“I am very happy to be here with you for the virtual launch of this book ‘Bringing Governments and People Closer’ by Dr. M. Ramachandran, Former Secretary to Government of India. The book is a timely reminder for us to introspect on our existing governance practices and a look for some promising pathways for reform. I compliment Dr. Ramachandran for his efforts in analyzing the current scenario and identifying the persistent gaps. Dr. Ramchandran draws upon his rich administrative experience to suggest how we can ‘bring governments and people closer.
Having been in public life for many decades, I too have had the opportunity to observe how governments and people interact with each other.
It seems almost axiomatic that democratic governments should be close to people, be very responsive to their needs and adopt a caring and facilitative role.
As Thirvalluvar wrote in Kural on the importance of good governance:
“When there is rain, the living creation thrives;
and so when the king rules justly, his subjects thrive.”
The objective of all governments that are elected by people is generally to let the people thrive.
But then, between the intent and the implementation, between the policy and the practice, there are big gaps.
The narrower the gap, the better is the governance.
The ultimate test of good governance is the quality of life of the people, the happiness quotient, the wellness quotient, the ease of living index.
Dr. Ramachandran outlines the expectations of the people which boil down to “easy, transparent, hassle-free” systems and procedures in public offices.
We have come a long way in our journey of governance since Independence. There has been a great improvement in the living standards of our people. However, there are still glaring deficiencies and we must constantly review and reform our governance system.
The author highlights the difficulties encountered by common citizen in public offices whether it is for getting a property registered or getting a driving license or to obtain police verification. It still takes an inordinate amount of time and resources. Getting basic services should not be a struggle for the common man.
How can we make this better? To begin with, I think the author quite rightly argues that inordinate time-taking processes are the main reason people get hassled in public offices. This should change.
Processes should be streamlined and citizen charters must clearly specify the time within which any service can be availed, just like RTI.
There must be greater accountability and time-bound disposal of grievances. Strengthening purposeful grievance redressal mechanisms like Centralized Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System (CPGRAMS), having more janata adalats and restructuring offices, are also good suggestions.
The author’s idea of a new ‘ease of common man’s interaction with government index’ is also a welcome suggestion. This can actually be an important component of ease of living index.
Governance systems should also be redesigned with the principle of ‘trust based governance’ to cut down on time taken and to improve facilitation.
I must complement the government for the great strides taken in this regard over the past few years.
Self-attestation is deemed sufficient for many documents now. Digital copies are considered as good as physical copies.
Similarly, taking the ‘Vivaad se Vishwas’ principle forward, tax reforms last year brought in faceless assessment and appeals, eliminating the physical interface between tax authorities and taxpayers.
Governments should also seek to measure the quality of their service delivery and act on this feedback to improve service delivery.
This is achieved through an outcome oriented approach to governance.
The government has adopted this approach for measuring its outcomes in a real time manner- be it DISHA platform for schools, Saubhagya portal for rural electrification, among others. The core mantra thus should be to transform ‘vision to mission’ and ‘mission to implementation’ in the least possible time and in the most efficient way.
With the long experience in the field of urban development, the author has focused on the challenges of urban governance. The population in cities has phenomenally increased, in line with the global trends.
The ordinary citizen has basic expectations of amenities for a comfortable life in a city - that of housing, electricity, water, waste management and mobility.
A lot of progress has been made over the years, but there is some more distance to go.
Along with urban reforms undertaken over the last few years, schemes like AMRUT, HRIDAY, Smart Cities, etc must be implemented seriously at the ground level.
Eventually, we must try to create not infrastructure alone, but ensure happy living spaces for all classes of society in a city.
The focus should be on liveability. Today, when we are celebrating the International Happiness Day, we need to create conditions that lead to great human happiness. That is ultimately the bottom line.
That is also the essence of a vibrant democracy. It is a philosophy that values each individual.
Democratic governance places people at the centre of its working. Enhancing their capabilities, their well being and empowering them to lead productive, fulfilling lives is the central foundation of good governance.
Touching upon the ‘messy’ governance in rural areas, the author quite rightly observes that the major governance issues in rural areas arise from obtaining copies of land records, matters pending in courts, assured electricity, getting pension on time and access to healthcare and education. However, there are notable initiatives that are making life easier for rural populations. Digitisation of land records, improved road connectivity, access to cooking fuel through Ujjwala Yojana are some of the government initiatives that are making ease of living in our villages better by the day.
With the advances in technology, it is now possible to bring governments closer to people.
Technology can be a great enabler. With initiatives like Digital India, Aadhar-linked bank accounts, the use of geo-tagging to monitor schemes like Swachh Bharat, technology has proved to be a game changer in governance. More such innovations must be encouraged, but in the process, due attention must be paid to not exclude even a single citizen.
We must make sure that we use Indian lauguages more extensively in all aspects of governance. Languages understood by people must be used in offices, schools, courts and public places.
Another pertinent suggestion in the book is that we share our best governance practices. They should be given wide publicity so that they can be replicated. In this regard, I urge the Central and State governments too to make a comprehensive documentation of governance practices and projects implemented. This will give us deeper insights into not just successes, but reasons behind failures too and make way for better implementation elsewhere.
In the end, as ‘Team India’, we must work towards meeting the 21st century aspirations of our citizens, improve their ‘ease of living’ and make Indian governance a global model, as the book suggests.
Improving service delivery is the basic building block.
However, bringing government closer to people does not mean only better delivery of services but adopting a system that makes citizens active partners in national development.
Many of the government programmes succeed if people get actively involved.
Like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, for instance or the country’s response to Covid-19.
Good governance becomes a reality when people are seen not merely as recipients of benefits but as agents of change.
Once again, I am very happy to have launched this book. I hope many development practitioners will use this book gainfully and replicate some of the best practices in their own sphere of work.
I commend the efforts of the author, Dr. Ramachandran for lucidly sharing his perceptive insights distilled from his rich experience. My compliments to the Copal Publishing Group for bringing out this book.