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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 1, December 26, 2009 - Annual Number 2009

Key to Good Governance: a Perceptive, Responsive and Sensitive Administration

Saturday 26 December 2009, by Lakshmidhar Mishra

It may be appropriate to adopt a dialogical method of inquiry into this otherwise complex and mind-boggling arena of governance. The advantages of such an approach are well known. Questioning leads to analysis; analysis leads to rational and scientific thinking and decisions and such decisions constitute the bedrock of sound planning and effective implementation. The questions relevant in the present context are:

I. What is governance?

II. What is good governance?

III. What is bad governance?

IV. What is perceptive, responsive and sensitive


V. Where are we today in terms of observance of good governance?

VI. How does a perceptive, responsive and sensitive administration hold the key to good governance?

I. What is Governance?

• Governance is neither government nor administration, nor even the apparatus of the state.

• Governance is a process or system or both to ensure that certain activities—be they of government, a corporate enterprise, a VO or NGO or any other institution, social, eco-nomic, political or cultural—are carried out, managed, governed, directed and controlled within the parameters of legitimacy, accoun-tability and transparency as would be in the best interests of all stakeholders, internal as well as external.

• The central focus of governance is how the state as the agent of the society enables, facilitates and empowers its people, regardless of differences in caste, class, creed, colour, gender, faith, political ideology and social origin to think, reflect, critically analyse, internalise and take certain decisions which will be in their best interest, and which will enable them to lead a clean, decent, dignified, orderly, peaceful, happy and autonomous existence.

II. What is Good Governance?

• Good governance is neither too little nor too much of governance. Both have undesirable effects.

• While too little governance may lead to indiscipline, anarchy and chaos, too much of governance may stifle imagination, ingenuity, initiative and creativity and may spell disaster for a democracy.

• Good governance should basically aim at providing an environment in society where every person can have an equal opportunity to allow his genius to flourish, to promote a good quality of life based on the recognition of dignity, decency, equality, equity, social justice and freedom of all individuals and simultaneously promote order and stability.

• Good governance has to be universal, that is, it has to be caring, considerate and com-passionate for everyone in the society and not just for a few selected individuals, sections or factions.

• Good governance is to promote and sustain holistic and integrated human development. Human development as defined by the UNDP is a process of enlarging people’s choices. To the extent governance promotes or facilitates this, it is good governance.

• While the community and the people as a whole including citizens, workers, producers and consumers etc. are internal stakeholders, women, children, physically, orthopaedically, visually and mentally challenged, the indige-nous population, the retrenched and displaced, the Dalits, the linguistic, cultural and religious minorities etc. in that broad division are entitled to draw and justify the first and priority attention of both the State and civil society.

• To the extent, governance fulfils a few basic needs of all human beings and in particular those of the deprived and disadvantaged sections of the society as above, it is good governance. Some of these basic needs are:

- access to good quality functional literacy and education which is relevant, joyous, attuned to day-to-day life and worthwhile;

- primary health care, immunisation and nutrition;

- environmental sanitation and hygiene;

- potable drinking water;

- a roof above the head;

- all other basic facilities and amenities and a minimal rest, recreation and leisure.

Some of the questions which bother us in this context are:

• How should we live with dignity, decency, equality and freedom? Should it be self-propelled and self-driven or should it be injected from outside?

• How should we make others live with same or similar dignity, decency, equality and freedom without the slightest interference in the even tenor of their lives?

• What should we aim at—happiness, knowledge, virtue or creation of beautiful objects?

• Is it happiness and good quality of life exclusively for our own or for all?

• Can we promote order and stability by restraining political participation and com-petition in the face of a changed domestic and international environment?

• What are our obligations to the other fellow human beings, animals and plants with whom we share life in this planet and to the generations of human beings, animals and plants who will be sharing life with us in the planet in future in the context of sustainable development?

In dealing with these questions we need to be clear about a few basic concepts and approaches. These are:

• Good life and good governance are indivisible. They have to be for the society as a whole.

