Critiques on Governance
The National Health Policy 2017 was notified last week. Coming 15 years after its predecessor, it presented an opportunity to do things differently. First, the recognition that strong state intervention is needed to control the surge of diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases hasn’t come a day too soon. With early screening and diagnosis becoming a public responsibility, the lives of millions of Indians could be saved from debilitating illness and premature death. This shift in emphasis is noteworthy.
Second, establishing a professionally-managed state public healthcare cadre makes eminent sense. A dedicated cadre of healthcare professionals can detect state-specific health hazards and contain them before they spread. The inclusion of professionals from sociology, economics, anthropology, nursing, hospital management and communication is a recognition of a multi-disciplinary approach and an acknowledgment that cultural attitudes must be understood if public health strategies are to gain community acceptance.
The third takeaway is the goal of pushing up male sterilisation “by 30 per cent and, if possible, much higher”. After Sanjay Gandhi’s blighted nasbandi programme, even the mention of male sterilisation made political parties, particularly in North India, squirm. Even after four decades, no politician was prepared to listen, leave alone act. Putting male sterilisation upfront also exhibits concern for the plight of women, who, after dealing with unwanted pregnancies and repeated childbirths, also undergo harrowing tubectomies. Thailand successfully made vasectomies into a routine affair more than 25 years ago. If six Indian states that account for almost half of India’s population and its annual growth, can incentivise (not coerce) men to limit family size by sterilisation, it could be a game changer.
The fourth good idea is piggy-backing medical and paramedical education on service delivery. Generations of health planners have been telling the Medical Council of India to factor in the ground realities that reduce the relevance of even the best medical curriculum. Indeed, students and patients would gain vastly if such facility-based training gets implemented.
The fifth half-positive takeaway is the recognition that AYUSH needs to be integrated into the research, teaching and therapeutic components of health systems; stressing that traditional systems need to back their claims with evidence is equally positive. But by repeating the unsuccessful strategy of appointing contractual AYUSH doctors in primary health facilities, the policy goes into reverse gear. AYUSH practitioners posted in PHCs do precious little traditional medicine and simply function as spare wheels or substitutes for allopathic doctors. That pads up manpower shortfalls but devalues the strength of AYUSH. Had the policy supported recognition of approved district specialty AYUSH centers for a host of chronic problems, lakhs of patients in search of reliable AYUSH treatment could have benefited.
The policy has neatly sidestepped some basic concerns. The Clinical Establishments Act 2010 was passed by Parliament with the aim of regulating clinical standards, both in the private and public health sector, and ending quackery. It has received scant backing from the state governments and was rejected by the Indian Medical Association. Instead of emphasising the importance of oversight of all medical establishments, the policy has soft-peddled by recommending mere “advocacy”.That leaves a hapless public at the receiving end of much care, malpractice and exorbitant treatment costs with no protection. Leaving health regulation up in the air with talk of yet another standard-setting organisation will not insulate consumers from exploitation.
The policy is also hazy about generating resources. One wonders whether the reference to medical tourism earnings and “a high degree of associated hospitality arrangements” implies a desire to tax hospitals that offer frills. This sounds egalitarian but could drive away the relative advantages that Indian medical tourism presents.
The policy places enormous reliance on the eighth standard-pass female volunteer, ASHA — the lynchpin of the National Rural Health Mission. But it does not even allude to how the poor, both in rural and urban areas, are driven by a desperation to overcome acute illnesses (that result in a loss of wages) to seek medical treatment from quacks, RMPs or self-styled doctors with no medical qualifications. Fluff about upgrading sub-centres or providing additional multipurpose workers does not confront the pervasiveness of RMPs or jhola chaap doctors who administer IV fluids, antibiotics and steroid injections with impunity. The policy shows no recognition of the magnitude of what is happening on the ground, even when a WHO report shows that unqualified medical practitioners constitute more than half the “doctors” in India. The WHO’s report is based on data provided by the Census office and the erstwhile Planning Commission. Recognising that they cannot be wished away, the West Bengal government has even embarked on training quacks “to cause less harm”. This problem is too pervasive to be ignored. The policy should have confronted it.
