The easiest and the most commonplace instrument of governance is to draft, pass and enact laws. That is the principle act of legislators at the provincial and federal level. They are called legislators for a certain reason. India has been in the process of bringing in to force entitlement legislation’s like the right to acts: education, food, work. These are indeed commendable civil society-government joint initiatives to bring in social security for the poor. the Rural Jobs Law- NREGA; is a well intention-ed act that offers poor rural folk employment based pay for upto 200 days per year. Huge sums are allocated without any check and balance built in hence leave a massive opportunity for earning money illicitly in the bureaucratic supply chain. The NREGA Act has worked in bits and patches such as in Andhra Pradesh, but the same cannot be said of Uttar Pradesh. Entitlement legislation needs to backed with the actual social infrastructure to efficiently deliver services to those who matter the most; the rural poor. These are indeed the developmental front of National Security: for example in the Red Corridor. It is indeed a conflict with a tremendous human, social dimension. Implementing multi billion dollar schemes require systemic engineering, foundation need to be robust to take the load of such large scale initiatives. All stakeholders need to have convergence to a function-able degree. The objective should be the betterment of a few million people and not only their egos and pockets sadly. They need real time data, forensic analysis for fraud and professionals dedicated to program implementation. Dumping all additional workload on the District Collector, does not help the poor chap, already overburdened with work. Legislations need muscle in form of structural support to make an impact.
Another Legislation which is on the horizon due to popular demand, and civil society-media mobilization is the ombudsman legislation in India in the working; The Jan Lok Pal. The popular uproar in favor of the Anna Hazare movement is admirable as it was Delhi’s Tahrir Square moment. It awakened national consciousness after the Kargil War. People got involved in thinking about change. Those are the positive externalities of the movement. I believe India’s Occupy Movement is yet to come although Mr. Friedman of the New York Times understands otherwise. The Jan Lok Pal agitation is a public spectacle, real changes are brought on the ground and not on New Hour with Arnab Goswami. The Ombudsman wishes to create a parallel architectural framework on top of the present vigilance apparatus. Additional bureaucracy adds power to the civil servants to extract more ‘rents’ and not to the common man as they will have another layer to negotiate, instead of a single window clearance. Governance paralysis will be another pitfall, as civil servants will be unwilling to stick their neck out to make real changes.
Legislations are cosmetic changes, what is needed is a surgery. Corruption is a cultural malaise in South Asia, with the Bakshish tradition since the Mughal era. What is needed is strong institution building and not adding other layer of bureaucratic mess. By the way, no one has said of who will monitor the Lok Pal itself, a super Lok Pal in 20 years? Will it take the shape and ethos of the Supreme Gaurdian Council of Iran with our own Ayatollah in the form of a self righteous civil society actor, we must not let people hijack the efficacy of institutions.