Mukul Sanwal | June 13, 2014
Of the three elements of good governance, prime minister Narendra Modi has touched on two, and must now complete the triad.
The meeting of the PM with the 77 secretaries closely followed the pledge in the BJP manifesto for “open, transparent and systems based government” and “pro-active pro-people good governance”. The manifesto, in the section on institutional reforms, focuses on administrative reforms, and suggestions were invited on laws that are a hindrance in administration.
The initial reaction has also stressed processes of interactions and decision-making among the actors involved, that is, the structures and behaviour. For example, the manner in which power is exercised, the proper functioning of institutions and the achievement of consensus. The preoccupation so far has been with the form of government.
This discourse has ignored the normative aspects of government. The PM, ministers, secretaries and state chief ministers share a defined responsibility for exercising power in the interest of the community, which has yet to be defined in terms of the aims and activities of the government. These will embody the central values and ultimate ends, and define political legitimacy.
The challenge for the PM is to craft a compelling vision that will unify the nation behind the BJP manifesto, which has the support of the majority of the population, and will have to be tweaked to include local visions of the states, because it is a collective concern. The objectives of rules and norms that guide the various activities, for example, approvals, public-private partnerships, markets and involvement of the states will then conform to such a common vision, otherwise all decisions will have to be referred to the PMO for clearance and there will be severe problems in implementation.
The PM will need to take early steps in three areas to kick-start the change the country expects.
First, we have reached a stage of development where inclusive growth should be defined in terms of the Indian dream, which depends on infrastructure, urbanisation and employment generating increased incomes, rather than subsidies keeping the poor in villages. Infrastructure development, mining, electricity generation, cement and steel production, should not be considered in terms of ‘projects’ but as essential elements of economic growth, which will involve land use change to enable movement of rural population to urban areas and non-agricultural employment; three-quarters of future growth will come from cities. There will be major implications of this shift.
The central government must push infrastructure, because electricity, high-speed rail and expressways are both a source of growth and a precondition for giving every citizen a greater chance of prosperity. Our per capita consumption of electricity is one-third that of China.
States will have to take the leadership, with support from the centre, in pushing education and employment creation to draw agricultural workers into the productive manufacturing economy and cities where adequate services can be provided efficiently. Currently, services and industries contribute 86 percent of GDP but provide only 47 percent employment, MGNREGA and other job schemes cover just 10 percent of the officially unemployed and 90 percent of the workforce continues in the informal sector.
The centre and the states will need to work together to integrate initiatives like establishing 100 new cities, river interlinking and making the country a manufacturing hub into a composite vision to move three-quarter of the population to cities and into the middle class by 2050.
Second, an agreed goal is also necessary for evaluating laws and rules enacted in a different context to conform to the new vision. For example, with 85 percent projects held up for want of environmental clearances, instead of asking the question ‘what action can be taken given the risk’, the approach should be to ‘maximise social and economic benefits with as little environmental harm as possible’, and the environmental regulator should not ‘clear’ projects but review the information provided on minimising damage to the environment and report to parliament, as an independent environmental auditor.
Third, quick wins will be needed in administrative reform to show the PM means business. An example is enactment of the Civil Services Performance Standard and Accountability Bill being drafted by DoPT. The administrative reforms commission has also suggested a code of ethics for ministers and a code of conduct for public servants.
The major concern of the bureaucracy, unsupervised action by the CBI, can be quickly met by empowering the CVC to verify the conclusions of the CBI at all stages to ensure accountability, without directing the course of investigation.
Within 100 days the national development council must come out with a bold new vision for the nation, as the other elements of good governance depend on it.