The policy has rightly explained why the time is not ripe to make health into a justiciable right. It is good that symbolism hasn’t held sway as it did with the impractical Right to Education Act. What is more important, however, is for the states to accept the policy and implement the law. It is time that registration, accreditation and regulation of clinical establishments and standards is put in the Constitution’s concurrent list in much the same way as drugs, food and medical education. Too much is at stake to be left to the states that often look the other way when it comes to maintaining critical health standards — this is something that ought to be non-negotiable.
The challenge now is to translate the policy’s stated noble intentions into schemes and programmes supported by the requisite financial backing. It is accountability that needs early deliverance.
The writer is former secretary, Department of AYUSH, government of India, and former chief secretary, government of Delhi
The recent decision to scrap the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI)’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licence has stunned the public health community. Although the Foundation has had its share of detractors, it received patronage from the government, some of India’s richest industrialist-philanthropists and foreign organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the years, PHFI has also benefited from allotment of vast tracts of land and government support to establish state chapters.
The denial of FCRA permission to PHFI signifies a sudden fall from grace. While it is curtains for future foreign funding, it is important to examine what soured the milk. If, as has been reported, PHFI was cutting corners on FCRA conditions, it must get just deserts. However it seems that was not the primary reason for the retribution meted out by the ministry of home affairs, which grants FCRA clearances. The objection was: “[PHFI] used the contributions to lobby parliamentarians, the media and the government on tobacco control issues.”
How can doing tobacco control advocacy and that too at the behest of the ministry of health invite reprisal? Didn’t the MHA talk to the ministry of health before taking the step? Interdepartmental co-ordination is sacrosanct in the functioning of the government. Unfortunately, the fallout of PHFI’s FCRA cancellation has been an all-round perception that big tobacco has won. This exposes us to international criticism.
For decades the anti-tobacco movement has been spearheaded by the ministry of health and the World Health Organization (WHO). India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Despite incremental gains, India’s track record of controlling tobacco consumption has been abysmal. Tobacco deaths are rising and the sad part is that around half of those dying are among the illiterate.
The Indian Council of Medical Research data shows that 50% of cancers in men and 20% in women is due to tobacco use. India has another problem. Non-smoking tobacco is the greater cause of mortality and children and adolescents are falling prey to tobacco addiction. When every avenue should be pursued to build maximum awareness about tobacco use, we pride ourselves on being the second-largest consumer (275 million users) of tobacco products.
The government must clarify that it is dead against smoking and tobacco consumption by proactively encouraging anti-tobacco advocacy. And then to back it with fiscal and administrative measures that hurt enough to make a big difference.
Shailaja Chandra is former chief secretary, Delhi The views expressed are personal
Last month when the Namaste India festival was launched I was in Paris in a French museum — at the Musee Guimet devoted to Asian culture. I joined a queue of people into the auditorium to find an intense discussion on new wave Indian cinema. The panellists and audience, all French, exhibited an deep interest in Indian cinema, an advantage we ought to have exploited long ago by creating a pool of film commentators to discuss the socio-political environment on which parallel Indian cinema is based.
Cultural diplomacy is accepted as a powerful instrument of soft power whose outreach is often underestimated. It has been found to be the most effective way of influencing foreign audiences. Other countries reach out to the youth, non-elite and other audiences outside the traditional embassy circuit because this form of diplomacy derives its credibility when it is seen as being independent of government institutions. Instead, our official cultural institutions are directly marketing culture in a way that is often hackneyed, stale and superficial — cardboard cut-outs of the real thing.
People are tired of the same old stuff and all the Indian stereotypes that have been done to death. Instead of a fresh approach to contemporary realities there is a bureaucratisation of culture and far from seeking inputs from artistes, intellectuals and professionals, government organisations and officials decide what to showcase and how. Sadly patronage often has its role in all this, resulting in the resurrection of individuals who have been around for decades. Repackaged content, which we have showcased for decades, no longer attracts audiences who can easily access the best productions at the touch of a button.
Professor Alain Supiot of the College de France and the founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Nantes in France feels that “there is a need for the intellectual horizons of culture to go beyond western ways of thinking to establish a dialogue between cultures. The focus of cultural exchange should embrace culture in its broadest sense of the term, by being attentive to the diversity of civilisations.”
