18 April 2015

KILA’s Move to Recruit Academics Triggers a Row

The Kerala Institute of Local Administration’s (KILA) reported move to recruit academicians ahead of it being accorded the status of a university has sparked off a row. Official sources told The Hindu that the top brass of the institute was going ahead with the recruitment flouting norms in anticipation of being elevated as a university with specialised centres for studies and research in local governance. Except for making a token budgetary allocation of Rs.20 crore in this year’s budget, the government has not taken any step to develop the institute as a university. Still, moves are allegedly afoot to recruit two assistant professors on the premise that the upgrade procedures will commence soon.
The initial recruitment has been planned from among those working in the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Shashakthikaran Abhiyan, a Central initiative.
Appointments made by KILA itself to various posts for executing the scheme have been criticised. Instead of appointing specialists with expertise for capacity-building in local bodies, the institute chose to create posts of assistant professors who are not directly linked to its execution. And now they are to be absorbed in the institute.
The funds for the scheme have almost been absorbed and it is likely to be wound up in the next three months.
At this juncture, those heading the institute have reportedly decided to absorb the project staff at KILA neglecting the key provisions in the bylaw governing the institute. The bylaw has specified that those with PhD alone should be appointed as assistant professors. Such norms are being overlooked and recruitment is progressing in full swing.
Insufficient funds
The present budgetary allocation of Rs.20 crore will not be sufficient even to meet the preliminary expenses required for upgrading the institute. This calls for a thorough augmentation of infrastructure facilities too. When the government was striving hard to meet even its routine commitments, it was highly unlikely to accord top priority for elevating the institute as a university this year, the sources said.
Institute allegedly flouting norms anticipating an upgrade to university status.

06 February 2015

Emerging Scenario of Indian Fiscal Federalism

Probably for the first time in Indian political history, the 14th Union Finance Commission (UFC) has set the stage for genuine decentralisation. The commission asserts its due mandate as an umpire in devolving the whole range of vertically divisible funds from the centre to the states as the Constitution prescribes and sets a new era in financial decentralisation in our over-centralised polity. This has happened only because the planning commission, which so far performed some of those functions, was not in place.

A news story confirms that the report of the 14th UFC (it has recommended 42% of central share to states instead of 32 %) cover not only statutory transfers, but also non-plan funds and plan allocations – including the specific purpose grants to the states under Article 282.

No finance commission, other than the ninth, ventured to cover the whole of Centre's divisible finances. The Ninth UFC had explored the opinion of legal experts on the UFC’s role compared to the Planning Commission’s as well as the scope of Articles 275 & 282 in sharing divisible funds. The experts had clarified that the UFC was competent to recommend on all types of grants, which the Union could transfer as per Article 275 - in contrast with the practice in vogue then.

In fact, the share of Central taxes is not part of Centre’s inherent resources. The reason is that the Centre's taxation powers as per our constitutional scheme exceed its expenditure needs. The reason for assigning the power of levying and collecting some of the state’s taxes with the Center is that the state may not be able to collect some taxes effectively from some sections, due to proximity factor. The vertical imbalance between the Centre and the states is what makes the tax sharing indispensable. Therefore, the share that the state gets under the UFC grant is its inherent resources. The Constitution however remains silent on the quantum or principles of tax sharing and leaves the matter to the wisdom of UFC.

Yet another news article says that decentralization will be a key theme in the union budget and no plan allocation for states will be there in the central budget. However, the states will get the plan funds as part of UFC grant.

Unfortunately, the decentralization initiatives under the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments during the last two decades have been nothing but a top dressing on an ever-continuing centralisation. Now, India has got a resilient framework for its federal financial architecture. It may serve as a dynamic launch pad for a proactive decentralisation.

However, no one can now say whether the prime minister and the chief ministers will rise to the occasion and do something other than high-sounding rhetoric to decentralize governance. This is a fertile but less explored area, which our institutions and intellectuals interested in decentralisation may concentrate on.

22 November 2014

Gandhiji's Concept of Swaraj or Self-Government

The Gandhian concept of swaraj - self-government – leaves so much confusion in the minds of many, it seems.  

Swaraj rules out people’s dependence on government. To Gandhiji, self-government means continuous effort to be independent of government control - whether it is foreign or national.  He adds, self-government will be a sorry affair if people look up to government for the regulation of every detail of life.  In swaraj, every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its own affairs.   Swaraj warrants a stateless society. The state is a "soulless machine". The state would abrogate the rights of the citizens and demand abject acquiescence from them.  Politically, swaraj is self-government and not merely good government.  Good government is no substitute for self-government.  Adopting swaraj means implementing a system whereby the state machinery is virtually nil and the real power resides in the hands of people. 

Swaraj is to be obtained by educating the masses about their capacity to regulate and control authority.  Self-government depends entirely on our internal strength and our ability to fight against any odds.

It has now become a fashion or ritual for us to speak about Gandhi without clearly knowing what the things he stood for in his life are. Therefore, it has become easy for some people with vested interests to reduce him to a piece of textbook civics, a statue, a photo, or a picture gallery that does do no harm or good.

A great book titled “Village Swaraj” by Gandhiji, compiled by H M Vyas consolidates many of the Gandhian ideas.  The book will radically transform our thinking about decentralisation, local governance and statecraft.  Reading Gandhi is an easy way to learn clear, direct and precise English as well. It will make your thinking pristine.

14 November 2014

Make Local Government Administration Effective First, Not Grama Sabha

KILA - ran a set of grama sabha campaigns costing tens of millions of rupees and the government of India conducted a grama sabha promotion/celebration programme. Even after those efforts, if the state of affairs of the grama sabha in Kerala is weak, the body has little chance to survive. The story may be different in other states.

