Mission Impossible without Reforms

by Sudesh Verma - Jan 7, 2015 07:40 PM +05:30 IST
Mission Impossible without Reforms

Mere coinage of contrived acronyms will not lead to the Modi government’s success. Administrative, police, judicial and electoral reforms must begin now.

At a workshop on “Make in India” on 29 December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly said, “Government is generally trapped in ‘ABCD’ culture from top to bottom… A means Avoid, B – Bypass, C – Confuse, D – Delay. Our efforts is to move from this culture to ‘ROAD’ where R stands for Responsibility, O – Ownership, A – Accountability, D – Discipline. We are committed to moving towards this roadmap.” Will such signature pep-talk help improve the health of the country’s biggest machinery — the bureaucracy?

Modi has identified the problems right. His ability to apply the right remedies will decide the success of his promises. And the right remedy is nothing short of reforms of major delivery institutions, not just economic but also administrative, judicial, law enforcement and electoral.

The Modi government came to power after the country went into chaos due to the misrule of the previous regimes. The misrule was aggravated no less for the structural flaws in governance that have existed for decades.

Modi’s promise of better governance may not get delivered unless major delivery institutions are reformed. New ideas and change demand receptive offices for execution. To be precise, the country is eagerly waiting for police reforms, legal reforms, reforms in bureaucracy, electoral reforms, etc.

The news of babus reaching office in time and moving files in a time-bound manner after Modi came to power is now old. If officials still avoid, bypass, confuse and delay (ABCD), this is the way the Indian bureaucracy has endeared itself so long; there is no incentive to change or punishment for not changing. While the Prime Minister may have a vision for which he and his party have been voted to power, the officials know they are going to last longer than any political head.

Is there status quo because the same bureaucrats who framed one policy under the previous regimes are being asked to frame a different policy jettisoning their old beliefs? While officials should not be committed to any ideology, the fact is that they are intensely divided. This is why in the ‘system of spoils’ of the United States, the President changes most officials. Using the ABCD principle enunciated by Modi, however, their counterparts manage to secure a good tenure in India.

When he was in Gujarat, Modi had worked wonders in making bureaucrats work. The bureaucrats at the Centre, on the other hand, are sun-dried for whom the excitement has almost died down. To address the issue, there are various recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission awaiting dusting of the files.

The first Administrative Reforms Commission was set up on 5 January 1966 and chaired by Morarji Desai, MP, and later on K Hanumanthaiah. The Second ARC was set up on 31 August 2005 under the chairmanship of Veerappa Moily. The First ARC came up with 20 reports that contained 537 major recommendations for streamlining bureaucracy and functioning of the government. Most recommendations were not taken up for consideration.

The Second ARC was set up with the express purpose of revamping the public administrative system. More precisely, it was asked to suggest ways to make the administration proactive, responsive, accountable, sustainable and efficient. It came up with 15 reports the Government. The Union Government on 30 March 2007 set up a Group of Ministers to consider the recommendations of the Second ARC. The Government considered 11 reports including the ones on Right to Information, Ethics in Government, promoting e-governance and citizen centric.

Modi government would do well to pick up old threads and ensure implementation rather than trying to rediscover the wheel. Delay in bureaucracy and inability of officials to take decision has always perturbed policy makers. It is time to overhaul the administration.

The success of ‘Make in India’ either by domestic industrialists or FDI is contingent on a responsive police and foolproof legal machinery that would deliver fast. Even FDI decisions taken by the Union Government may not yield results unless the country has a steady and uniform law-and-order scenario across the states managed by incorruptible policemen.

Our police continue to be governed by an archaic and colonial police law passed in 1861. The Constitution makes policing a state subject and therefore the state governments have the responsibility to provide their communities with a police service. However, after independence, most have adopted the 1861 Act without change, while others have passed laws heavily based on the 1861 Act.

Urgent need for police reforms
Urgent need for police reforms

Repeated major incidents, latest of them being 2012 Delhi gang rape, revealed failure of police to uphold the rule of law.

There has been almost 30 years of debate and discussion by government created committees and commissions on the way forward for police reform, but India remains saddled with an outdated and old-fashioned law.

