It is now a week since our new Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was sworn in. A week later we have a cabinet, some dissidence in his party, the portfolios distributed after much discussions and delay and many senior disgruntled legislators. It looks as though only seniority and age are prerequisites to be a minister. I am sure somebody somewhere will also realize that being young, inexperienced, enthusiastic and with enough understanding of policy and governance are also good enough qualifications to become a minister.
That said, we need to also appreciate what has happened in the last one week. There were promises galore from the CM even before he settled down in his office. The CM who had promised good governance and transparency, did not find the need to be democratic and wait for his cabinet to be formed before deciding on the doles. In a Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, the CM is only the first amongst equals in his cabinet and should not start playing ‘king’, however tempting it may be. Announcing policy decisions amounting to nearly 4500 crore rupees without a full understanding of the financial situation is indeed a dangerous precedence – that one had hoped this CM would avoid. His announcement that rice would be available for 1 rupee a kilo and that each BPL family would get a minimum of 30 kg per month would be welcome in the interest of food security. But what the state truly needs is to rationalize the identification of the poor (however politically uncomfortable it is), make sure that all the poor families are actually included in the BPL list and the undeserving rich are removed, bring in universal PDS, and include local food crops like ragi and jowar in the PDS.
While this sounds like a wish list for many like me, what the CM needs is courage, conviction and the willingness to take on established forces which have developed a stake in the status-quo. With his vast administrative and political experience, one only hopes that his own party and ministerial colleagues see the political advantage in delivering on good governance. Public memory is short and it will not be too long before the political executive loses the message of the recent elections and slips back to ‘business as usual’ mode. We need an empowered citizenry to keep the heat on and remind our ‘rulers’ that we are not only watching but will respond to both good and bad governance in the parliamentary elections due next year.
Immediately after being elected as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and being designated the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Sri Siddaramaiah announced that his Government would strive to be transparent and provide good governance and a corruption-free administration to the people of Karnataka. If this happens, this is indeed good news for the people of the state who for the last several years have seen nothing but poor governance and mal-administration.
It is indeed interesting to understand how the common man relates to good governance. For Madi, an elderly tribal lady from Heggadadevanakote, it simply meant getting her pension on time every month. She now gets it once in 4-6 months and getting it regularly on a monthly basis would make a big difference in her life. Transparency to her meant that the postman delivering her pension not take any ‘commission’ for the same. For Kariaiah, a small and marginal farmer, all that he sought was good quality seeds on time, access to credit, reliable electricity and access to non-exploitative markets.
An industrialist friend had a different view. For him good governance simply meant better infrastructure support from the Government. His view was that the Government had to be an ‘enabler’ and ensure that the sector was supported with adequate infrastructure. He blamed the system for the crumbling infrastructure which included poor roads, poor connectivity, lack of power and no policy focus on developing industries. A fellow activist said that having a pro-poor government with people-friendly policies meant good governance. His view of transparency was limited to ensuring that appropriate social accountability processes were built into every development scheme. All that Ms Sharmila, a housewife wanted was water and electricity throughout the day. She was concerned that inadequate power would affect the food in her refrigerator and watching her favourite tele-serial in the evenings. Muniswamy, a street vendor selling fruits in Bangalore dreamt of the day when the beat policeman would not ask him for a bribe. Good Governance meant the 25 rupees he would save every day by not giving a bribe to stand in the corner of the busy street. Tippesha sells potted plants and mud pots by the wayside on a busy thoroughfare in Mysore. For him, good governance meant that he no longer had to pay the local Corporation authorities any money and that they and the local politicians would actually pay for the plants and pots that they took whenever they felt like it. For Ramu, a temporary driver with the State Road Transport Corporation, good governance meant that his job would be made permanent without having to pay the customary Rs 5 lakhs bribe.
