governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Posts tagged ‘CBI’

India’s pressured public institutions

BOOK REVIEW
Rethinking Public Institutions in India
Devesh Kapur, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Milan Vaishnav (Eds)
Oxford University Press
548 pages; Rs 995

Rethnking Pub Inst in India

Public institutional reform has a stale air about it. There are plenty of options but little action. The sombre packaging of this book adds to this gloom. Possibly, the “monkish”, value-for-money branding is a consciously adopted tactic, setting it apart from the current trend favouring glitz and hype. The authors appear to be flinging a dare — that in their case substance needs no gloss. They are right.

PBM

The editors’ academic pedigree is reassuring. Pratap Bhanu Mehta is the best-known of them, a public intellectual extraordinaire and the acknowledged voice of evidenced, liberal political thought.
Devesh
His co-editors Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav are US-based academics.
milan vaishnav
This new publication is a follow-on of a 2007 publication Public Institutions in India: Performance and Design co-edited by Messrs Kapur and Mehta.
The contributors are an eclectic mix of UK-, US- and India-based academics and Indian civil servants, serving, repositioned or retired. What is common is their deep and systematic association with public institutional development and an enviable record of publishing their work and opinions.
Are public institutions in India doomed?
So, are central public institutions going to seed? And does that explain India’s future challenges? The introductory chapter, written by the editors, provides an elegant, broad sweep of drivers and trends in institutional malaise, highlighting areas where performance has been dangerously below par. But the helicopter view is a mite too one sided, veering to a dark view of the state of national institutions.
Institutional resilience outnumbers the failures 
A more nuanced and refreshing view emerges from the succeeding chapters, each about a single institution. James Manor, writing on the Presidency, exquisitely details how this apex institution, despite the occasional failures of individual incumbents – think Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who signed on the dotted line to impose emergency in 1975 and Giani Zail Singh, who was not averse to being actively political – has been a steady hand, safeguarding constitutional propriety and citizen rights from potential executive and legislative transgressions.
Errol D’Souza, reviewing the Reserve Bank of India, describes its pugnacious success in enlarging its regulatory space, solely through its performance-driven credibility. E Sridharan and Milan Vaishnav pen a fluid and attractively rendered tale, about the Election Commission of India, which has similarly earned its spurs. Eighty per cent of Indians trust it because of its remarkable conduct of timely, fair and efficient elections. Madhav Khosla and Ananth Padmanabhan describe how the Supreme Court has nurtured the public’s trust by courageously and consistently ruling in favour of equity, inclusion and fair play. However, they warn that dark clouds loom unless justice is delivered more efficiently.
Navroz Dubash writing on new infrastructure regulatory institutions – the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) – acknowledges that in the initial years both had to fight severe challenges from publicly-owned monopolies and their patrons in government. Two decades on, they are the arbiters of positive change. The CERC has overseen competition in bulk electricity supply. The Trai has curated highly competitive private telecom customer services and tariffs. However, Dubash correctly points to the need for enlarging the regulatory space such that all actors – the Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive become active players in negotiating regulatory outcomes, with the Regulator playing the balancing role,
Institutional failure more visible in sub-national entities
“State failure” is a malaise more visible in sub-national institutions, which have failed to imbibe the positive changes taking place in related central public institutions. State governors, legislatures, the lower judiciary, state public financial management institutions, electricity regulatory commissions, vigilance departments, and election commissions are often severely blemished. T R Raghunandan woefully records that institutions of local government remain ignored, underfunded and underused, except in Kerala, Karnataka and West Bengal. Consequently, inclusive growth suffers and an opportunity is lost for embellishing and inculcating local traditions of results-based democratic functioning.
But there are black sheep at the national level too
Not all national institutions, despite inherited advantages, have developed benignly. Parliament is one such. M R Madhavan ruthlessly excavates the reasons it has lost the public trust. R Shridharan similarly unravels why the Central Vigilance Commission, India’s anti-corruption agency, and its investigative arm, the Central Bureau of Investigation, have failed to establish their credentials. The former is merely a tool, to be used selectively, by the executive against its own officials. The latter is at its nadir. The moniker “caged parrot” accurately reflects why it has lost credibility in the fight against corruption.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the supreme audit institution, gets mixed reviews from R. Shridharan and Amitabh Mukhopadhyay. The CAG is uniquely placed and significantly empowered, to guide and assist Parliament to exercise granular oversight over the executive. Its path-breaking exposure, under Vinod Rai, of massive inefficiency and financial impropriety in spectrum and coal allocations lifted its public profile. But, in its “independence”, also lies the danger of it being ignored, through a “conspiracy of silence”, between a dysfunctional Parliament and a pliant executive.
The civil service, particularly its elite component – the All India Services (AIS), which constitute 0.03 per cent of the total civil employees and just 1 per cent of the Group A employees of the Union Government – have unambiguously failed. K P Krishnan and T V Somanathan admit that nothing has changed for the better over the past decade. Recruited on merit, this tiny elite thereafter enjoy the rents accruing from that initial, one-time achievement. But the authors shrink from endorsing that the AIS be phased out and its functions reallocated to the specialist cadres of the Central Services — these constitute 99 per cent of the Group A civil employees, who currently fester despondently.
This is a multi-layered, exhaustively referenced publication, which surgically exposes the dark side of public institutional dysfunction. But it also provides sufficient evidence of institutional resilience, on which an enlightened political leadership can build. A must-have, for all those who either belong to, or wish to join, the frustratingly uplifting community of public institutional developers.
Adapted from the authors review in Business Standard June 15, 2017 http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/public-institutions-under-scrutiny-117061401505_1.html
raj ghat
Raj Ghat – Gandhi ji’s memorial keeps the flame of “independence” alive