We must not forget that the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on 73rd Constitutional Amendment bill, which had gone into the finer details of the dynamics of the bill far more intensely than Parliament itself as usual, recommended that, “Grama sabha cannot exercise any power and that at best it can perform certain functions”.

Prior to that, Professor Henry Maddick who studied local governance in Indian states pointed out in his seminal work in 1970 that the grama sabha had no worthy existence anywhere in India then. Kerala and Tamil Nadu had no experience of the grama sabha then.

Later, Kerala created grama sabhas in the mid-nineties. But the agencies/organisations such as People’s Plan Campaign Cell, Planning Commission, KILA, Sahayi, CAG, State Planning Board, M A Ommen Committee etc., which studied the performance of the gram sabha showed us that the conduct of grama sabha, after the initial euphoria, had become a ritual. The situation has not changed, it seems.

In the urbanised Kerala environment, the gram sabha exists as a non-homogenous, non-cohesive and loose crowd with no collective mind. Such a crowd is incapable of taking a balancing and prudent decision that many fall between the immediate parochial interests and the altruistic, sustainable social concerns. In such a grama sabha, it is quite impossible for the people to arrive at a consensus on most of the development issues where conflict of interest is an inherent determiner. So the right thing is not to endow the gram sabha with substantive powers but keep it just as a voice-voting machinery. No serious voter would prefer to attend a haphazardly run Kerala grama sabha which starts late, includes never ending facilitation talks and ends up with no substantive business.

In democracy or local governance, the “will” ( a loaded term used by Jacques Rousseau) of the people is important, not the grama sabha, the self-help group or any such body. A government-created grama sabha may not normally have the vitality of a people generated organisation. It is an injustice to equate the hotchpotch Kerala grama sabha with the Gandhi's sacred concept of a village assembly as well.

If government of Kerala or my institute or GoI is sincerely interested in decentralisation, it should focus first on building better political and administrative systems with basic efficiency at the district and grama panchayat level. Shri Iabdulla Vattakkudy in his post today enlisted a host of issues relating to it. Grama sabha promotion has to be left for a later stage. 

13 November 2014

CAG Slams Gujarat's Swachchta Revolution

The CAG, in its report, 'Local Bodies of Gujarat', slams the Gujarat government under Mr Modi for poor implementation of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) between 2008 and 2013. The central grants for the project were misused, municipal solid waste disposal was mismanaged and over 5,000 government-run primary schools or anganwadis were left without toilets, the report says. The CAG adds that the worrying thing is that the Gujarat Government inflated its TSC achievements. 

It is a sad fact that many of the claims in regard to local governance made out by union or the state governments in the past were nothing but inflated accounts of the facts. When we see a sentence with a phrase such as ‘for the first time in India’ or some sort of exaggeration, we have to prepare ourselves to subtract the exaggeration from the author’s account to extract the reality therein.

An exaggeration is equivalent to a plain lie. If a government functionary - a bureaucrat or a political executive - exaggerates anything to make things glossy, it amounts to a grave misdemeanour on his/her part. The core values in public governance - objectivity, impartiality, honesty etc. – allow no government functionary to exaggerate anything while airing out something in public. The inflated publicity a government provides about its activities always gives the political functionaries of the government an undue and unfair advantage over their opponents in their political prospects.   There are other ethical issues also in it. 

07 November 2014

Need to Use Online Courses to Build a Skilled India

In the last two years, the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been revolutionising the pattern of teaching-learning processes in the universities, other educational institutions and many training centres worldwide.  Salman Khan of Khan Academy became a popular ‘YouTube Professor’ from whom even Bill Gates and his 11-year-old son began taking classes.

Coursera and EDx are two important course platforms which now offer many online courses.  The latter offers its software as a standalone open application (Open Edx) which anyone can install in any computer or computer network or web site for customised course creation. Open Edx and Moodle are probably the most popular open e-learning software applications.  Installation of Moodle is a five minute business, but course building is not an easy affair.

India could have become a country far better in knowledge and skills than as of now if we had used the online courses in learning and training enthusiastically. Both good and bad courses are there, but one can learn almost any theme – from drawing to dancing to singing to draping a sari to unpacking a computer to digging a well - though online lessons or courses, free of cost in many cases. 

Decentralisation or local governance, being a multifaceted interdisciplinary subject and a subject which does not have enough learned persons with sufficient expertise, could have created and used online courses to build knowledge among a vast number of people simultaneously. Course creation itself is more a knowledge building exercise for the course creator than just a knowledge dissemination opportunity. Unfortunately, the field of decentralisation in India or Kerala does not use the potential of information technologies for building up the level of scholarship of the people in general.  E Learning courses can do a lot in making India or Kerala better knowledgeable and skilled in decentralisation, democracy, governance etc. This is an area which requires further exploration.

30 October 2014

On Public Hearing and Social Audit

Both public hearing and social audit may work in a reasonable democratic environment but we don't have such an environment here in India generally or Kerala specifically now.  It may not be impossible for us to evolve such a political environment but we are moving towards just the opposite direction.

Public hearings have become a mockery or farce many a time as many reports say.  Goons outnumbering the residents/ stakeholders are brought into the site of hearing in SUV’s and they terrorise or silence those who raise issues. It is not easy for any ordinary person to speak their mind when the dark forces are just around.  We know that 42 RTI activists have been killed just because they collected information which involves deep rooted private interests. No debate or deliberation will take place in such hearing sites and the hearings usually end up in commotion and fake police cases which will keep police people away. For example, at Niyamgiri, even though the tribal population claimed that they were against the M/s Vedanta in the environmental referendum ordered by the Supreme Court, the officials and the pollution control board termed the referendum a ‘success’ for the company. The probability of stakeholder population standing united in most of the places as in Niyamgiri is remote.  Therefore public hearing, it seems, is not a reasonable tool as some people prefer to think.