Each of us seem to have our own interpretation of Good Governance and a transparent, corruption-free administration based on how it affects our lives. While people’s expectations can differ, we need to understand what it truly means to have a government that is responsive, people-friendly and committed to providing good governance. The concept of ‘governance’ itself is not new. It is as old as human civilization. Simply put ‘governance’ means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). It is a term that is nowadays used to describe how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources. The concept centers around the responsibility of governments to meet the needs of the masses as opposed to select groups in society.
Since governance is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented, an analysis of governance focuses on the formal and informal actors involved in decision-making and implementing the decisions made. Other actors apart from the Government that are involved in governance vary depending on the level of government that is under consideration. Some of the non-state actors include influential land lords, farmers’ associations, co-operatives, NGOs, research institutes, religious leaders, finance institutions, political parties, etc. At the state and national levels, in addition to the above actors, media, lobbyists, international donors, multi-national corporations and others may play a role in decision-making or in influencing the decision-making process.
Formal government structures are one means by which decisions are arrived at and implemented. At the national level, informal decision-making structures, such as ‘kitchen cabinets’ or informal advisors like the National Advisory Council may exist. In urban areas, organized crime syndicates such as the ‘land Mafia’ may influence decision-making. In some rural areas locally powerful families may make or influence decision-making. Such informal decision-making is often the result of corrupt practices or leads to corrupt practices. According to the United Nations, good governance has eight major characteristics. It should be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and should follow the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.
What this means in real life is that the transfer of our officials would no longer depend on the whims and fancies of the elected politicians. The officials would be allowed to deliver on their responsibilities without fear or favour and that Civil Society will have a legitimate and visible space in the overall scheme of things. Good Governance will mean that issues like caste or religion will not come in the way of decision-making. It will also mean that relatives of politicians can no longer wield power and authority with no accountability. This means that inter-state issues and disputes would also need to be resolved based on evidence and reason and not merely on political compulsions. More importantly, it means that our policies can no longer be skewed in favour of a few individuals or corporations but bears in mind the entire population, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. This also means that institutions like the Lok Ayukta, the State Human Rights Commission, the Women’s Commission and the Child Rights Commission are independent of State control and serve to be watchdogs of the Government. It means the active and sustained participation of civil society groups and citizen bodies in different aspects of the administration. It could be membership in statutory committees to playing the role of formal and informal advisors to different ministries. Good Governance will necessarily mean that bodies like the Police Establishment Board are actually independent and beyond the interference of the political class.
All this will mean that our present generation of politicians can no longer operate with the ‘business as usual’ mindset but will have to change the paradigm of the political regime itself. It will mean that the Government’s authority in the management of the economic and social resources will now be under public scrutiny and one can no longer work with the discretionary powers that have existed till now. It will mean that the capacity of Governments to formulate policies and their effective implementation will be monitored and both the political and administrative executive will be held accountable for failures. Inculcating all this will mean better legislative frameworks, policies, programs, budgetary allocations and other pro-people measures. If all this happens, people like Madi, Kariaiah, Muniswamy, Tippesha, Sharmila and Ramu will finally get what they aspire for. When our Chief Minister promises Good Governance, it is all this and more that he should deliver on. Five years is not too long a time-frame and he needs to start work on all this immediately. Whether he will walk the talk or not, only time can tell.
Here’s the 56th installment of ‘Hosa Kanasu’, my fortnightly column in Prajavani: 07 May 2013
I recently came across a booklet released by one of the candidates contesting the Karnataka Assembly elections about his achievements over the past 5 years as an MLA. Over many colorfully described pages, he was mentioning about the roads that he had got laid, the clogged drains that had been cleaned, the street lights that he had got erected, the numerous other small tasks that he had done for the city, the different schemes for which he had selected beneficiaries, etc. I spoke to a few people from his constituency only to find that most of them could easily relate to the everyday issues that affected their lives and none of them were cognizant of what he was supposed to have done as an MLA or a Minister. I then spoke to many candidates who were contesting for the first time and also to those who were MLAs earlier and were trying to get re-elected, and I was disturbed that most of them were not aware of the exact responsibilities of an MLA. Many of them mentioned that limited roles of allotting houses as Chairman of the Ashraya committee or approving the list of beneficiaries for different Government schemes. How does one evaluate a public servant if we do not even know what he is supposed to be doing? How do we measure his performance if we are not able to understand what is his exact role?
