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Governance and Public Policy


Governance and Public Policy: Vertical Meeting Horizontal

The good governance comes out from the strong commitment of the government where all commitment is made keeping people as focus

When I started writing this article on Public Policy and Governance, I was a bit puzzled as what to write and what not to write? Many pioneer works have been done in this area, in India and also globally. Almost all shades, of it, over the years, have been explored by various scholars and practitioners. And, my thoughts took me to an old time story written by revered writer Munshi Prem   Chandjee. This story is about a local leader who was very respectable and popular amongst the people. He, all through his life fought for the justice, equality and transparency. The leader had a very pretty and intelligent daughter with whom he used to share all his progressive thoughts and spiritual discourse. She was very impressed with her father and she always considered him as a role model. She had a lot of respect for him. She rather believed that only a person like him can give good governance and do justice to his people. Once, on the eve of a big festival, her father was invited by the local community to be the chief guest and to perform the special pooja in the temple which the community was organising and also requested him to give award and bless the youth who belonged to the same village who had done some commendable work for the society. The leader accepted the invitation and gave his consent to be the part of the special occasion. On the special day, the daughter also accompanied her father to be the part of the celebration. The special pooja was well performed and then for conferring award, the name of the youth was called for the award. The Youth came forward, touched the feet of the leader and got his blessings. His citation was read before everybody that how he helped educating people and fighting against any kind of discrimination, be it caste, class, creed, region, religion, belief etc. He was praised further about how he could bring change amongst them. The leader, in his speech, also had lot of praise for him. He admired him by saying that our country should have youth like him. He could be the role model for the whole society and generations to come. He then in his praise garlanded him and hugged him. The leader’s daughter was carefully listening to each word her father was saying in the praise of the youth and was feeling very happy within. The daughter, while returning home, was engrossed with her father’s speech and constantly thinking about her father. All the scenes were repeatedly flashing before her and reminding her again and again that how her father hugged the youth, knowing well that he comes from the lower caste. She became emotional and hugged her father and whispered in his ears, “Babujee ! I love you.” The father smiled, patted and hugged her. 

 A few days later, when they were taking their morning tea together at home the daughter asked her father, “Babujee ! Will you give me something if I may ask?" Father said, I am here for you only. Listening to that, she very politely asked her father, “Will you marry me with the youth whom you have given the award on the special day and you blessed him as role model? I love him and wish to marry him. The entire atmosphere reversed to opposite, father stood up with anger and shouted at her “How dare you say so? It is impossible. How can a lower caste man become my son-in law? Don’t you know that a lower caste cannot marry to a high caste? This is simply an unpardonable act”.............and then everything crumbled before her like a glass house............... the special pooja, award ceremony, her father speech, his behaviour towards youth and his reaction to her proposal ......... This is the reality of life.  

Such realties of olden days are even true today. This story led me to analyse that mere policy or intention is not important for better outcome, it is even more important that it is translated and implemented in its true spirit to get intended outcomes. The challenges of yester years are even true today in the 21st century. The social practices are much more dominant than the rule of law. Whether we talk about the verdict given by the panchayat or any local community groups those verdicts are respected and at times over power the rule of law. Just to elaborate my point I would like to give another example. As an official picture (Rules, Act, policy, programmes), provisions of the constitution of India itself denote that discrimination of any type is constitutionally not acceptable. Every individual is protected by law on any kind of discrimination. But, from the other hand, social practice is quite opposite of that. The old values is still much more prevalent and practiced, for example the status of women in the society  even after constitutional provision, many policies, programmes, legislation remains very low on many indicators. Patriarchal beliefs, social ideology and practices many a times over power the rule of law. When it comes to practice, the written social code of conduct is given priority over the written law. Hence the challenge is how to make a shift from mere governance to governance outcomes.  

It is important to mention that the World is changing, very fast. It got transformed from local to global with the IT and communication revolution. Economically also, in the era of globalisation, the interdependence between the countries have increased much more. But the larger question still to be answered that How much we have changed with the changing world. Are we still rigid and not able to accommodate new ideas? Or our ideas are much more superior to any other type? The question which we also need to look at is have our governance  system is changing as per the need of the hour or ready to change and provide good governance and providing better service to the people. This paper would try and look into the reforms and the indicators of governance, some of the better practices and try and analyse the challenges in the changing environment. How much of our vertical structure of governance is ready to embrace the horizontal ones to make society a just society, leading towards more egalitarian belief. 

