Event ReportsPublished on Aug 20, 2018
Issues of governance requires closer study, say experts

“Adaptation to change and constant reforms are the surest way to move forward in a transformational and aspirational India,” said Kavitha D Chitthuri, President of the Madras Management Association (MMA), while initiating the first in a series of seminars on “Functional Governance for a New India” being organised with Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.

She observed that for a new India to take shape, both corporates and the government needed to reform themselves in keeping with the rapid changes that were taking place in the global political economy. “The Governments, both at the Centre and in the States, must be credited for never overlooking reforms”, she said.   “However, acceptance may be gradual for some justifiable reasons,” Chitthuri said.

Sathiya Moorthy, Director, ORF-C, explained the motivation and conceptualisation behind the seminar-series on ‘Functional Governance’. It was born out of a desire to respond to a noticeable new trend in ‘Emerging New India’ -- the oft repeated refrain, “Nothing is working in this country”. The ORF and the MMA felt it was important to address this question, by exploring the issues and opportunities. “Are things really not working in this country? And if it is not, what are the main issues?” he asked.

With the recent debates and discourses on the civil services in the country  –- their role, utility, selection process, training, modes of assessment, etc --  it was felt this would be a relevant topic for the inaugural seminar. While it is easy to relapse to the catch-phrase that “nothing works in this country in any given situation”, it was equally important to ask ourselves: “Do we even know how the Indian system works?” With this mind, veteran and serving officers as well as those from academia and the corporate sector were invited to address the issues of functional governance, he added.

GDP, not sole criterion

Delivering the key-note address, K Raghuttama Rao, CEO, Gopalakrishnan Dede Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, IIT Madras, stated the next 20 years were very crucial for the country. There were many areas in which reform was necessary. Not making these changes would be a failure of governance, he warned.

Rao felt strongly that the idea of economic growth had to be re-thought. Increasing the GDP alone was not enough. Growth had to be well distributed and even. Failing to do so will result in absolute chaos. Referring to war-torn regions of the world, such as Syria and Afghanistan, he pointed to a link between economic deprivation and unrest.

Likewise, economic growth also had to address the environmental costs of development, he further added. India was not in a position to blindly follow western development models that had plundered the natural resources of the world. India’s growth had to be sustainable and it was the responsibility of governance to protect the country’s forests, water bodies and other resources.

Rao spoke of the importance of domain expertise which he felt was lacking in India’s bureaucracy. He predicted in the next decade, the country was going to witness many migrations –- rural to urban, and farm to non-farm being the most crucial. In order to manage these migrations efficiently, he emphasised the need for good governance, which was predicated on domain expertise.

In this regard, he welcomed the Centre’s current move for ‘lateral entry’ and said that there was however a need for having safeguards to ensure the entrants would not become spokesmen or lobbyists for other interest groups. He also said that bringing in ‘outsiders’ alone was not the solution. “The country needs to have more cerebral debates about some of the issues affecting functional governance – a key concern area was more transparency in political funding,” he added.

Not as bad...

M R Sivaraman, former Revenue Secretary, Government of India, felt the state of governance in this country was not as bad as people made it out to be. He said it was important to remember that India is a complex country, being a multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-party democracy. Governance in the country therefore happened at multiple levels -- a complex subject that warranted deeper analysis and longer debate.

Sharing several anecdotes from his vast experience, Sivaraman identified potential areas where ministers clashed with officials, causing things to not move as quickly as one desired. Likewise, the corporate sector, which is now craving for more reforms and faster pace of ‘governance’, were the ones who were opposed to competition, when introduced as a part of the economic reforms in the nineties, he recalled.

Governance in this country, he surmised, was the art of carrying every policy-maker and every sector of the society with it, and that is a complex and time-consuming affair, if it had to succeed, Sivaraman said. Under the constitutional scheme, upheld by the Supreme Court, “civil servants work under the ministers, and this is how it should be in a democracy. There are many things that civil servants cannot do because there are limitations on them,” he added in this regard.

Looking to the future, the speaker recommended further devolution of power to the panchayats, particularly in relation all developmental activities. Though the Constitution was amended and laws passed for the purpose, in actuality adequate power and resources had not devolved on these institutions. He further recommended more resources should be given to the rural areas, to tackle the problem of growing inequality.

Likewise, fragmentation of land-holdings was a real problem in rural areas, as a result of which agricultural efficiency is being drastically reduced. This remains a big challenge of governance, one that the government has not being able to prevent. Sivaraman concluded, saying, “The country has recorded tremendous growth, and this is because governance works.”


M Ganapathi, former Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), echoed Sivaraman’s belief that the state of governance was not as bad in the country as was being made out by the media and the private sector. Governance was multi-dimensional and referred to many things --creating a policy, implementing that policy, monitoring it, understanding where it has fallen short of expectations and doing a course-correction. All these processes were being followed in the country, he said.

In the foreign service, Ganapathi said, governance was about anticipation. The Indian situation was on the positive side on this count, he said “Looking at Doklam as an example, I think we did a good job. He said that the question of ‘lateral entry’ required greater debate. He felt if it were to happen it should be below the level of Joint Secretary.

Questions about the candidate’s training and motivation were real concerns that needed to be addressed. If the argument for lateral entry pertained to the need for consultation and outside perspectives, Ganapathi pointed out that the MEA has continually engaged in such consultations all along. Particularly with regard to overseas visits, they consulted extensively with other ministries, academics and regional experts, he added.

Collateral damage

Similarly addressing the issue of lateral entry, Dr Prateep V Philip, former Additional Director-General of Police (ADGP), Tamil Nadu, CID Tamil Nadu, felt it was more prudent to use the existing talent-pool than brining in people from outside. He argued that existing experts within the services were not being used in their corresponding area of expertise.

Dr Philip recommended opening up senior management positions in the IAS to those from the IPS. Lateral entry would not be the “effective solution for lack of expertise, it would in fact cause collateral damage. This is because lateral entry would question the raison d’etre of the services”, he claimed.

“Innovative leadership and commitment were the most important ingredients for functional governance,” remarked Prof Shekhar Chaudhri, formerly with Indian Institutes of Management at Ahmedabad and Kolkatta. Analysing four different episodes that were deemed successes in governance – cleaning up the city of Surat, Delhi Metro Rail, achievements of the ISRO and DRDO -- Prof Chaudhri found that empowering and monitoring the people at the bottom level was the key to proper governance and this depended on excellence in leadership. Commenting on the question of lateral entry, Prof Chaudhri felt it would be a good move. “Outside perspectives leads to innovation, which is a good thing for governance,” he said.

Concluding the session, Shailesh Pathak, Chief Executive, L&T Infrastructure Development Projects Ltd, said, “Bureaucracy is not a part of the problem or part of the solution, it is how we vote that matters.” In this sense, the responsibility lay with the politicians, particularly at the State-level. Pathak said that good things were happening in the country, but the media tended to report disproportionately the calamites and crises in governance instead.

As an ex-civil servant and former student of IIM and Business studies, he said, ”It is crucial to empower city and local governments.” He lamented, “State Governments treat city governments like colonies.” Unless this attitude is rectified, moves such as lateral-entry are not going produce much result.”

This report was prepared by Dr Vinitha Revi, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai

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