How can one become an MLA and how does one qualify to stand for MLA elections?
A Member of Legislative Assembly, or MLA, is a representative elected by the voters of an electoral district to the Legislature of a State in the Indian system of Government. The Legislative Assembly consists of not more than 500 members and not less than 60. The biggest state like Uttar Pradesh has 403 members in its Assembly. States that have small population and are small in size have a provision for having even lesser number of members in the Legislative Assembly. Puducherry, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh have only 30 members each. Sikkim has 32 members. All members of the Legislative Assembly are elected on the basis of adult franchise, and one member is elected from one constituency. Just as the President of India has the power to nominate two Anglo-Indians to the Lok Sabha, the Governor of the State can also nominate one member from the Anglo-Indian community to the Legislative Assembly if he feels that they are not adequately represented.
The qualifications to be a member of the State Legislature are largely similar to the qualifications to be the Members of Parliament and should fulfill the following criteria.
- He must be a citizen of India.
- He must have completed the age of 25 years.
- He must not hold an office of profit.
- He must possess qualifications laid down by the Parliament of India.
- He must not be of unsound mind and should not have been disqualified by a competent court.
No person can become a member of the Legislative Assembly or the Legislative Council of any State, unless he himself is a voter from any constituency of the State. The normal term of the Legislative Assembly is five years.
What are the powers of our MLAs?
Legislative powers: The most important function of the Legislature is law making. As defined by the Constitution of India – Seventh Schedule (Article 246), the MLAs have the powers to make law on all items in the List II (State list) and List III (Concurrent list). Some of these items are police, prisons, irrigation, agriculture, local governments, public health, pilgrimages, burial grounds, etc. Some items on which both Parliament and States can make laws are education, marriage and divorce, forests, protection of wild animals and birds.
Financial powers: The next important role of the Assembly and of the MLAs is fiscal responsibility. The Legislative Assembly exercises control over the finances of State and has to approve the budget presented by the Government in power and ensure that money is allocated adequately and appropriately for the business of Governance.
Executive power: The Legislature also has oversight over the Executive. They are expected to oversee and monitor all the programs and schemes that the executive implements. This does not mean that they merely sit on committees approving beneficiary lists and houses and determining how local area development funds are spent. They are expected to ensure that the executive branch of the Government does its job responsibly, responsively, transparently, impartially and in line with the decisions taken by the political executive.
Electoral power: The State Legislature plays a role in electing the President of India. Elected members of the Legislative Assembly along with the elected members of Parliament are involved in this process.
Constitutional powers: Some parts of the Indian Constitution can be amended by Parliament with the approval of half of State Legislatures. Thus the State legislatures take part in the process of amendment of our Constitution too.
Salary and other privileges for our MLAs:
We need to understand that our MLAs are also paid quite well for these services that they are expected to do. They are very quick in approving high salaries and special perks and privileges for themselves. In fact, the Karnataka Assembly, which included MLAs from the entire political spectrum, gave themselves a 73% hike in 2011 without even a discussion. After the customary question hour and zero hour, the then Minister for Law Mr Suresh Kumar presented two bills – Karnataka Ministers Salaries and Allowances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 and Karnataka Legislature Salaries, Pensions and Allowances (Second Amendment) Bill, 2011. As the opposition benches were vacant, the bills were passed without any discussion. The passing of these two bills raised the salaries of MLAs by an average of 73 per cent to over Rs 95,000 per month. In addition to this, the members will be entitled to travel and dearness allowances, constituency maintenance allowance and wages for their personal staff among others. Till then, the MLAs were paid a salary of Rs 51,000 per month approximately and the ministers in the cabinet drew Rs 54,000 per month. With the increase in salaries of both ministers and MLAs, the total financial burden on the state exchequer would be Rs 26 crore per annum. According to officials in the legislature, Karnataka ranks fifth in the country in terms of salaries and allowances to the members of legislative assembly. This is all the more reason for citizens to demand performance, accountability and transparency from the elected members who are paid out of the taxes that we pay.
