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Silence is never been an option for concerned Citizens
DR. PRASANNA MISHRA
Current Affairs Odisha : CAN WE AFFORD A RUNAWAY GOVERNANCE DEFICIT? -By DR. PRASANNA MISHRA
Posted By: hindtodaynews on:10/16/2011 10:27:21 PM
Dr. Prasanna Mishra
Greater a man, the more is he accessible. I hold this view. I have learnt it from experience. Years ago, in early seventies, while I was serving as Additional District Magistrate at Rourkela, both I and my wife had paid a visit to the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. I recollect the warmth of reception we received from none else than the legendary Mother Teresa who spent almost two hours of her valuable time showing and explaining to us various activities in the campus and talking to us with great interest as if she knew us for years. There was no barrier of officialdom; no showing off; no inner chamber which was out of bounds for ordinary mortals like me. “Atithi Devo Bhava”, the great Indian tradition which treats the guest as God, was the pervading atmosphere where the noble Mother was the presiding officer. Another experience comes to my mind. About a month before I was to retire from the IAS, I requested the Secretary to the President if I could have the privilege of a courtesy call on the President. He was nice to remember and about a fortnight later, I was informed that a meeting with Rastrapatiji had been fixed. I called on the President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, in his office and had exclusive time for an hour with the great Indian. The simplicity and the versatility of the person and his eagerness to listen to you left an indelible mark in the memory. A leader has a natural urge to reach out to the people. If he is genuine, he not only makes himself available to hear the people and talk to them; he does his best to meet their aspirations. He redresses their grievance too. I remember a case when a group of people called on the then Chief Minister, Biju Patnaik, and conveyed their anxiety over the proposed location of an establishment of a para-military organisation just at the enhance of their village ( not far from Bhubaneswar) which would cause a lot of inconvenience to the villagers, and, particularly, the ladies. Chief Minister immediately asked the concerned officer to visit the spot and furnish a factual report. Chief Minister was convinced of the genuineness of the grievance and a decision to shift the location of the establishment was taken. But what happens if a Chief Minister, for years, prefers not to meet any one in his grievance cell? One finds government functionaries becoming increasingly inaccessible or-- to be fair-- selectively accessible. There is a widely held perception that a person getting elected or selected into an office, soon chooses his priorities. These are mostly pursuits meant to benefit him in the short and long run. He looks for the advantages which the office is capable of offering. With such an attitude, the person opts for inaccessibility. I would view this malady as a major contributor to governance deficit. There are of course exceptions. Even today one can have pleasant response from some offices at times. The other day, a person who earns his livelihood by selling milk and who lives with his animals on a big piece of government land just close to our house in Bhubaneswar, came to me to request that I talk to the municipal authority to arrange for the removal of the carcass of a bull in his compound. The poor man was in distress as the stink was getting unbearable. I rang up the concerned office. Luckily some one answered; but he could not offer any help. But his tone was helpful. I was surprised. Encouraged, I requested him to let me have the cell number of the Health Officer. Surprisingly, he did not choose to withhold the phone number. I was exceptionally lucky. I rang up the Health Officer. I had no previous acquaintance with him. I was lucky again. The officer was quite responsive and helpful. He promised that the carcass would be removed soon. How I wish everyone in government was equally responsive and helpful.
Two other aberrations have also contributed to deficit in governance-- the diminishing majesty of rule of law and increasing recourse to discretion as a major tool of governance. The systemic failure the country witnessed in the sordid saga of 2G scam stands out as a glaring example where government allowed free play to caprice, whims, venality and conspiracy showing scant regard to basic tenets of governance. Mining scam in Orissa again is an example of governance deficit when everyone looked the other way to the mafia-politician nexus and allowed day-light robbery of our natural resources.
Political managers and strategists seem to have realised that a wealthy person is better equipped to represent poor people; a manipulator would be a winning candidate; a person with criminal records would be fearless and win election; progenies of political families have a divine right to rule; without objective evaluation of their performance some people should be fielded candidates for six, seven and eight times simply because of their clout. These factors have converted our democratic polity into an oligarchy. That such transformation has been brought about and appears to be deeply entrenched in a country where there is no dearth of talent is an unfortunate development. Here is a distorted democracy we seem to have been sucked into. The oligarchy at the political sphere in turn has promoted oligarchy in bureaucracy as well. A system which makes entry of the most deserving ones into the political sphere impossible is enhancing deficit in governance.
With growth of a culture that veers round ensuring safety and pampering of a coterie, the steady erosion of the majesty of government is overlooked. Government is supposed to be the repository of power and authority. However, we have been witnessing instances where the state is being humbled time and again – be it when the police armoury gets looted by armed extremists at Nayagarh or when innocent citizens fall victims to explosives planted by terrorists in Delhi. The phenomenon of the state being humbled also gets manifested in the sustained indifference of the government that does not do anything beyond soft pedalling of the issue of black money stashed abroad. One is yet to see in India even a small fraction of the state’s determination that was demonstrated by the USA in liquidating Osama Bin Laden in the heart of Pakistan. Stable governance presupposes the indomitability of the state. Deficit in governance has reached such depth that state’s authority continues being challenged very often. This has a debilitating effect on quality of governance. Pride in being part of governance wanes and there is little capacity or enthusiasm to achieve anything worthwhile. One gets confirmation of this by seeing the pace of work on important projects. The fly-over in the heart of Bhubaneswar remains incomplete even after years. The important Cuttack-Paradip Highway remains under construction for years. The hapless population in interior pockets of tribal sub plan area of Orissa with inadequate government protection simply wait for cholera to strike them again to take a heavy toll of human lives.
Growing disconnect between citizens and people in charge of governance is the outcome of the non synchronisation of expectations. The road in front of my house is in utter state of disrepair. I and my neighbours would expect the road to be repaired soon and the work is done well. The municipal authorities could have other priority. Even if the municipality would agree, the concerned engineer and the chosen contractor may have their own priority. It is time all stakeholders realised that the prevailing situation can no longer be described as temporary aberration. We need to comprehend the seriousness of the malady and admit that the deficit has become unsustainable and has been eroding the credibility of the state. An erudite Oriya writer had conveyed a terse message in a subtle way which is relevant to this discussion. In one of his stories, two characters were discussing the present state of decadence in the society. One of the two was wondering if really the words of the Lord in the Bhagabad Gita “Paritranaya sadhunam; binashaya cha duskrutam; dharma sansthapanasthaya samvavami yugey yugey” would ever be realised. The other promptly replied that the society had already reached that state and God has arrived. “Where is He?” asks the other, in disbelief. “In our forests; in the garb of armed men and women”, replies the other. The story is certainly a wake-up call.
( The writer is a former secretary to Govt. of India )
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