For this to happen, there must be an understanding of what French people want. Discussions with Indian authors are big attractions but not two years after a book is released. Textiles are another. “French people are enthralled by Indian textiles and the art of embroidery, weaving and block printing from so many regions” commented an avid admirer of India and who has long been a leading light of the Parisian couture industry. Another comment I heard was “why do you not introduce veg/ non-veg express thalis as a diversion from those “sempiternelle” (French for eternal) pizzas? Or run a shopping arcade of Indian groceries next to Gare du Nord railway terminus?”
And that brings one to ask whatever happened to the Indian cultural centre in Paris? What is the story behind why premises purchased years ago are still lying unused even as Namaste India is launched with so much fanfare? The property bought by the embassy is beautifully located within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, the Qui de Bramley, and a host of cultural centres representing foreign countries. Possibly a critical CAG paragraph, lack of funds or simple apathy prevents the Centre from starting to function.
What is needed is an effort to refurbish our efforts at cultural diplomacy to demonstrate to a foreign audience that we have the ability to collect and interpret ourselves in a way that responds imaginatively to what people want. We need at the helm of affairs persons who have an understanding of local attitudes that transient embassy employees cannot possess. We also need some way of ensuring that the people who decide how to represent India abroad have the necessary gravitas and the intellectual bandwidth to do so.
Click for e-paper article
Battling pollution: Turning Delhi into breathable city demands holistic and sustainable approach
The decision of the Delhi government to introduce temporarily the odd-even scheme for vehicles has received both bouquets and brickbats. No one will question the government when it comes to the need to reduce the national capital’s unbearable levels of air pollution but should introducing curbs on the way people travel be the way to do it? It is high time the administration explored other options such as reducing industrial pollution, construction activity, burning of wood etc and not cause inconvenience.
It was only when Delhi’s pollution levels became a public health emergency that the Delhi government announced that a 15 day experiment with the odd-even formula was to start from 2016 New Year’s Day. Every day after it was announced, those against the motion far out-voiced those in favour. It was seen as a flippant brain child of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government just looking for diversion from its reported failure to govern.
Though environment experts kept pleading “to give anything that might work a try,” their voices were drowned in the daily cacophony against the move. Everyone waited to see chaos on Delhi’s roads and an irate public baying for the government’s blood. But unexpectedly on New Year’s Day, there were far fewer vehicles on the road, parking was miraculously available at even the most sought-after shopping centres and the public seemed to be co-operating beyond belief. Cynics attributed this to slowness on the first day of the New Year and were quick to advice, “Wait for the weekend to be over and see what happens on Monday.” But surprisingly, the week passed uneventfully, with the number of supporters overtaking detractors.
Congestion on the roads had halved and sale of petrol and diesel reduced by 40 per cent. So how did Delhi achieve the impossible? Several things went in its favour. The Centre for Science and Environment and amicus curie Harish Salve had already pulled out hard data to show the apex court how people were living in a virtual gas chamber. It all boiled down to profligate and dangerous policies favouring diesel run cars and allowing trucks running on outdated technology entering Delhi to skirt toll booths.
Though besieged by a battery of lawyers representing vehicle manufacturers, the high court and Supreme Court granted no stay and their judges even volunteered to carpool in personal solidarity with the move. The Ministry of Home Affairs, under whom the Delhi police operates, and the Ministry of Environment which lays down emission norms and monitors air quality did not queer the pitch. The clear message to the police was to manage things, which indeed they did, with exemplary professionalism.
By far the most important reason for success was the realisation by the citizenry that irreversible dangers loomed ahead particularly for those with fragile lungs. With every third child showing signs of respiratory distress and the daily Air Quality Index (AQI) displaying severe pollution levels, it needed no further evidence to convince people. They were ready and willing to try anything that might help.
In addition to deploying the full fleet of over 4,500 Delhi Transport buses, another 1,250 private buses were brought in as reinforcements. Closure of schools met with no public criticism and enabled school buses to supplement the bus pool. More space meant no harrowing tales of overcrowding and misbehaviour, a welcome first for Delhi.