Apart from the salary and other related perks, our MLAs also enjoy immunity. Like the members of Parliament, the members of the Legislature also enjoy freedom of speech on the floor of the House. They cannot be prosecuted for having said anything on the floor of the House. During session the members cannot be arrested in any civil cases.
Measuring the performance of our MLAs:
Only when we understand and appreciate what our MLAs are expected to do, can we, as common citizens, understand how to measure their performance and assess how well they are playing their roles. It is extremely important for us to know and appreciate what they will be doing for the next 5 years when they are expected to be our elected representatives. Let us try to understand how well they performed over the last 5 years. The Karnataka Assembly had only 16 sessions and met for a total of 164 days over these 5 years. The annual average was a mere 33 days in comparison to 71 days that the Lok Sabha met during this time. This shows how serious our members were in discussing matters related to the people of Karnataka and their development and performing the duties expected of them.
We the citizens must come together and demand that our MLAs bring out an annual report card clearly outlining their performance. They need to inform the people of their constituency how well they performed against indicators like their attendance in the assembly, the number of questions that they asked, their understanding and appreciation of the different policies and laws that they make, the amount of time that they spend consulting their constituents, how well they oversaw the executive and a statement disclosing their income and assets. As per Karnataka Election Watch that analyzed the affidavits of re-contesting candidates, each MLA’s assets grew by an average of 79%. Without casting any aspersions on the sources, we the citizens of Karnataka have a right to know how our public servants are able to generate this kind of income. Only when we the common people continue to engage with our elected representatives even after the elections are over and continue to monitor and evaluate their performance will we be able to demand good governance from them. It is in our own interest that we do not relax but continue to demand both accountability and performance from our MLAs for the next 5 years.
Here’s the 55th installment of ‘Hosa Kanasu’, my fortnightly column in Prajavani: 23 Apr 2013
This last month has been very educative for me. I have traveled around the entire district of Mysore and met young people, students, and members of self help groups, farmers, software engineers, factory workers and housewives. Our intent was to create awareness on the importance of citizen participation in making democracy work. One saw mixed reactions from people. There was hope, aspiration, demand for change, feeling of helplessness and sometimes a resigned acceptance of the morass to which our political set up has sunk. The kind of questions that people asked reflected the hopes and aspirations of the common man. The despair and frustration born out of the helplessness in people, the inability to change, the corruption and indifference both in the voters and in the candidates were all palpable. Many of them questioned the impossibility of the task that we had taken on ourselves. They wanted to know if free and fair elections could ever be a reality in our country. The newspapers were all reporting the different steps that the Election Commission was taking in order to do this, but somehow the people did not seem convinced. The recent transfer of IAS officers and the Central Appellate Tribunal’s decision and the subsequent High Court order did leave some of them confused. I started asking people what they felt would contribute to free and fair elections from their perspective. The answers I got was very informative and showed that not only does the common man notice and perceive such things, but he also has his own metric to measure free and fair elections.
Some villagers in one place told me how non-vegetarian dinners were being provided regularly for flimsy reasons. They asked how people who hardly knew anyone in their village would find a reason to feed all of them. Could not the Election commission simply ban any congregation of more than 25 people in the area and clearly prevent such lavish dinners, whatever the reason be?
Another group of young people told me how every village now suddenly had a cricket team. All young boys not only got bats, balls and wickets to play, but also t-shirts and caps. They also found sponsors for their games and prizes. They only wanted to know why is it that everyone except the district authorities knew who their sponsors were. Elections now meant that it was not just the IPL players who make hay when the sun shines, but also these cricketing amateurs in many villages where elections were impending.
