Needed better governance

NIKHIL KUMAR

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A COUNTRY’S human development index speaks of its success in removing deprivation and creating conditions conducive to meeting its basic social needs. India, unfortunately, has not fared well in this regard. According to the UNDP’s latest report, it is ranked 124 – a fall from last year’s 113. That it has fallen is unfortunate but what is even more galling is that it is placed towards the bottom of the international list, which for a vibrant democracy cannot be a certificate of merit.

The liberalisation of the economy was expected to boost its GDP and improve the quality of life. True, the GDP has increased, even if at a round 5% for 2001-2002, but it has left a vast mass of Indians unaffected and without jobs. The annual growth of employment during the 11-year period from 1983 to 1994 was 2.5%, in itself not particularly satisfactory. But in the six-year period from 1994 to 2000 it was worse – 0.98%. This is a significant fall reflected in structural unemployment as, barring a few states, there was lack of adequate preparation for changed work character in our liberalized economy.

Two well-conceived schemes – the Employment Assurance Scheme and the Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana – to generate rural employment have been merged into the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana to form a wage-employment programme, and hopefully matters in the rural sector will improve. If access to basic needs is not facilitated and unemployment reduced, serious stress on the law and order situation is inevitable – a parameter for fixing our human development index.

Despite some gains the former finance minister accepts that there are problems in our economic policy, and wants a consensus on more radical reforms to deal with them. This regardless, it must be acknowledged that there is a common perception that India is not doing too well and its governance is beset with ills.

It is not the intention here to list these ills and suggest a panacea for them but yes, a few can be identified and some points of action prioritized. Let us take corruption.

It is embarrassing that India has been placed only a few slots above the most corrupt nation. Corruption is endemic – no two opinions about that. Just see the variety of scams that we have had.

Of the many, let us take the scam of our public service commissions. These commissions were set up to steer clear of sifarish and pairavi and select with care and without any fear, prejudice or favour the best candidate. Amidst universal conviction that the commissions function with rectitude, they were considered almost sacrosanct and there was implicit belief in the calibre of those selected. Even though a few instances of wrongdoing by a state service commission had come to notice, it was the alleged involvement of Sidhu, the Chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission, in brazen moneymaking in the process of selection that jolted us out of this cocoon.

While the present state government has done well to go the whole hog in cleansing the state of the ill-effects of Sidhu’s corrupt practices and, hopefully, to book him to restore people’s confidence in the commission, it is a matter of some concern that the state’s then chief minister had recommended his appointment as a member of the Union Public Service Commission to the prime minister. The UPSC is an elite body that conducts tests for selection for the all-India and the central services to provide the country’s bureaucratic steel frame and we cannot have someone like Sidhu in it. Luckily he didn’t make it but Karnik did. He had joined the UPSC when he was arrested for an earlier wrongdoing as a member of the Maharashtra Public Service Commission. The mind boggles at what damage Karnik (or Sidhu) could or may have done had he continued.

To guard against any improper selection such placements should be made in consultation with agencies, which are supposed to know about such people. But did the concerned agencies, if consulted, clear these worthies?

 

 

There are other instances of beneficiaries in high places using ingenious methods to acquire tainted wealth and with little concern for the consequences. Some of them, when faced with consequences, have made the plea that they were being harassed for personal reasons and will seek the verdict of the people’s court. Indeed, that the court does often clear them when they win elections, and sometimes resoundingly, leaves us wondering if integrity is an issue at all. This is dangerous and it is a pity that our institutional arrangements to tackle corruption have just not worked.

Some time back the former CVC, in a much-hyped move, had put names of officers of doubtful integrity on the net, raising expectations of meaningful follow-up action. But nothing much was heard after that and people saw it as mere posturing. We disapprove of corruption and are frustrated when the corrupt do not get their comeuppance; we pine for their conviction and are disappointed that convictions are rare. No wonder we are so low on the integrity ladder – an ignominy we must and can escape if there are simpler laws to facilitate quick convictions. Decision-makers must be put under a scanner and, more importantly, made aware of it so that they are forced to be more transparent in their dealings.

 

 

Persons should be allowed, on the payment of a stipulated fee, to peruse the relevant papers to see how a decision, which they perceive as unfair, was reached. The Freedom of Information Bill that was introduced in the Lok Sabha and is pending scrutiny by its Select Committee, is a welcome initiative that contains enabling provision with safeguards against the disclosure of any official secrets. If the Select Committee clears the Bill and, when this law is enacted, it should lead to transparency and create conditions for above board decision-making.

