Managing transition towards “Citizen Centric” governance – Ashok Bhan Ex-DGP

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Governance involves a number of simultaneous processes which evolve continuously based on the societal needs and pressures. Transition has to be appropriately managed by guiding the gradual, continuous process of transformation of socio-political landscape, socio-technical practices and the “structural character of society” from one equilibrium to another. The biggest challenge for the political executive in the country today is to establish a credible “citizen centric” model of governance as envisaged by the founding fathers of our constitution.

Ashok Bhan Ex-DGP, Ashok Bhan Ex DGP, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu, Dr. Ashok Bhan Ex DGP
Dr Ashok Bhan is a former Director General of Police (IPS 1976 J&K) who served in various capacities in the state of Jammu and Kashmir including that of the Commissioner of Vigilance. After his retirement in March 2010, Dr Bhan served a two year term as Member of the National Security Advisory Board. Currently he is a Member of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Distinguished Fellow of the IPCS New Delhi, and Chairman of the J&K Regional Branch of the Indian Institute of Public Administratioon.

The three pillars of democracy were mandated to serve in public interest. The freedom of expression further encouraged a vibrant and objective media and civil society to expose aberrations in Governance. The “selfless political leadership” and a “strong steel frame” met these expectations initially. But we soon lost our way.

The focus of Governance over the decades has drifted from being “citizen centric” to “self centric” with premium on self aggrandizement, collection of funds for elections, looking after interests of kin, friends and influential non-state actors. The money and muscle power has become integral to the electoral process. The musclemen themselves have become  part of the electoral politics.

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The flaws in transition did send warning signals. The jeep scandal of 1948, resignation of Union ministers T. Krishnamachari in 1958 and K.D. Malaviya in 1963 and those of Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad in 1963 and Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon in 1964 did indicate that rot had begun to set in Governance within two decades of independence.

In 1964 a new offence of “possession of disproportionate assets to ones known sources of income” had to be added to the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1947. A year later in 1965, Ministers and legislators were included in the list of public servants so that they could be investigated and prosecuted on charges of corruption. The Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Shri Morarji Desai in 1966 recommended enactment of Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta Bill to check corruption and mal-governance at high places. These were early signs that good governance had taken a back seat and corruption had crept into higher echelons of governance in the country in a big way.

 

The economic reforms beginning 1991 unshackled the economy but these laudable interventions came about when the socio-political environment was highly polluted. The Corporates too joined the unholy nexus to appropriate the gains of reforms and share the booty by inducing corruption in the system.

Vohra Committee set up after March 1993 Bombay Bomb Blasts forcefully highlighted this vitiated environment of an unholy nexus between politicians, bureaucrats, police, criminal gangs, media persons and strategically placed individuals in the non-state sector. The so called coalition compulsions more recently proved to be the proverbiallast nail in the coffin of transparent and accountable “citizen centric” governance. The series of scams that were exposed is common public knowledge now.

While this unwholesome transition was at work the “caged parrots” in the centre and the states proved unequal to the task and chose to ignore the complicity of the mighty and powerful at the behest of their political masters. The criminal justice system had failed to take curative measures till the Higher Judiciary in the recent past took upon itself to constitute SITs and supervised investigation in some high profile cases.

The transparency law is a revolutionary reform but its full benefits are yet to be realized. The conflicting interests between the various stakeholders are yet to get harmonised. The misuse of discretionary powers, arbitrariness in decision making and mal-administration can no longer remain hidden under the cloak of the colonial Official Secrets Act if the provisions of the RTI Act are implemented in letter and spirit. The Lok Pal Act is now in place but yet to take off. In some states Lokayuktas have been functional for some time but with the honourable exception of Karnataka during the Chairmanship of Justice Santosh Hegde, nothing much has been heard about the others. There have been some instances of individual brilliance in exposing corruption and mal governance but what the country needs today is the strengthening of institutions dealing with public delivery system and watchdog agencies. It is the will of the Government to implement these legislations without fear or favour and desire to build institutional framework for good governance that will determine the course of transformation towards good Governance.

Many of us may not like the treatment of the subject by Arvind Kejriwal and their ilk in transforming the system of governance but the cause cannot be faulted. They represented the restlessness of the nation particularly the youth of India for radical transformation in Governance. It did get reflected in the verdict given by the Indian electorate against the coalition model in the Centre. The restlessness in youth of India may have temporarily subsided but it will raise its head again if not adequately addressed.

Where do we go from here? Can we restore people’s faith in governance and how soon? Can we restore the “citizen centric” model of Governance that the founding fathers of the Constitution had envisaged? How do we manage the transition to empower the poor and the vulnerable, ensure inclusive growth and take India to its appointed place as an economic power? People of India are waiting for answers to these questions.

The Government must in unequivocal terms demonstrate its will to achieve the goal of good governance. Selections to the apex watchdog agencies will be closely watched. The over assertive political executive must allow the bureaucracy to function as per the law and the constitution without fear of being victimized. The post-retirement largesse distributed for blindly toeing the line of the political party in power or individual politicians must stop. Political allegiance must not dictate appointments to constitutional and statutory bodies connected with recruitments, implementation of RTI, the Lokpal Act etc.

Governments in the centre and the states must stop meddling with and dictating the investigating agencies. The Prevention of Corruption Act has hitherto been used to investigate and prosecute largely lower and middle rung public servants. The Corporates responsible for their role in various scams and for inducing corruption in Government systems must be brought to justice. So must the public men and public servants at the top be dealt with irrespective of their political clout? The Government must not continue using the investigating agencies merely to harass political opponents. The rule of law and equality before law if enforced will bring a whiff of fresh air for the choking criminal justice system.

The challenge is formidable but not insurmountable. A determined political leadership can make it happen.

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