Speaking to a few shop owners dealing with consumer durables gave me an understanding how their sales spiked in the month elections were held. Voters were now given gift coupons and vouchers that they could exchange for consumer goods once the elections were over. These coupons were cleverly valid only after the elections were over and the code of conduct no longer applied. Why could not the Election Commission watch over these sales and selling points and use the machinery of the commercial tax department to keep track? How difficult would it be to make all such gift coupons and vouchers invalid for a Government that can ban books and cinemas whenever they feel like?
Another question that always arose during the discussions with women was the easy and free availability of liquor. They wanted to know how despite the measures claimed by the DC, so much of liquor was available in the run up to the elections. Why could not all liquor sales be banned during this month was the question that they had. While one can understand that this may have other ramifications, but can one imagine an elections being free and fair with liquor being distributed so freely?
Election time is also one opportunity when a lot of people get livelihood. They get paid for mobilizing people, for accompanying the candidate while filing nomination, while they canvass, and to man the booths. One candidate from a national party told me that people had to be paid to come and celebrate their victories too. Why couldn’t the Commission limit the canvassing to people who are genuine supporters of the candidate and monitor whether party workers and others are paid for their services?
While the Deputy Commissioners do try and monitor the number of vehicles, and the distance they run or the fuel consumed, the people were somehow skeptical about the effectiveness of these procedures. They kept asking me if this system was really working, why were the local taxis in such short supply during this month? One taxi owner told me that this was the best month for him and that his vehicle was booked for the whole month by a person that he never knew. All that he cared about was the fact that he got paid by the day and his charges were more than 50% of the normal tariff that he levied.
A set of elderly middle-class men recollected the time when Mr T.N.Seshan was the CEC. They wanted to know how he could do what he did using the same set of laws many years ago. They felt that the present system too needs to create the fear of law and they felt that this had to be done by using strict and visible penal action as a deterrent against any electoral malpractice.
My interactions with many former Chief Election Commissioners and one present Election Commissioner leaves no doubt in my mind that they are all trying to ensure a free and fair elections. All of them are trying to bring in different processes to clean up the system and conduct the elections transparently and efficiently. Many suggestions given by the man on the street may sound impractical, but we need to understand that it is his confidence that needs to be boosted. It is the common voter who needs the reassurance that things are changing for the good. The Election Commission can do its bit to ensure that the electoral rolls are cleaned up, remove the names of people who are dead and long gone, eliminate the confusing entries, update and make them accurate, clarify the ineligible entries, and have time-bound processes that demonstrate to us that not only do their personnel work but the software that they use also does. They need to make the DC responsible for the inaccuracies and act against him and his officials without hesitation, fear or favour. They can surely keep the error margin manageable, say upto 2-3%, if they are meticulous in their follow-up and act against errant officials at whatever level that they may be in. The Commission can also ensure that anyone with a criminal case pending for more than 5 years does not contest as a candidate or if he does, the voters should be officially made aware of this fact. The Commission should not only share the information pertaining to the assets and liabilities and criminal backgrounds with all law enforcement agencies like the Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate, Economic Offenses Unit, Revenue Intelligence Unit, local police, etc but also keep following up with them to take necessary action under the prevailing laws for any violation. They need to share the action taken in the public domain and let us all know what happens to the disproportionate assets that many of them declare in their affidavits.
We also need to have a time-bound judicial process for disqualification of candidates when they are known to have indulged in malpractice. I remember a case of an MLA whose caste antecedence was questioned not only completing his term but is contesting again under the same caste certificate. How will the people place their faith in a system where they see the rich and powerful getting away with such impunity?
We, the common people, also need to stop externalizing both the problem and the solution. We can no longer wait for the ‘messiah’ to come and redeem us from this mess. We need to find solutions within the framework of existing laws and structures. We have enough already in place, all we need are people with the courage, willingness and the conviction to implement them. We also need to understand that ‘character’ cannot be outsourced and we need to live the change that we wish to see.