• The process of ensuring good governance and good life for a section of the society to the exclusion of others will be non-sustainable and a self-defeating proposition.

• Attempts to pursue good governance as a particularist or sectional agenda are unlikely to succeed.

• We cannot promote order and stability by restraining political participation and com-petition. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed by the state as the agent of society to ensure that unbridled human freedom does not degenerate into licence. The ‘Lakshman rekha’ of that restriction has to be laid down by the state in a balanced and judicious manner.

III. What is Bad Governance?

• If the criminal justice system as a whole fails to respond and effectively deal with blatantly criminal, lawless, rabidly communal and lumpen elements of the society whose behaviour and action borders on bigotry and jingoism, who harbour malice and hatred against others, who indulge in mindless violence, who erect walls of artificial division in society on the basis of class, caste, gender, faith etc., it is bad governance.

• If the said system fails to provide timely relief and succour, assurance and reassurance to those who are victims of communal violence so that you can live and co-exist with others, it is bad governance.

• If the said system fails to bring to book and punish the guilty, the corrupt and the depraved in the most deterrent manner, it is bad governance.

• If the administration fails to promote, protect and preserve inalienable human rights and fails to instil a sense of security and fearlessness, it is bad governance.

Good governance is eventually a question of the method, system, style, policies of the government, any other organisation or institution which governs in a manner that is conducive to a clean, safe, secure, dignified and congenial human existence which is also inclusive. To do so effectively, it has to rest on a value system/a code of ethics, a set of principles like accoun-tability and transparency which are funda-mental to governance and, therefore, non-nego-tiable.

IV. What does Perceptive, Responsive and Sensitive Administration mean?

• A perceptive administration has or develops the perception, that is, having or showing keenness of insight, understanding and intuition about ground level realities surrounding and affecting lives of human beings. A perceptive mind is a razor-sharp mind which is capable of seeing through the various dimensions and implications of an issue, human character and situation and develop a strategy to grapple with them and eventually overcome them to its advantage as also to the larger good.

• A perceptive mind is ever on its toes, critically conscious, aware, agile, alert and does not leave anything to chance. It does not tend to ignore or belittle or minimise any issue but judges all issues entirely by their relevance and worth at a particular point of time.

• A responsive administration is one which responds or reacts to issues, characters and situations and takes decisions only after a thorough and dispassionate screening of all the implications as also the alternative courses of action open. Speed is the essence in the decision-making process although speed does not necessarily mean haste or inadvertence. Tomorrow will be too late and one has to take the bull by its horns at the appropriate moment without the slightest procrastination or vacillation or delay. Any attempt to delay decision-making or allow a critical situation to drift could be suicidal in consequences.

• Listening to the other point of view, however disagreeable, with patience, tolerance of and respect for dissent is yet another attribute of a responsive mind. In a human society or polity where such dissent is pervasive, tole-rance of dissent makes peaceful coexistence of numerous human beings known for differences in origin, faith, life styles, attitude, approach and ideology, a reality. Tolerance does not compromise with fundamentals but signifies respect for and recognition of the essence in the other person’s point of view.

• A sensitive mind responds to numerous stimuli. Some minds are highly sensitive or responsive to certain messages; some others are not so sensitive. In the present context sensitivity refers to a high level of moral and ethical responsiveness to human misery and suffering arising out of numerous macabre tragedies on account of communal riots, insurgency, human trafficking, drug trafficking, natural calamities (flood, cyclone, earthquake, landslide, tsunami) and enor-mous dislocation of home and family life and severance of the sacred ties of the kindred which have held Indian society together for generations etc. This fine attribute of the human mind has been brought out by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in his poem ‘Upahar’ (included in the anthology of poems called ‘Manushi’). To quote from those inimitable lines:

In the innermost recesses of human heart;

The waves of the universe strike us off and on;

Only that heart is sensitive;

Which reverberates the sounds of those waves


It does not know what is day and night;

What is food, sleep and rest.

