The governance gap

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In India, there has never been a dearth of intentions and good policies. Yet, we fail miserably at implementation, says Mahesh Zagade. Why do we have this implementation deficit, he asks, as he tries to analyse the basics of governance in India.

An article of a few hundred words won’t do justice to the topic of good governance, in the context of the current scenario in India. However, let’s understand broadly the landscape of the topic, and leave the detailed intellectual deliberations to the larger public and academic platforms.

The contextual relevance of governance depends upon the tangible outcome of the intended role. In a democratic set-up, the intended role of governance is specified in the Constitution of that country, and it is further elaborated through the statutes, policies and welfare programmes. The principles laid down in the Directive Principles of the State Policy in the fourth chapter of our Constitution, are considered to be the beacon, guiding the Centre and the state governments to apply these principles in designing the laws and programmes to establish a just society. It clearly mandates that “the government shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life, strive to minimise the inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals, but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas, or engaged in different vocations. Therefore, the mandate assigned by the people to the government is very clear and explicit.

Seven decades of governance

A quick scan of the statutes, policies and programmes promulgated by the government with reference to the Directive Principles indicates, in my personal view, that the country has done wonderfully well during the last seven decades on this front, with some exceptions. And therefore, political leaderships have performed amazingly well by giving appropriate laws and programmes. Of course, there some areas where governments could have given better laws to alleviate suffering of the people. To cite examples we can look at a few such failures. As per a survey of an NGO, about 66% litigations in the country are land related. This is a humongous number as a very large number, of litigants, mostly the peasants bear the brunt of it, and it has economic and societal ramifications, including unnecessary expenditures in litigation, pressures of heavy load on the judiciary, and more important, social conflicts and tensions. The government has definitely failed to appreciate the enormity of the problem. There could be similar examples of governmental failure regarding conceptualisation of appropriate policies and programmes too.

One thing, though, is very conspicuous. Those at the helm of governance always claim that it’s good governance, in contrast to those outside the government who hold an extremely wide spectrum of opinions ranging from some people lambasting it to be very bad, to some suggesting improvements. However, the people are still generally unhappy about the societal and economic status or the governance system.

The major ill in the country in the context of governance is the successive governments’ monumental and unforgivable failure to mainstream the culture of rigorous implementation of the statutes and the programmes. On the one hand, the laws and the programmes have been designed by taking all possible care, however, the same care appears to be grossly missing while overseeing their implementation. The requirement of those at the helm of affairs to resort to announcements of emotionally driven slogans like “Garibi Hatao” or “Achhe Din”, is the clinical manifestation of the failure of implementation. Howsoever may be the desperate urge of the political leadership to secure ultimate public good, at least as a tool to retain power, it falls short of its intended impact due to lacunae or deficit of implementation. We may, for brevity, name it as a new syndrome called an ‘implementation-deficit syndrome’.

The implementation deficit syndrome

Let’s explore the anatomy and physiology of the implementation-deficit syndrome. Anatomically, there doesn’t appear to be any handicap leading to this syndrome, as the country has one of the largest bureaucratic apparatuses in the world. The quintessential problem with the Indian administrative machinery lies in the fact that it has been consistently failing in the implementation of the governance tools, namely, the laws enacted by the Parliament and the state legislatures, and also programmes announced by the governments. The implementation-deficit has almost taken away substantial benefits accruing from the governance tools in every sphere of social activity including economic progress, income equality, health, nutrition, transparency, employment, income security, social justice, infrastructure, education…. the list is endless.

The landscape of implementation failure is so vast that it will be a mockery to cite one example. However, to give a small glimpse into this, we can look around to see how blatantly laws are being flouted and we simply take that as a fait accompli. For example, we see sprawling slums and illegal constructions dotting the urban areas all over the country and we, once in a while, come to know about slum clearances, demolition of illegal constructions because of proactive stance of some no nonsense officer. We eulogise such officials. However, the basic fact that is always missed out is the failure of officials to prevention of slums or illegal constructions ab initio. The laws in this respect are very robust in the sense that no one can construct anything without the permission of the Municipal Commissioner or any other officer who is the chief administrator of that city or town. It only means that these officials have historically failed in implementation of building permission laws. No officer in the history of independent India has been penalised for allowing such illegal constructions except in rare cases, wherein lives were lost because of illegal and faulty constructions.

This eloquently tells the sordid affair of non-implementation of major statutes across the country and passive acceptance of it by the general public. Similarly, because of non-implementation of Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994, the girl child ratio is still falling in spite of dedicated official machinery from national to grassroots level and appurtenant budgetary provisions. The same is the case with very well meaning and well-crafted social welfare schemes. The country can’t forget former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s famous remarks that only 15 paise of every rupee for the welfare of the downtrodden reaches them. This state of affairs has become mainstream accepted fact due to the non-implementation syndrome that has been hunting us for seven decades.

Remedy for corruption

The nation is incessantly busy in debating as how to combat corruption. My experience shows that corruption is inversely proportionate to the levels of implementation of laws and programmes. The higher the level of implementation, lower incidence of corruption and vice-versa.

Is there any remedy or panacea for this malady? Yes, of course! But the question is whether we really want the solution? As per the quote attributed to the philosopher Joseph de Maistre “Every nation gets the government it deserves”. It’s not just the government, but the same is true for the bureaucracy too. There is necessity for the people to wake up from the deep slumber of seven decades to this major syndrome if they at all want to see any transformation, or otherwise, it’s going to be business as usual!

The Indian bureaucracy is more like a pyramid rather than a brain. The pinnacle of pyramid sitting on the huge structure below, it simply has no control or functionality over it. It has been reduced to being just a decorative piece rather than being a control centre of a brain. The cabinet secretary and the chief secretaries of the states have to revisit their role in the state craft as the leaders to secure implementation of parliamentary, legislative and policy mandates and use all the resources at their disposal to not only secure good governance but also to eliminate the forces that act as hindrances. This is not at all a tall order to ask for as I have myself experimented during 34 years of my career and found that it’s not just doable for any post that one holds in government but one can really achieve tangible impact in a short time-frame.

We need to introduce audit of implementation through a third party independent organisation, and the country should be kept apprised of the levels of implementation deficits in all the statutes and programmes.

Mahesh Zagade

Mahesh Zagade, an IAS officer, retired as Principal Secretary to Government, had a very tumultu- ous career spanning over 34 years. As a firm believer in transparency, he introduced Right to Information seven years before the government enacted the law for it. His notable contributions include rigorous implementation of laws for patient safety, and ban of gutkha and paan masala during his tenure as Commissioner for FDA, establishment of Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, and strict implementation of land laws to control nefarious activities of unscrupulous elements. He is a recipient of international awards like WHO No-Tobacco Day Award, Prime Minister`s Gold Award for e-Governance 2012-13, and President`s Silver Medal for Census 2011. Currently, he shares his experience, vision and knowledge in diverse subjects with all segments of the society, including farmers, students, corporates, health professionals, government officials, people`s representatives and academics, through lectures and organised meetings.

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