The social audit by grama sabha also faces similar problems whenever any serious issue comes to its decision. In Kerala, for example, a grama sabha at ward No 2 of the Pallichal Grama Panchayat, Thiruvanathapuram, early this year passed a resolution in favour of quarrying which was being vehemently opposed by another section and the protests by the latter, alleging manipulation in grama sabha, ended in chaos and arrest of over 120 people.  The Vigilance, district administration, Panchayat Director and the State Performance Audit Department in their reports say sixty illegal quarries have been functioning at Pallichal but the government just keeps silence on the issue though the agitation has crossed 200 days.

Grama sabha or social audit cannot do much in situations where deep rooted vested interests are at play particularly in an extremely polarised state like Kerala dominated with argumentative citizens. But I do have no idea about its potential in other states. In a grama sabha or social audit site, it is easy for any acerbic or spicy demagogue to neutralise anyone’s informed and sound proposal or argument with a third rate rhetoric sounding good to unthinking listeners but signifying almost nothing.  For any sound argument there exists an equally forceful opposite argument. So a grams sabha with a collective mind alone can work well. Kerala law governing grama sabha does not allow carving out such a cohesive grama sabha  that can evolve a collective societal mind. 

Therefore the best present day choice before us, in my opinion, is to build healthy  institutional practices in the primary democratic institutions like judiciary, police, legislature, secretariat, panchayat office , panchayat meeting ( not in the grama sabha) etc.  It is a demanding and strenuous task and requires deeper understanding of the institutional dynamics.  In the RTI scenario, we should focus more on the suo moto institutional disclosures than the latter, individual disclosures. The quality and quality of the former has not yet reached the desired level, a Public Information Bureau(PIB) release in 2013 says.

27 October 2014

Dr JP's Talk on Indian Political System

It would be a worthy learning experience to watch an informative TEDx talk on Indian political system by Dr. Jayprakash Narayan, who talks like a learned, silver-tongued, Professor.

He speaks about the need to connect vote with pubic good, authority with accountability and taxes with public services. He narrates how a better school system in a US city can increase the city’s income compared to yet another, similar city without such a school system.  He also makes a passing reference to the UK’s 1924-Campbell case which led to the fall of MacDonald government and insulation of crime investigation wholly free from political interference since then – great lesson Indian police and politicians need to adopt and implement here.

Indian decentralisation would not have been as bankrupt as it is now, if it had followed the path he suggested or involved him in it a bit more. He wanted the Prime Minister to pump some central funds to each local government in Kashmir immediately after the 2011 local elections to build the confidence of the voters who defied the extremists and enhanced the voting percentage to 74 in the elections . His talk is a pack of ideas for those who can reflect on what he proposes.

24 October 2014

Not to State Reasons in RTI Applications : U-Turn of Madras High Court

In a rare move on 23rd of September this year, the Madras High Court had suo moto reviewed and removed its observations in paragraphs 20 & 21 of its 17th September order  which wanted an application for information under the RTI should state reasons.  (Please see the 2-page review order No 258/2014 on 23rd, not available on the court’s official site).

Everybody heaved a sigh of relief when the court deleted the offending paragraphs. But, there exists a weighty criticism that the findings of the Madras High Court have inconsistencies of interpretation due to the non-application of some key provisions of the law to the legal questions raised in the main dispute.

Now, it is the turn of another constitutional functionary to stifle the RTI law. The Indian Express editorial says that the office of the Honourable Governor of Maharashtra has issued a government resolution empowering officers to ignore requests that do not serve any public interest. The opinion piece carries another disturbing fact too; the Central Information Commission (CIC) remains without a Chief since 22nd of August this year. 

The right to information law is dying a slow death

The RTI law may soon become an archaic one, Shri Pankaj K P Shreyaskar - a civil servant – writes in the Hindustan Times.  He narrates four concerns or reasons to substantiate his proposition.

  • The first one is the pernicious flooding of RTI applications by some activists forcing functionaries to spend a disproportionate amount of time on them.

  • The second one is the growing number of pendency of appeals/complaints before the Information Commission.

  • Third is the lackadaisical attitude of public institutions in disclosing suo moto information under the law. 

  • The last one is the Madras High Court’s recent judgement that  RTI applicants must give reasons for seeking information which in all likelihood will result in public institutions opposing  RTI applications.

Some institutions have been engaging in promotion of transparency even without doing the basic minimum suo moto disclosures unless forced by circumstances; they run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.  If the Information Commissions had taken a serious posture against suo moto non-disclosures of government institutions, the things would not have come to such a pass.   Political parties have proved that they are above the law by neither obeying the CIC order which had brought them within the ambit of the act nor appeal against it in the court.

20 October 2014

Making Governance Participatory using Git & GitHub

The open-source software world shares a whole lot of common characteristics with decentralisation/open governance. Therefore let me add a rousing TED talk in which Clay Shirky shows how democracies can take tools/technologies like GIT/GitHub from open source world and use them to consolidate citizens’ divergent views in evolving participatory pubic policies or laws.
GitHub is a Git repository. It is like a filing repository for every revision of a document. It allows you to copy a project from it to your computer, make your own changes, and then offer to merge the changes with the original one. If accepted, your change will form part of the original.