In more ways than one, a perceptive, responsive and sensitive human being is also coterminous with an empathetic, accountable and transparent being. Empathy is intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another person ‘Do unto others as you would like to do unto yourself’ is the essence of empathy. An empathetic person would climb down from his/her high pedestal of power and authority to identify himself/herself with another person—who may even be the lowliest of the low and who has been a victim of poverty, deprivation, discrimination and disadvantage for which he is not responsible. Such identifi-cation generates new hopes, feelings and aspirations of survival and imparts a new dimension to life.

Late Baba Amte, who is a legend of his time after Bapu, is perhaps the finest and best example of such identification. How many withered and forlorn hearts did he quieten and strengthen; in how many weary souls did he impart an unfailing and immeasurable feeling of peace and bliss!

Meaning and Dimensions of Accountability

• The dictionary meaning of accountability is answerability. It is the obligation of administration to report, to explain or to justify every action for which it has been made responsible or answerable.

• Accountability implies that one has to be responsive to all queries from the public, from the representatives of the people, from the financing agencies (banks) and funding institutions (the FES, DIFID, UNDP, UNICEF and other UN bodies etc., to name only a few) with whom the administration has financial dealings.

• Accountability also implies an objective and implies an objective and dispassionate ground-level assessment of the mandate of the administration, the extent of its honest and faithful implementation and sharing it accurately and objectively with all those who are concerned (the donors, government, community and people at large).

• Evaluation is not witch-hunting but is a tool of correction of deficiencies and infirmities in a programme. Evaluation of the content, process, quality and impact of any pro-gramme becomes meaningful only if (a) all the cards are placed on the table, (b) there is total sharing of information relevant to a programme, and (c) conclusions at the end of the evaluation are reached only on the basis of a thorough scrutiny of all the relevant documents with total candour and honesty.

• Accountability of the administration involves a lot of grit, courage and determination to own moral responsibility for the consequences of one’s action. This, however, does not always happen. What invariably happens is the tendency to stonewall public outcry, if anything has gone wrong, or to evade and circumvent responsibility— statutory or otherwise while simultaneously indulging in a damage control exercise which does not result in any final or tangible solution.

• Very often due to lack of ethics in governance and business enterprises accountability as a· concept and practice remains blurred beyond recognition.

• To illustrate, right from the MNCs, the major global players in the LPG syndrome, to retail street-corner provision stores, there is no dearth of business enterprises which would not mind making a fast buck from the unsuspecting, ill-informed, gullible and reticent customers whose lives they have invaded through a ceaseless stream of colourful, but often deceptive, advertise-ments. Starting with adulteration of food articles of daily consumption, from flour to spices, from soap to shampoo, pirated cheap articles of amusement and electronic goods, the consumer is the eventual victim of deception and fraud in a large number of transactions. The victim, who is trapped, does not easily see any light at the end of the tunnel.

• On December 17, 2004, the Health Minister of India admitted on the floor of Parliament that 70 per cent of the needles used for treating the patients in government hospitals have been found to be contaminated.

• A survey has revealed that 30 per cent of the medical needles used in private hospitals are also contaminated.

• We have a Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and there are outlets of judicial redress available to deal with consumer complaints at the national, State and district levels.

• Regretfully, redress often remains elusive beyond the reach of an average consumer on account of the long-drawn-out and cumber-some procedure which is expensive and which is also a test of one’s patience.

• When tragedy strikes nobody is prepared to own elementary responsibility. Whether it is latherysm (paralysis of the limb) of thousands of women, men and children on account of consumption of kesri dal in a few districts of MP (Satna, Rewa, Sidhi), whether it is instant death of 2500 on account of leakage of 60 tonnes of deadly poisonous gas that is, methyl isocyanate (MIC), through leaking valves and corroded pipes of the Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide plant at Bhopal on the night of December 2-3, 1984 and maiming for whole life of several thousand others, whether it is gunning down of innocent landless agricultural labourers in Barki-Karao village of Bhojpur district on June 22, 1996 and in Shankarbigha in Jehanabad district on January 25, 1999, whether it is 375 miners of Chasnala Colliery and 76 miners in New Kenda Colliery of Dhanbad belt meeting their watery grave in July 1975 and September 1995 respectively, instances could be multiplied where the action of a callous, negligent and insensitive administration could result in such macabre tragedies.

