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India under Modi: mapping a road between good governance and tryst with bureaucracy  

Posted on 22 Jun 2014

Last updated 28 Jun 2014 00:00:00 +0530

  Narendra Modi, Roadmap, Economy, Bureaucracy
Modi’s approach towards the bureaucracy has raised doubt in many over the realisation of good governance. As media reported, the PM Promised to meet all the ministers and secretaries separately. While many feared that such an advice would encourage the bureaucrats to bypass their ministers, the government justified its decision saying that such a measure is to empower officials to take decisions without fearing corruption investigations.

Basudev Mahapatra

 

Since it took over the governance of India, the Narendra Modi government has announced its plan of action to revive the economy and ensure the targeted growth.

As the first budget of the Modi government is to be placed in the second week of July, the major challenges would be dealing with issues like price rise - particularly increased food prices and inflation. But, as economists say, the government will have to do away with populist policies and work with a long term vision to streamline the struggling economy that saw below 5% growth during last two consecutive years.

However, before placing the budget, the government has opened its plans in the Presidential speech addressed to members of the both houses of Indian Parliament, on June 9, 2014.

The speech delivered by the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, carried Modi government's ambitious roadmap to revive the economy.

Here are the highlights of the roadmap to bring economic stability and check price rise.

1. The government will deal with food inflation as the topmost priority while ensuring measures to end rural-urban divide and reverse the trend of hopelessness among farmers that leads to suicides.

2. Necessary reform to be brought in the Public Distribution System (PDS) for realisation of food security goals.

3. Emphasising on “one India, great India,” the government will not focus on mere "poverty alleviation" but work for realisation of the goal of "poverty elimination" with the firm belief that the first claim on development belongs to the poor.

4. Keeping in view the possibility of irregular monsoons due to El Nino that might have an impact on food inflation this year, contingency plans are to be prepared to tackle the situation.

5. Foreign direct investment (FDI) will be encouraged in India to help creation of more jobs and assets.

6. Long-pending Goods and Services Tax (GST) shall be introduced to enhance the ease of doing business.

7. For creation of jobs in a massive scale, labour-intensive manufacturing sector will be promoted.

Two days later, Prime Minister Modi endorsed the roadmap while speaking in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament, and said that his government would “leave no stone unturned in implementing the roadmap.”

“We are sincerely committed to bring down prices. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that nobody sleeps hungry,” Modi added.

These were all promised by Modi during the campaigning for the bygone elections. But how to cover the roadmap?

Modi’s single phrase reply to these hunting questions is, “good governance.”

To ensure good governance, Modi told ministers to treat governance as the most important subject, with a sharp focus on delivery and implementation. "You must keep these points on your table where you can see them all the time. People have put their trust in us and we cannot let them down," Modi told his Cabinet colleagues, as reported in media.

In the first session of the Lok Sabha after he became the PM, Modi said in the house that corruption cases be investigated expeditiously so that corruption in governance can be minimized and good governance ensured.

To avoid nepotism in the governance affairs, Modi also advised his colleagues not to put any relative as a primary aid like the private secretary in their office.

These have been a few steps taken by the new government that the people of India have applauded to. Elites of the country are appreciative of Modi’s declared commitment for corruption-free governance and to bring back the illicit money, otherwise called black money, kept in various foreign banks.

“Modi would do as promised and take measures to get black money into the country,” said a noted senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani in an interview to an Indian newspaper.

However, the whole issue of black money is still shrouded in mystery as nothing concrete in terms of evidence has come out yet.

But, practicality in all the high sounding words and promises of the government comes into doubt as Modi and his cabinet colleagues make it clear that “Taking tough decisions and strong measures are needed to bring financial discipline, which will revive and boost the country’s self-confidence.”

What are those tough decisions? Over taxing? Reducing the subsidy burden? Raising charges for public sector services like rail fare? Deregulating the pricing mechanism for petroleum products and energy?

The already declared hike in rail fare, days before the budget is placed in the parliament, has already bothered people and has drawn strong reaction. What bothers more is the attitude of the reigning NDA government of not owning the decision but putting the blame on the previous UPA government.

Any other decision, as cited before, would further hurt the poor and burden the middleclass who voted Modi and his party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power! But there is no doubt that some of them are imminent if the economy of the country is to be revived.

Overseas investors are somehow impressed with the ideas of economic re-tracking, good governance and transparency promises by Narendra Modi.

As reported by India’s leading news agency PTI, "Manufacturers in the US are optimistic that we have before us an important opportunity to put the US-India economic relationship back on track," Jay Timmons, president and CEO, National Association of Manufacturers said.

Calling for a dialogue with India, Jay said, manufacturers throughout the US want to see a stronger and more robust Indian economy and to work with businesses in India on a range of issues, from growing innovation and skills to improving participation in global supply chains.

But Modi’s approach towards the bureaucracy has raised doubt in many over the realisation of good governance. As media reported, the PM Promised to meet all the ministers and secretaries separately. While many feared that such an advice would encourage the bureaucrats to bypass their ministers, the government justified its decision saying that such a measure is to empower officials to take decisions without fearing corruption investigations.

"The PM has been keeping away from secretaries for a long time, so it's good if he re-establishes that link and assures them of protection on bonafide decisions taken to deliver outcomes. This message needs to be conveyed to the last level of bureaucracy as well," said former home secretary GK Pillai, as quoted by the Economic Times. He however added that "At the same time, there is a need to tell the Central Bureau of Investigation to draw up some guidelines on probing bureaucrats who have turned over-cautious as any decision that leads to financial benefits to someone else can be construed as a violation of the Prevention of Corruption Act."

The question is, should the government give an assurance to its bureaucrats that they are not going to face an investigation for taking a wrong decision?

It’s a fact, of course, that several retired bureaucrats had to face inquiries during the previous UPA regime, which possibly led to administrative paralysis. But there were also instances where bureaucracy had a strong role in high profile corruption cases. For example, in the state of Odisha, where bureaucrats enjoyed larger amount of freedom with relatively better access to the Chief Minister and his office, strong bureaucracy link was feared in the huge mining scam of at least Rs. 60000 crore. Justice M B Shah, who headed the commission that investigated the scam, said, “Without a connivance of the Bureaucrats a scam of such magnitude would not have been possible.”

Similar involvements were also suspected in the coalgate scam and the 2G scam.

The question now is, can good governance be ensured and accountability implanted in the bureaucracy by freeing and empowering it to take decisions without fear and by giving them increased access to the office of the PM?

Rather, as many apprehend, this may lead to further centralisation of power and convert the bureaucracy into a typical medieval nobility, which will no way help the democracy but endanger the position and power of people’s representatives in a democratic system of governance.

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