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Challenge of Good Governance


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 poor 


Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, 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. 


There 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.  

In 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. 

For 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 food security. 


No 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. 

An 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.  

India 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.  

India’s 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. 

National Values

The 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 economy.  

The 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.  

Another 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 state levels. 

For 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.

Democracy 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 major concerns.  

In 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.  

But 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’ governance. 

Good Governance 

Citizens 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.  

What 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. 

Securing Justice 

There are several inter-related aspects of securing justice including security of life and property, access to justice, and rule of law.  

Threats to Peace 

The 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 

Access 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 

The 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.  

The 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 of governance.  

In 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.  

A 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.  

Another 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 ways. 


An 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 

Our 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.  

Our 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 backward ones.  

In 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.  

The 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.  

In 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.  

Today 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. 


Generation 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 skills and 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.  

In 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 institutions. 

Employment & Regional Diversity 

We 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 

The 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.  

The three institutions which have played remarkable roles in improving public service delivery    in India are: (i) the judiciary; (ii) the media; and (iii) the civil society.  

The 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).  

The 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.  

The 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 regularity. 

Administrative Responses 

The Indian administrative scene is marked by few successful innovations and practices in public service delivery and a large number of pathetic performances. 

The 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.  

My 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 society.  

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. 

Capacity Building 

Capacity building at all levels of an organization is widely perceived as the most important approach to achieve quality of services and customer’s satisfaction.  

In a 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.  

The 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 

At the obvious risk of generalization, I would like to refer to criminalization of politics and corruption as major challenges to good governance. 

Criminalisation of Politics 

The 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 respect.  

It 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. 


The 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.  

A 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. 


Religion 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.  

India’s 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.  

The 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 and flavor.  

It 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 of services.  

The 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.  

Market 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.  

The 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 and poor.  

A 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.  

Fortunately, 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. 

Concluding Remarks 

A 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.  

We 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. 

Although 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 approaches. 

The 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.  

In 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 inclusive
growth. 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 

Women 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.  

Second 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.  

In 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.  

As 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.  

Fortunately, 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.  

One 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.  

Balmiki 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).


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