Part II | Responsibility of the Polity and the Public Services

Kashmiris will benefit from India-Pakistan peace: Vohra

Governance cannot be effectively delivered unless the laws of the land are fearlessly enforced, public order is maintained and the safety and security of all the people is assured. And such an objective can be achieved only when the entire criminal justice system, including the police and the prosecution, functions with efficiency, speed and fairness. However, presently, the capability and the very integrity of the system are being questioned.

Reportedly, nearly forty million cases continue to await trials in courts all over the country, including the higher judiciary. As per the National Crime Research Bureau’s Report of 2018 : nearly 4.5 million cases were pending trials in the various High Courts. Justice delayed is not only justice denied but also breeds disregard of the law. No wonder then, as reflected in the National Crime Research Bureau’s Report of 2018, on an average, 289 kidnappings, 91 rapes and 80 murders are being committed in our country every day.

It is cause for even greater concern that besides the many serious organisational and logistical deficiencies which plague the functioning of the justice system, there have also been growing complaints about the inadequacies in the competence and integrity of the judicial cadres. In the recent past, the independence and integrity of judges, even up to the august level of the Chief Justice of India, have been the subject of serious allegations. This has generated a widespread perception that the gaps in the judicial apparatus have already resulted in weakening both the will and capacity of the superior judiciary to fearlessly enforce the Constitution. In the context of the failures of the Executive and the Legislature, a weakened Judiciary, with cracks appearing in the highest echelons, is cause for great anxiety.

****

It is the Union’s crucial responsibility to ensure that national security is effectively managed at all times, and on all fronts. For the past many years now, the geo-political environment in our immediate neighbourhood has been generating unceasing security challenges. Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K has now continued for nearly three decades and, side by side, terrorist groups and adversary external agencies have been vigorously pursuing their agenda to destabilize our country by spreading religious fundamentalism, inciting communal conflicts and perpetrating violent disturbances.

It is regrettable that, despite the continuance of serious security threats to our country, the States have been questioning the Union’s authority in the arena of national security management. Among other matters, the States have been perennially raising issues about the competence and jurisdiction of the National Investigating Agency (NIA), the only central institution which has been investigating and prosecuting terrorist crimes since its hurried establishment in 2009.

It may be recalled that following Pakistan’s terror attacks in Mumbai, on our Parliament and on the Air Force Base in Pathankot, there was heightened concern, all over the country, to enlarge and strengthen the national security management apparatus. While there have since been several positive developments, we are still in the process of establishing the required pan India legal and logistical frameworks which would enable the Union and the States to set up and efficiently operate a country wide network of inter-connected institutions which shall be responsible for effectively safeguarding both internal and external security which have got inextricably intertwined ever since Pakistan launched its proxy war in J&K.

The State governments should know that terrorist networks do not recognize geographical or territorial boundaries; even if operating from long distances they can strike at their will, with lightening speed. It is necessary that the Union Government loses no more time in securing the essential understandings with the States to urgently establish the required security management framework and, particularly, to enact a comprehensive anti-terror law which has pan-India jurisdiction. Side by side, we must have a competent federal agency, manned by highly trained personnel, which can take immediate cognizance and forthwith proceed to investigate any terror offence, no matter in which part of the country it takes place, without having to lose any time whatsoever in seeking clearances from any quarter. Further, no more time should be lost in establishing a powerful central agency, and a country wide network of competent counter-organisations, to combat cyber offences and protect all our vital establishments and national assets against cyber attacks from any quarter.

****

Experience in the post Independence period has amply demonstrated that, other things being equal, meaningful growth and development is achieved when there is political stability and public order is maintained in the country. Needless to mention, domestic entrepreneurs and foreign companies shall make investments and be able to function profitably only if peace and normalcy prevails in the land. For securing such an environment it is imperative that the governance apparatus works with speed and efficiency, law and order is effectively maintained, corruption is controlled and the well being and safety of all our people is safeguarded. Thus, briefly, if progress is to be achieved on all fronts and our country is to advance rapidly towards the attainment of its avowed goals, then it is of the highest importance that clean and efficient governance is delivered and an environment of trust, safety and security prevails across the land.