The Metro, which generally carries around 20 lakh commuters, saw a 12 per cent jump in footfall and coped magnificently by adding to frequency and coaches. Quite unexpectedly, the use of mobile apps for carpooling saw a 70 per cent surge. Even government employees ferried to office in individual staff cars joined the effort. Even women who had been exempted volunteered.
The AAP government enthused thousands of volunteers to get involved. On New Year’s Eve, 10,000 AAP volunteers were summoned to a sports stadium to hear Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the presence of the traffic and transport authorities. Over 5,000 civil defence volunteers and NCC cadets were also placed at the disposal of the police.
As news of success began to permeate the city, there was a burst of citizen-pride and even greater joy when drivers fudging number plates and feigning illness were caught and fined, an unprecedented Rs 2,000.
Can the strategy work in other cities in India? Other cities are not living on the edge of a pollution precipice in the same way as Delhi is and public enthusiasm may be tepid. Finding thousands of volunteers may not be easy, this was available in plenty in Delhi. Public reaction, too, is unpredictable. In 2003, too, Delhi had made international news when the entire public transport was switched to CNG. That effort, too, was spurred by high pollution levels. Yet in less than five years, the rapid transport bus system called BRT which has met with relative success in cities like Ahmedabad and Pune became a stillborn child in Delhi. Car owners and the AAP government ensured its pre-term abortion without considering the positive impact on pollution.
The Metro which started in 2003 has provided a clean alternative but neither the Metro nor the Ring Railway, which runs parallel to Delhi’s ring-road and touches some 20 vantage points connecting NCR townships, have developed an integrated system to carry commuters seamlessly across public transport options. Neither offers last mile options. The ordeal of haggling with ill-mannered auto drivers is enough to deter most commuters from even trying the rail option.
The government’s policy towards pollution has also been short-sighted and lethargic. The eastern and western peripheral highways which were expected to prevent unnecessary heavy vehicular traffic crowding Delhi received scant attention from the Central government and the partner states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for over 12 years. Delhi bore the brunt until the Central government finally stepped in last Diwali. But years of avoidable pollution has been the price.
Over the last 10 years, successive governments both at the Centre and in Delhi gave free rein to registration of more cars while refusing to confront the logic of allowing diesel run high cc vehicles to swell pollution in Delhi. Well-knowing that the Bharat III and IV emission levels were two generations behind world standards and the quality of fuel was nowhere near what it should be to support the low speeds of city commutes, the authorities refused to even consider options like a congestion tax or making registration of more cars prohibitive.
The car population increased by 50 per cent over the last 8 years and reduced the average vehicular speed to just 7 kmph. Once more and more fancy cars became available, flaunting an expensive vehicle (albeit run on diesel) established one’s exclusiveness and social status, at the cost of Delhi’s air.
One hesitates to give unequivocal endorsement to the odd-even strategy because seen in context it is like the relief an asthmatic gets from a quick puff from an inhaler. Certainly it has started a dialogue about the paramount need for investment in public transport and brought the subject of cleaner fuel and emission norms into prominence, but the future depends on the weight of a much awaited judicial fiat and the seriousness of the governments to take charge.
(The writer was Chief Secretary, Delhi Government and Secretary, Health Ministry, Government of India)
5 January 2016
Delhi is among the world’s top ten most populous cities with 18 million people. United Nations projections for 2025 predict that it will rank third, overtaking Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Dhaka, New York and Shanghai. Colossal challenges confront the city’s development, and finding money is the least of those problems. Delhi garners more resources than any other city in India, has the highest per capita income and wages, and boasts more private vehicles than the three metropolitans of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai combined. In early 2015, the new city government slashed the power tariff in half and provided 20 000 litres of free water for all residents — clearly affordable measures.
Visitors are initially struck by Delhi’s pristine enclaves that house the President’s estate, foreign missions, government complexes and sprawling colonial bungalows set along avenues of shady trees and landscaped foliage. The residents of these exclusive enclaves account for less than 2% of Delhi’s population, while a cash-rich, non-elected municipal body maintains their wide, radial roads and lush greenery to perfection.
