the States has clearly revealed the existence of powerful
interest groups who have a strong vested interest in preserving the status quo. This comes in the way of government becoming the effective agent
of change and guarantor of social justice.
is an integral part of social
order but the truth is that principles of market cannot be allowed to govern
society and polity. Accordingly, no democratic government can leave market uncontrolled
and free from regulations.
poor are poor of course because
of historical inequities but also
on account of failure of the State
to empower them adequately to
get their entitlements. Democratic governance demands that the State can not
for long serve the demands of the rich and organized sectors of the society and
ignore the dalits, the minorities and the women because they are unorganized
multi-sectoral approach to governance that serves the cause of growth as well as equity alone can help in achieving the goal of good
governance. It is precisely here that NGOs, self-help groups, womens’ groups,
legal assistance organizations and several other civil society instruments can
play an influential role. Just as the government regulates the market from
committing misuses that are detrimental to society as a whole, the role of the
civil society is to ensure that government is not only accountable and
responsive to the citizens but it also performs its essential role as the
guarantor of social justice.
one clearly sees the determination of national and several state governments to
provide a safety net at the bottom of economic pyramid. The middle class is a major beneficiary of new economic initiatives in the post-permit, licence, quota raj. The need to awaken social consciousness of captains of industry
too is being increasingly addressed. The need to accelerate the pace of these
changes is obvious.
major shift from or even collapse of core values of freedom movement are making
adverse impact on institutions of the republic and functioning of government.
are entering into an era of capitalist innovation. It leaves a lot of
people out and the market laws even threaten to dominate natural environment.
But as luck would have it, fear of losing control of the circumstances and routines
of one’s daily life and growing
inequity is bringing the State back.
Fear of terrorism too has contributed to the view for strengthening of the nation-state.
a return of ‘licence permit’ era is ruled out for ever as we are getting increasingly
linked to the global market, good governance that people need in order
to improve their lives depends, in a larger measure, on government activities and
quality of democracy and
the commitment and calibre of public servants both in the executive and in the
judiciary would determine the outcome of the country’s performance in key areas-
empowerment, employment and effective delivery of services.
the post Gandhi-Nehru era, the involvement of civil society in governance has
become crucial. Civil groups like NGO’s, women’s groups, trade unions,
cooperatives, guilds, faith organizations are all essential to buildings of
Without the involvement of the people, without their voices, without their
participation and representation, a programme can only be implemented
mechanically. Today, we need innovators in two areas in particular: women
and livelihood programmes.
are key to good governance. Their increasing representation in democratic institutions
have provided stability to Indian polity. Women can bring constructive,
creative and sustainable solutions to the table. Women participation in
economic programmes needs to be augmented for in women we get expendable providers,
educators, caretakers and leaders.
relates to livelihood. Livelihood does not only mean factory jobs. It should
relate to social economy and local resources as well. It should also mean
upgrading of existing and traditional skills that people have possessed from
time immemorial in agriculture, in animal husbandry, in fishing, in textiles and so on. Investment in up gradation of such skills
would lead to harmonious relationships with nature.
view of deep-rooted social and economic
inequities of centuries, India
cannot blindly follow capitalist model of growth that puts excessive reliance
on market forces. For such a model would fail to provide stability to Indian
polity. And yet rapid economic growth is essential to meet aspirations of the
Indian youth. Placed in these circumstances, the innovators have to devise ways
and means that secures both fast growth and an approach that combines Gandhi an
ethics with democratic temper.
regards the Services, my main worry is that the premier services in the country
namely; the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police
Service (IPS) which play a crucial role in the system of governance
including in the district administration are fast losing trust of the common
people. It is not only for the government but for the services as well to look into
these aspects of the matter as in the absence of trust between the civil
service and the common people nothing substantial can be accomplished.
innovations are taking place in the government, in the market and in the
civil society. The nature and content of good governance would undergo changes in
tune with rising expectations and fresh demands of the people. Democratic
governance would expect and secure from its leadership to be alive to such
aspirations and to continually tune institutions of polity to be effective
instruments of citizens’ welfare.
is aware that ‘million mutinies’ are taking place almost on a daily
basis in the country. The need is to go for ‘million negotiations’ that would
ensure that government, market and civil society work together for the poor.
Prasad Singh The
author is governor of sikkim and a distinguished scholar, thinker and public
servant. He has been Ambassador and Executive Director, World Bank (1999-2002).