For calm and normalcy to obtain in the country the Union Government shall need to ensure that the States effectively maintain law and order and see that no incident is allowed to occur which can disturb communal harmony, trigger internal disturbances or adversely impact national security in any manner. However, in the arena of security management, as the situation has evolved over the years, the States have not been adequately mindful of the advisories which they receive from the central agencies. In this context, the Union Government shall need to take timely initiatives for forging sound understandings with all the States, irrespective of the complexion of the political parties in power in various parts of the country. Towards this objective, it would be beneficial if the Union, making full use of the constitutional instrumentality of the Inter State Council, initiates dialogues with the States for timely resolving all obtaining and arising problems. Side by side, the Union Government should also proactively promote the settlement of festering inter-state disputes which have been sapping the national strength for decades. For achieving tangible outcomes the Union Government would need to pursue fair, objective and clearly non-partisan approaches, particularly while seeking to resolve issues relating to the safety, security and welfare of the minority communities.

*****

Almost every other day we see media reports about the outstanding successes achieved by engineers, scientists, doctors, and others of Indian origin who are living and working in various parts of the world. It needs being noted that the glorious achievements of such persons are not merely due to their superior competence and high commitment but also to the fact that they operate in an un-interfering work environment which recognizes merit and rewards performance. On the other hand, in our own country, the efficiency and productivity of our public servants and professionals is far below optimum, perhaps even outrightly unsatisfactory in certain organisations, because the establishments in which they function are eroded, in varying degrees, by political interference, indiscipline, nepotism, corruption and unaccountability.

Notwithstanding our various failures, about which I have spoken briefly, it is creditable that, in the period since Independence, India has been able to achieve growth on many fronts. To cite a few examples: our life expectancy has increased from 31 years in 1947 to 69 years in 2017; the literacy rate has risen from 12% (1947) to 73% (2011), and the infant mortality rate (IMR), which was very adverse earlier, now stands at 33 per every 1000 live births (2017).

In the field of agricultural production: while in the earlier years we faced famines and were almost wholly dependent on imported food-grains it is a matter for rejoicing that today we are among the leading exporters of food commodities in the world. It is equally praiseworthy that our scientific and technical manpower pool is the second largest in the world and we are among the top in the arena of space and nuclear technologies. While we do not stand very high in industrial growth, it is noteworthy that we rank among the major world economies which have been achieving the fastest growth rates. We also take pride in possessing the third largest military forces in the world.

*****

While I have referred to certain satisfying or even cheering aspects of India’s growth trajectory in the past decades it needs being understood that the size of our democracy or of our fast growing economy may not, by themselves, be enough to enable our country to achieve its envisaged goals. If we aspire to emerge as a strong and prosperous nation, all of whose people are free from hunger or want, then we shall need to take rapid steps to root out poverty and inequality, establish communal harmony and foster a societal environment in which all our people, particularly the minority communities, live without want or fear of any kind.

On account of the time constraint, it would not be possible to dilate on all the challenges which require the attention of our polity. However, I shall speak briefly about one or two matters, which deserve urgent attention.

First and foremost, if stability and public order are to be maintained and rapid advancement achieved on all fronts, we just cannot afford to have recurring incidents of communal disturbances of the kind we recently witnessed in the national capital, which resulted in violence, killings and large scale property losses. It is cause for grave concern that, as widely reported in the media, these disturbances occurred because the beliefs and socio-cultural practices of one community were allowed to be questioned and derided by political elements of another community, essentially with the objective of creating religious divisiveness.

It must be remembered that, besides resulting in the immediate loss of innocent lives and large economic losses, every incident of communal violence also leads to many longer term consequences: it generates suspicion, fear and hatred among people of different castes and faiths and lays the seeds of discords which may not be bridged for generations to come. Also, as was the case in the Delhi incidents, such occurrences create an irreparable divide among people of different religions who had been living happily together, in the same clusters and colonies, for decades past. Sadly, the communal virus, once it gets into the societal blood stream, is extremely difficult to eradicate.

It is singularly unfortunate that efforts have also been made to inject the cancer of discord and divisiveness in educational institutions. In the recent past, two eminent universities in the national capital witnessed ugly clashes and unprecedented violence in the campuses, besides irreparable disruption of their academic schedules. It is regrettable that instead of providing the best opportunities to the student community and fully exploiting India’s youthful demographic profile to achieve rapid economic gains, efforts are being made to misdirect the youth to create separateness for securing electoral advantages.

