A new study, “Public Affairs Index: Governance in the States of India” by Dr CK Mathew, Athreya Mukunthan and Vivek Divekar of the Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore, focuses on governance at the state level in India. It argues that though India’s states vary widely in size, economic and social features, topography and other characteristics, they are governed by the same Constitution as well as national policies and laws. A comparison of the states in terms of their quality of governance, therefore, can be considered a useful exercise. Excerpts from the study, which deals with 10 different focus themes for inter-state comparison:
The establishment of essential infrastructure has always been considered as a fundamental responsibility of the State, though this is in sharp contrast to a growing neo-liberal view that looks at this as a joint responsibility with the private sector, appointed after a due process of competitive price discovery. The toll-based roads are a successful example of the same. But in a country like India where the spectrum of economic and political ideology is large, the widely accepted emphasis is on the state to supply these basic infra requirements. The argument is that access to basic infrastructure falls within the fundamental rights of all citizens and is not a form of largesse by the State; thus it cannot be farmed out to the private sector or even certain forms of nongovernmental organisations for this purpose. In this study, there is comparative quality of governance with regard to four identified focus subjects, names, power, water, roads and communication and housing.
SUPPORT TO HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
The quality and nature of the support being provided by the States for the education and health of the citizens. It cannot be denied that these two focus subjects contribute hugely to the development of the human capital. Two of the three indicators used in UNDP’s Human Development Index pertain to health and education. It may be said that the future of any people depends to a great extent on the inputs provided by the State towards these two life-quality enhancing interventions. Education is the first of the two focus subjects. There are, however, serious issues in learning outcomes which remain deplorable despite heavy financial and human inputs in the education sector over the last few decades. Even today women’s literacy rate for the country is just about 65%. We are nowhere near the recommended figure of 6% of GDP for expenditure on education. The second focus subject is health. The Constitution places the responsibility of health directly on the States. However, there are strong interventions by the Central Government to assist the states in the task.
In a country as vast and diverse as India, the need to ensure that all its citizens derive the benefit of economic growth in equal measure is a sine qua non for holistic development. However, the very nature of economic growth is such that only some people are able to extract the best out of the processes of growth. The hard fact is that almost 30% of the population of this country live in poverty even as economists debate whether the definition of the poverty line should be Rs 32 per day or more or less. The manner in which the States take necessary steps to provide a security net to those of its population which require support to earn a decent wage, or require a helping hand in their day-to-day existence, is a true measure of the country’s commitment to the principle of inclusion in development. In our study of this broad theme, we have identified four focus areas for assessment and evaluation, namely, the Public Distribution System, Social Justice and Empowerment (through a representative scheme of old age pensions), Employment and Minority welfare.
WOMEN AND CHILDREN
The vision of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has been articulated as follows in their website: “Empowered women living with dignity and contributing as equal partners in development in an environment free from violence and discrimination. And, well-nurtured children with full opportunities for growth and development in a safe and protective environment.” There is adequate legislation available for the security of both women and children, as the portal reveals. However, the actuality on the ground reveals vast inequities and discrimination prevailing across the states of the country. The situation on the ground is far from satisfactory. The level of nutrition of children shows appalling malnourishment. There are also severe issues regarding the manner in which women are ill-treated in the country. Literacy levels reveal vast gaps between the genders. In terms of equality and social dignity for women and children, many critical issues have been raised in the past few decades.
CRIME, LAW & ORDER
Even before serious issues of economic and social development of the State are considered, there is the essential requirement for the State administration to ensure that crime is prevented and law and order maintained. Crime and Law & Order are two terms often mentioned in the same breath. They are, however, different and the responsibility of the State, towards these two imperative preconditions to development, has to be evaluated separately. Crime is the action of individuals against the State or against other individuals. They may include economic offences (where the State may be the aggrieved party) or crimes committed for personal profit or passion (where the offended parties are other individuals or groups). Law and order pertains to public tranquility and peace. In the event of social disturbances, public agitations by large sections of the society or caste/class-based uprising which threaten to disrupt the normal life in the State, it is for the State machinery to ensure that the aggrieved parties are brought to the negotiation table.
