10 Ideas that Manmohan Singh could use to Change India

Enabling professional inputs into policy making, using credit societies as intermediaries for banking in villages, linking outlays to outcomes, integration of silos for asset creation, coming together of National Informatics Centre (NIC) with DARPG to form a national informatics cadre for governance reforms and blending RTI and grievance redressal can change the face of governance in India A report by Team Inclusion

01 January, 2011 Special Reports, Governance
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10 Ideas that can change the face of Governance in India

  1. Blend Grievance Redressal into RTI
  2. Use ICT and E-governance to Cut Red Tapism
  3. Link Outlays to Outcomes
  4. Devolve Funds, Functions and Functionaries to Local Institutions
  5. Speed up Unique Universal Identity
  6. Combine Banks with Credit Societies to Reach Unbanked in Rural Sector
  7. Enable Professional Inputs into Policy Making
  8. Involve Citizens into Governance
  9. Integrate Silos – allow Execution of Gram Sabha Plans and Construction of Rural Roads under NREGS for Asset Creation
  10. Merge NIC and DARPG to Form National Informatics Cadre under Planning Commission for Speeding up Governance Reforms

Kiran Karnik, former President, Nasscom

There is enough evidence to show that government’s capacity to deliver has declined over the years due to rising indiscipline and a growing belief widely shared among the political and bureaucratic elite that state is an arena where public office is to be used for private ends. Weak governance, manifesting itself in poor service delivery, excessive regulation, and uncoordinated and wasteful public expenditure, is one of the key factors impinging on development and social indicators.

As a consequence of its colonial heritage as well as the hierarchical social system administrative accountability in India was always internal and upwards, and the civil service’s accountability to the public had been very limited. With politicisation and declining discipline, internal accountability stands seriously eroded today, while accountability via legislative review and the legal system has not been sufficiently effective. But strengthening internal administrative accountability is rarely sufficient, because internal controls are often ineffective—especially when the social ethos tolerate collusion between supervisors and subordinates.

We have already seen the transformation that ICT has brought about in the country – first in the IT industry and then spreading to other places, first in banking where we do not even think about the fact that you can go and get money anywhere anytime.

Kiran Karnik, former President, Nasscom

Even our financial procedures are based on the British system, which were designed when we were spending hundreds and thousands. Now that we are spending millions and billions and trillions, we need new financial procedures but we have not given any thought to this. A case in point is that of how the poorest paid worker in government – the Anganwadi worker – gets her salary. The Anganwadi worker who gets only Rs 1,500 per month gets her salary only when the majority MPs pass the budget, President of India signs the budget and then majority of the MLAs of that State pass the budget and the Governor signs the budget. Therefore, when all these people every year sign the budget then only the Aanganwadi worker can get her salary. If it is an ongoing scheme, we don’t have to bother the MPs and the Governors and the President of India and she will keep on getting her salary. It is suggested that the expenditure budget be passed once for five years and the revenue budget which is taxation etc., could be every year. This is the pattern followed in Singapore and it can be a good way to improve our financial structure.

Grievance redressal should be merged with the Right to Information so as to provide a client-friendly, responsive and responsible government

Governance relates to the management of all such processes that, in any society, define the environment which permits and enables individuals to raise their capacity levels, on one hand, and provide opportunities to realise their potential and enlarge the set of available choices, on the other.

Merge Grievance Redressal into RTI

Alok Bharadwaj, Senior Vice-President, Canon India

Good governance can be defined as comprising three aspects, namely delivery, accountability and transparency. Though after the RTI Act, decentralisation and civil society action have improved transparency and accountability of public expenditure, there is still a lot of leakage and corruption. It was suggested that grievance redressal should be merged with the right to information so as to provide a client-friendly, responsive and responsible government. Also, there was still an uphill task regarding proactive disclosure.

“We need to institutionalise a fusion of the Right to Information and grievance redressal, says Meenakshi Dutta Ghosh, Former Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj. “What we are looking for is a client-friendly, responsive and responsible government. That is what institutions like the Delhi Public Grievances Commission enables government to become.”

Citizens across the country are using the RTI very regularly, often in fact to address public grievances. They are using it to find answers to questions like how can I access my ration card, how can I ensure that my passport comes to me on time and so on and so forth. Most studies on the RTI have also begun to tell us that by virtue of being able to use this law, there has been some movement in the direction of ensuring that services are delivered well. But if one looks at the nitty-gritty of how the RTI is being implemented, we still come up against some very significant hurdles. Firstly, you can only access information if you put in an application although the Right to Information law very clearly states in accordance with Section 4 that all government departments should proactively disclose information.

The starting point might be retooling governmental procedures and processes, to become more citizen-centric with faster responses, speed of actions, and more efficient working.

