Winning the next election is always a supreme task. Executives and legislators have had their electoral pressures and considerations and, therefore, each policy is seen as a political investment. Civil services and other government jobs have generated interests primarily for their job security, high salaries and promotions.
On several occasions, we have seen them being compromised due to political pressures. As a result, those at the receiving end are the common people who are embroiled in red tape as they await necessary signatures and movement of files from one table to the other.
So, in the current times of heralding an Atmanirbhar Bharat and a “New India”, the country desperately requires impending administrative reforms. With this background, a lecture on Administrative Reforms towards Atmanirbhar Bharat was delivered by Prof Amita Singh, President, NAPSIPAG Centre for Disaster Research, Delhi and retired Professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance (CSLG), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) at a special lecture organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) on 14 October, 2020.
This lecture was chaired by Prof M H Suryanarayana, Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development and Research (IGIDR), Mumbai.
Prof Amita Singh said that reforms are a political process and it is a very altruistic desire of the government to undertake reforms. She said reforms are a calculated political investment in contemporary politics by each government, and the basic objective of any reform is that it should have the capacity to implement the reforms at the ground level, it must generate resources, have the legitimacy and administrative capacity. This leads to accountable and efficient governance by reaching the last person.
Prof Singh said that the major triggering point of reforms was the fifth pay commission. It set up certain principles which were coming up in research but were never implemented. So there was something that the government could see beyond politics.
The link between bureaucracy and the implementation of programs was made very clear after the fifth pay commission. It also set up a new standard process for operations which is that income or salaries or incentives of government servants would be related to performance standards. There must be right-sizing of staff, cost-effective policies, speed, efficiency, transparency and accountability to have any administrative reforms.
Prof Singh said as active players in the process of globalisation, and for that, we need to have investment and simultaneously encourage local entrepreneurship and programs prepared by the legislature.
During her enticing lecture, she also raised the issue of the objective of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Our prime minister has described it as self-reliance and self-sufficiency. There are three articles in the constitution which should be mentioned here:
If read together, this creates the spirit of Atmanirbhar.
Self-reliance is a word which has only been mentioned in the context of panchayat because it was expected that the higher institution like the district magistrate office, higher institutions at the Centre and going to be self-sufficient in a way they train themselves and structure themselves, not much thought went into the macro level and micro level. It took a long time for village panchayats to achieve self-reliance.
The Atmanirbhar Bharat started on 12 May with the announcement of a 20 lakh crore package. Economy, infrastructure, system (technology, e-governance), demography and demand were the five pillars of India’s policy of self-reliance. There are three stages in administrative reforms which is the need of the people at the moment, how the government tries to fulfil the need, and how the government implements the reform.
The idea of the government was to give this 20 lakh crore package to uplift the failing economic system. This package includes the previous given SOP by the RBI, so it came down to 12 lakh crore as an economic SOP. There was legality which was missed out that the RBI and the government are two different entities, where the former looks after the fiscal policies and latter monetary policies, and that these two institutions cannot be combined. It is a constitutionally incorrect combination with which Atmanirbhar was launched.
Also, the economy was failing due to COVID-19 and the problem was lack of demand. So, the government had to give direct funding expenditure which should come as a direct expenditure from the government, but it came via banks. The government had no control over whether the banks would give it to people or not. To create the demand, the government should have given huge SOP on home loans and people would have rushed to buy and demand would have increased massively.
She also said the ranking of States on investment attractiveness to compete for new investment is very difficult as the country has varied cultures and the country is far divided and this is successful under the present government. She also said there are some problems in implementing Atmanirbhar Bharat to its optimum level. The e-office system is unaccountable; the timeline for general services has no assurance from old pattern bureaucracy, no accurate assessments in the project development cells.
Dr Amita Singh also said reforms are not one-stop-shop. Great reforms come from great activism. The government should truly look into the administrative capacity to form accountable and efficient reforms so that it reaches last-mile delivery. There is a loss of legitimacy. Nowadays, important reforms programs are not being conveyed and discussed.
Prof M H Suryanarayana, IGIDR, said that first issue in any public policy formulation is very important to layout the specification of the problem. For example, in the food security act, the government did not define what food security is, what the salient features of this act are, which leads to the fact that the problem is diagnosed based on wrong information.
Dr Nivedita P Haran, Retired Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Home Affairs, Government of Kerala, said that good governance is the bedrock of administrative reforms. Unless we have good governance, we cannot have administrative reforms.
Lack of accountability puts a stop on reforms she said. Some projects are mandated to be completed in 2 years, continue for 20 years and those responsible are never questioned. She said we are good at drafting policies, but when it comes to enforcement and implementation, we always seem to be falling behind.
She also added that Atmanirbhar Bharat could not be implemented in isolation; it comes in the context of the entire gamut of people who are working and are part of India. The government should find innovative ways to implement the act and the work should start from the basic training, which is not being done till now.
She also said that there was a need to bridge the gap between the private sector and the public sector, the academicians and the bureaucrats as we were all working towards the same goal. We should pool our resources and make a huge impact, which, unfortunately, has not been happening.
Shri S N Tripathi, IAS (retd.), Director, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi said that the State should provide not only equality of opportunity but also equality of outcome. He also said there is a need to clearly define the roles of the State, bureaucrats, and with this, any country can become Atmanirbhar. He also said we need innovations that are agreed upon by both bureaucrats and academicians.
Dr Poonam Munjal, Senior Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) said that our businesses are smart and we need to remove some of the roadblocks to get extraordinary results. She also mentioned that recent reforms are neglecting the service sector like transport, tourism, etc., which need to be tracked.
She said there is a need for evidence-based policy decisions and there should be an in-depth analysis of each sector to carefully understand the type of reforms that are needed and then having a plan of action to implement them.
The deliberation and the esteemed participants concluded that legitimacy toward the Administrative Reforms has to be backed up by the truth force as envisaged by the founders of our country and tested in 21st Century like Mahatama Gandhi, Savitribai Phule, Dr B R Ambedkar, for having a long-lasting impact and imparting the real message of India as Vishwa Guru. Needless to say, more in action than in words.
(Read more on the event here)
By Dr Arjun Kumar and Anshula Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi