Growing fault lines in governance system

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Growing fault lines in governance system

Incidents of gross violation of the law are proof that those holding public offices are the most ignorant about upholding public interest. Governance will only improve when we have an accountability structure in place

The alleged roughing up of the Chief Secretary of Delhi at the residence of the Chief Minister marked a new low in our public life. This incident is an indicator of the declining levels of decency in public life and needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. Perpetrators must be given the severest punishment.

The very fact that the incident transpired in the Chief Ministers residence in the presence of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister is good enough ground for the Lieutenant Governor to recommend complete breakdown of the Constitutional machinery. The Aam Aadmi Party’s system of governance runs totally against all accepted norms of civilised conduct and needs to be outrightly rejected.

Having said this, it is also time to reflect on the declining public perception of the role of public servants. Many years ago, civil servants were held in high esteem and were looked upon to uphold the rule of law and safe guard public interest. With  the passage of time, there has been a steady erosion in such public perception.

Today, most people feel that public servants are engaged in feathering their nest with scant regard to public interest or the rule of law. Such a view is further reinforced by the total lack of accountability of civil servants who are engaged in various agencies, as would be evident from the following.

Let us take  the case of thousands of individuals who have been waiting for years to get a house from construction builders. Thousands of ordinary citizens have  borrowed huge amounts from various financial institutions and invested such money with builders in the belief that flats, as promised, would be delivered to them on time. Builders  are from large commercial organisations, which operates in a system which is supervised by several Government agencies.

It now transpires that most builders have been diverting money collected from buyers for purposes other than construction of flats. How did this go undetected for such a long period? That builders did not deliver in time was common knowledge. Why did the authorities not act on time to discipline the builders?

Delhi is going  through a sealing drive, wherein commercial establishments in the form of shops and offices are alleged to be violating permissible floor area ratio (FAR) limits. Violations are being monitored by a Supreme Court appointed monitoring committee.

It must be mentioned here that the violations of the FAR are not being done clandestinely. It is being flouted openly for everyone to see.

That being so, why did it take a Supreme Court-monitored committee to detect such violation? What were the officials of  the Municipal Corporation doing? Every Municipal Corporation has a dedicated team of officers who are mandated to carry out such an exercise. What were they doing? What were their Supervisory Officers doing? Does it need a Supreme Court to spur our civil service into action?

Let us take the case of a fire at a Mumbai restaurant a few months ago, where 14 people lost their lives. How was such a temporary structure, which was there for all to see, allowed to be constructed in the first place? What were the municipal officials or the fire officials ,  whose job is to periodically inspect such premises, doing?

Citizens of Chennai live in perpetual dread of being marooned each time there is a heavy down pour. Life in Chennai has been paralysed for several years with parts of the city flooded each time there is a heavy down pour.

All kinds of schemes of better drainage, periodic desilting, demolition of structures are announced with great fanfare each time there is flooding. But there is no accountability of the officials who are in charge of the city.

Shopkeepers, who allegedly violated FAR, has his premises sealed, the restauranter is arrested but what about the accountability of the public servant?

One of the chief characteristics of a civilised society is its ability to quickly respond to infractions of any kind. There are systems in place to quickly identify violations of any kind and deal with them effectively before they grow in size and pose a serious challenge to good governance.

Recent incidents in India, as outlined, will show that institutions, charged with the duty of monitoring violations of the law, have been most ineffective in dealing with infractions. Such infractions have ballooned into huge problems that have raised serious doubts on the capacity of the state to quickly resolve such issues and calm public discontent.

Governance will only improve if we have an accountability structure in place where public servants are sacked each time such infractions come to notice. Civil servants will be on their toes and service delivery will vastly improve if only we tone up our accountability regime.

(The writer retired as a senior official with the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India)

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