In the rest of Delhi, seven different kinds of vehicles — BMWs to hawkers’ carts — maintain an average speed of 7 kilometres per hour despite the construction of 50 flyovers and underpasses. Hundreds of planned colonies — ranging from the ultra-posh where residents live behind formidable iron gates with private security guards to middling housing communities — are managed by three elected municipal corporations that show erratic degrees of attentiveness to their obligatory functions. The two massive townships of Dwarka and Rohini, for example,each independently house around a million middle-class residents.
For the politician, these “organised” colonies taken collectively are unpredictable as voters. Instead, three unorganised clusters living in close proximity to one another possess the power to swing votes. That’s why seven members of Parliament, 70 members of Delhi’s legislative assembly and 272 municipal councillors – all elected representatives – rivet their attention on the other half of Delhi’s population. Bettering their lives has little to do with advancing clean air, reliable drinking water, drainage or sewerage — though scores of plans exist on paper. Rather, it has more to do with indulging existing and future voters.
Three disadvantaged citizens’ groups are important to political parties. These include some 500 slums and their successor resettlement colonies, over 1 000 unauthorised colonies and 135 urban villages. Compared to neighbouring planned colonies, the inequality in living standards is stark.
The first group comprises some 3 million slum dwellers — politically the most important. They are families of original or new migrants who squatted on publicly owned land, driven by poverty and lack of jobs in rural villages. Political parties have united in making sure they received immunity from removal, drinking water, a modicum of sewage, food subsidies and an election voting card. Come election time, the handing out of special incentives — including liquor and cash — is well-known, often seeing these citizens vote as a block. Once elected, all city governments announce populist policies as a reward. For example, the newly elected city government put a moratorium on demolitions, prompting dangerous construction in already congested spaces. Extreme squalor and regular breakdowns of public order are accepted as a way of life. Drunkenness, knife-wielding and assaults are daily occurrences.
Every political party has promised to build alternative accommodations for the slum dwellers or undertake in situ development. The communities are shrewd enough to realise that neither will happen, but with each passing year their adverse possession of tenure security grows. It is an astute investment despite living in sub-human conditions. Happily, the insatiable demands of the planned colonies next door for domestic and office staff as well as support services guarantee employment.
The second group consists of over 1 000 unauthorised colonies. They are disproportionately important to political parties. Years ago, the occupants bought agricultural land privately and cheaply, an illegal transaction since converting or subdividing agricultural land required a plethora of approvals that were never obtained. Without sale deeds or building plans, tens of thousands of shoddy structures burgeoned city-wide, mostly with weak foundations, deficient sewerage systems and insubstantial basic amenities. Initially, the municipal system shunned them, but with every election more and more colonies got “regularised”. The High Court of Delhi described this arrangement as robbing Peter (the honest taxpayer) to pay Paul (the dishonest coloniser), but regularisation has officially become a flagship programme even backed by a statute. Each time elections draw near, many more such ghettos spring up and are promised, and eventually granted regularisation. More than the promise of services, it is the protection from rent-seeking that matters. Living standards remain, however, sub-standard.
The third large group comprises 135 urban villages. Dotted all over Delhi and interspersed among planned residential and commercial complexes, these overcrowded villages pose health and fire hazards. Their precariously built structures stand amidst jungles of electric wires, gas fires, shanty eateries and garbage. Ironically, the elected Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which is the custodian of public health and safety, exempted all urban villages from paying property tax or following any building regulations.
Given these present realities, the future of Delhi’s urban development appears doomed. Unless political parties mature beyond appeasement, citizens start valuing quality of life and migrants seek employment in smaller cities and towns, Delhi’s frenzied expansion is unlikely to change.
Instead of getting caught in a battle to appoint or transfer officers, Kejriwal’s government should focus on providing services to the citizens and improving the city’s infrastructure.
RIGHT through May and early June, the confrontation between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung held centre-stage. Editorials, prime-time TV discussions, even dinner-table disagree-ments revolved around who was right or wrong. TV anchors, panning across English and Hindi channels, editors and opinionmakers, were of the unan-imous view that the Central government must not crush the legitimate authority of an elected Chief Minister.