• Regardless of the categories to which workers and non-workers as above might belong, the central message is loud and clear. The message is:

- all workers are human beings first and human beings last;

- human life is the finest and best in creation;

- human life, once damaged, mutilated or destroyed, cannot be restored to its pristine glory;

- this notwithstanding, human life is treated with utter contempt, callousness and insensitivity;

- there is no risk sharing and communication with a view to pre-empting disasters in an industrial plant, mining or any other enterprise;

- local administration does not take minimal pains to pre-empt an accident or acknowledge its contributory negligence which causes the tragedy;

- demand for minimum statutory rights (like demand for minimum wages) is met with severe reprisal. Neither are the culprits brought to book nor are the innocent victims ever truly compensated for loss of precious lives;

- there is a tendency to circumvent and evade statutory responsibility in the matter of enforcement of industrial/mining safety;

- there is total lack of surveillance and vigilance on the part of supervisors/managers in dealing with the occurrence and recurrence of accidents causing human tragedies on account of the same contributory factors being repeated over the years;

- accidents are not reported to the statutory authority; instead, there is a determined and deliberate attempt to exonerate oneself, to disown moral and even statutory responsibility;

- advancements in science and technology have not been backed by a humane and sensitive understanding and handling of the affairs of human beings qua human beings, far less as citizens and workers and even less by a desire to recognise the dignity, beauty, sacrosanctity and worth of their lives.

Transparency—Meaning and Implications

• The dictionary meaning of being transparent is having the property of transmitting rays of light through its substance. In other words, that which is transparent allows objects to be seen clearly through it. Trans-parency, therefore, implies a total openness about a transaction which means putting all the cards on the table. Every transaction must stand public scrutiny and everyone in administration or, for that matter, in any organisation/institution must be accountable, answerable and actionable for any act of omission or commission which comes to the surface as a result of public scrutiny.

• It is important to identify the factors which contribute to the lack of transparency in a particular transaction or performance of task.

1. The Culture of Targetitis

Very often unrealistic targets are fixed or rather imposed by a department of government on different layers of administration. The functionaries of the administration vie with each other in a bid to report an exaggerated achievement of the target. This often results in inaccurate reporting or half-hearted and unprofessional reporting by the fudging of figures.

2. Skewed Distribution of Funds—both National and International

Skewed distribution is reflected by the following:

- inequity in transfer of resources from the Centre to the States and from the States to the districts due to overt and covert political and other extraneous considerations not related to merit or need;

- absence of correlation between the magnitude of the problem (poverty, unemployment, under employment, illiteracy, malnutrition, lack of access of potable water, sanitation etc.), genuine needs of the people in a parti-cular area and quantum of funds released;

- inequity in building up of physical infra-structure;

- inequity in building up of social infrastructure;

- inequity in institutional support (both by way of strengthening old institutions and opening new ones).

All these lead to regional disparities; the latter generate regional discontentment which in turn leads to political polarisation and economic isolation of a few areas which is not good for the health of the national economy.

3. Corruption

Corruption, which is exactly the opposite of transparency, refers to the use of public office and public resources for private gain. It is the totality of corrupt attitude, perception, action and conduct which constitutes corruption or lack of probity, rectitude and transparency in individual and public life. It has the following deleterious effects on development such as:

- it prevents flow of scarce resources to projects dedicated to human development;

- it undermines compliance with environ-mental, employment and wage regulations;

- it distorts the process of rational allocation of resources; it dilutes the effectiveness of democratic institutions;

- it encourages discrimination;

- it debases human values and promotes criminality.

The negative consequences as depicted above notwithstanding, the ethics of governance in both government and corporate enterprises has been seriously compromised and the nation has been rocked by a series of scandals and scams since independence.