Mere taking of decisions though is not all; they should have merit. Lack of accountability among decision-makers or implementers is another factor affecting governance as there is little concern for fixing responsibility for lapses or for inadequate initiative. There are few instances that come to mind where, for one or the other reason, the decision-maker or implementer has been held accountable. The constitutional guarantee of security of service to government servants does allow people with mediocre talent, or even less, to prosper as it becomes extremely difficult to show them the door for their inadequacies or lapses.

Security of service and lack of accountability make a deadly combination that detracts from the quality of governance. This combination must go. The political leadership too will necessarily have to be accountable instead of displaying a limpet-like attachment to office; leaving office is not fashionable any more as the kursi matters most.

Lal Bahadurji’s resignation as the Union Railway Minister after the train accident at Ariyalur was no political gimmick but an anguished and spontaneous reaction of a man conscious of his moral responsibility. It is repeatedly cited even today with admiration in the fond hope that the present leaders will follow it as a worthy precedent. Sadly, that is all that remains.

A nation cannot hope to improve its governance unless it wins the people’s confidence through, among other things, accountability. Funnily, for instance, year after year Delhi – the nation’s capital city – gets waterlogged in the monsoon, particularly under the Tilak Bridge, and no one, but no one, pays for it. Surely, if no answer has been found to the water logging it can either be due to incompetence or disinterest or both. Either case calls for action – corrective or punitive – but do we see it?

 

 

In fact, and this is another factor, if national governance is to be even perceived as being efficient, municipal services in urban areas must be improved. Consider this: electricity poles should be along the roadside but why are they seen encroaching on the main road? Simply because, initially the poles were installed at the right place but were not shifted when the roads were widened. It is in managing matters of daily concern such as scavenging, keeping road berms clear, maintaining roads, lanes and the drainage system that a state’s responsiveness and efficiency are judged.

I recall the neat traffic roundabouts in our metro cities – Bombay, Calcutta or New Delhi – and smart traffic umbrellas under which cops used to stand directing traffic in even the district headquarter towns. These are small matters that speak of the government’s ability to govern and if they are well-managed they promote a better perception of the country’s governance. Not that it is anyone’s case that only the urban areas are determinants of the efficiency of governance. Our rural countryside deserves equal attention, if not more, because even in the new millennium it remains really backward. Priority attention should be paid to its schools, primary health centers, provision of clean drinking water and roads, though it must be acknowledged that the condition of all these is better in the southern states including even the admittedly backward Telengana region.

 

 

Another aspect is of the billion strong population that has trebled itself in the last 50 years – no control of its growth is in sight – and it is likely to reach 140 crore by 2025. Somewhat depressingly it will reach the population replacement level by 2016 and not by 2010 as was earlier anticipated. This rate of population increase has to be controlled – the fertility rate brought down – to see that our resources are not outstripped by our increasing population.

Hopefully, economic development – rise of income levels – availability of clean drinking water and sanitation and, above all, increased literacy leading to marriage of girls at a higher age and empowerment of women will help. Birth control and adherence to the small family norm are a must but due to fears of side effects of contraceptives, family opposition and lack of information there are about 29 million women with unmet needs for family planning.

Efficiently managed family planning programmes should work, for surveys have shown that only if mothers had access to information about family planning strategies, especially about contraceptives, they would have been able to avoid pregnancies. The National Commission on Population has come up with useful strategies which the state governments, indeed all of us, must adopt and implement. But if India is to be socio-economically strong so as to register its position on the world scene, it must have peace and order. Let us then see the state of our internal security.

 

 

This has been an area of concern for some time now as, apart from general crime, it faces serious threat from a variety of sources – religious fundamentalism, left-wing extremism, disturbed conditions in the North-East, caste tensions and organized crime. While the threat posed by each of these is grave enough to rend asunder our social fabric and requires to be controlled effectively, it is terrorism that is an area of special concern.

We have these past two decades borne the ravages of unrelenting terrorism – financed, armed and motivated by Pakistan – which poses the graver threat and deserves our priority attention. It was Punjab first – through the 1980s – that was the focus of Pakistan’s attention and even as the situation there was being brought under control Pakistan shifted its focus to Kashmir. Terror with a religio-political complexion has assumed an almost daily role there such that cross-border terrorism has blurred the distinction between external and internal security.

Alongside this, religious fundamentalism has emerged as a serious factor in the internal security maintenance scheme. Terrorism, anywhere, survives on local discontent and can be countered by enlisting the support of the local people through a responsive administration that addresses itself to the task of redressing local grievances, perceived or genuine, and by engaging in bona fide development work. It is important in areas, terrorism-affected or not, to see that the police is effective for it alone is, and should be, used to deal with internal security. The armed forces should not be involved in internal situations unless it is inevitable. The police has acquitted itself with credit in dealing with terrorism and related problems. Even so, a dispassionate view will show that there is need for reform.