IAS officers themselves, including a former Cabinet Secretary, have questioned the circumscription of a Chief Minister’s authority, terming it undemocratic and ridiculous. Constitutional lawyers like Rajeev Dhawan and Indira Jaising, have, while interpreting the plethora of legal provisions governing Delhi, supported this view. A former Supreme Court judge, Markanday Katju (although equally famous for labelling 90 per cent Indians as idiots), is clearly on Kejriwal’s side. The common thread that runs through the majority thinking is that, in a democracy, the Chief Minister and the political executive must be allowed to function without hindrance. Even unconventional methods must be indulged and the sooner the Central government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), understands this, the better for governance.
Constitutional or unconstitutional, arbitrary or rational, what has been approved by the competent authority has perforce to prevail, until it is either upheld, modified or set aside by Parliament or the courts
Even more than the intelligentsia, it is the “masses”, Kejriwal’s core support base comprising lakhs of unsanctioned colony dwellers, together with those living in urban villages and slums-thousands of guards, drivers, shopkeepers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers and domestic workers-who have remained faithful to their Robin Hood Chief Minister. “Usko kaam nahin karne de rahen hain (they are not letting him work),” is the common lament one hears from his core constituency. The Kejriwal ‘Jai Ho’ advertisement echoes the same sentiment. Serious allegations of forgery and wife-beating raised against two law ministers of the AAP government, past and present, have not led to public remonstrancea sign of how indulgent his support base continues to be. Alongside, there is a strong conviction that day-to-day corruption has indeed reduced and the CM is personally dead honest-more than can be said about those who have ruled Delhi in the past; this despite the promised Jan Lokpal Bill having disappeared from public discourse.
In a small minority stand people like me who, while not grudging AAP’s sweeping victory, cannot supplant what should be with what actually subsists in the law and in practice for 23 long years. Constitutional or unconstitutional, arbitrary or rational, what has been approved by the competent authority has perforce to prevail, until it is either upheld, modified or set aside by Parliament or the courts. “Not all the waters in the rough sea,” to quote Shakespeare, “can wash the balm off the anointed king.” In Delhi, fortunately or unfortunately, Delhi’s king is not the CM but the Central government operating through its constitutional representative, the Lieutenant Governor. The entire population of Delhi can decry the Constitution, the NCT Act and the Transaction of Business (ToB) Rules for being undemocratic, but until those are altered, officers are not free to interpret or modify, any rule, howsoever absurd it might look or sound.
The fact that the LG can intercede, give interim directions to the government and, in case of difference of opinion, refer the matter to the President, is cast in stone. Everyone knows that the President means the central Council of Ministers and, in this case, it means the Union Home Minister. The notifications giving the LG final authority over postings of officers, control over anti-corruption bureau and independence in deciding police matters are all within the Centre’s constitutional authority and the Home Ministry will inevitably have the final say, until, and only if, its authority is struck down by courts or amended by law. Until then the ToB Rules and appurtenant notifications issued by the Home Ministry, right or wrong, will also prevail.
AND it is not as though Delhi is an island by itself. Chandigarh is the capital of both Punjab and Haryana and the Punjab Governor exercises authority over all matters, including land, police and officers serving the Union Territory. Neither Punjab nor Haryana chief ministers have any say. In Hyderabad, now the shared capital of Andhra Pradesh and the new state of Telangana, the Reorganisation Act 2014 entrusts the Governor with special responsibility for the security of life, liberty and property of those residing in the city. In Delhi, the first point of conflict was on a matter which could have been finished with a phone call. The appointment of an officiating Chief Secretary for just six working days, when the regular incumbent went on a short leave abroad, was a small matter. Was it necessary to have foisted the Chief Minister with Shakuntala Gamlin, someone Kejriwal had expressed reservations about, question his supporters? Why should her complaint to the LG about being asked to offer to step aside be given overriding consideration by the LG, compared to the wishes of an elected Chief Minister, they ask. And, could the LG not have tried to talk things over with the Chief Minister before inflicting Gamlin on the government? Probably, he could, even should have done so, but for reasons we do not know, chose not to. Disingenuous, perhaps, but certainly not illegal. In retaliation, Gamlin’s name was sullied in public (before a gathering of autorickshaw drivers), making grave assertions against her integrity which had not even been inquired into. While the commotion over the appointment was seen as a sign of highhandedness, a bigger occurrence has stayed under wraps. Kejriwals choice of KK Sharma as his regular Chief Secretary was agreed to by the MHA and the officer was prematurely transferred to Delhi from Goa (where his innings as Chief Secretary had only just begun), to accommodate the CM’s wish. The fact that Sharma continues to be the government’s Chief Secretary is never mentioned, whereas the ruckus over being “denied the Chief Secretary of his choice” for six days continues to be cited even today. And, the public has not understood the difference.
