Thoughtscope

By Khurshid Ahmed Ganai 

Screen-Shot-2018-06-04-at-9.27.52-PM-concentrateIn the early nineties a book titled ‘Reinventing Government- How the entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the public sector’ by American authors David Osborne and Ted Gaebler with a forward by President Bill Clinton, caught attention of the public service providers and academics all over the world because it enunciated and explained ten new principles for what modern governments should be like.

The ten principles are: catalytic government- steering rather than rowing, community driven government-empowering rather than serving, competitive government- injecting competition in service delivery, mission driven government- transforming rule driven bureaucracies, result oriented government- funding outcomes rather than inputs, customer driven government- meeting the needs of the customers not bureaucracies, enterprising government- earning rather than spending, anticipatory government- prevention rather than cure, decentralized government- from hierarchy to participation and team work and lastly market driven government- leveraging change through markets.

I happened to read this book as part of the subject ‘Public Management’ in the MBA course during 1997-98 at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, which I attended under Government of India’s foreign training scheme for serving IAS officers.

My personal beliefs and perspectives about public administration underwent major changes while studying and getting to know how the developed countries had privatized a large number of public services under Public Private Partnership (PPP) and how Information Technology (IT) was being leveraged both by the private and public sector in the management of their operations and delivery of services. I was most impressed by the idea of privatization to introduce entrepreneurial spirit in the delivery of public services for economy and efficiency.

I remember having read about privatization in the governments in Australia and New Zealand who were among the pioneers of PPP and also World Bank reports on successful privatization undertaken in different countries. UK had also privatized almost all public services except the health services under the National Health Services (NHS) which they have persisted with despite tremendous pressure on the available capacity. Even the railway services had been privatised. United Kingdom has subsequently graduated from its earlier practice of ‘Public Management’ to the ‘New Public Management’ or NPM, one of whose most important pillars is ‘value for money’, that is ‘getting best value for money spent by the government’.

India inherited the ‘colonial administration’ at the time of independence in 1947 but subsequently took steps to transform it into ‘development administration’ to meet the increasing and expanding demands for education, health, drinking water supply, irrigation, roads, electricity and other types of social and developmental infrastructure in the country and for raising millions of people out of abject poverty through massive investment in rural works programs and income generation schemes. But the nature of governance continued to be largely regulatory till the liberalization and opening up of Indian economy in the early nineties under the stewardship of the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh duo, the Prime Minister and Finance Minister respectively, resulting in a fair amount of deregulation and decontrol at all levels of governance.

Subsequent Central Governments continued with the liberalization policy and the present Government has taken extra steps to attract investment and propel the economy through a large number of reforms in the Taxation, Financial and Banking Sectors. Massive efforts are being made under the e-governance and digital India programs and also for building state of the art infrastructure in all sectors to make India an economic superpower and raise it to the level of a fully developed country. The mantra of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ announced by the present central government in 2014 has become rather controversial as many in the country think that the government is moving more towards maximum rather than minimum.

Central Government in India works as per laid down rules and procedures and violation is dealt with strictly and sternly. But the rules and procedures are continuously evaluated and amended to improve efficiency and speed of decision making. State Governments also have laid down rules and procedures but adherence is not as strict, usually due to political interference and expediency.

Moreover, unlike the Central Government, continuous evaluation and amendment of rules and procedures does not happen in most states, J&K not being an exception. In my memory and to my knowledge, J&K has never constituted an Administrative Reforms Commission or a Law Commission, the later probably due to the controversies around Autonomy of the State under the Indian Constitution. But age old laws including of pre 1947 vintage, which should have long been either repealed or amended, are still part of the statute. The Department of Administrative Reforms and Trainings in the state government has been assigned a limited role and has neither the wherewithal nor the authority to recommend changes in rules and procedures in the government.

Without changing existing laws, rules and procedures for the better, it is not possible to reinvent the government or the administration but unfortunately this subject has hardly ever received the kind of attention that it should have. It is possible that in the noise and din of running the day to day administration which is often in the nature of fire fighting , the political executive and the people at the top of the administrative pyramid lose sight of the big picture. 

Many, if not most, departments in the state government in J&K function without an updated and current policy document. One is not sure whether the Result Framework Document (RFD) scheme, the monitoring tool introduced in the central and state governments during the UPA rule, is still in use. Even if RFD has fallen into disuse, every department needs to have a forward looking policy document with clearly defined targets prepared with the help of experts and duly approved by the state cabinet to serve as the ‘guide’ like the light house to a ship. Lack of clearly documented policies and outdated rules and regulations leave little scope for injecting new vigour and rigour in the administration and that is why the old adage, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ seems to apply to our situation in the state.

Everyone knows that Jammu and Kashmir is environmentally and ecologically very sensitive. Therefore, the policies and practice of administration have to factor in this aspect like in the developed countries and responsible governments the world over. The so called development cannot be allowed to be environment unfriendly or environment blind or ungreen. The political conflict and daily violence in Jammu and Kashmir necessitating security measures on a very large scale have not only taken a heavy toll on the environment and ecology of the state but unfortunately, have also not allowed the political executive to concentrate on this important issue having long term implications for the state and its residents. Kashmir with all its natural pristine beauty, in many ways, is a heritage of the whole world and needs to be preserved and protected not only for its residents, but also for the people of the country and outside who would like to visit this one of the most beautiful places.

Connected with environment and ecology of Jammu and Kashmir, is the unabated depletion of land under agriculture, deforestation and diminishing of natural resources like glaciers and water bodies. Agriculture land can be protected if the government comes out with a well thought out housing and land use policy instead of relying on the outdated provisions of restriction on conversion of agricultural land under the Land Revenue Act and the Agrarian Reforms Act. This laissez fair and free for all attitude in housing sector will not save our limited agriculture land from the rapid depletion being witnessed now. Similarly, the forests and other natural resources like water bodies cannot be saved from creeping encroachment in the absence of strong conservation policies and strict implementation of the conservation laws.

There is also urgent need to concentrate on grooming and harnessing the youth talent we have in the state. This can be done through much greater emphasis on education, particularly science and technology education. The colleges set up in almost all the areas of the state @ about 3 to 4 colleges per district should be made the nodal centres or hubs for leveraging science and technology education through local schools and other educational institutions in their catchment areas. The colleges would therefore need to be duly supported to augment their capacity to enable them to perform this additional task.

It is only through quality education, technical and soft skills training that our youth will be able to compete for jobs outside the state and the country thereby reducing the pressure on locally available jobs in the government and private sector. Entrepreneurship is now being supported but still, it is below the requirement. The state government needs to support green business enterprises with sizeable employment potential very liberally and on a much larger scale and also earmark sufficient funds from out of the budget as first charge on the funds for development. While the government, some years back, set up the overseas employment corporation with great fanfare, it was wound up hastily without analyzing why it did not succeed. There was no need to wind it up, instead, its scope should have been enlarged to locating job opportunities both within and outside the country and acting as the facilitator between the potential recruits and the interested employers.

Reinventing administration needs continuous re-engineering of the administrative and legal processes using new technologies to align these with the general principles outlined by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler in their book. In J&K, we need to do a lot of fresh and out of the box thinking so as to get our priorities right in all sectors of development and public service delivery. We cannot continue to do more of the same as that would not solve our present and future problems. There is urgent need to rethink to reinvent the administration.

(Views expressed in this article are personal, and not of the institution the author works for)

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