GIT is now mainly used to manage revisions of software tools.  But it could be used to manage any other type of file, such as Word documents or draft laws or government policies. Using it, one can retrieve any revision made by anyone or in any particular day.  Therefore this technology offers a promising mechanism in involving the interested citizen to pass on his version of law onto the repository and Parliament can finalise the right one from the amendments citizens proposed.

On GitHub, there exists a Government Community. The purpose is to develop software applications in furtherance of open data and open government efforts.  Governments and their agencies across the world have started using it. Kerala’s IT@School is the only one Indian agency joined the community. 

One GitHub application being developed for US citizens is a module one can add to a local Drupal website to make it easier for the Americans to petition (see the exclusive US Petition Website) the Obama Administration. Petitioning is a constitutional right there. If an online petition gets a particular threshold of signatures, it will be answered by the Obama administration.  

17 October 2014

Media, Communism & People's Planning : Dr Issac Speaks

The text of Dr Isaac’s Malayalam speech on ‘Mass Media and its Opposition towards Communism and People’s Planning’ brought out on a website touches upon some facts and issues worth noting.

He says the mass media in its entirety supported people’s planning in its initial phase, but many media firms and people gradually started deserting it or opposing it in later phases. This issue, it seems, needs disinterested exploration to learn  the lessons and use the learning in future experiments.

He narrates that a newspaper story even can trigger a tea shop - public sphere - discussion among a small group of newspaper readers, leading to the formation of a great development initiative like the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society, established in the 1920’s, and may be the biggest one in the world, as its site points out.  Dr Issac/ Dr Franke team is writing a book about it. 

He characterises the television reality show ‘Green Kerala Express” - which was mooted by him - as a great instance of development communication. But the web statistics shows that the Green Kerala Express YouTube episodes have fewer visitors than the Kissan Kerala YouTube videos on agricultural practices. 

20 September 2014

On Kerala Town and Country Planning Ordinance 2014

Yet another news item which can be translated as “Development means Building, Planning a Showpiece” appeared in the Deshabhimani - CPM’s official daily. It says the town and country planning ordinance 2014 has an intention to destabilise Kerala’s decentralised planning. The ordinance not only distorts the Kerala’s decentralisation process but also redefines “development” just as building construction, engineering, land development etc while leaving economic and social development outside its purview. (The definition goes like this: “development” means carrying out of building, engineering, mining, or other operations……).   It adds the ordinance will result in centralisation of planning in the hands of town and country planning which has expertise only in physical planning but not in economic and social planning. The news item points out that the planning process envisaged in the ordinance has a top-down approach.

Neither the term “town planning” nor “country planning” is defined in the ordinance. In fact, “town planning” is both an action or a process and a discipline (a branch of knowledge). It is the control of the development of towns and their buildings, roads, etc. so that they can be pleasant and convenient places for people to live in.   However, the term “spatial planning” is defined as a scientific discipline (rather than a process/action) adopted for town and country planning.  “Planning” is an act or process of making plans for something. 

05 September 2014

Reforming Indian Environment Laws

A classic instance of the use of Article 253 of the Constitution was the enactment of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 by Parliament to implement the Stockholm declaration, 1972.  

Even though the law was made at a higher level of government than what was required, the law has been serving some useful purposes.  The state legislature is the right body endowed with powers to legislate on subjects such as public health, sanitation, agriculture, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, water, land etc., which constitute the subject environment almost. Central regulations on  waste management, costal management, pollution, ecological & fragile lands (Western Ghats issue)  etc., cause perpetual problems to many people just because those regulations are made at a distant tier of government, without considering the ground realities. 

All the central enactments on state/concurrent subjects have not been all that bad; some have served reasonably well.  But, there is an imminent danger. The market forces have a larger say in the public policies of the country and hence it will be dangerous if we allow the centre to interfere in the state’s domains, related to people’s livelihood. However, there is no guarantee that the states will do things better, but it would be comparatively easier for the people to handle the state governments. 

Now, the Centre is going to amend the environmental laws for which a committee has been set up. That means many of those state subjects, by practice and precedents, will be treated as the domains of the centre henceforth. This is the right time to raise alarm bell on the issue.  If the states or environmental organisations take up the issue, it will lead to public deliberations on the matter. Transnational firms and market forces will prefer central law making even on state subjects as they can focus their lobbying at the centre rather than at every state to push things as they want. Decentralisation is good at times, but centralisation is preferable in some cases. 

04 September 2014

Law Making by Union on State's Items Invoking International Agreements

The international agreement based on which the ABC Rules (or its mother law The Preventionof Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960  enacted as a reformulation of 1890 British law - The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) were framed is not clear,  but the set of rules was made in conformity with the "Guidelines for Dog Population Management" published by World Health Organization (WHO) and World Society for Protection of Animals in 1990.   

However, there is an issue of decentralisation in the constitutional provision that allows the union to make a law even on a state subject based on an international treaty. The Article 253 of the Constitution is the relevant provision. It says: “Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country/countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body.”  

In reference to the constitutional provision, renowned constitutional expert Sir Ivor Jennings says : “It does not specifically refer to conferences, association and other bodies representing governments, and, on its face, it would seem to apply to any international organisation representing, let us say, universities or trade unions. Nor would it seem to matter that the organisation had merely advisory powers. The word ‘decision' cannot mean a binding decision, for the assumption is that legislation is needed to implement it. If this is the correct interpretation, the Union Parliament can acquire jurisdiction over university education by the simple process of a decision of the Inter-University Board of India, which is an international body, because it contains representatives of universities in Burma and Ceylon. One notes, too, that the Comintern and the Fourth International are international bodies. This is such a startling invasion of States' rights, thrown in casually by a few words at the end of an Article, that one doubts its correctness.” 