• Transparency International is one inter-national Voluntary Organisation which has been taking on corruption in the totality of its dimension at the highest level. Launched in 1991 by Mr Peter Eigin, who was once the World Bank’s Regional Director for East Africa, it has grown with successive operations in over 50 countries. Mr Eigin learnt costly lessons out of years of preventive vigilance and realised the following:

- Fraud and graft are routinely and systematically built into all transactions;

- They flourish in the dark and opaque world of government contracting;

- There could be no accountability without public scrutiny;

- Transparency, accountability and public scrutiny are essentials of good governance.

• Transparency International has brought out a source book and Corruption Perception Index ranking countries by levels of corruption as perceived by business people, country analysts, ordinary citizens as also a bribe-giver and payer index.

• The global dimension of corruption extends to payment of US $ 1 trillion as bribe all over.

V. Where are We Today in terms of
Good Governance?

Given the universal nature and agenda of good governance it will not be wrong to assert that India since 1947 has been denied good governance notwithstanding the following:

- we have a Constitution which stands out as the very sentinel of dignity of the individual and unity of the nation;

- the ethos of the freedom struggle based on suffering, sacrifice, self-abnegation, dedi-cation and commitment to a sacred public cause;

- free press, the watchdog of human freedom;

- a massive bicameral Parliament;

- an impartial judiciary;

- lofty objectives of a series of Five Year Plans (1952-2007);

- collective efforts and contribution made by a number of educationists, scientists, techno-logists, social activists, voluntary action groups to carve out a niche for our nation in the comity of nations.

- To cap this all we have got today at the helm of affairs of the nation, a Prime Minister who is unmatched in terms of personal probity, rectitude, integrity, character and orderliness in public life and commitment to eternal values and principles, which lie at the root of Indian civilisation and culture, and about whom all the 1.027 billion Indian citizens could be justly proud of.

- Governance had limited drawbacks and failures in the early decades essentially because our first generation political leaders (many of whom had made large personal sacrifices during the freedom struggle) were persons of proven integrity and were committed to a set of high values and principles. They also had a holistic national perspective.

• The rot set in during the late 1960s, 1970s and in the subsequent years. Internal feuds and power politics overtook commitment to promote, protect and preserve good gover-nance.

• A new breed of so called ‘Committed’ bureaucracy and coteries of extra-constitu-tional authority emerged during this period, joining the political bandwagon. The Rule of Law was subverted to subserve individual and sectional political ends—fiercely aggressive and self-interest oriented.

• It also witnessed the emergence of regional and sub-regional groupings which led to fractured electoral outcomes.

• The unbridled craze to seize and cling to political power at any cost and to use that power for unabashed acquisition of wealth for several generations witnessed an unholy nexus between corrupt politicians, unethical and unprincipled bureaucrats, industrial/ business houses as also the lumpen elements of civil society. Shri N.N. Vora, former Defence and Home Secretary, Government of India, and currently Governor, Jammu and Kashmir, has in several articles and reports brought out this nexus clearly and forcefully.

Democracy, development and governance cannot be compartmentalised; we have instead to fuse them into an organic whole. Such an organic whole or unity will not be possible without collective self-empowerment. What has, however, been found in the name of good governance today is centralisation of power and authority of all kinds and in every sphere by rendering people voiceless (the 92nd and 93rd Constitutional Amendments leading to democratic decentralisation notwithstanding). What we are seeing on a day-to-day basis is an unabashed concentration of income, wealth, knowledge and power in the name of nation- building, national integration and development planning. Governance has suffered as representatives of the people and government functionaries have discarded the dictum of austerity and societal empathy. Governance has suffered on account of progressive deterioration in the functioning of the wings of government at all levels.