Alok Bharadwaj, Senior Vice-President, Canon India

Second, government data is vast, complicated and not easy for anyone to figure out. The real challenge is to ensure that that information is put out in a manner that is relevant and usable so that a citizen can then pick up this information and start asking questions to the government which links to the entire accountability story.

‘Outward accountability’, therefore, is essential for greater responsiveness to the needs of the public and thus to improve service quality. Departments such as the Police and Revenue, which have more dealings with the people, should be assessed once in three years by an independent Commission, consisting of professionals such as journalists, retired judges, academicians, activists, NGOs, and even retired government servants. These should look at their policies and performance, and suggest constructive steps for their improvement. At present the systems of inspection are elaborate but often preclude the possibility of a ‘fresh look’ as they are totally governmental and rigid. On the other extreme, they are outsourced to friendlies. For example most of india’s e-governance success stories are in government-funded third party evaluations only.

Use ICT and E-governance to Cut Red Tapism

ICT can play a significant role in building accountable and democratic governance institutions. What is required is strategic application of knowledge and innovative use of available technology to provide governance services to all sections of the society. And this will require visionary leadership and concerted efforts by national governments and the civil society. And the focus of e-governance has to be on those who have been mostly marginalised of benefits of good governance.

As Canon India’s Senior Vice-President, Alok Bharadwaj says, “the starting point might be retooling their own (government’s) procedures and processes, etc., to become more citizen-centric, faster responses, speed of actions, more efficient working and anything that you do which creates economic activity or anything that is a part of economic activity we can improve on it using technology.”

The role played by ICT could be wide-ranging: in delivery and standards of governance services, to how people access such services, and the participation of people in the governance sphere. “We are already seeing how the new digital approaches, the new digital technologies are beginning to transform things which are in the core of governance services. We have already seen the transformation this has brought about in industry, first in the IT industry and then in many ways thanks to the IT industry how that is spreading to other places, first in banking where we do not even think about the fact that you can go and get money anywhere anytime,” says Kiran Karnik, former President, NASSCOM.

The key challenges with electronic governance are not technology or internet issues but organisational issues like redefining rules and procedures, information transparency, legal issues, infrastructure, skill and awareness, access to right information, interdepartmental collaboration and the tendency to resist the change in work culture. ICT does bring about a disruptive change especially if one is changing a system that has been set in its ways for years. The change can also be traumatic for some. One only has to look back at the resistance faced for computerisation of banks and today there is not a single bank that has not implemented core-banking solutions. The question is: Are we doing enough to manage change?

Government Process Re‐engineering is a necessary condition for the realisation of the benefits of e‐governance. While deployment of IT solutions increases the efficiency of operations, it will not necessarily deliver the best results unless the processes are reconfigured. Process re‐engineering ensures that the processes are redesigned to make them most effective and deliver the maximum value to the government, its employees and the citizens.

Bibek Debroy, Distinguished Fellow, Skoch Development Foundation and noted economist, feels we need to look at the bigger picture. “Technology is a very powerful tool to eliminate poverty, to reduce asymmetry of information, but behind all of that the fundamental systems of administration, the fundamental systems of governance and the fundamental systems of administrative delivery needs to change if we are going to tap this potential.”

The government’s e-governance initiatives are likely to be successful only if they are integrally linked to a better citizen interface, more government ownership of the deliverables of such initiatives, increased accountability and transparency, and better relations between the public and the private sector.

The other reasons for slow initiation of ICT into governance are overemphasis on the means at the expanse of end use, exclusion of a section of general public from ICT education and lack of convergence.

ICT can play a significant role in building accountable and democratic governance institutions and reaching the benefits of governance to the marginalised

But, Department of Posts is trying hard to grapple with these systematic lacunae and has introduced a Track and Trace system, which helps the customer keep an online track of his consignment, and a public grievance system to redress complaints

“The customer should know that if he has sent a consignment then where exactly is the consignment and whether it has been delivered or not. We have also set up a public grievance system on our network. But people are still wanting to write letters to us and do not respond through the ICT system. We have tried to include people and geographies, and automated procedures and operations,” says Suneeta Trivedi, Chief General Manager, Business Development & Marketing Directorate, Department of Posts, stressing on convergence of systems and applications.

Link Outlays to Outcomes

Sudha Pillai, Member-Secretary, Planning Commission

The Government of India transfers millions of rupees (this amount does not include subsidies, such as on food, kerosene, and fertilisers) annually to the states, but very little of it is linked with performance and good delivery. Often incentives work in the other direction. For instance, Finance Commission (FC) gives gap-filling grants so that revenue deficit of the states at the end of the period of five years becomes zero. Thus, if a State has been irresponsible and has ended up with a huge revenue deficit, it is likely to get a larger gap-filling grant. In other words, FC rewards profligacy.

