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State needs to rethink its policies

With the number of orders delivered by the judiciary on crucial issues, the state seriously needs to rethink its strategy, planning and style of working. Amidst a number of judicial interventions, at least three recent orders raise serious questions over the administrative acumen of the government. The Bombay High Court’s orders on the state’s response to encroachments, ration cards and education asked the state to reassess the functioning of the government departments and its decision-making.

The Aurangabad bench of the HC has quashed the state action against schools where student attendance records were fudged to claim government grants worth crores. A special drive undertaken on a massive scale revealed the dark side of the education sector. It was said that over 19 lakh students were bogus, as they existed only on paper, and Rs 1,263 crore from the state’s kitty were spent on them annually.

The drive was hailed with equal concerns over the state of affairs in school education. But, the state government’s decision to lodge criminal cases against the people involved in running the schools, and officials from the school education department who were in cahoots to allow systematic loot of the state, has been quashed by the HC. Here, the state failed to convince the HC as to why it had to conduct a school census drive, how the people concerned were engaged in looting state funds, and how lodging criminal cases against them was justifiable.

The only saving grace for the state is the HC permission to act against education barons who have submitted fake documents to claim government grants.

But, the possibility of such an action seems remote, as prominent leaders of all political parties are involved in it. Action, particularly against the ruling Congress and NCP leaders, is difficult to come by, considering that the election season is fast approaching and many of these barons are likely to be the candidates for Lok Sabha, and later, for the state assembly elections. The state’s credibility to act on such issues was quite visible when it failed to act against the allotment of 262 bogus divisions at a number of schools from the Marathwada region, where about 400 teachers were appointed, and the state spent Rs 82 crore on their salaries. It may sound unbelievable, but the divisions had not been approved by the school education department at Mantralaya.

This went on for six years and when it was brought to the state’s notice, a committee was appointed to find out the truth. Despite the submission of the committee report, the state failed to act in time and invited a plea in HC.

The indecisiveness on controlling illegal constructions in Mumbai, Thane and other urban centres, has also put a big question mark over the efficacy of state governance. The HC has asked the state to act within 12 weeks against the menace of illegal buildings. It has also asked for the formation of special police teams for investigation of illegal structures and encroachments, and special courts to deal with the cases speedily. Here, one may ask why the state had to wait for such directives, when in 2008-09, it took a decision to set up special police stations and courts to deal with the menace.

Sadly, the state failed to force civic bodies to go for these special measures to control illegal constructions and encroachments that have threatened the civic sense and management. Instead, it left it to civic bodies to take a decision, causing a collapse of the civic system.

The situation was certainly not as bad as it appears today. Previously, Mantralaya, the seat of power in Mumbai, was a policy-making centre and every word coming from it was followed by field offices and the people concerned, with utmost sincerity. Even a phone call or a letter from Mantralaya would be treated with seriousness. Today, the situation has reversed. Today, either the state’s decisions are challenged, or judicial intervention is sought to let government work on particular issues. The gap between the public and those in governance is widening, which is the most dangerous sign for democracy.

In yet another matter, the state has been facing HC’s ire over bogus ration cards. This is also an important issue, since a ration card is still considered as a valid document to avail benefits of state schemes, and is also as a proof or residence. It was due to directives by the HC that a state-wide drive had to be conducted to flush out bogus ration cards. This revealed that over 54 lakh ration cards were fake. It came as a rude shock, as crores had been spent on beneficiaries who were ineligible to avail food subsidies. It is quite surprising that the government needs court directives to deal with crucial issues, when it has been mandated to discharge its duties.

— The writer is Political Editor of MiD DAY 

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