Plight and Predicament of District Adminis-tration

Not long ago, the District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner of the district exercised effective supervisory control over the entire district establishment including the district police establishment. Regretfully it is not so now. In most States, the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police have little or no say in recommending officers to be posted as DM/SP. Similarly, the Secretaries to government and their Heads of Departments have little or no say in the appointment of district and regional heads of their departments. All postings and transfers of the DM, SP, divisional and district level departmental officers are, as a matter of course or routine, decided at the higher echelons of government essentially on the basis of a number of extraneous considerations unrelated to merit or efficiency. In such a situation where the transfer and posting of even patwaris and constables are being decided at levels much higher than the normal or prescribed level, it is difficult to expect that there can be stability and durability of tenure for any district level functionary right from the DM down below (except those who curry political favours). In such a situation, the accountability of the district administration stands severely tarnished and weakened.

We are thus placed in a scenario where we have multiple dilemmas. Population is still rising at an alarming rate in certain States and 26 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. The gains of the high GDP rate of growth of the economy are not percolating uniformly down to all sections of the population. A large number of non-enrolled and out-of-school children, condemned to hard, grueling manual labour at a tender and formative stage of their development, represent a colossal waste of human resources. Not everyone has access to health care (the recent launching of rural health missions notwithstanding); many primary health care centres are non-functional. A large number of children in the 3-6 age-group (numbering approximately 45 million) are either under-nourished or malnourished. In over 10,000 villages people do not have access to clean potable water, while in many villages of Gujarat and Maharashtra people are increasingly becoming victims of florosis due to rise in floride levels in drinking water. Over 50 million people do not have a roof above their head. In most villages and towns, millions of jobless youth are adding to despair which, if not tackled in time, can lead to growing discontentment and even insurgency. The joint family structure is fast on the way to disintegration. The old, when they were young, had held the hands of the youth to make them learn walking. Today the youth, who are aggressive, impetuous, restless and ruthless, do not hesitate to leave the old by the wayside in endless pursuit of their career, money and ambition. The institutions, which could hold the balance between the old and the young, are fast on the wane. Public confidence in the independence, impartiality and objectivity of many of our law dispensing mechanisms has been progressively sapped. Governance on the whole is not perceptive, responsive and sensitive.

VI. How does a Perceptive, Responsive and Sensitive Administration hold the Key to Good Governance?

This is a loaded question. It is loaded because administration is an integral part of government and cannot function in isolation. If the government policies are pro-poor, pro-nature, pro-gender and pro-children the administration will be prompted, encouraged and motivated to ensure that the policy is translated to action. If not, the adminis-tration will be inhibited in doing so despite the best of intentions.

This is precisely what has happened today. We have amidst us a number of young, talented, technically and professionally qualified and highly motivated officers, including members of the All India Services, who are realising that despite their best intentions and desire to do something positive and pro-active for the people they have limited options. Those among them, who chose to adhere to the ‘Rule of Law’ and fair rules of the game, are ridiculed as ‘inept’ and unsuitable for responsible assignments particu-larly in areas where flexibility, adjustability and an unacceptable compromise with the funda-mentals appears to be the essence of survival. It is not long before that such officers who are frequently transferred, publicly ridiculed and recriminated by their political bosses and even made to face cooked up charges of one or the other kind, will shed their idealism, become cynical and join the status quo ante bandwagon.

Is there any way out? Is there any scope for redemption? To answer these rather perplexing questions we need to outline a step-by-step sequential approach which will also be logical and coherent where the basics will be non-negotiable regardless of the consequences. The steps are:

1. Basic realisation


• What you are is the creator’s gift to you.

• What you become is your return gift to the creator.

• The child of the creator has come down to earth not just to administer comfort to himself but to administer relief and succour to others who are in greater need than himself.

• ‘Our lives no longer belong to us; they belong to those who are in need of the same rather desperately.’

• Ethics is not a matter of routine conformity to laws; it is a part of the quest for spiritual elevation and perfection.

2. Constitutional

• Social justice is the very signature tune of our Constitution.

• ‘Our Constitution is not a non-aligned charter; it is not a dry and lifeless document. It is a document with a social purpose and economic mission. It is an instrument heavily weighed in favour of the weaker sections of the society and seeks to bring about a new socio-economic order based on egalitaria-nism and social justice.’