The concept of good governance needs to be translated into a quantifiable annual index on the basis of certain agreed indicators such as infant mortality rate, extent of immunisation, literacy rate for women, sex ratio, feeding programmes for children, availability of safe drinking water supply, electrification of rural households, rural and urban unemployment, percentage of girls married below 18 years, percentage of villages not connected by all weather roads, number of class I government officials prosecuted and convicted for corruption, and so on. Some universally accepted criteria for good budgetary practices may also be included in the index. Once these figures are publicised states may get into a competitive mode towards improving their score.

Any system which starts out with a poor system of accounting and auditing tends to run the risk of being abused and this happens in certain parts and then the whole system is blamed. So, we need qualified personnel to assist and also need to have a system of accounting and audit.

Sudha Pillai, Member-Secretary, Planning Commission

Central allocations to states should be linked to outcomes. N C Saxena, Distinguished Fellow, Skoch Development Foundation and Member, National Advisory Council tells us that he made a number of presentations to the Finance Commission on this point, that “why don’t you link part of your devolution, as you know Finance Commission gives thousands of billions of rupees every year to the States, why don’t we say that part of this money would be linked to governance, with outcomes and I suggested how to have a composite governance index. Since this was a new concept they were a bit conservative. They said okay to begin with we will try only for two things, if States reduce IMR and states improve forest cover we will give 50 billion for these schemes. So, a beginning has been made but I think we need to link government of India’s devolution through Planning Commission, through the ministries, with performance and only then performance would be incentivised.”

“The effectiveness of centrally-funded urban development schemes will only improve if the Centre is not just seen as a sponsor, but as one that incentivises the urban local bodies to do the right thing and also penalises State Governments that prevent or block such practices,” says Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Chairperson, ICRIER.

Sudha Pillai, Member-Secretary, Planning Commission says, “When I see the huge plethora of Centrally Sponsored Schemes I find that there are very detailed guidelines and then there is one paragraph on accounting and auditing. So, any system which starts out with a poor system of accounting and auditing tends to run the risk of being abused and this happens in certain parts and then the whole system is blamed. So, we need qualified personnel to assist, you need to have a system of accounting and audit, then you also need to have an office, a place where people can actually meet and work.”

Devolve Funds, Functions and Functionaries to Local Institutions

The decentralization of funds, functions and functionaries to local bodies has been unsatisfactory and there are capacity constraints at the level of panchayats and urban local bodies. We need to engage with municipalities, panchayats, state legislatures and the Parliament to build knowledge on the democratic functioning of institutions and undertake policy advocacy for people-centric reforms.

“Development can take place if we take just 10-15 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule and say that with respect to these all functions, all finances pertaining to those functions, and all functionaries pertaining to those finances and functions shall be devolved to the local level. All we need to do is to ensure that the panchayat bureaucracy is responsive to the elected panchayat leaders who, in turn, are responsible to the Gram Sabha,” says Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Minister for Panchayati Raj.

There are applications like Plan Plus that NIC has developed for Ministry of Panchayati Raj, which is actually going down to the panchayat level specifically in the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) districts where there is a participatory plan that is being moved up the hierarchy and then the funds are being tracked. We have to make it more widely deployed, we have to make sure that every panchayat and urban local body has it.

“First of all, we need to have a deep understanding of what actually the situation is on the ground. And two, deliver the entire package in toto, don’t hold back, don’t think that if giving something is enough, no, that won’t work, and the third is that do not have this impulse to centralise. Have the impulse to decentralise,” emphasizes Pillai.

Speed up Unique Universal Identity

After a lot of discussion and debate, the UID project is now moving forward. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) intends to issue IDs to 600 million citizens in four years. India will be the first country to implement a biometric-based unique ID system for its residents on such a large scale. The project estimated to cost around Rs 300 billion will eventually cover the entire population of the country. The unique 16-digit number can be accessed and verified online from anywhere in the country.

For leveraging the power of the UID number, various agencies will have to embed the UID number into their databases. This will enable cross linkages across systems and processes. This is of a tremendous advantage because various databases will then be able to talk to each other; today, their systems have no cross linkages and they are unable to figure out how many times a person figures in their database? So, this will have a cleansing effect on all existing databases. The result is that enrolling agencies will be able to clean their databases and further streamline operations.

One fundamental change that we are going to see with Aadhar coming in is that we would shift from supply side governance hopefully to a demand side governance, which would emanate from participatory planning, electronically tagging and tracking of every rupee that is being spent on the social sector.

“We believe that UID will be the foundation on which all that this country aspires to do can be attempted and certainly I believe that we should be playing a bit role in promoting equality, growth, social justice, governance reforms and institutional regeneration,” says A P Singh, Deputy Director General, UIDAI.