Definition of Governance 

The word governance derives from the Greek verb κυβερνάω [kubernáo] which means to steer and was used for the first time in a metaphorical sense by Plato. It then passed on to Latin and then on to many languages. And, in English has been defined as supremacy, ascendancy, domination, power, authority, control etc. Governance is the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. 

Over the years, there have been many definitions propounded by experts for governance. Just to take a look at a few definitions, the Wikipedia defines it as, governance is the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power or verify performance. It consists of either a separate process or part of management or leadership processes. These processes and systems are typically administered by a government. When discussing governance in particular institutions, the quality of governance within the institutions is often compared to a standard of good governance. Way back, much before Plato, Kautitya, in his treatise, Arthashastra while defining governance had emphasised on a few key pillars of the area such as justice, ethics and anti autocratic forms of government as bigger frame work of art of governance. Despite long provenance of definition no strong consensus has formed on one definition. Conceptually, governance (as opposed to “good” governance) can be defined as the rule of the rulers, typically within a given set of rules. One might conclude that governance is the process – by which authority is conferred on rulers, by which they make the rules, and by which those rules are enforced and modified. Thus, understanding governance requires an identification of the rulers and the rules, as well as the various processes by which they are selected, defined, and linked together and with the society generally. (The World Bank). 

Governance consists of the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. This includes the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.
Governance Indicators and Good Governance 

There is much subjectivity involved when we make comparative statement about good and bad governance. Each government consider themselves as most transparent and equality based governance with full of egalitarian choices. World Bank Governance Indicators Based on a long-standing research program of the World Bank, the Worldwide Governance Indicators, Since 1996 to till date, captured six key dimensions of governance :  

 i) Voice & Accountability
 ii) Political Stability and Lack of Violence
iii) Government Effectiveness
iv) Regulatory Quality
v) Rule of Law ,and
vi) Control of Corruption.  

They measured the quality of governance in over 200 countries, based on close to 40 data sources produced by over 30 different organizations worldwide and are updated on an annual basis since 2002. World Bank Governance indicators have also made distinction between Rules based and Outcome-Based indicators. The former talks about the existence of rules, policy, and legislation, whereas the latter consider its enforcement. But there is no clear line existing to make clear cut distinction between the two. Whereas, UNDP has recognized nine indicators of good governance which may be brought or understood as outcome indicators. Good governance is, participatory, transparent and accountable, effective and equitable, and it promotes the rule of law. It ensures that political, social and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and that the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in decision-making over the allocation of development resources(UNDP, 1997) . Absence of good governance acts as against the principle of inclusiveness in the achievement of sustainable development. The nine indicators of UNDP recognize the following core characteristics of good governance, which are: 1) Participation 2) Rule of law 3) Transparency 4) Responsiveness 5) Consensus oriented 6) Equity 7) Effectiveness and Efficiency 8) Accountability and 9) Strategic vision. Inclusion of these indicators may lead to a good output.  

The growing recognition of the link between good governance and successful development, as empirical evidence suggests, has stimulated the demand for monitoring the quality of governance across countries and within individual countries over time. The Worldwide Governance Indicators are a compilation of the perceptions of a very diverse group of respondents, collected in large number of surveys and other cross country assessments of governance. Some of these instruments capture the views of firms, individuals, and public officials in the countries being assessed. Others reflect the views of NGOs and aid donors with considerable experience in the countries being assessed, while others are based on the assessments of commercial risk rating agencies. 

Despite many perceptions of good governance it is important tom keep popular people’s perception in mind. These days there has been a nationwide debate going on about the transparency in governance for making corruption free governance. This indicator could be one of the most sought after indicators of good governance. As making governance corruption free, many initiatives have been taken in the past and many more are going to be put on the table. Right to Information Act, debate for bringing Lok Pal Bill, setting up of Institution of Chief Vigilance Commissioner could be another important tool for good governance which may lead in reducing the gaps between policy and implementation. 