The police derives its statutory powers from the Police Act of 1861, the year it can be said to have come into existence; it remained an integral part of the British colonial governance till India’s independence in 1947. In these 86 years it imbibed the credo of a colonial police force that was less of a bona fide executive and more of a repressive arm of the British government in India. It came to be seen as brutal and anti-people, more concerned with maintaining the Raj than redressing people’s genuine grievances.

 

 

If crime was solved, criminals jailed, situations with potential for trouble defused which helped maintain peace it was all very nice. The ‘gora sahib’ wanted it done; the police did it any which way and was seen as effective but arbitrary. Being people friendly was out of the question; the niceties of fair dealing or equal treatment of the rich and the poor were neither expected nor shown.

India’s freedom was expected to change it to being the police force of a free democracy but unfortunately even fifty years later it retains an unflattering image. It is seen as selectively efficient, unsympathetic to the underprivileged, prone to violence, unenthusiastic about maintaining high standards of integrity, overbearing in its grievance-redressal approach and stuck with a mindset inherited from its colonial past which, in turn, compels it to compromise with falsehood.

It is time that in the new millennium its image improves and people accept it as a friend of the law abiding and a scourge for the lawless. For this its areas of inadequacy and other negative features should be identified, remedial measures drawn up and taken. Clearly these measures will have to be extraordinary and harsh so as to jolt the police work culture since efforts made in the last fifty years have not had the desired impact. So, where do we begin?

 

 

A lot is said, and rightly so, about the recruitment and training of police persons, looking after them and their families, about modernizing their working with the help of vehicles, the latest in technology, communication equipment and weapons; about changes in law – some recommended by the Law Commission – to facilitate quick investigation of crime and its successful prosecution; about the National Police Commission’s recommendation to make institutional arrangements to insulate them against political interference and so on. The implementation of these sound suggestions will surely improve the police.

However, the key to police reform is attitude – a change in the attitude of the police, the people, the media and the lawmakers. An attitudinal change in the police is extremely difficult to bring about without a clear enunciation of a mission and it is surprising that the Indian police has no mission statement. There must be one which insists that the police should earn public trust by upholding law fairly and firmly and through professionalism, that it should have a scientific temper, be accessible and positive. Based on this a beginning is best made with a change in its working culture and mindset, its adoption of openness, service and technology as its basic philosophy. Quite indisputably technology will change attitudes.

 

 

For instance take computers. They should be used at police stations for registration of crime and maintenance of records; by the district chief for monitoring action taken in redressing grievances or crime investigation; by the state chief to keep a watch on action taken on his directions and sundry other important matters. But the most profitable use that the police can make is by opening a site in the offices of the district chief, and of his superiors, to chat with people, receive their suggestions or their grievances and inform them of their response. There can be few better ways of forging an understanding between the police and the people.

Technology is important but mere acquisition of resources and equipment will not do. The police must think of itself as a service-oriented force that must redress people’s grievances; its response should be understanding, positive, helpful, correct and courteous if it wishes to convey to people that it can be relied upon in times of need. Only then will it win, as it must, the trust of the people, the judiciary, the lawmakers and the media. That will in turn bring about a change in their attitudes towards the police. That there is need for change in their attitude is best demonstrated in the following case law.

Section 25 of the Evidence Act disallows confessions made to a police officer; Section 27 of the same Act allows such part of the confession that leads to the recovery of material evidence in a criminal case. In a case of 1929 (Sukhan vs. the Crown) the accused made a confessional statement that he had killed a boy, robbed him of his ornaments and pawned them to a jeweller. This statement had three parts. One part related to the boy’s murder and another to the theft of his ornaments. Both parts were hit by the Evidence Act and so were not accepted by the court.

The third part disclosed that the stolen ornaments had been pawned to a jeweller on the basis of which they were recovered. The court accepted this part, as, under the Evidence Act, it was a disclosure that led to the recovery of the stolen ornaments. The accused – a murderer and a thief – was therefore convicted not for murder or theft but for being in possession of stolen property.

 

 

In law confessions made to the police, as in this case, are disbelieved even if the end result would appear to be without logic. It is time trust is placed in the police and the law is changed to bring it in line with a similar provision in the TADA Act. It was challenged in the apex court. That court upheld it. The present POTA has it with strong safeguards against its misuse. A similar provision in the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act, designed to deal with organized crime, exists and it has helped secure several convictions. Why cannot there be a similar provision in the Evidence Act?

With its changed attitude and a scientific temper it deserves to be trusted. Give it a chance; it will be a major incentive to live up to the trust reposed in it. The temptation to practice falsehood can and will be defeated.

It should improve the nation’s governance!

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