*****

Whenever questioned about the failure of governmental functioning, it has become customary for the Ministers, particularly in the States, to lay the entire blame on the misdeeds of the “bureaucracy” or “civil servants”, by which they actually intend to refer to officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

We have a total of about 5200 IAS officers who are deployed all over the country. While accurate figures are not readily available it is assessed that perhaps there are about 40-50 million functionaries in the country who are  employed by the Union Govt, State Govts, Union Territory Administrations, Central and State Public Sector Undertakings, Public Sector Banks, Defence Services, Municipalities and Urban Local Bodies, Panchayati Raj Institutions and varied other institutions which are supported by State or Central funds. For the purpose of discussion I would call the entire lot of these employees as “public servants” as all of them, from the village level Patwari to the Union Cabinet Secretary, get paid from public funds. Of the total strength of public servants in the country perhaps less than 1% are generalists, like the IAS and the State Civil Services, while the entire remainder lot represent professional cadres which contain school, college and university level teachers, police forces, defence services, bankers, engineers, scientists, technologists, doctors, foresters, judges and magistrates, and all those who work in various other professional arenas.

All public servants, belonging to different services in the States and at the Centre, are deployed in various departments and organizations which function under the control of the concerned Ministers who are members of the Union or the State Cabinets. Thus, briefly, it is the elected or the political Executive, headed by the Chief Minister in the State and by the Prime Minister at the Centre, which is constitutionally responsible for the governance of the country and,consequently, answerable for any failure in the functioning of the administrative system within their respective jurisdictions. The entire gamut of public servants, including the senior most I.A.S. officers, work under the control and direction of Ministers, who may hold charge of one or more departments. Thus, if there is any fault or failure in the functioning of a given department, it would be the concerned Minister who shall be answerable, individually and collectively as a member of the Cabinet. In case the Secretary of the Department or any other functionary is found to be at fault, then he shall face due punishment, which could even include removal from service.

I have commented on the Minister – Public Servant relationship to particularly point out that the elected leaders who are in authority, at the Centre and in the States, cannot flippantly brush away their constitutional responsibilities merely by passing the blame to the failings of public servants who function directly under their control and supervision. As per the constitutional framework it is the responsibility of the political Executive to run the governance apparatus.

****

Accountability is the foundation of the rule of law and constitutional governance. The working of the governmental apparatus shall become efficient only when the functioning of every Minister, and of all the officials who work in the departments under his control, becomes accountable. However, as it happens, barring a very small percentage, most of the elected persons who become Ministers have no earlier experience in administration, much less of formulating and implementing policies. Also, sadly, most of them do not have the urge, and perhaps not even the capacity, to put in the required effort to adequately understand the working of the departments placed under their charge, identify problems which require solution, take sound decisions and ensure the timely achievement of the targeted goals. Instead, from day one, Ministers get accustomed to excercising authority in an arbitrary manner and remain perennially engaged in ordering postings and transfers to favour functionaries who will collect funds and carry out their unlawful directions. Even worse, they pressurise and influence the officers working under them to see that contracts for sales, purchases or other matters which involve financial dealings are illegally awarded to persons whom the Minister wants to favour. It is this manner of unethical and irregular functioning which has led to promoting corruption and failures in the functioning of the administrative apparatus, besides seriously eroding the discipline and accountability of the public services.

*****

Due to the politization of the administrative system a certain percentage of officials, of various services, have climbed the political band wagon and un- awkwardly flaunt their loyalties to powerful elected leaders. The honest officials are invariably side lined and the functioning of many others is severely constrained by the threats which emanate from the ‘criminal nexus’ which conveys directions how certain important matters should be decided. Corrupt public servants are not afraid of the law as they are protected by their political masters. Past experience has repeatedly shown that the existing punishment and appeal systems relating to the cadres of the various services in the country do not deter the dishonest functionaries. A speedier and perhaps more punitive approach is required to deal with corruption among government employees. However, the public services shall start mending only when the political Executive starts functioning constitutionally and every Minister starts enforcing accountability, answerability and timely achievement of the departmental goals and targets in all the organisations which work under his charge.