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution  2001 (Chairman : Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah) wanted the Union Government to consult the inter-State Council before signing any treaty vitally affecting the interests of the States regarding matters in the State List. This practice will lead to empowerment of the states and hence is a matter coming within the sphere of decentralisation.

To decentralise governance effectively, we need to explore such issues which are not easily visible. Going through the learned reports is one way to identify such issues. Unfortunately, many learned reports like the first ARC (1996) Reports are not available on the web.

02 September 2014

Kerala Town and Country Planning Ordinance 2014

When the vice-chairman of the state’s plan panel - a minister level functionary - makes it clear that the ordinance is a bad piece of law, the town planning department, which steered the ordinance formulation, must clear his aspersions first, then build a consensus among the state’s development and spatial planners, and reformulate the statute after a wider debate. 

If the town planning department had wanted public perceptions on the statute, it would have published the draft before promulgating it and sought the opinion of the state’s planning board at least. There is every chance to believe that the ordinance seeks to serve some self-interests and the ordinance promulgation was a clandestine attempt in law making.

Spatial planning is not an easy to understand subject and even western documents on spatial planning - please see a good UN document - say that it is an evolving complex subject, understood differently by different stakeholders including planners.  It seems, we have not given spatial planning its due importance and have to pay more attention on it. However, development planning and spatial planning are inseparable layers of planning; one cannot exist without the other.   Therefore spatial planning, as the literature shows, is gaining importance in public policy making the world over. It is much more than just zoning and land regulation but a matter of sustainable living in the context of mindless, market driven development.

The UN document cited above emphasises the need for democratic and participatory spatial planning. It says, “Spatial planning is a centrally important government function, directly affecting the lives of all people. It is therefore particularly important that planning decisions are made with legitimate authority by bodies that are accountable through democratic processes”, and, “Spatial planning decisions have such a wide and direct impact that opportunities to participate in those decisions should extend beyond the normal democratic process.” 

29 August 2014

Options to Deal With Street Dog Menace

It is true that one direct solution to put an end to the stray dog problem is to approach the apex court, speed up the pending case and get the stay removed. But, there are around 65, 970 pending cases in the court and therefore speeding up is not an easy task. Last day’s SC ruling on criminal ministers - which delivered almost nothing new - took nine years to get thorough.

Another way is to take this issue to the law reforms committee, the PMO Secretary Shri R. Ramanujam in Chair, which has been set up by the union recently and do the follow up work, if such an issue comes within the purview of the committee. If the statute is modified, the stay will come to an end.

The third option is to explore the possibility of enacting a strategically drafted, overriding state law, invoking any of the functions assigned to the state and to enforce it. If anyone questions it in the court, we should plead for its primacy over the central subordinate legislation - ABC rules.  Assigning a central subordinate legislation like ABC Rules an upper hand over a provision of a state law, framed under an item in the state list is a dangerous precedent. It seems it goes against the philosophy of organic federalism, though there was an argument against it in the Bombay High Court.

The ABC Rules provide for creating some structures, entrusting some difficult functions and assigning some financial obligations on the panchayat, without bringing the states into the picture. The statute ignores the difficulties of the financially weak local authorities in setting up and perpetually maintaining the pounds.  If we allow such a rule-making practice to thrive, any union ministry can issue any set of rules and entrust any function under the concurrent or union list to the panchayats without consulting the states.

There is another political or constitutional issue, as well. The on-going practice of the union government in signing international treaties organisations (like WHO & WSPA in this case) and making statutes thereon, with no public debate and public assent is an unhealthy practice. 

No doubt, compassion to animals should guide our actions and laws. No animal including the frogs, mosquitoes, plants etc., should be put to unwanted harm, injury or killing, unless there is a sound reason behind it.  However, it is a paradox that one can kill a cow or a goat or a rabbit, but cannot kill a street dog under no circumstances. It defies common sense.

28 August 2014

Public Deliberations on Planning Commission

The public sphere deliberations on planning and planning commission continue. We have to learn the nuances of both better so as to proceed cautiously with decentralized planning.

Dr C Rangarajan prefers to have a growth commission and says that  we have moved to an era of indicative planning in the post-liberalisation period. The blend of public and private investment has tilted in favour of the private sector. The distinction between plan expenditure and non-plan expenditure should go. The result of making a distinction between plan and non-plan expenditures has been that we have had situations of hospitals without doctors and schools without teachers because one is treated as plan and the other non-plan.

Another writer says the remodelling of the commission is to get rid of symbols that bear the indelible mark of Jawaharlal Nehru and his legacies.

The American Spectator magazine writes : Mr. Modi’s attempt will take much more than dissolution of the Planning Commission to end entrenched resistance to free markets and promote the devolution of power.

Prof Shiv Vishwanth, in his opinion piece, “An ode to the Planning Commission”, narrates the commission’s history and says planning was a vision, a part of the nationalist movement.

China’s NDRC, along whose lines India proposes to develop its new plan panel, is a macro economic management agency with broad administrative and planning functions. It was known as China’s State Planning Commission. 

27 August 2014

On Reshaping Planning Commission

The high level meeting on the new form of Planning Commission at New Delhi on 26th August 2014  almost agreed to reshape the body into a research oriented, public policy think-tank to support the states and the ministries, but failed to reach a consensus on its structure and functions. ( Ms Shamika Ravi’s article the topic is worth reading.)