• ‘Social justice is that justice which is not confined to the favoured few but takes within its vast compass millions of people who are leading a life of want and destitution, which penetrates and demolishes inequalities of race, sex, power, position or wealth.’

3. Legal

• Since we are a democracy governed by the Rule of Law, the change to establish an egalitarian social order, which we wish to bring about, can be realised only through the procedure established by law. In other words, the legal process must be fully utilised to bring about a qualitative change in the working and living conditions of the poor. There are seven ways by which law can be used as a weapon of the poor and of good governance. These are:

- law can be used for formation of groups/associations/ collectivities of persons having an identity of interests;

- law can be used as a potent weapon for redressal of genuine grievances of the poor;

- law can be used for securing timely, just and positive relief to the poor;

- law can be used to claim entitlements provided by the terms of the Statute law [Section 15 of Payment of Wages Act, Section 20 of Minimum Wages Act, Section 33 (2) (c) of ID Act] but which are often denied in practice;

- law can be used to secure redress against the misuse of power by those who are responsible for enforcing the law;

- law can be used to articulate concerns of the needy, claims for recognition of new rights and demands;

- law can be used to press demands for substantive and procedural legal reforms.

4. Role of Government

• We have lots of gaps, lots of unfinished tasks and lots of failures.

• The oracles of promises do not often turn out to be the authors of their fulfilment but we lack the courage and humility to acknow-ledge the same.

• We need to acknowledge plainly and speak out with courage and humility, ‘Government cannot do everything. Government does not have easy outreach to all areas (geogra-phical). Government does not have the capability or expertise to enter all fields of economic activity (running a hotel or restaurant, running manufacturing units, running a telephone booth or call centre etc. to name only a few by way of illustration).’

• Let us, therefore, leave out certain areas like social mobilisation for literacy, primary education, primary health care, environ-mental sanitation, elimination of social evils like forced/bonded labour, sexual harassment at workplace, child trafficking, drug traffic-king, dowry, foeticide, female infanticide etc. to good, reliable and committed voluntary organisations who are non-political or apolitical. They have the flexibility of structure and operations. They have workers who are social animation and, therefore, they are best suited to shoulder these responsibilities. They speak the language of the people—simple and intelligible. Instead of expecting the VOs to approach us with supplicating hands we need to go down to them and enlist/solicit their involvement and support in promoting development and improvement of the poor.

5. Time Management

• Human life is just not a collection of minutes, hours, days, months and years. Every man or woman lives for action and the latter— purposive, planned, coordinated and concerted action—is the quintessence of human life. The time at our disposal being short has to be managed and regulated to make life more organised, systematic, methodical and result-oriented.

• Time management is possible, feasible and achievable if the following tips could be followed:

- ceremonies associated with events/activities are thoroughly discouraged; if, absolutely necessary and desirable from the cultural or traditional angle, these should be as simple and austere as possible without any ostentation;

- the practice of reading out long and prepared texts in public meetings/ceremonies should be discouraged; the practice of speaking extempore and making short, simple, direct, to the point and factual statements which are also statements known for the richness of their human appeal should be encouraged from early school days;

- similarly when a power point presentation is being made to transmit a socially relevant message, the practice of reading out from the written text of the presentation should be thoroughly discouraged;

- the text of the power point presentation should be simple, precise and bulletised;

- monitoring should be a tool of obtaining an accurate feedback of what is happening on the ground so that if there are gaps, omissions, deficiencies and infirmities, monitoring as a two-way process of communication should be used to remove them; there should be no reporting in a manner which amounts to orchestration or window-dressing;

- evaluation should be used as a tool of correction and not as a tool of witch-hunting;

- evaluation should be with reference to content, process and impact of certain programmes and activities;

- today’s tasks have to be attended today with professionalism, integrity and dedication and cannot be postponed till tomorrow;

- the tables of bureaucrats should not be cluttered up with files and papers; nor should files be splattered on the floor; its an ugly reflection of ineptitude and bad office management;

- time should be so managed that there is a balanced disposal of paper work, attending meetings and conferences in a productive manner and making a positive contribution (as opposed to ceremonial meetings), meeting the public and patiently listening to them for redressal of public grievances.