For improving the functioning of the administrative apparatus it is necessary to create an environment in which every public servant functions fearlessly, discharges his duties with efficiency and is enabled to gain advancements in service on the basis of his proven performance and integrity. Towards this objective it would be beneficial if the senior echelons of all services — generalists, specialists, scientists, technologists, military leaders and all others who assist and work with Cabinet Ministers—are allowed to work with total independence, without being constrained by fear or pressure from any quarter. For rendering sound and objective advice it is of vital importance that the functioning of the senior most public servants remains conspicuously apolitical.

Many of the serious problems which face us today, including worrying internal security challenges, arise from corruption, mismanagement and unaccountability. It is, therefore, of prime importance that the Executive functions constitutionally and ensures that the various developmental and welfare programmes are efficiently implemented to alleviate the lot of each and every poverty stricken family, special attention being given to ensure that the problems of the tribal and other communities who live in remote and unconnected areas are handled with utmost care and sensitivity.

In this context it may be recalled that Naxalism, which at one time was labelled by the Union Home Ministry as the most serious threat to the Indian state, was born and took root in several parts of the country where the tribal and other local communities had faced neglect and severe economic deprivation for long years. Having been denied access to resources, even to the natural produce of the forests in which they lived, these people took to extremism and rose against the established system. Several decades have since elapsed and the Indian state is still combating with its own people, whom we call the Naxals.

We have no more time to lose in putting our house in order. The millions of our long neglected, oppressed and poverty stricken people may not wait endlessly for their sufferings to end. Their anger and despair may lead them to the path of confrontation. And if such an unfortunate consequence emerges, it may not be possible to control the arising disorder merely through the  application of force – an approach which has been unsuccessfully followed for decades now.

As I had stated earlier, the numerous and far spread communities which comprise our vast population represent indescribable religious, linguistic and cultural differences which make India a land of unbounded diversities. These differences and divergencies were sensitively recognised by the founding fathers of our Constitution when they set out the rights and privileges of citizens and the Directive Principles of State Policy.

In their public speeches and statements political leaders invariably refer to the several thousand years of our country’s civilizational past and express rightful pride in pointing to the enormous strength we draw from our “Unity in Diversity”. However, it appears that, as a people, our sensitivities to the manifold diversities in our society have been getting progressively dimmed. This erosion is due to certain political parties creating divisiveness among the castes and religions of our people to secure electoral gains.

As mentioned earlier, we need stability, calm and normalcy in the country to achieve rapid growth, eradicate poverty and inequality and advance towards becoming an economically and militarily strong nation. In this perspective we cannot afford any disruption of communal harmony which, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, leads to devastating consequences. Instead, we must maintain sustained societal harmony and draw strength by reviving our traditional forbearance of the differences in race, religion, language and culture which embrace our vast population.

In recent years, in the search of jobs, young men and women in different parts of our country have moved far away from their homes . Today, we have Mizo, Naga and Manipuri youth working in the mountains of J&K and in the deserts of Rajasthan and Panjabis and Haryanavis working in Kerala and the Andamans. This is a most welcome development as it helps to promote cultural integration. It is our duty to educate our children about the background and cultures of the people they have never seen before. They must learn to respect not only their religions, cultures and languages but also the eating habits, clothing styles and even the hair-cut patterns of the many new faces we are getting to see and meet every day.

In the recent years there have been ugly incidents arising from caste and religion clashes, kangaroo trials and road side lynchings. No government must allow such incidents to recur, ever again. I would re-iterate that hatred and intolerance provide an assured route to disruption and chaos.

*****

Our polity must recognize the dangers which lie ahead if the faults in the functioning of the governance apparatus are not remedied soon. Taking stock of the existing failures and the arising challenges the Executive and the Legislature must urgently commence discharging their true constitutional roles. And the Judiciary should not wait any more to fully regain its supreme responsibility to defend, protect and fearlessly enforce the Constitution. The very long pending electoral reforms, which are required to remedy the many ills from which our democratic framework is suffering, must be implemented with the highest priority. Side by side, the polity must accept the need for self-purification, a thorough cleaning up of the entire administrative machinery and reforming the functioning of the multitudinous minions of the state.

It shall require enormous political will and unflinching determination to carry though the required reforms, with out which we cannot deliver satisfactory governance to the people of India. One hopes that our polity will muster courage and pick up the gauntlet.