INDIA is struggling with challenges that afflict a large number of our fellow Indians. The recent cases of corruption, crony capitalism and concentration of wealth can be interpreted as signs of failure of the government and governance.
The Supreme Court has referred to the prevailing corruption cases as a violation of human rights of the people of India. The recent sharp decline of our economy has led to an increase in uncertainty among the people about their future.
These failures can be seen as coming out of dysfunctional political system that rewards self- interest over the common interest and short- term political gains over the long- term interest of our people. A system that puts our government at the service of the powerful, instead of the service of the people who elect them. A system that creates a state- of- the art machinery for doling out favours to a select few and shuts out the people. All this represents a serious threat to the idea of our Republic that ensures opportunities for all.
Yet, optimism must necessarily make us ambitious in terms of the goals we set ourselves as a nation, a people and a society. What are the 10 big themes and ideas for 2013 that offers innovative, meaningful and outcome- oriented solutions to the challenges our country faces? In no particular order, here is my New Year wish list:
AT THE simplest level, this implies inaugurating an era of disclosure and transparency. It should lead to better and accountable government, with procedures of governance, including commercial agreements, tenders and modes of public procurement, being shared with the people using new technologies such as the Internet. The goal here must be maximum governance, minimum government.
DEMYSTIFY THE BUDGET:
THE Union Budget cannot be understood by the common people whose money the government spends. The budget process must be made simple and easily understandable by the people who must know how and where every rupee is spent.
TRUSTEESHIP OF PUBLIC ASSETS:
THE 2G spectrum and coal scandals have opened only a small window. In reality, there near- unfettered administrative discretion dealing with public assets and publicowned resources. The phenomenon marks the failure of oversight institutions. The government must rationalise its overwhelming commercial powers and understand that it is merely the trustee of public assets.
STRENGTHEN INDEPENDENT INSTITUTIONS:
BUILD NEW independent institutions and rebuild those that have been destroyed or corroded with political interference. The current discretionary power within the executive needs significant the checks and balances with independent institutions and regulators. The recent conduct of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India ( CAG) and the judiciary needs to be replicated many institutions and the government.
DEVELOP A CULTURE OF VALUING PUBLIC MONEY:
TAX REVENUES that the government spends belong to taxpayers. The government must develop a culture of judicious spending with specific outcomes; a culture of money being spent as a trustee of the people of India that reinforces the truth that the government only a trustee of public money and assets.
JUST LIKE the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, whose proceedings are telecast live, the meetings of standing committees, where legislation is argued over and polished, must be telecast. This would ensure transparency and public scrutiny of members the committees and also those deposing before them.
SECURE INDIA, SAFE INDIA:
WE MUST enshrine in law an Armed Forces Covenant between the people of India and the armed forces community serving as well as retired) and their families ( including bereaved families), pledging a duty of care and improving support towards them in return for their bravery and sacrifices made for protecting the nation, and to ensure that they face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in access to public and commercial services. The legislation must include tax incentives to companies that agree to hire retired or released armed forces veterans.
SAVE OUR CITIES:
IMPROVE the existing Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission ( JNNURM) to renew existing cities and create 100 new, affordable, green, smart cities, and ensure effective utilisation public land for creating social infrastructure. A third of India lives in cities. This number will rise to 50 per cent by 2025. There is an urgent need to build new sustainable ( green) and technologically enabled smart) cities. We need to rethink urban governance, with empowered and educated policing systems, that are relevant to a modern city and not a sparsely populated outlying district. Cities must be administered by directly elected mayors, who will function as city CEOs and use non- government talent where necessary with remuneration conditional deliverable goals.
THE RECENT gang rape case in New Delhi to the formation of five fasttrack courts for rape cases in the capital. While this is desirable, it is also a shortcut. We need to strengthen judicial capacity, woefully inadequate for a country and a population India’s size.
Using technology, particularly information technology, can enable us to increase judicial access for citizens. We need revamp the criminal justice system, justice delivery system and pursue criminal justice reforms, including special prosecutors for white- collar and terrorist cases, and an independent commission to probe cases corruption.
TRULY FEDERAL INDIA:
STRENGTHEN the federal structure by honouring the right of the states to pursue their goals and objectives while continuing to strengthening the idea of India as one nation and one people. India needs a strong political centre that acts as a unifying factor and deals with issues that are federal in character.
Today, however, the coherence of government, the economic vitality and sheer energy of India is increasingly found in the states. Individual state governments must have the liberty to chart out their own course of equitable growth. No two states have the same objective conditions; there cannot therefore be a single model for all the states. No effort should be spared to penalise performers and reward laggards. There have to be reasonable curbs on the extent to which a state government can act independently of national interests and concerns.
This article appeared in Mail Today on December 26, 2012