There is a suggestion that the planning and enforcement of the Five Year Plans can be shifted to the States and other Ministries. Some wants the new institution to co-ordinate with CSIR, ICAR etc.to consolidate knowledge power. Some others prefer that the Union Finance Commission should step in to do the plan allocation to the states. Everybody wants more professionalisation in planning.

The suggestions, it seems, are in favour of decentralisation of powers, though the PM is a decisive ruler. This is the proper time for the states – like Kerala -  to speak up their dissent, if they have any. 

26 August 2014

Court Order on Stray Dogs

Let me post the the 2008 order of the Bombay High Court, which involves some substantive legal issues, to make this serious and well-timed discussion more lustrous. The petitioner before the three member bench of the high court was a Goa-based organisation - People for Elimination of Stray Troubles – seeking killing of stray dogs to free the society of their menace.

The bench considered the petition along with a set of related ones and issued its split-verdict on 19th December 2008. The order allowed municipal authorities in Maharashtra to kill stray dogs causing "nuisance".  On request, the high court stayed the operation of the order for six months to appeal against it. 

An appeal against the high court order was filed in the apex court and a two judge bench has stayed the judgment on 23rd January 2009. The lead appellate petitioner, among the 5 appellants, was the Animal Welfare Board of India (S.L.P. (C) No. 691 of 2009). On 12th December 2011, when the apex court called the petition for hearing, no one representing the board was present.  As per the last-known news, the apex court had slated the appeal for final disposal by September 2012.   However, the stay continues. 

24 August 2014

Need to Revive Inter State Council (ISC)

Let us see how a tiny state like Kerala can use the issue of reshaping the Planning Commission to promote the concept of better centre-state relations and thereby decentralising Indian federal governance.
On the issue, Kerala Chief Minister (CM) sent a letter to the Prime Minister (PM) last day requesting him to consult states before taking a decision.  The CM raises eight posers on the issue in the letter. In one of the posers, he wants to know whether the Centre intends to empower the states to formulate and implement schemes according to their objectives.

It would have been a good political strategy and a step towards state-initiated decentralisation, if the CM had requested the PM to convene the Inter State Council (ISC) and place such policy issues in it for formal, wider deliberation before taking a decision. 
 Late E M Sankaran Namboothirippad (EMS), when he was the Kerala CM, challenged the policies of Nehru government in the National Development Council (NDC). The Constitution, to which PM says he is pledged to, provides for only ISC, but not NDC. The NDC, therefore, deserves reshaping and merger with ISC.   

The ISC is to be made the top-most policymaking body to build a lively federal India where ‘cooperative federalism’ thrives. A news item says the government wants to vitalise the now defunct ISC which has never met since 2006. If ISC meets regularly, a group of CMs may be able to resist the PM when he opts for authoritarian rule. 

23 August 2014

Grama Panchayat Vs Grama Sabha

In the panchayath raj act in Kerala, a villaga is defined as area coming under a panchayath ward,to make the gramasabha legally valid, but, as Shri Sarvesh Sharma explained in the earlier thread, the definition does not seem to be good enough to provide legal sanctity for the Kerala’s Grama Sabha fragments, if we prefer to go by the interpretation of the apex court. What Shri Sharma said was, “The judgement is quite clear that a Gram Sabha consists of the entire electorate for the Panchayat. Where the govt. has notified a Panchayat to cover more than one village, the corresponding Gram Sabha would also cover all those villages.” A legal provision is to be understood as the court interprets it, when there is a confusion or lack of clarity.

If we want to develop the Grama Sabha as a genuine, autonomously built people’s organisation, it should remain well outside the grama panchayat system. There shall be an interface mechanism between them. No genuine people’s organisation can function within a rigid, ritualistic and suffocating governmental mechanism. If we had allowed people in a locality to form their own Grama Sabha - like the residents’ association - under some loose regulations, such bodies should have worked well with the grama panchayat.   Then we could have avoided the costly and fruitless grama sabha awareness generation campaigns.

No reason or law prevents us from recognising such Grama Sabha organisations as platforms for public deliberations and policy advice on public issues, when the governments recognise civil society organisations and provide public funds to them for public sphere activities.  Let such organisations advice not only panchayats but also the other tiers of government, in matters relevant to them. They can use MyGov like sites or E-Complaint systems to reach out to the distant governments or departments.

21 August 2014

Foreign Junkets of Government Functionaries Draw Flak

The  Chief Minister of Uttarakhand says he prefers to put a break on unnecessary official junkets. Karnataka Speaker wants to set up some rules on them, as foreign junkets undertaken by the MLAs drew flak. The  foreign junkets of officials has cost the Karnataka exchequer Rs 1.10 crore in the last three years.   Goa has decided to have pre-audit of official junkets henceforth.

The study report by last batch of Karnataka MLAs on foreign tour brings us some funny details: "In New Zealand, we visited the rain forest and studied the serious negative impact of cutting trees. We went on the rope-way over the hills. We need to introduce this in hilly regions in Karnataka. Caste system is absent there. People are more disciplined. We need to introduce helicopter rides for tourists in places like Hampi, etc, in Karnataka. Scientific methods are used in agriculture here. More pay-and-use toilets are present there."

In the sphere of decentralisation also, there were many foreign junkets which brought in almost no new knowledge, but generated new sets of desperate seekers of such tours.  If those who had gone studied anything from such tours,  Indian knowledge capital on decentralisation altogether would have been far better.  

Entire Voters of a Grama Panchayat Constitute its Grama Sabha

The Grama Sabha issue crops up again.