Combine Banks with Credit Societies to Reach Unbanked in Rural Sector

Suneeta Trivedi, Chief General Manager, Business Development & Marketing Directorate, Department of Posts

A major cause of the huge economic disparity in the country is that only about 11 per cent of our population has access to banking. The rest are largely dependent on either moneylenders or Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs), which, more often than not, charge monumental rates of interest. Despite advisories from Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to open no frill accounts, hassle-free credit to poor and appointment of business correspondents in the village, the banking in rural regions of the country has shrunk over the years as the banks have closed down more branches in villages than opened new ones.

P Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, quotes several figures to prove how the reverse of financial inclusion has seeped in India over the years.

C Rangarajan, Chairman of Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister, advises the banks to make use of existing credit societies in villages to access the unbanked farming community. “The credit societies have the reach and the banks have funds. Combine the two and you can solve the problem.” Rangarajn also finds the business correspondent model viable and counsels the banks to make use of it to access the rural sector.

A customer should know that if he has sent a consignment then where exactly is the consignment and whether it has been delivered or not. We have tried to include people and geographies, and automated procedures and operations.

Suneeta Trivedi

Another appalling fact is that though the banks have opened no frill accounts, they are dithering on making hassle-free credit available to the villagers. The MFIs on the other hand have doled out multiple consumption loans to villagers in Andhra Pradesh and other states pushing the poor into a vicious cycle of indebtedness.

The MFIs on the other hand complain of being stifled due to controls introduced by states like Andhra Pradesh. Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Advisor, Department of Economic Affairs and Shankar Acharya, Member, Board of Governors ICRIER are concerned about tightening norms on the third tier of financial institutions like the MFIs. “While regulatory measures are needed, these should not kill the very institutions that they are seeking to regulate. Some cases of misuse should not lead to death of a sector that is taking the message of financial inclusion to the hinterlands,” Basu said in a panel discussion organized by Skoch on Growth and Finance recently.

Enable Professional Inputs into Policy Making

We need to look at having a professional cabinet, or at the least enable professional inputs into policy making. There are strong arguments for more of a project management approach to policy development where policy is designed to address specified outcomes and which is closely linked to implementation and related systems development.

We need to achieve a pro-active, responsive, accountable, sustainable and efficient administration for the country at all levels of the government. Among other things, we need to examine areas like organisational structure of the Central government, ethics in governance, refurbishing of personnel administration, strengthening of financial management systems, crisis management and public order.

The effectiveness of centrally-funded urban development schemes will only improve if the Centre is not just seen as a sponsor, but as one that incentivises the urban local bodies to do the right thing and also penalises State Governments that prevent or block such practices

In any system, the quality of public servants is critical in determining outcomes. We have well-established procedures for initial recruitment of civil servants in India. However, there is growing concern that our civil services and administration in general have become wooden, inflexible, self-perpetuating, and inward-looking. While the bureaucracy responds to crisis situations with efficacy, colossal tardiness and failure to deal with ‘normal’ situations is evident in most cases. Effective horizontal delegation and a clear system of accountability at every level should be at the heart of administrative reforms.

At the same time, we also need to recognise the complex challenges of modern administration in critical sectors like policing, justice delivery, education, healthcare, transportation, land management, infrastructure, skill promotion, employment generation, and urban management. All these are intricate issues, which need domain expertise, long experience in the sector, and deep insights.

Processes of civil service recruitment, periodic training, promotion and posting strategies and career management have to be reformed urgently. We need to foster excellence in the public system, and attract continuously the best talent and expertise. The barrier between government and the rest of the economy and society must be lowered, allowing free movement based on competence and leadership qualities.

In addition, reform efforts require identification of and partnership with reform-minded politicians and bureaucrat champions. Internalisation by departments and agencies will aid in the sustainability of reforms.

Involve Citizens into Governance

A P Singh, Deputy Director General, UIDAI

Listening to the voice of citizens not just during periodic elections but also on an ongoing basis is the starting point of participation of citizens in governance. Such listening could be done through public hearings, surveys, referenda etc. where citizens can give their suggestions with regard to their problems as well as the possible solutions. Citizens are in the best position to articulate their needs and suggest the appropriate solutions, which is why there is often need to complement local knowledge and skills with governmental expertise.

The objective of citizens’ participation is to ensure that government organisations work for the constituencies, which they are meant to serve. For this to happen, government servants should be accountable not only to their superiors but also to citizens. It is only when this is realised by government agencies that citizens can voice their grievances with assurance that due attention is given to them. For example, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) created a campaign called the Customers’ Meets campaign, which “compelled senior managers to leave the comfort and security of their offices to interact directly with citizens in neighbourhoods throughout the city.” The campaign not only provided valuable customer feedback to the Metro Water Management, but also sparked pressure from citizens for further reform by raising expectations.

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