Minimum Government, Maximum Governance in Urban India- Myth & Possibility

All governments, regardless of their political inclination will fail to deliver till they fix the administrative mechanisms that are meant to deliver on Government policies and plans. A rickety & flawed system will always beat a ‘Visionary’ or ‘well meaning’ (there have been more than one) and the Current PM is no exception. I had mentioned this in an earlier blog as well. That the Prime Minister has turned out to be a great politician winning one electoral victory after the other is accompanied by what is a failure in Governance related to health, Security, Education, Municipal Management and of course Economics

The catchphrase Minimum Government, Maximum Governance sounded good but would have failed anyway.

India requires sustained, daily, repetitive ‘Maximum Administration and Maximum Governance’. The Prime Minister’s much repeated maxim is of no real use as Minimum Government and Minimum Governance is what we have lived with for years. The phrase ‘bhagwaan bharose’ is known to most Indians.

Look around you. Do feel the presence of the Government, Do you see public service utilities functioning, do you feel secure against lumpen elements, do you feel your grievances  are addressed in time?

Do you feel help will come quickly if needed? Do you think you will get timely justice in courts?

If the answer to the above is No, then how will an absent Government be minimum and maximum at the same time?

We can of course trudge along like this as we have for the last 70 Years. But trudging along like this will not help much.

Prompt delivery of state services, public health, security and justice is not possible through a Minimum government in a diverse and a severely overpopulated country

Much of Minimum Governance is seen as keeping the inspector away.  There is excessive legislation, & rules and regulations which allow a small number of Government employees to exploit a vast population of powerless people. But the opposite of Inspector Raj is not abandonment Raj. A shortage of Courts and a lumbering Judicial Administration provide little succor to 1.30 Billion Indians at the receiving end of, socio economic disparity, bureaucratic apathy and a shortage of Public health services , education, prompt delivery of basic minimum civic amenities & security

Let us look at some figures

There is a shortage of 1400 IAS, & 900 IPS officers

There is a shortage of 5 Lakh Police Personnel

There is a shortage of 5 Lakh Doctors

2.8 Crore Cases are pending in District Courts even as a shortage of 5000 judicial officers

There is a collective shortage of 10 Lakh teachers in India

These are figures from the admissions made by the Government itself often in reply to questions in the parliament

The Number of MPs/MLAs & Municipal councillors as a percentage of the population is way less than what are required. For example U.K has one M.P to represent 93 Thousand people (in 2009) people while one M.P in India represents 20 Lakh people

These are all signs of Minimum Government & Minimum Governance. There is no maximum Government. It is a myth.

But the reason for this illusion is as follows; if you were to see 100 scattered people with sticks, and only 10 people with machine guns protected with battle gear and armored vehicles who would you notice more? The Government in India is not ‘Maximum’, but a small number of peons, clerks and officers protected by an Armed State have an overwhelming and unaccountable power over the people. And their transgressions are virtually un-punishable.

The Indian state is distant from the people, aloof and its officers maintain a barrier from coming into contact with society. This comes from a colonial tradition of the white sahib maintaining a distance from the natives. The State appears at the time of mass distress with doles and rescue operations or through state violence in times of mass upheavals.

The Indian State is not Hobbes’s Leviathan; it is an occasional bully and a careless protector

Which is why, we are faced with an utter crisis of governance.

Every Indian today seeks a reassurance from the Government on Security, equality before law, Justice Clean Environment, Health care and education. Yet the Government is trying to achieve all this through awareness programmes and appeal to the good sense of people. It just won’t work. There is no evidence for it.

India is diverse, with multitudes of poor people often separated by ethnicity, religion, caste, language, dialects and many more subdivisions which are not replicated in any other region of the world

A chaotic, emotional and often undisciplined people steeped in superstition and tradition is unlikely to self regulate themselves into a law abiding society. It simply will not happen.

We are a rapidly overpopulating nation. More than one Crore (10 Million) lives are added to the country through births alone. A meager Government cannot achieve Maximum Governance.

If indeed the Prime Minister wants to achieve Minimum Government, Maximum Governance, without increasing the size of the higher bureaucracy/ other Government employment, he will have to figure out

  1. How the Government will structure the role of non Government entities in such a manner that a decentralized model of urban local self governance can be created.
  2. How the Government’s General Financial Rules (GFRs) which are a compilation of rules and orders of Government of India to be observed by all Departments and Organisations under the Government and figure out how to involve Resident welfare Associations and other civil society Organisations in the urban governance.
  3. How to reduce direct taxation and promote municipal service providing through non Government entities.

Not everybody wants to participate regularly in the local Governance process. An overwhelming majority of people want to pay their taxes and go about their lives. A small minority, There about 100-150 active community members in any Municipal ward (60K Voters) who are keenly interested in participating in the affairs of their ward. The Government should consider tapping into this energy.

 

To understand this better, take a look at the New Urban Agenda formally adopted on 20th October 2016 at Quito in Ecuador

 

 

Guiding Principles

 

Actions

 

Leave no one behind, ensure urban equity and eradicate poverty

 

Providing equitable access for all, to physical and social infrastructure – Adequate housing and shelter at the center of the agenda – Public spaces as an enabler of socio-economic function of the city • Recognizing and leveraging culture, diversity and safety in cities • Enabling and strengthening participation and enhancing live ability and quality of life
Achieve sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all

 

Enhancing agglomeration benefits of urbanization and avoiding land speculation, • Fair and equitable employment creation, productivity, competitiveness, diversification and • Innovation through a sustainable economic development
Foster ecological and resilient cities and human settlements

 

Driving sustainable patterns of consumption and production, • Protecting and valuing ecosystems and biodiversity, and • Adapting to and mitigating the impact of climate change while increasing urban systems resilience to physical, economic, and social shocks and stresses

 

 

At first glance, it would be apparent to the reader that the current Governance Mechanism cannot achieve even one of the aforementioned goals.

 

If at all the idea of Minimum Government and Maximum governance has to succeed the Government will have to re-design urban governance.

At this point the Government of India or State Governments are unwilling to change.  Though the 74th Constitutional amendment mandates it for Urban Governance and India is a part of UNCHS- Habitat 2000, and Now that India has been elected President of UN- Habitat, it is time for some quick moves towards ensuring Maximum governance. The Political System as well as the Bureaucracy has been impervious to change insofar as exercising adequate imagination to address the urban crisis. Time is short and the Political Class and the Bureaucracy will be left with declining options.

 

*The ideas on re- imagining urban communities for Good Governance will follow in another article

 

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