India’s Chief Information Commissioner is right but has missed a key point

Here’s an excellent extract from an article by Satyanand Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner of India. This is taken from an article he wrote in Performance Matters (Vol.4:1), July 2012, published by Cabinet Secretariat.

Every year, central and state governments enact several hundred laws, not because there is a need for all of those laws, but because it is easier to enact a law than to implement a program. Most often, laws are alibis for inaction. Of late, laws are being enacted at the prodding of civil society organisations with persistent backing from the media. We now have laws guaranteeing jobs, education and soon food, though everybody knows that an affected person would seldom go to court to demand his rights. But we continue to demand more laws on all possible subjects and hope that these will be implemented, however perfunctorily, by the same government servants.

In state governments, the Secretary to the Depat1ment or the Head of Department spends nearly 75 per cent of his working hours attending to personnel issues. Transfer and posting of officials, disciplinary proceedings against them and court cases occupy most of the productive time in a day. Meetings and consultations take away most of the remaining time, leaving no scope for any sustained creative thinking or planning. The administration is perpetually on firefighting mode. It is overwhelmed by the sheer volume and complexity of issues it is expected to address. So it is no surprise that most of the schemes and programmes devised by the government departments appear so bird-brained and flop on the ground.

It is from such a government that we keep expecting so much. Even after passing thousands of laws and discovering that most of these do not get implemented, we keep demanding more laws. It is nothing less than a kind of escapism, not confronting the reality and taking refuge behind laws or behind new names and slogans.

Years ago, Mr.V.S.Naipaul rightly observed that Indians were easily satisfied by the Name of the thing without bothering about the thing itself. Things will start to improve only when we will stop being obsessed with making more laws and do something concrete to change the way we administer.

While this is a good take on what's happening in India, I disagree with Mishra's view that changing the way we administer will solve India's problems. Actually, I've not listed his detailed recommendations, but those don't make any sense at all. Please see the article for details.

India’s problems have little or nothing with the way things are “administered” and everything to do with the way the policies are designed.

A policy that can’t be administered well is a bad policy. But far more important is the question: what are we administering “well”?

North Korea has a dictatorial policy for everything. Do we want to administer such policies well? And Hitler had a policy of exterminating Jews. Do want to administer that policy well?

So policy matters. It is the MOST important question. Skirting it won't help. 90 per cent of India’s policies are BAD policies. They shouldn’t be there in the first place. There is therefore little point in trying to administer them well.