10th B.G. Deshmukh Endowment Lecture delivered by Mr. T.S. Krishnamurthy, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, on ‘Good Governance: India’s crying need’, on 19th November, 2019, at the Durbar Hall of the Society.
T.S. Krishna Murthy
Former Chief Election Commissioner of India

“India is a rich country which has managed to keep its people poor” so stated Nani Palkhivala, a multifaceted public-spirited and distinguished lawyer from Mumbai several years back. His statement seems to hold good even today in spite of many developments in India’s governance since we became a republic. The implication of his powerful and pithy statement is that India’s record of governance cannot be said to be happy.
I am happy to be addressing B.G. Deshmukh’s Memorial lecture today. B.G. Deshmukh who retired as a Cabinet Secretary to the Government of India was a distinguished civil servant from Maharashtra. Bhalchandra Gopal Deshmukh was born in 1929 and died in 2011 after having been a Cabinet Secretary and also as Principal Secretary to the three Prime Ministers of India viz., Rajiv Gandhi, V.P.Singh and Chandrasekhar. He served the country with distinction in various capacities in Maharashtra, Gujarat and New Delhi. After retirement he was on the Board of several companies belonging to Tata groups, besides being associated with social and development organisations such as Bombay Natural History Society, KEM Hospital, National Association for the Blind etc., thereby contributing his mite to good governance in the corporate and voluntary sector. He has authored a number of popular books recalling his experiences in government. A distinguished bureaucrat who brought laurels to the various offices he held by hard work determination and commitment so essential for good governance. I am happy to associate myself with this Memorial Lecture of a distinguished civil servant on a subject that was very dear to him.