Case Study 

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment    Guarantee Act   (NREGA), 2005   landmark legislation in Indian history. Potential implementation of MNREGA needs adequate capacitated implementing body. In West Bengal , the Gram Panchayat (village council) is the primary program implementing agency of NREGA. In order to assess the performance of Gram Panchayat (GP) in performing core characteristics of Good Governance and to explore the relationship between good governance and employment generation through MNREGA. This case study of GPs of Paschim Medinipur (West Midnapore) district of West Bengal is an example of good governance that reveals the core components of good governance which has significant positive impact on creating average person days per household under MNREGA in GP.  

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), 2005 is landmark legislation in Indian history of social security legislation after independence. Enacted after a successful struggle for an employment guarantee legislation, this legislation is a partial victory towards a full-fledged right to employment in any developing country context. For the first time, right to work has been made a legal compulsion and entitlement for unemployment allowances in case of non-allotment of employment assured through this act. What is considered to be crucial is the empowerment of the poor through the provision of a right-based law, which would act as a strong safety net in the lack of alternative employment opportunities for poor people.  

The other key attributes of this scheme are time bound guarantee, labor-intensive work, decentralized participatory planning, women empowerment, work site facilities, and above all, transparency and accountability through the provision of social audits and right to information. MNREGA is a unique and unprecedented effort in strengthening grass root democracy in India. In West Bengal, GP is the primary program implementing agency of NREGA, along with other PRI bodies and line departments.  

A study conducted by Dipjoy Sen Roy & Debabrata Samanta on the good governance with West Bengal case took following five indicators which quantify   the quality of governance; i) Participation ii) Transparency iii) Accountability iv) Effectiveness & efficiency and v) Equity. The study used the linear regression model. Almost all the indicators of the regression model used in the study have shown positive results.  

The scale of NREGA employment in 2008-09 was massive: if NREGA worksites were open only for one day in the year, one would find 216 crore people working! On average each household (that worked on NREGA works) got 48 days of employment. Of the households that worked on NREGA, more than one-tenth got their full entitlement of 100 days. Finally, note that a large proportion of the employment went to disadvantaged groups such as SCs and STs. Women got close to half of all employment (48%), which is higher than stipulated under the Act.  

There are several criteria on which the implementation of the NREGA can be evaluated. These include scale of NREGA employment generated, participation of women and other disadvantaged groups in NREGA,    quality of assets created under NREGA, involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions in the planning process, implementation of transparency safeguards (important for controlling corruption), labour “friendliness” (work on- demand, timely payments and so on) of the  system and so on.  

Tamil Nadu is another good example of states from which there is much to learn. Initially, the state focused its energies on the basics: improving capacity at the GP and Block levels and putting systems in place. Great attention was paid to details such as the design of formats for record-keeping, monitoring mechanisms, and so on. For example, the job card in Tamil Nadu includes illustrations aimed at awareness generation apart from being innovative in recording attendance and payments. The “slow and steady” approach means that, in terms of employment generation, Tamil Nadu was at the bottom of the ladder in 2006-07. Yet by 2009-10, it was close to the top. 


The good governance comes out from the strong commitment of the government where all commitment is made with keeping people as central focus. In both the case studies there are many things are in common. Policy, legislation, rules, programmes etc are essential for governance reforms which determine the governance rules where as its execution with same or even higher commitment is much more important to have the outcomes. The institutional arrangements required for the implementation should encourage  involvement of people in then tire decision making process .The need of the hour is to have decentralised process of planning , implementation and monitoring of the programme and projects. This vertical and horizontal structure of governance should work in harmony to ensure good governance leading to intended objectives. Public Policy (the official intended picture) and practice (the reality) should not have the huge gap and be seen in isolation with each other. The institutions designed for its implementation must demonstrate its integration and bridge the gap between the two. This may lead to transparent, corruption free, value and ethics-based governance, and this will have high replicability value leading to an equity and egalitarian value based society.  

Santosh Kumar  The author is Professor, National Institute of Disaster Management


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