THE next big row hinged on routing of posting and transfer files of high-ranking IAS officers. Anindo Majumdar and Dharmpal’s functioning at the senior levels of Additional Secretary and Joint Secretary, respectively-became pariahs for the AAP government immediately after they issued orders as directed by the LG. To be fair, the Chief Minister was justified in expecting that he would be kept informed. But the officers consciously chose to first issue the orders as the Central government had amply clarified that the LG’s orders were final on service and police matters. In Delhi, the LG (unlike Governors of states) also writes his assessment of the officer after the CM and has the last word. The
cadre authority, unlike in the states, is headed by the Union Home stayed Dharmpal’s transfer, leading to a piquant situation when a posse of policemen now protects Delhi’s Home Secretary within the very secretariat where the CM reigns. Files relating to the Home Department continue to go to the LG directly, as always. The position of the elected Chief Minister appears to have been reduced to that of having to endure an unwanted tenant who refuses to vacate. In this drama, while most onlookers outside the government are on the CM’s side, no one is aware that the appointment of the Home Secretary of the Delhi Government does require the approval of the MHA because police and public order are reserved subjects under the Constitution. It may sound unfair, even foolish, but it cannot be altered by anyone except the authority that issued the order, not even by the LG. Only the MHA can change it. And no such thing has happened.
Given the climate of suspicion and mistrust, none of the present set of IAS officers is likely to push new proposals with zest. Their eyes are fixed on the first opportunity to escape to the quietude of other states and UTs
The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has been yet another cause for irritation, something that has since blown up into such a big fight that it has landed in the High Court at the behest of Delhi’s elected government. This has never happened before. Here too, Kejriwal has people’s sympathy-“How can an elected CM, who made anti-corruption an election plank, be foisted with an unwanted police officer to boss the government’s hand-picked officer?” they ask. Fair or unfair, the ACB is a police station; the investigations are under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the exercise of powers to investigate a crime involving corruption, arrest and filing of charges emanates from the authority vested by the Act and the CrPC. The government has no role, it being a police matter. The LG’s direction to appoint an officer to head the bureau, howsoever irksome, cannot be assailed unless the MHA overrules it. He seems to be receiving MHA support, which, in fact, unambiguously excluded Central government servants from the ACB’s jurisdiction. That matter too is before the High Court.
Much as people feel that the AAP government’s freedom is fettered, will such stories sustain their sympathy much longer? As potholes on flyovers and major roads maintained not just by the municipal bodies but Delhi’s PWD too, get deeper; as new DTC buses do not arrive as expected; as auto-rickshaws refuse to ply by the meter (despite the recent TV advertisement giving kudos to Kejriwal for checking the menace); signs of irritability are beginning to show.
THE recent AAP budget has no doubt made some welcome allocations for the health and education sectors, besides more buses and better last-mile connectivity. But, it is unclear whether officers will implement all these promises unless they are assured of freedom and a supportive environment. Recruiting 20,000 teachers in the next nine months is one of the most welcome promises that the AAP budget made. But, the agency entrusted with the responsibility of recruitment would need to conduct examinations, interviews, make reservations for SCs, OBCs, and do it with a swiftness hitherto unseen. In the past, teachers’ recruitment has provided fertile ground for complaints and counter-complaints. Forged certificates are no longer an exception. It is unclear whether the pitfalls have been anticipated while making the announcements. Suffice it to say, officers will only stick their necks out to devise solutions if they are sure of being backed all the way.
