Mr T S Krishnamurthy, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, eminent panellists, Mr Vikram Lal, President of Common Cause, members of the Governing Council, leaders of civil society, academia and media, veterans of public services, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to extend a hearty welcome to you to our final offering of a series of three seminars on key aspects of governance reforms. Borrowing Mr Jagmohan’s phraseology, I may say that while the first two focused on the structures of governance, namely the police and the administration, the theme of the present seminar concerns the soul of governance, because torn from its ethical moorings, governance is reduced to a lifeless shell, incapable of ensuring common weal and enhancing the sum total of human happiness.
It is my privilege to extend on behalf of all of us gathered here a very warm welcome to Mr. T S Krishnamurthy, who has been a strong votary of ethical governance and clean politics. It was during his stewardship that the Election Commission of India formulated a blueprint of comprehensive electoral reforms and recommended that persons charged with offences carrying a maximum punishment of imprisonment for five years or more should be debarred from contesting elections to Parliament and state legislatures. We are fortunate, Sir, that you have consented to preside over our deliberations today.
I would also like to welcome our distinguished panel which comprises men of great distinction, who have been working tirelessly for bringing about an ethical transformation in their chosen fields. I extend a hearty welcome to Mr Jagmohan, a distinguished civil servant, statesman and thinker, who in the course of his long and illustrious career, established a benchmark for excellence in governance. His insights are bound to enrich our discussion today as he has had the experience of grappling with many ethical dilemmas.
I extend a cordial welcome to Mr Arvind Kejriwal, whose indefatigable efforts for bringing about greater transparency, accountability and decentralisation in the structures of governance have greatly contributed to the empowerment of the common man and strengthening of grassroots democracy.
I have great pleasure in welcoming in our midst our comrade-in arms, Mr Prashant Bhushan. A doyen of public interest litigation, he has fought many a battle on behalf of Common Cause and is leading the campaign for judicial accountability and reforms, which has already accomplished so much in a short time.
I am happy to welcome Mr Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, noted media person, educationist and author, who is in the vanguard of the crusade for restoring ethical values in the media. We have chosen to meet today on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom to evoke his message of unswerving adherence to the ethical principle in all aspects of human endeavour. His message is as relevant today as it was during the heady days of the freedom struggle and the turbulence that marked the birth of our nation.
The ascendancy of neo-liberalism and progressive integration of India in the global economy have coincided with a steady erosion of ethical values in public life. There is a crisis of leadership in different walks of life and bereft of a sense of purpose, people are left to fend for themselves. The attitude of laissez faire - laissez aller has become all pervasive. Many of our cherished institutions are in a state of atrophy and moral decline. Despite all the talk of inclusiveness in our policy discourse, the nation’s disinherited have been left untouched by the march of progress and the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has widened despite a sharp acceleration in the rate of economic growth. The failure of governance and expropriation of habitats and natural resources traditionally enjoyed by our tribal populations have created conditions in which left wing extremism has become entrenched in vast tracts of the national territory. Religious fanaticism, subversion, terrorism and ethnic violence have opened up the latent fissures in our social edifice.
In this scenario, civil society has to seize the initiative and make good the ethical deficit in our institutions of governance. Conditions are just right today for civil society to play this role. The Right to Information Act has placed in its hands a powerful tool for enforcing accountability. The advances in communication technology have greatly facilitated dissemination of information and mass mobilisation. A vibrant and dynamic private sector has begun to feel the stirrings of a social conscience. A career in politics has once again become a viable option for well educated, conscientious young women and men of passion. Having realised its power to bend the government and the judiciary to its will in numerous cases of blatant miscarriage of justice, the public is quick to respond to any call for mobilisation for a just cause. And school children have revealed themselves as a highly impressionable and influential constituency for change, as in the case of the campaigns against fire crackers and polyethylene bags in Delhi.
We in civil society need to shore up our capacity to harness this collective energy and build enduring networks to catalyse a virtuous cycle of change which will inform the values, norms, processes and institutions by which society manages its conflicts and resolves its disputes.
I would like to halt for the present on this note of optimism and call upon my colleague, Mr Sarvesh Sharma to give a brief account of the structure of the seminar and the conduct of its proceedings. Thank you,