State needs a deft hand to govern change, shape policy

Our government, as an entity, always seems to be behind the times as it hesitantly and sluggishly plays catch up with any kind of change, even as the world outside is quick to accept new ideas, innovations and transformations happening around.

By the time the government decides to adopt a new idea or technology, it becomes old. Those who need further proof can take a look at the weaponry in use by the law enforcing agencies, the use of information technology in government offices, and the techniques applied for constructing roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.

The same descriptive of slothful state machinery is also applicable to decision making in the government.

Since over a decade ago, citizens of Mumbai have been hearing about water transport projects to ease congestion on roads. Since 2008 we have been hearing about a CCTV surveillance network for Mumbai but even after five years, the project has not started.

Little headway is made even though political parties come to power after promising development and progress in multiple spheres. This happens even though the administration has meritorious candidates chosen after gruelling exams and interviews. While secretaries in government departments and district collectors are IAS cadre officials, the lower-rank officials have been selected by the state public service commission.

Despite that, complaints against the system of governance form a barrage. The grievances are on display in court: we see the government facing a number of cases or being pulled up, and officials getting rebuked for misdemeanour. The government’s decisions regularly come in for judicial scrutiny despite the battery of officials that drafts them. In a number of cases the government had no option but to withdraw its decisions.

It is not that experts populate government corridors. We have talented people in the corporate or social sector, in the field of education, literature, science, research and other streams of life. But they are ignored in favour of people from politics and administration, who occupy important positions in government bodies, even after retirement. We can find retired bureaucrats in the State Information Commission, Maharashtra Electricity Regula-tory Commission, Water Resources Regulatory Autho-rity, Human Rights Commission and so on. Rarely does it happen that people like Anna Hazare and Medha Patkar make their voices heard.

The architects of the Constitution felt that luminaries from different spheres of society should offer expertise, and reserved 12 seats each at Rajya Sabha and the state council for them. It is expected that the government recommend people from the arts and culture, literature, social services to Rajya Sabha and the state council. But rarely do we find veterans from various fields being nominated to the state council. Political nominees seem to usurp these positions.

This issue assumes importance, specially since only last week the state cabinet refused to consider a proposal to set up the Institute of Public Policy at Pune. The institute was supposed to work as a think tank and a policy research centre to evaluate important projects, programmes and schemes of the government. As many as 60 academic streams were suggested for working on public policies. Renowned people from various fields were to be roped in to work with the institute.

The proposal was moved after considering a report on policy landscapes and think tanks in India by the Melinda Gates Foundation, a report by IIM-Bangalore on framing of scientific policies for the state, visits to the LKY (Singapore), the Indian School of Business and the Centre for Good Governance (Hyderabad), the Indian Institute of Public Administration and the Centre for Policy Research (Delhi), and discussions held with Dr Vijay Kelkar, Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, Dr Vaidyanathan Aiyar, Dr Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Dr Mukul Ashar.

Despite the fact that the centre was conceived as a foundry for the state’s policies, members of the state cabinet vehemently opposed it, alleging that it was going to be a parallel institute to the Mantralaya.

Had the ministers rejected or amended the proposal after a careful thought and argument, the rebuff would have made slightly more sense. But even a detailed presentation was not allowed to be made. Considering the quality and extent of governance we have today, such an institute is not a bad idea at all.

Even if it was presumed that babus had the biggest role to play in the institute, their expertise could have been used in a better manner. Similarly, former ministers known for their expertise in specific subjects could have been asked to contribute for the new institution. Sadly, an opportunity was allowed to go waste.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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