Being Caesar’s Wife

Pompeia, Julius Caesar’s wife, must have turned in her urn, when Dr. Singh compared his need, as PM, to be above suspicion, as Caesar demanded of her. When Pompeia did not stand up to the test, she was gone in a second. With the serial disclosures on scams and the studied silence from the PMO, “Dr. Singh’s Caesar” must now be readying to get rid of him.

In fact the curious case of the lodging of the CBI charge against Kumaramanglam Birla and Parakh, in the coal allocation case this week, sounded the first warning that the PMs days were numbered. Neither Parakh nor Birla are the targets here. It is squarely the PM who has been targeted and Birla and Parakh are just collateral damage.

Politicians, like Rhino’s, have a thick skin. Possibly after more than two decades in political office, Dr. Singh has grown a politician hide and so is committed to continuing to “do his duty” and let “historians” judge him. What about the people of India? Do their views not matter at all?

Apparently not. Dr. Singh was never elected by the people. He is the third PM from the Rajya Sabha and so has never been constrained by what his constituents may think. His constituency, as for all Rajya Sabha members, is their respective party bosses.

The pity is that even the Congress would probably be relieved to see him step down. Now that he has, again curiously and needlessly, come out in the open and accepted responsibility as Minister Coal, for the Hindalco decision, he has opened himself to be questioned by the CBI. Can he then avoid being questioned for the larger political responsibility of turning a Nelson’s eye to the rampant crony capitalism going on under him?

The pity is that Dr. Singh is not a politician. That, in fact, was his USP. His supporters were hopeful that he would be able to shine a light on murky crony capitalism and minimize it; come up with feasible options for pushing growth and expand access to and the quality of public services. Instead we saw an enhancement of “pork barrel politics”, rampant corruption in the use of natural resources and little progress on every day matters of concern to citizens; law and order, inflation, jobs, affordable housing, basic public services and infrastructure.

A respected and knowledgeable economist and an honest and well intentioned man, Dr. Singh risks losing even this limited legacy completely, with scams unraveling around him like Draupadi’s robes. Unless a Lord Krishna steps in to save him he is lost.

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This is really when Rahul needs to step up to the plate and provide the leadership the Congress party expects of him. The time is right. Dr. Sigh has already publicly stated that he is merely keeping the seat warm for Rahul. Stepping down in favour of Rahul is no big deal then and very much in the fitness of the succession logic.

What are the options? Would Dr. Singh like midnight vigils on Rajpath, asking him to step down a la the Nirbhaya incident? With the Delhi elections a month away, it is only Rahul who could provide the diversion from the price of onions and the absence of babu-sense at the top.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

Brutus in William Shakespeare’s: Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

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