Shri Sarvesh Sharma made it clear in DecWatch group earlier that the definition of Grama Sabha had been settled by the Supreme Court in a judgment in 1995.  The judgment, as he pointed out, says, “The moment the panchayat area is declared the electorate comprised in it gets automatically constituted into the Grama Sabha. It no longer remains merely an electorate.”, and it further adds, “When villages are united to form a Grama Sabha and a village panchayat, they do not lose their name and identity as separate villages. They come together only for the purpose of running the gram panchayat.”

Prof. P K Ravidnran, who served as the principal private secretary to the panchayat minister in the last LDF ministry, says the Kerala grama sapha for each ward is not the constitutionally valid grama sabha , as the Mioley committee report points out.  
When the apex court interprets a constitutional provision that the Grama Sabha area should remain coterminous with the Grama Panchayat area, every state including Kerala is bound to follow it and restructure its Grama Sabha as a body of all voters in the Grama Panchayat area.  

Kerala not only shows no care in creating the right kind of Grama Sabha but also it promotes the wrong one, almost fruitlessly.  If a state patently disrespects the law in some areas for almost no obvious reason, it may not be able to enforce “rule of law” in other spheres too. 

19 August 2014

Vitalising Inter- State Council to Improve Indian Federal Relations

Every word or idea on federal relations that Indian Prime Minister mentioned in his Red Fort talk can be located in the reports of the learned committees/commissions on centre-state relations/administrative reforms, set up by previous governments. The centre-state relation is probably the single, most important issue that comes under decentralisation, if we pay a holistically look at it.

The first thing needed for better centre-state relations is creation of a deliberative body and a healthy deliberative mechanism therein to resolve issues between the centre and the states concerning conflicts and development. Vitalising the constitutionally envisaged Inter–State Council (ISC) or reframing the extra-constitutional National Development Council (NDC) for the purpose, are two options now available.  Creation of such a national body with a vibrant deliberative process is the first thing that India should have to do to start a systematic (organic or incremental) decentralisation process.  If we had such a mechanism, many powers now being exercised by the monolithic Indian government would have been devolved down to the body. Bringing the powers one step down in government or to a larger body of stake holders is nothing but decentralisation.

The first ARC in 1966, the Dr. P.V. Rajamanar Committee of Tamil Nadu in 1971, the Sarkaria Commission in 1988 , Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah Commission in 2000, the Second ARC in 2005, and the Justice Punchhi Commission in 2010 recommended to have a vibrant federal forum like ISC/NDC, which the previous governments had just ignored.  This has paved the way for Modi to choose some of those recommendations  for implementation for the first time in Indian history. So far, every central government headed by weak leaders accumulated powers; but now the new government head, widely viewed as decisive or authoritarian, declares that he is going to share powers with states.  
Please see the reports mentioned above, except the first two at www.gangothri.org.  Sarkaria Commission report is probably the most comprehensive and fairly balanced one.

12 August 2014

On Kerala Town and Country Planning Ordinance 2014

The promulgation of Kerala Town and Country Planning Ordinance 2014 (No.16 of 2014) on 20th July this year is the third one in a series. 

An ordinance essentially is a law made by the government, with the same force and effect of a law. The legislative power to issue ordinance is 'in the nature of an emergency power' given to the executive 'to meet an emergent situation’.  No constitutional or legal provision prevents the Governor from revalidating an ordinance for the third or thirtieth time, but using an emergency power every now and then is an unethical and undemocratic practice.

Town planning is a state subject. It is interesting to see that the union government which is delaying the formulation of some of the laws prescribed by the courts and law commission inordinately, has enthusiastically prepared a model town planning law for the states.  Somehow, it does not go well with the precepts and practices of decentralisation.

The town or country planning law deals with zoning, which regulates land use and restricts activities therein. Its provisions will be blindly enforced even in violation of inherent property rights on the poor land holders. But the government and its officials normally turn a blind eye on large players to violate any legal provision and construct illegal structures like the one DLF has constructed at Kochi.  It would have been better, if such a law having serious ramifications and repercussions had gone through legislative scrutiny before being enforced.  

As Dr Reghuram Rajan says “crony capitalism” is at work in plundering public resources including land. The influential people may be able to use this complex law as a tool to plunder land resources with the help of venal politicians or officials, as we see around.

Empowering Women to become Political Leaders

Woman is normally viewed as an object of beauty, a domestic model or a house property. This objectification makes her a slave everywhere.  Therefore, she faces violence and ill-treatment at all places.  No policy vision in India could help her escape from this subjugation and unequal treatment.   One remedy available for this is to work on for her individual empowerment in every endeavor she engages. Politics is one such area and political empowerment is one such way out.

Women constitute around half of the global electorate. Their representation in national parliaments however stands around 21.9 per cent.  Politics has always been a man’s business.  In the world, 78.1 per cent of Parliamentarians are men. In more than 40 countries, electoral quotas exist as per law; in more than 50 countries, the political parties voluntarily introduced a quota system.  India is now ranked on the 117thposition among 188 countries by Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) based on the per cent age of women in Parliament. Rwanda (63.8per cent), Andorra (50.0 per cent), Cuba (48.9 per cent), Sweden (45 per cent) etc., top the list.  In India, the per cent of women in Lok Sabha is 11.4 and in Rajya Sabha 11.9 now.  In the State Assemblies in India, the average percentage of elected women in 2008 was just 6.94.

In India, the short-term remedial measure of bringing more women to politics and legislatures is being debated, with no consensus. There are different ways to reserve women’s representation. One way is to make it mandatory for every political party by law to nominate woman candidates in one third of the electoral constituencies.  The other much explored way is to reserve certain electoral constituencies for women. Women’s reservation in whatever form will bring more women to politics. It will help them build their political knowledge and their work in due course as political executives. The women who come to power thus can function as a ‘critical minority’ in politics.