After recommendations of the National Police Commission 1977-81, Rebeiro Committee 1998-99, Padmanabhaiah Committee 2000, Malimath Committee 2003 and Soli Sorabjee Commitee 2005, the Supreme Court intervened with a directive in 2006.

In 1996, Prakash Singh, a former Directors General of Police of the states of Assam and Uttar Pradesh and finally Director General of the Border Security Force, had initiated a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court of India, asking the court to investigate measures to reform the police forces across India to ensure the proper rule of law and improve security across India.

The Supreme Court in 2006 ordered the state governments to implement several reforms in police force, but none did.

Several measures were identified as necessary to professionalise the police in India:

1. A mid or high ranking police officer must not be transferred more frequently than every two years.

2. The state government cannot ask the police force to hire someone, nor can they choose the Chief Commissioner.

3. There must be separate departments and staff for investigation and patrolling.

Three new authorities was ordered to be created in each state to prevent political interference in the police and also to make the police accountable for their heavy-handedness, which will include the creation of:

1.A State Security Commission, for policies and direction

2.A Police Establishment Board, which will decide the selection, promotions and transfers of police officers and other staff

3.A Police Complaints Authority, to inquire into allegations of police misconduct.

When the Supreme Court ordered the state governments to report to it why the reform measures outlined were not implemented, some are finally starting to reform the police forces and give them the operational independence they need for fearless and proper law enforcement. Tamil Nadu Police has been in the forefront of application of the new referendum.

Again, in October 2012, a Supreme Court bench asked all state governments and Union territories to report to it about compliance of its September 2006 judgement. Now that the Modi government is keen to urgently undertake economic reforms, and so many states have got BJP governments, why aren’t they kick-starting police reforms? Change in policing are felt by the people in the short run; so this also makes eminent electoral sense.

There is much that is desirable in the legal system. Delays and high cost for justice is fast eroding the faith of the common man on the judicial processes. There is a need to evolve a credible mechanism for justice on a wide scale. Increasing the number of judges is only one of the issues. The ordinary citizen must be at the centre of measures taken for legal reforms.

Legal reforms long overdue
Legal reforms long overdue

Black money has emerged as a key issue in the country. The parallel economy, which is the bane of the Indian money management, must be urgently tackled. An impression was created in the heydays of Anna and Baba Ramdev’s activism that all the tax-evaded money was stashed abroad while no attention was paid to the domestic circuit.

Of course, part of the money lies overseas, but correcting the ills of real estate, bullion trade, security exchanges etc is as important as dealing with suspect countries through the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement or chasing whistleblower Hervé Daniel Marcel Falciani to get the names of more bank account holders with black money.

Electoral reforms are needed to cleanse the political system that sustains on donations and patronage. So many committees have come out with solutions shows that the issue has got the attention it deserves. But in the absence of a political will, these recommendations have merely become the basis for intellectual discourse.

Electoral reforms long overdue
Electoral reforms long overdue

Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms (1990); Law Commission Report on Reform of the Electoral Laws (1999); Law Commission’ draft for amendments to the Representation of People Act; Vohra Committee Report (1993); Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections (1998); National Commission to review the Working of the Constitution (2001); Election Commission of India – Proposed Electoral Reforms (2004); the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008); Justice Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law, 23 January 2013, and the 20th Law Commission’s 244th report on Electoral disqualification (2014) are mostly awaiting implementation.

What is urgently needed is a Ministry of Reforms with committed persons manning the ministry. Most institutions are becoming defunct due to absence of a proper monitoring mechanism.

When these institutions were created, it was generally thought that the human elements to man them were inherently good and they would work for the good of the country. That was impractically optimistic.

Corruption is justified by social and political recognition that it brings to the corrupt. One has no stakes in being honest. The Prime Minister has a far greater task ahead of restoring the confidence of the common man in being good. Modi must live up to the expectations. People’s patience must not run out before his slogans turn into visible results.

Sudesh Verma is a senior journalist and president of Debating India Foundation, a Delhi based think tank. He has authored Narendra Modi: The Game Changer, a bestseller on the life and career of the Indian Prime Minister.
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