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Saturday, 25 September 2021 | Vinayshil Gautam


The system will work if norms can tolerate shifts of a certain percentage or magnitude

Records are an essential part of civil administration. The problem comes in seeking an all-India frame of reference, say for land measurement. This happens because the unit of measurement - acre, bigha, etc — is known by different names in different parts of the country. There is not much problem when the unit of reference is limited and localised. The problem exacerbates itself when different regional comparisons become necessary. 

That is not the end of the story. In certain parts of India, say Goa, the ownership title itself is still a continuation of the Portuguese pattern of reference. This makes the tracing of the ownership complicated and the authentication tricky. Business, therefore, has to contend with situations to resolve which no informed reference work is available.

This makes an all-India pattern of handling land development issues complex and at times complicated. If the nomenclature of the unit of reference in use is not uniform, for planning purposes, inaccurate and locally unfamiliar yardsticks may have to be applied. This would lead to a situation of approximation of the realities on the ground to the measurements for planning purposes. Accordingly, where precision be needed there would be a need to feel one's way through. Sometimes, it would work, on other occasions, there would be an element of tentativeness. Significantly, however, no dictionary on the conversion of land units from one to another exists. There are difficulties in envisaging it.

If that be so, it may be useful to do only a certain type of planning at a national level and leave certain other types of planning, (say in terms of frameworks reference of minor irrigation) to the local level. In effect, this is what is happening in many areas. However, these complexities can make for gaps in the formal skill formation of a civil servant before he is put on the job to start operating the system.The average Indian civil servant is smart, shrewd and has a keen eye for reality perception. These attributes can work both constructively and the other way round.

Since one of the aspirations of developmental planning is to standardise the frameworks of reference, this issue of land units and their diversity needs to be reduced to more manageable proportions. A beginning can be made to bringing in some kind of uniformity of units of measurement, to begin with, at the district level. Fortunately, this has already been happening in practical terms in the recent past.

This is the great strength of Indian administration, where solutions are devised at a local level and the basic Indian ingenuity comes to play where formal yardsticks may fail. The need, therefore, is to have norms with resilience. If the norms can tolerate deviations of a certain percentage or magnitude, the system will work. Excessive rigidity has its problems.

Interestingly, the more economically successful states like Gujarat, Kerala or Karnataka have been able to feel their way through this problem more effectively. States which emerged out of direct British rule (where there was an excessive effort to work with externally imposed units of measurement and yardsticks) have had difficulties in making administration a social reality.

As one begins the 75th year of Independence, there is time for celebration and there is also time for reflection on what are the areas of national development which require some tweaking of the parameters of analysis, investment and more.

There is a need for are think on the significance to be attached to local and regional developmental processes. More than language or ethnicity need to be factored into the situation, requiring greater insight and analysis.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant. The views expressed are personal.)

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