DELIVERY OF JUSTICE
While we have examined crime and law & order in a separate theme, it would be ideal to also assess the process involved in the delivery of justice in the States of India. It is not the intention of this report to comment in any manner on the working of the courts, and hence we are restricting ourselves only to two focus subjects, namely the High Courts and the District Courts; here we look at the data pertaining only to the pendency of cases and the vacancies in the posts of the presiding officers. It is well known that there are about three crore cases pending in the various courts of the country. According to data available with the apex court, the number of pending cases with the Supreme Court is about 60,000 as on February, 2015. The data available for the 24 High Courts and lower courts up to the year ending 2013 showed pendency of 44.5 lakhs and whopping 2.6 crores, respectively. The argument that Indians are generally prone to litigation by nature may not be proven on the basis of hard facts.
The current analysis does not intend to go into the rationale why State Governments should necessarily invest in a clean environment and better forest cover, or for that matter the imperative of a conscious policy for promoting sustainable alternative energy. It is assumed that in the context of this comparative study on the levels and quality of governance, there need not be any debate on the subject. In this broad theme of Environment, we have placed the spotlight on three focus subjects, namely, air pollution and environmental violations, forest cover, (that is to say whether the green cover in the state is increasing or decreasing and at what rate) and alternative energy as a percentage of the total energy production in the state. The question of air pollution in the context of Delhi and China which has attracted international notice is, therefore, all the more critical in the context of governance. It is necessary to point out here, as already emphasized elsewhere in the report, that the availability of credible data is one of the limiting factors.
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The theme of transparency and accountability as a measure of governance is vital in the general perception of an informed citizen. These two concepts have an identity beyond the normal expectations of economic growth and the well-being of its citizens. With the opening up of the offices of the government to the provisions of the Right to Information Act (RTI), there has been a sea change in the manner in which ordinary citizens view government. It is now considered their inviolable right that important policy decisions, and the manner in which they are taken, are available for public scrutiny. And while both bureaucrats and politicians openly express their reservations in this matter, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the Act has brought about some change in the practice of governance. Undoubtedly, the looming presence of the television, as well as widespread use of social media has added to the requirement that government maintains the required openness in its working. It needs to be mentioned that there are several legislative and other measures that are on-going in the country, both at the national level as well as the levels of the states, to enhance transparency in the public administration.
This theme is of paramount importance in the achievement of the long term goals of development and strengthening of the economy. The severe financial crisis that the country faced in the pre-1991 days led to new policies and deregulation as well as opening up of the economy. Emphasis was thereafter placed on more efficient fiscal management at the Central government level and at the level of the States. Ultimately in 2003, legislation was brought in through the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003 (FRBMA) to institutionalise financial discipline, reduce India’s fiscal deficit, improve macroeconomic management and the overall management of the public fund. Elimination of revenue deficit and thereafter, building up revenue surpluses as well as the reduction of fiscal deficit to manageable 3% of the GDP, became objectives of the Act, along with phased reduction of debt burden. There are two focus subjects in this overall theme of Fiscal Management; namely, the FRBM compliance and aspects related to mobilization of tax revenue and per capita development expenditure.
There are three focus subjects identified for Economic Freedom: a. The ease of doing business as demonstrated by the recent World Bank report that ranks the states in this regard. We have just adopted their findings with no changes at all. b. The number of Industrial Entrepreneurship Memoranda filed in the State has also been identified as this indicates the serious intent of the industrialist to make investment in the State concerned. It is a better indicator than MoUs signed for obvious reasons. c. It is our contention that the promotion of SMSEs (small and medium scale enterprises) is a good indicator of the economic environment in the States. The valuation of the fixed assets of SMSEs (duly standardized as a percentage of the State GDP) is critically relevant. The dependence of the state on very large or mega industries, though important, does not reveal the depth or spread of industrialization in the State.
Download full report HERE