We need to begin by infusing a sense of pride in being a Democracy. Creating a stake in good governance and the benefits of good for the common citizen can no longer be a fad but is an essential pre-requisite for progress. We should not see Democracy from the despair of a failed monarchy or colonization. We need to see it from the context of our times and the kind of future that we can build for ourselves. We have to stop seeing democracy from behind tinted glasses. We cannot let our ‘moral outrage’ over failure of Governance turn into despondency. We need to reconstruct this ‘outrage’ to ‘active engagement’. Only then can we make democracy work in the context that India is in. A free and fair election is an important step in strengthening democracy and we the common citizens need to do our bit in ensuring this. Or else, we will have only ourselves to blame.
There is an ancient saying that says the left hand should not know what the right hand gives away. There is an ancient Indian thought which asks men to give away 25% of their income towards charity and societal uses. Our ‘Puranas’ have always held people who are benevolent, philanthropic and socially conscious in very high esteem. Today’s pace of existence and the demand for personal growth and achievement leaves very little room for the practices of such thought. Though one sees acts of kindness and generosity, one rarely sees people who ‘give till it hurts’. A recent incident left me contemplating on the greatness of people who are silent and unheard of, but do what they feel will benefit mankind.
A couple of months ago, Mr Varadarajan, one of our first well-wishers and donors, mentioned to me that Ms Sharadamma, a close friend of his mother-in-law was contemplating on donating her house in Bangalore to SVYM. I was taken aback on hearing this and was unsure of how to respond. Knowing how old she was, I suggested that she could sell the house and keep the money for her upkeep and donate some amount of the sale proceeds to us. Some time later, my mother-in-law who was the classmate of Ms Sharadamma’s sister called and reminded me that we had to complete the formality of this donation. I now knew that Ms Sharadamma was very keen and serious about what she wanted to do. She had explicitly asked my mother-in-law to communicate the urgency as her health was failing and her recovery from a stroke was not very encouraging.
I first met Ms Sharadamma in 1990. I was collecting funds for our Kenchanahalli Hospital and Mr Varadarajan was helping me with this. Every evening, he would take me around to meet with his friends and relatives who would offer support. We had also met his in-laws who were very encouraging and supportive. That was when his mother-in-law asked me to meet her friend Sharadamma. She was indeed a wonderful person to meet and interact with. She was not only encouraging me on, but also started talking about our work to her many students who adored and admired her. Soon her students started visiting Brahmagiri and Kenchanahalli. Ms Sandhya, one of her former students was instrumental in organizing the annual summer camp at Hosahalli. Ms Sharadamma was in regular touch with me from then on and invited me to address her students at the Maharani’s college at Bangalore. She would always remember to send in her donation without fail every year. It was indeed special that she thought about SVYM when it came to donating her house.
She was a teacher-educator all her life and was deeply committed to her students and to the cause of education. Being a spinster, she was of the firm conviction that she had to shape and build the destiny of India through the good work of her many students. She had put her life’s savings into building this house in the early 70s in Bangalore and is now living with her sister Ms Lakshmi Narasu, another donor of ours. I met her last Wednesday, when the formal registration of the gift deed was done and felt sad at her frail and shriveled self. Her memory and clarity of thought stood out as always, though I found her emotionally labile. She was keen on this donation, as she wanted her legacy of supporting the cause of education to carry on. She was keen that death would not come in the way of what she believed in and wanted to make sure that she completed all the processes when was still alive. What a remarkable person and what conviction and clarity of thought! She hardly thought about herself and what she would do, but was only keen that we would accept her gift and put it to use immediately.
SVYM is indeed privileged to have such supporters and one feels humbled thinking about the large-heartedness of such noble people. It is indeed our good fortune that we have the blessings of people of the caliber and intent as Ms Sharadamma. It is people like her that give us courage, moral strength and the will to carry on despite all the challenges that we face. Thank you Ms Sharadamma; we assure you that we will not let you down.