Implementation of complex infrastructure projects need continuity of key officers and freedom for them to function. The Delhi Jal Board has already seen three CEOs in 18 monthstwo removed for reasons unknown. The renovation of some of the oldest water works are being supported by JICA and ADB. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects are also underway and because their evaluation will provide lessons on the cost-effectiveness of different models, speed is essential. If all these highly challenging projects, involving international and private sector players, are to make headway, officers need to be surefooted about getting government backing when they take strong decisions. Complaints are always a sequel to decisionmaking, but peremptory transfers demoralise not just those who get moved, but also breed negativism throughout the organisation. Fear breeds suspicion and that is the worst enemy of progress.
Currently, DTC owns around 5,000 buses whereas London, with a third of Delhi’s population, runs 10,000 buses. The AAP budget has promised 10,000 more buses. For the last few months, a decision as to whether to buy the buses outright or to make the supplier responsible for operation and maintenance has not been taken.
Suppliers are adept at playing ducks and drakes, making promises only to break them. Unless the government clinches the purchase policy, all talk about encouraging public transport by providing new buses might just stay there. Issues like parking (DDA will possibly suggest Narela as an option) will lead to hundreds of kilo-metres of dead mileage and avoidable wear and tear. One wonders how far all this has been factored into the announcements.
Let us come to power. Until 2012, the issues of theft, transmission losses and growth in power demand in Delhi were almost history. The sale of stabilisers, inverters and diesel generators had fallen. There was agreement that investment in transformers, towers, cables and distribution lines was unavoidable if load fluctuations and sudden shocks have to be withstood. That is because Delhi buys power from 30 suppliers around the country. Additional investment, spread over a two-year period, could build the resilience. But, it has to be supported by DERC, which for all its independence and statutory backing, appears unable to counter the wishes of the elected government. Discretion being the better part of valour, it is unlikely that even what is critically needed will get approved for fear of even a minimal fallout on power tariff. The result is that the system will not be strengthened and the consumer will pay the price. Erratic power supply must not become the norm in any capital city. But will DERC listen?
The budget did not mention the future of a Bill which was ready months ago, aimed at increasing fines for dumping construction debris all over the city. While entertainment and eating out will cost more post-AAP’s budget, there was no mention of generating resources. If Hong Kong can charge up to HK$6,000-about Rs. 12,000-for the first car and double and triple that for the second and third car parked all day and night on city roads, should not the Delhi government initiate similar proposals?
GIVEN the climate of suspicion and mistrust, none of the present set of IAS officers is likely to push new proposals with zest. Their eyes are fixed on the first opportunity to escape to the quietude of other states and UTs and, God willing, the ultimate Meccathe Government of India. Even for the sake of argument, if the High Court, which is hearing the matter relating to the ToB Rules and subsequent MHA notifications, decides to question-even set aside some amendmentsnothing of material significance will ensue. This is because the Constitution and the NCT Act will remain intact. In the present climate, it is impossible that MHA, and much less Parliament, would introduce or support legislation to devolve greater authority on the city government. Debates about Delhi’s democracy will continue but whatever steam is generated, it will not surface in Sansad Bhavan.
The AAP would be well advised to pick up the reins of governance and direct officers to address the most pressing public needs without further delay! Much as we decry the bureaucracy, in the present dispensation the only way to function is through civil servants. The rigmarole surrounding the LG’s and CM’s powers may get visibility and public support, but the next election is too far away for the views to matter. The capital of the country should be a shining example of the best that the country is capable of, certainly not the worst!
Four women toppers among the top five in India’s prestigious IAS exams, as the news came in it was a moment of rejoice not only for the ladies and their families but for the entire country. Never before have the top spots been grabbed by women in civil service exams. Outshining hundreds and thousands among more than 4,00,000 aspirants is a feat in itself.
As a woman civil sevant who has walked the tightrope between responsibility and pressure of sorts, I would like to forewarn these achievers of challenges that lie ahead of them. A very promising career faces the danger of getting derailed due to several reasons. Firstly, it’s the image that counts and one should not be deterred by colleagues and seniors even in the State Secretariat who might get on your wrong side because of their pesky nature. Nuggets about the new female entrants are received with delight by one and all. And the test is more difficult for those in the limelight.
An IAS officer’s mettle is tested by his or her ability to anticipate problems and deal with them efficiently without rocking the boat. Administrative rules and regulations are important but the wisdom to anticipate public reaction and political fallout of decisions is also crucial.