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Governance, the UPA's buzz word
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi | December 06, 2004 16:24 IST
The United Progressive Alliance government's next set of reforms is not just about the economy or further liberalism but goes to the very heart of India: governance.
The government is looking at administrative reforms, political and electoral reforms, judicial reforms, economic governance reforms, and the social dimension of changes in governance.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit, co-hosted by the Confederation of Indian industry, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan assured that his government was committed to these reforms but refused to give a time frame, pointing out that legislation in such complex matters would take time.
Speaking at the IES's session on Effective Governance: India's Other Challenge, Chavan pointed out that the Indian bureaucracy was a legacy of the British rule and it needed a change to make it more people-friendly.
A key aspect of all these reforms would be the 'right to information' that would empower citizens on their rights and ensure that they are not kept in the dark about decisions that impinge on their lives.
He further said that a root cause of corruption was the funding of elections, something he said every businessman in the room would have experienced. He said it was necessary to make funding public to remove corruption.
Moreover, to make the political process better, he said the government was working on ways and means to reduce the number of parties participating in the elections while also looking at governance within political parties.
On judicial reforms, he said it was imperative that the backlog of cases be cleared soon.
Regarding the economic governance reforms, he pointed out that India was still not a common market with different states having different taxes imposed on goods. "VAT (value-added tax) is the first step towards creating an effective common market," he added.
Also speaking on the occasion was Harvard Business School Dean Kim Clark, who raised three pertinent points. He said that he found that India tended to have very draconian laws and asked, "Is draconian law always better?" as a way to deal with offenses?
He posed this question after pointing out that India seemed to be importing its corporate governance laws from abroad, which might not be a bad thing, but for the aspect that India tended to make the laws more drastic.
He also said governments played a crucial role in creating a modern economic system, especially in an age when markets have become so powerful and so pervasive so as to overwhelm the rules made to hold them in place.
He ended on a positive note insisting that in the marketplace, it would be the good guys who obey the laws who would win over the bad guys who do not obey the laws and gave three reasons for that.
He said clean and transparent companies would win because they would be able to raise capital; attract talent in their staff; and have the ability to forge relationships in terms of joint partners.
Mirai Chatterjee, a coordinator at the Ahmedabad-based Self Employed Women's Association, said that it was the experience of SEWA that decentralization was a key aspect of better governance. "Our experience has been that where the people have been empowered, lives have improved," and said panchayats played a key role in this transformation.
She pointed out there was intense corruption at the lower levels of the bureaucracy, at the revenue collection levels that directly affected the poor people and said one way of curbing this corruption was to ensure sufficient information. She said the right to information would go a long way in this regard.
The fourth speaker was Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, who, in his inimitable style, spoke of the role and responsibilities of the media. Taking a walk down memory lane, Gupta pointed out how when he was earning his spurs as a journalist, he had to brave tear gas and report on riots and killings.
"Now, there are reporters who are becoming special correspondents who have never faced tear gas simply because the last 12 years, with the exception of Gujarat, have been very peaceful," he said.
As a corollary of the growth of market forces, he said editors like him were now forced to learn how to read balance sheets, something that few in his generation could really do.
He said the media had a role and a responsibility to highlight aspects of the economy that people tended to miss and gave the example of how when the Delhi government increased the water tariff, the media went overboard in claiming that water costs would skyrocket.
"The truth is that even after the increase, we will be paying less for water than we would for two cable connections," he added. "Yet there was such a hue and cry only because we have as a people become unused to paying for what we use."
He recalled a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a few years ago, who had then said that Indians must learn to pay for their services if India has to keep growing.
And it was here that the media had a responsibility to report effectively and point out what the realities were instead of sensationalizing the news as is wont.
His lament was that Indians had become extremely tolerant of corruption and hoped that this would come to an end.