We can take legitimate pride in the fact that India is the largest working democracy in the world with parliamentary democracy taking deep and firms roots. Although we have reasons to be proud for having substantially preserved our constitution and ensured smooth transmission of power through democratic elections, we have a long way to go in so far as our governance performance is concerned.
Democracy has been the pulsating passion of our people as may be seen by vibrant participation of people in elections and judicial and media activism in the field of human rights. Unlike the developed countries, nasent democratic countries indeed have a significant and distinct disadvantage in making the system of good governance work satisfactorily especially in a multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-racial country like India. Democratic good governance with emphasis on inclusive growth is the biggest challenge faced by emerging democracies such as ours. We find that the development of political system in these democracies has unfortunately been often skewed and topsy-turvy. If one looks at the developments in various countries in the past and present located in Latin America, South East Asia, Africa and West Asia, deficiencies in governance are too apparent causing economic, political and social chaos.
Good governance is the most important ingredient of good and quality democracy. The concept of governance is defined by UNDP (1997) as “the exercise of Economic, Political and Administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interest, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”. If this test of governance is applied to the Indian system of governance, we have to admit that there are many deficiencies and shortcomings pointing out the gap between the precept and practice. Our track record in our governance cannot cover itself with glory. In a developing democracy such as ours, governance should not only ensure efficiency but also have a positive connotation to promote sustained economic growth with social justice. Conventionally, a typical example of good governance is when the government is accountable to the people through free and fair election to public offices with equal rights to vote and when civil and political rights are legally guaranteed and enforced without any bias. Importance of good governance in a democratic society applies with equal force to non- government sector as well such as corporate and other voluntary agencies. Governance can be categorized as good or bad depending upon the performance of the government and non-governmental agencies notwithstanding the constraints the government is called upon to face.
India has experienced troubles and tribulations as well as conflicts and crises highlighting a rocky ride in its journey of governance. To quote Thomas Friedman from his book “The World is Flat (Page-454)”
"I am keenly aware of the imperfections of Indian Democracy, starting with the oppressive caste system. Nevertheless, to have sustained a functioning democracy with all its flaws for more than 50 years in a country of over 1 billion people, who speak scores of different languages, is something of a miracle and a great source of stability in the world."
The Indian experience no doubt provides interesting and useful lessons in the field of governance some of which are positive in nature and some others have negative features.
Abraham Lincoln described democracy as the government Of the people, For the people and By the people. Oscar Wilde, on the other hand, described democracy as bludgeoning Of the people, By the people and For the people. Democratic governance in the modern practical world is neither idealistic as Abraham Lincoln expressed nor is it as faulty as Oscar Wilde thought. Good governance in democracy is like an orchestra or symphony. Its music and melody can be accessed and enjoyed only if all the players act in harmony and with expertise in their respective field. Good governance, it was hoped after India’s independence, would transform the social, political and economic life the people of India in line with the aspirations expressed by our first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru in his famous Tryst with Destiny Speech on the eve of our independence. In the initial years of independence, the constitutional arrangement relating to governance worked satisfactorily notwithstanding many economic ills. However, as time passed, the inadequacies and deficiencies became too evident on account of various reasons including proliferation of population and multiplicity of political parties.
The present situation is characterized by a widespread disenchantment with the way that things have worked out. The failure to achieve the publicly proclaimed various social economic goals is no longer attributable to colonial rule or scarcity of resources. India has large market and variety of natural resources with intellectually brilliant human power. If in spite of this, we failed to achieve our socio-economic objectives it is mainly due to failure of our system of governance functioning as it is based on feudal outlook and insensitive administration. Political instability in state governments, regulatory deficiencies and burdens, lack of respect for law, all pervasive corruption resulting in lack of enforcement of regulatory laws and effective administration are also contributory factors. In contrast to India, countries like Germany, Singapore, Japan and China which also started from the scratch in 1940s after the World War-II have gone far ahead of us in terms of quality of public administration. This clearly establishes the fact that our system of governance so far, in spite of certain natural benefits available such as a huge market economy, high quality technological expertise and well-established research organisations has not been adequate.
There have been a large number of negative influences affecting and retarding the quality of our public administration. The failure of executive machinery still following feudal approach and excessive governmentalisation of public activities has been beautifully described by Edward Luce in his book “In spite of the Gods (Pages 100-101)”.
“Whatever your social standing, and from whichever corner of India you come, your experience of the Indian state is too often governed by your dealings with ‘key individuals’ rather than with key institutions. In India men are still often stronger than laws. It would be hard to deny that most of the poor in today’s India can only rarely expect to be treated with respect by the state, let alone in the same way as their social or economic superiors. India has been described as a ‘rich-poor nation’ with a ‘weak-strong state’ (Rudolph and Rudolph, In Pursuit of Lakshmi, p.1.) The writ of the state is visible almost everywhere you look. But it is a state whose powers are easily hijacked by groups or individuals for their own private gains. Sometimes they claim to be acting on behalf of the poor, but the poor do not always take this literally. Often they sign away their allegiance to independent strongmen who operate private fiefdoms like parallel mini-states.”
The present overcentralized administrative system in executing developmental projects both at the Centre and the States has also contributed in a large measure to inefficiency and corruption especially at middle and lower level of governance. This is because of poor leadership at political and top administrative levels. Political corruption, although it can be claimed to be better checked and monitored now than ever before, continues to play a major cause of poor governance denying equal and fair access to governmental schemes and benefits to all its citizens. The next important negative force is due to politicization of bureaucracy and judiciary in certain areas with outdated rules and procedures in administration contributing to poor enforcement of confusing and complicated laws. There is therefore an urgent need to simplify the laws and rules and decentralize the powers – administrative and financial in favour of local self-governments which was stressed by Mahatma Gandhi in his Ram Rajya dream.
The failure of political parties in important areas such as inner party democracy, progeny personality cult, intolerance towards dissent, misuse and abuse of religion in politics, the ineffectiveness of anti-defection law and criminalization of politics permitting liberal use of money and muscle power have made our political parties the weakest link in our democratic governance. The situation has become so bad that what Shri Aurobindo has said decades ago about Indian politician as under is applicable even today:
"………he does not represent the soul of a people or its aspirations. What he does usually represent is all the average pettiness, selfishness, egoism, self-deception that is about him and these he Represents well enough as well as a great deal of mental incompetence, timidity and pretence. Great issues often come to him for decision, but he does not deal with them greatly; high words and noble ideas are on his lips, but they become rapidly the claptrap of a party”.
The rise of sub national authoritarianism due to powerful play of regional politics has ironically and significantly contributed adversely to the effectiveness of the Centre vis-à-vis the States. The regional parties in India due to a skewed political system and linguistic formation of States has in no small measure contributed to acrimonious disharmony and disturbing disunity among different States thereby resulting in not only insensitive administration but also hatred and violence often questioning even reasonable decisions taken. Diversity of different cultures and communities can and should indeed have been a cementing and strengthening factor if such differences are constructively channelled to blossom fully thereby eliminating hatred among different groups. There is a strong case to reorganize the States and Union Territories from the point of administrative convenience and constitutional compliance.
The next important negative force is political and administrative corruption. Corruption is undoubtedly an evil which destroys any society. Corruption in public life is generally linked with acceptable of bribes but it is only one form of corruption. Very often, lack of knowledge of work, inefficiency, negligence of duty, favoritism, caste and community feelings, etc., due to poor recruitment system, holiday culture etc., are other forms of corruption which deteriorates the standards of administrative efficiency. The need to implement bold and urgent measures to fight corruption is too obvious to be ignored.
It is worthwhile at this stage to take note of the recommendations of Nolan Committee on standards in public life in U.K. set out following seven principles which are hallmarks of good governance:
(i) Selflessness;
(ii) Integrity;
(iii) Objectivity;
(iv) Accountability;
(v) Openness;
(vi) Honesty and
(vii) Leadership.

