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Administrative & Judicial Reforms Key To Sustainable Growth

Work ethics & culture deteriorate. The number and the periodicity clearly indicate extent of friction between citizens and the government. In thriving democracies governments are benevolent. Most disputes are resolved, few adjudicated in the court.

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The economy runs on several wheels.

Economic reforms catalyse rapid growth. However, the key to sustainable development is an enabling ecosystem, founded on institutions that stimulate effective policymaking and impactful delivery. 

India’s economic reforms have indeed delivered, propelling it into the new growth trajectory. However, in the absence of the administrative & judicial reforms, the larger impact has been sluggish.

Over the several decades judicial & administrative reforms have been mostly cosmetic in nature, but required for the next acme. 

Administered by 20th century institutions

Robust institutional frameworks amplify governance. Two administrative reforms commissions and voluminous tomes have been buried by the bureaucracy. Political executives should share the blame too. One wonders if the executive is even interested. 

The foundations of our state institutions have been fragile, and weakening. Lower state capacity hasn’t helped.

The economic environment is beset with government intervention. 

The policymakers focus on economic issues narrowly. Executives lack capacity, are often indifferent. The culture of paternity (mai-baap) is alive and growing. 

Government ‘enjoys’ extensive & disproportional power

Government wields too much discretionary, often capricious influence, and uses it arbitrarily against the weakest section of the economic hierarchy. There are inordinate delays in decision making, regulations and tax laws and change, (even retrospectively).Contracts are unilateral,   resolution is difficult; and by some estimate a fifth of government–small business contracts end up as ‘disputable’. 

In participatory democracies the different state organs must collaborate for cohesive policymaking, and integrate for effective implementation & seamless operations. But they must rarely influence, never seize control and exercise power at ‘arm’s length’. 

Judiciary is now wading into several administrative areas, even invading policy-making domains, influencing, and impinging governance.  

This is grave and must concern any democracy.

India is difficult to govern

A Crux insight in 24 states, covering 44 thousand people highlights diminishing institutional credibility. Election commission and apex judiciary are the only institution trusted by most. 

The study concludes that credence amongst the younger generations is even lower. Faith in lower judiciary is abysmally low & waning. Most people rush to the courts, highlighting the lack of confidence in the administration. Courts should be the last resort; and not first. 

We are now 140 crores people, and in the absence of institutional capacity & credibility difficult to govern.  One expected administrative reforms to be a priority keeping in mind the PM’s election platform of ‘more governance less government’. To his credit the PM has tried, even succeeded in reducing the ‘motivation’ of the bureaucracy to ‘influence policymaking and impact’ implementation. 

Unfair, arbitrary & uncaring 

Those who have ‘given up’ on administrative reforms suggest mass privatisation of public services; some admittedly have created impact. However, the experience in pivotal areas like health & education has been value depreciating, at best.

The state is equally enthusiastic to abdicate its responsibility, denying the poorest access, depriving most others ‘fair cost’ of essential and value accrediting services, deepening inequality. Education and health is asset of intrinsic value and economic multipliers.

While the need of administrative reforms is evidently visible, the judicial reforms need immediate attention too.

Government, a compulsive litigant 

Our erudite readers may be aware that the government is a ‘compulsive’,  and the biggest litigant, accounting for a little less than half of the of cases. Admittedly government may not be the source of all cases. Devil is in the detail. 

Most civil cases involve the government, sometimes on both sides. The Crux study highlights a defining data. Over a fifth have no financial implication, many are ‘based’ on procedures. The government loses half the cases, but ‘goes to the higher court’ in 80% of the cases. This happens because the executive is paranoid of three Cs the CBI, CAG and CVC. Executive is not blamed for ‘going to the higher court’ but may be blamed for ‘favour’ and hounded for life if they don’t. 

They invariably appeal; and fail. 

Penny wise, pound foolish

The litigation cost is often more than the revenue the executive tries ‘protecting’ for the exchequer. While the delays and the backlog in the courts have been in the public domain, the cost and the impact need to be understood as well. 

Many don’t appreciate the intangible cost. Litigation slows administration, delays decision-making, files ‘meander’. Invariably litigation deflects resources & attention, and curtails primary responsibility of governance manifesting into several other ills. Work ethics & culture deteriorate. Then there is the tangible cost.

Amicable settlement, meaningful arbitration

A Crux insight across 12 departments highlights that 87 infrastructure projects worth Rs. 79,000 crore have been on the slow burner, some  dead, most ‘pending’ for over 5 years. Delays lead to unviable projects. The fall out of this is the emergence of ‘innovative’ project financing, crony capitalism. People suffer, particularly the ecosystem.  

The study estimates for every rupee ‘mired’ in delayed projects, the GDP shrinks by twice as much, in the long term. The intangible costs of delayed projects are many times more, affecting the multiplier sufficiently.

The number and the periodicity clearly indicate extent of friction between citizens and the government. In thriving democracies governments are benevolent. Most disputes are resolved, few adjudicated in the court. 

More pertinent concern is that the court encounter is between unequals, often unfair. The entire Government machinery seeks to crush the individual. The common person goes ‘losing’ as the procedural law ‘also and often’ are framed to the government and its subsidiaries advantage. 

Government is vindictive; a sore loser 

While one recognises that the government cannot avoid litigation, it must create a robust framework to reduce quantum. Most, at least the non-financial cases can be resolved by giving each other fair and equitable treatment. The answer lies in finding solutions unique to each litigation-prone department go beyond and address the root of the problem.

Even the PM laments that the ‘judiciary spends its maximum time on us i.e. government’.

History illustrates administrative reforms are extremely slow, often unsuccessful, and invariably fail because of political-bureaucratic nexus. The bureaucracy suffers the socialist ‘overhang’, is self-preserving, resists change, even forestalls. Few have conflict of interest. Many thwart the reform-oriented political executives. 

Governance Matters

Citizens have a role too. While we want our institutions to deliver, we are not willing to accept constraints. 

The PM has inherited an indifferent, antiquated, creaking machine. His predecessors, many for the lack of will, several others for the lack of capital approached it half-heartedly, one step forward, two back.

Administrative and judicial reforms will need more than intent & will. PM will have to draw on his political capital, summon his resolve. 

Then he will need tons of luck. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr. Vikas Singh

The author is a senior economist, columnist, author and a votary of inclusive development

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