Empowerment in general constitutes the process of improving economic, mental, political and social abilities of the individuals.  The process builds her capacity to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountablethose things that affect her life.  A woman, when empowered, gets more choices and actions in life, politics or anywhere she engages in.  Empowerment develops her understanding about unequal gender power relations and women’s subordination, and builds her capacity to challenge the subjugation. Woman empowerment requires her to have economic independence, effective communication, discrete thinking and a host of other abilities that help her stand stable. Creation of an enabling environment for the women to develop themselves in their abilities is the ultimate women empowerment measure that is required.

Political empowerment of women means different things to different people. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. It ranges from improving women’s ability to evaluate the situation around her, to her capability to manage public offices, to her skillset to bring on futuristic policy measures through political formulations. Some of those abilities that a woman needs in political sphere are as follows:

  • Ability to learn the political, economic or social situation around her and make decisions and actions in tune with it
  • Access information from a variety of knowledge sources including media and take appropriate stance on issues.  Access to knowledge is one kind of knowledge and knowledge is power.
  • Ability to consider wide range of options and to choose the right one from them while keeping  emotional and  personal  factors at bay
  • Ability to exercise assertive (not aggressive) behaviour in collective decision making in a democratic manner and implementing those decisions without dilution or deviation
  • Developing a constructive approach in making changes around, but without compromising on core values
  • Ability to accommodate others’ opinion, including critical dissenting views, in public decision making
  • Ability to make people move forward in their development and life by updating their knowledge, exchanging information with others and engaging them collectively
  • Building personal qualities like self-confidence, maturity etc., and overcoming different kinds of stigma
  • Developing discreet thinking to sort out right and wrong (determining what is just) based on available information or facts
  • Developing better health, emotional intelligence and intellectual abilities  to take right decisions,  face challenges ably and do things tenciously
Lack of education, multiple burdens, patriarchal values, lack of access to income, and insensitivity of social environment to women are factors that make women’s political participation weak. Over indulgence in domestic responsibilities, lack of financial independence, rising crimes, threat of character assassination due to cultural factors etc., prevent women from participating in politics. In many cases, women have to choose between politics and family due to poor support from the partner or family.

The best remedial measure is to provide training, capability building and public awareness in a mutually reinforcing manner. Women empowerment includes not only enacting the law for reserving some political positions to women, but also providing facilities for education, training, health improvement, economic independence and better control of their lives in society. Without providing for education, social empowerment and economic independence of women, any measure for their political empowerment will remain futile.

The tendency to give losing constituencies and soft portfolios to women when they are forced to be included is another issue of concern. When comes to governance, women are normally assigned soft portfolios like that of women’s welfare / social welfare than foreign affairs/ finance etc., due to the dominating nature of the opposite gender. Even in candidate quota system, the political parties may place women in unwinnable positions and thereby defeat the very purpose of reservation.

It is a contradiction that many women politicians eclipse their male counterparts in functional effectiveness. The emergence of many women to positions of power in the past without reservation was due to the creation of an enabling environment, including compassionate support, which helped them excel in their job.

Women empowerment requires us to focus more on women’s capacity building. Training for public speaking can build women’s confidence in engaging in politics. Speaking in public and talking persuasively will in turn build women’s leadership qualities. Leadership training, focusing on group mobilization, coalition building, strategic planning, advocacy etc., are key areas to focus on.  Training on rules of procedure, drafting and passing of legislation, enacting budget, staff management etc., can prepare women to become good leaders. Training on conflict resolution and time management and such other subjects cannot be avoided. Women need to know the rules and procedures in the legislature and in governance so that they function as effective political leaders. They need to be familiar with the Constitution, laws & rules, political thoughts, development programmes etc.  Party manoeuvring is another matter in politics to learn about.

Women desirous of entering electoral fray should get training before and after the election. Before the election, it should be on campaigning, election management, lobbying etc. Many elected women, due to limited exposure and poor knowledge of women’s public roles, may share patriarchal sexist attitudes of society even after being elected. Such women leaders should get training on gender-neutral concepts. A gender sensitive election and gender sensitive parliament can bring more women to politics to make it a gender balanced one. Lack of access to money and income generation opportunities normally hinders women’s entry into and advancement in politics. Women should use local governments as a training ground for national politics.

In representative governance, every elected representative should speak for everyone, not just for his caste or his community – or even, his gender. If we upset that principle, it will upset the very basis of electoral democracy. Some women put forth a view that the only way for the progress of women is to put more of them in Parliament or legislatures. But there is no proven linear relationship between the representation of women in Parliament and their empowerment. Women’s progress in general need not increase the representation of women in Parliament directly as evidence from the USA or UK shows. We do not require a parliament full of women to empower them but we need more of them in public institutions.

Reservation is a good shortcut to make democracy inclusive of women. Instead of just putting women in legislatures, it is always better to make them reach there on the strength of their capability. What the women need is the means to reach there but not to reach there as an end in itself. Any power obtained without struggle and skill to use it is sure to be lost. Creating an enabling environment for women is more important than bringing them to the public space.

Some women have distinct advantages over others due to dynasty, religion, caste or myriad socio-economic factors. Bringing women-relatives of politicians who may serve as political stooges, to politics and following the practice of backseat driving is not women empowerment.  Such reservations will in fact reduce merit and push women empowerment backwards.

The issue of women reservation, which is being discussed in India for long in many forums with diverse solutions, eludes any consensus. Modi government at the Centre, with a huge majority, can push the women’s reservation legislation through, easily.This is the right time to test its possibilities practically in the field.