The sum and substance of the foregoing analysis is that public office especially in a democratic set up has to be held in trust for the benefit of the people. To quote Edmand Burke:

"All persons possessing a position of power ought to be strongly
and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust and are
to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great master,
author and founder of society".

The inefficiency in delivery of public services has resulted in lack of providing essential services such as education, public health and sanitation, infrastructure including roads and buildings, transport etc., to the citizens thereby contributing to lack of safety of citizens’ lives, inequality and regional imbalances. If basic essential services are not available to the common man, there is every danger of it erupting as revolt of the public against the government concerned. The recent deaths in Mumbai during the rains due to abysmal road conditions, the frequent loss of lives of young children due to unprotected open manholes dug in public places, the failure to ensure efficient delivery of food items through defective public distribution system, the inadequate and lack of timely alleviation of the sufferings of the people during natural disasters, the non-availability of well-trained adequate teachers and poor infrastructure in many government schools especially in certain States, the public display of hatred and violence among lawyers and police (who are expected to protect the rights of others), increasing unemployment due to economic slow- down are classic examples of failures in governance in our country These failures are not confined only to certain States and bigger cities but also to many smaller cities, towns and villages. As mentioned already we cannot overlook the power of the people’s anger against such frequent and innumerable instances of poor governance.

History records many instances where authoritarian rule in any form of government has often met with a tragic end. In England Oliver Cromwell rose in protest against British monarchy. Similarly, in France, Germany, Italy etc., there have been peoples’ movement against dictatorial rule. In early 20th Century we had the Russian and Chinese revolution which was again as a result of peoples’ disenchantment with the ruling class. In recent time, we have come across people protesting against the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussain in Iraq and the Arab Prince in the Middle East countries such as Egypt, Libya, Syria and so on. More recently, we have seen such instances of protest in Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand where people have protested against irresponsible rule at a great human cost. The governance deficit in any country is therefore likely to generate violence and hatred between the people and the government and among the people themselves.

I am of the view that administrative reforms should be examined and implemented at the grassroots viz., local self-government’s level so that the message reaches the people that public service has to be clearly accountable and easily accessible. I am tempted to refer to a measure introduced in Kerala where at the District Collector’s office there is a touch screen enabled system whereby people can express their grievances and the administration is compelled to give a reply within a time frame. It would be appropriate to add here that instead of the smart city policy announced, the government should have embarked upon smart villages policy which would have not only improved the quality of life in our villages but also substantially reduced congestions in our big cities.

Any discussion of governance in a modern State is not to be limited to public service alone. The importance of good governance cannot be over emphasized in private sector as well. Unfortunately, the record of business sector, especially the corporate sector in India has not been quite praiseworthy barring a few honourable exceptions. The investors losing their investments because of lack of adherence to good corporate governance, vanishing companies and enterprises after raising money from the public, diversion of funds borrowed from public financial institutions by companies for purposes other than business, failure to comply with statutory regulations and confusing and complicated regulatory framework have largely contributed to the poor performance of business enterprises as well as the climate for setting up new businesses.
Although India has made good strides in its ranking of “ease of doing business” in recent times, it cannot be denied that there are far too many hurdles even now both at Central and State administration for companies investing in new projects and promoting employment. Further, it has to be stated the culture in India has unfortunately been tilted against making reasonable profits in businesses because of the socialistic orientation of various economic policies viewing profit as a dirty word and all businessmen are viewed as black money holders which is neither true nor a healthy sign for good economic growth. Good incentives for industrial and business enterprises is a sine qua non for economic growth coupled with employment opportunities. There is therefore an immediate necessity for the government and the public to dismantle the cobweb of suspicion against entrepreneurs and promote a policy for business enterprises with a reasonable profit as a catalyst for encouraging employment opportunities and exports. Recent initiative in corporate tax administration is indeed a right step in that direction.
In conclusion, the crying need of the nation is an urgent attention of government, political parties and regulatory authorities to have a surgical approach for tackling the various outdated attitudes, rules and regulations in administration. India is a huge geographical entity with too many regional political parties and pressure groups including media which do not permit meaningful changes incrementally. It would therefore be necessary for those in governance (governmental and non- governmental) to take strong and bold measures more so focusing on our villages and cities. For this changes to happen the country needs proper leadership in important areas of governance. To quote from the judgement of Supreme Court Judge Justice Mr. N.V. Ramana in a recently delivered judgement who has quoted the first President of India Mr. Rajendra Prasad “Whatever the constitution may or may not provide, the welfare of the country will depend on the way in which the country is administered. That will depend upon the men who administer it”. The sooner this is realized and quick action is taken, the better it would be for the country at large where liberalism and positive outlook in consonance with accountability and transparency is the key mantra. The more we delay in improving our governance the more backward we will be in the international economic race. There may be a price to be paid for it but it would be worthwhile in the long-term interest of this Nation.

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