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It gives me immense pleasure to extend a hearty welcome to you to this seminar which aims at developing strategies to energize two key components of the administrative reforms agenda. The first of these is the quest for improving outcomes of the multifarious activities of the state from the standpoint of delivery of public goods & services. This enquiry is organically linked to the second imperative of improving the people, who shape the strategies, structure, systems and style of the agencies of the state and of making those people accountable for the outcomes.
We do not propose to add to the vast body of diagnostic studies and expert analyses of what is wrong with our administrative system and ethos. Our endeavor is to stimulate out-of-thebox thinking and generate alternative approaches to problem-solving, without being weighed down by legacies and compulsions of incrementalism. The enterprise of governance reforms has an integrity of its own. It calls for a massive, simultaneous and sustained onslaught on all fronts, but for the sake of expediency, one tends to adopt a sectoral approach. However, the two themes retained for today’s deliberations impact all sectors of governance, as will be evident from the presentations to be made by the eminent panelists here.
The task at hand will brook no delay. Already, there is a growing popular exasperation over a steady degeneration in the delivery of public services. The quality of human interaction at the points of contact with the state machinery aggravates this sense of despair, which not infrequently culminates in violent protest. Vast swathes of territory, largely peopled by the marginalized and the disinherited sections of society, have been abandoned to the extremists, who are free to run their parallel government. In this scenario, something has got to give. It is the responsibility of a vigilant civil society and an enlightened citizenry to ensure that it is the sclerotic administrative system and not this young, resilient democracy, which has confounded the prophets of doom by its entrepreneurship, innovative capacity and the new-found vigor of its economy. We may take heart from the observation that nations with much lesser resource endowments, and faced with far more serious existential threats, have been able to surmount their difficulties. The tiny, landlocked East African state of Rwanda, which was racked by unprecedented ethnic violence some years ago, has been able to carry out comprehensive regulatory reforms to emerge as the top reformer of the year in the assessment of the International Finance Corporation, while India has dropped a rank and is languishing in the bottom third of the hundred eighty three countries surveyed. Closer home, resource-poor and overpopulated Bangladesh, where democratic institutions have yet to find their feet, continues to record impressive gains on the demographic parameters, which are included in the Human Development Report of the UNDP, while the Indian story is that of stagnation or regression. We shall do well to work towards a strategy to break out of this rut, so that the full potential of our demographic dividend can be realized.
The crux of the problem in bringing about administrative reforms lies in finding the right strategy to counter the machinations of the beneficiaries of the status quo, who are entrenched in positions where they are able to influence the course of decision making to their advantage. The Right to Information Act, which is now being sought to be diluted and denatured, has enabled us to observe this phenomenon from the notings on government files which had hither to been kept out of the pale of public scrutiny. We have seen this happen in the processing of the Supreme Court directions on police reform in Prakash Singh’s case, we have seen this happen in the case of the report of the Soli Sorabjee Committee on the drafting of a Model Police Act and now in the processing of various prescriptions of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. Only an alliance of the enlightened elements in the political executive, legislatures, bureaucracy and civil society can precipitate a change in this situation, break the nexus of vested interests and force the pace of governance reforms.
I am sure our deliberations today will help us to set our sights in the right direction.