6. Lifestyle

• It should be one of openness, simplicity, aus-terity and transparency.

• It should not only be so but should appear to be so. It should be noted that an acquisi-tive lifestyle, conspicuous consumption and vulgar display of wealth are offensive to the sensibility and sensitivity of our mute toiling millions battling daily against the forces of a hostile environment characterised by limited avenues of productive work and spiralling of prices of essential commodities and, therefore, should be avoided at all costs.

7. Self-abnegation versus Self-aggrandisement

Day-to-day human life should be based on the principles of ‘Aparigraha’ of Jain philosophy or self-effacement as opposed to self-aggrandise-ment. In ‘Aparigraha’ even possession of wealth is seen as depriving the poor and the hungry of the means to satisfy their wants. In Jain philosophy, which Bapu had imbibed and assimilated fully, non-violence leads to a principle of non-possession of property.

8. Redressal of Grievances

In the day-to-day life of an individual and worker/employee, occasions arise when he/she is wronged for no fault and these wrongs need to be ventilated before and redressed by the competent authority. In a situation of deprivation and disadvantage, grievances could arise on account of the following:

- dues of entitlement are not at all paid or not paid in time;

- arbitrary and unauthorised deductions take place by way of fine, payment of middlemen’s commission, unilateral and arbitrary adjust-ment of advances paid with wages payable subsequently;

- statutory benefits (provident fund, gratuity, maternity benefit and workmen’s compen-sation etc.), facilities (provision of a safe, clean, well-lighted and well-ventilated and accident-free workplace, safety appliances, crèche, canteen, first-aid, washing and bathing facilities, conservancy facilities) and amenities at the workplace are honoured only in their breach;

- inordinate delay in settlement of legitimate claims under the ID Act, PW Act, MW Act, PB Act, MB Act, WC Act, EPF and MP Act, ESI Act etc.

- inordinate delay in payment of compensation to the persons whose land is acquired for a public purpose under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894;

- inordinate delay in rehabilitation of the retrenched and displaced workmen/population.

Timely redressal of grievances has the following positive dividends:

- it brings cheer to the cheerless faces of the deprived and disadvantaged;

- it brings positive financial relief particularly to widows who have been waiting for several years to get their legitimate claims (PF, family pension etc.);

- it restores the trust and confidence of the deprived in the efficacy of administration; the gap between the two is bridged;

- it establishes a new and better interface between the administration and people and reinforces the ethos and’ culture of selfless service.

A case study on the strength of a few personal experiential perceptions on the subject of ventilation and redressal of grievances is placed at Annexure-I.

The case study would reinforce the hope, faith and conviction of people in the efficacy of the administration. It would go to show that despite a number of dark clouds on the horizon, despite pervasive permissiveness and licentiousness all round, all is not lost and that even now it is not too late to make the administration truly perceptive, empathetic, responsive and sensitive as also meaningful to the lives of millions of people in the country.


Grievance Ventilation and Redressal—A Case Study

I was appointed as the Central PF Commissioner in early 1979 by the Ministry of Labour, Government of India. I joined my assignment on June 22, 1979. The Employees Provident Fund is one of the largest and oldest Provident Fund organisations in the whole world. It has over 100 regional and sub-regional offices, 180 scheduled industries, about 400,000 covered establishments, over 40 million subscriber members, over 20,000 officers and staff members and Rs 150,000 crores of as the total accretion to the corpus of the Fund (one of the largest next only that of the LIC of India). At the time of my joining as the Chief Executive of such a large organisation I found that three major problems have to be tackled on priority. One was the manual handling of accounts (which could lead to errors) which needed replacement by computeri-sation. Second: absence of well-codified manuals of instructions and guidelines which could guide the operations (accounts, enforcement, investment etc.) of the organisation. And third: absence of an institutionalised framework for ventilation and redressal of grie-vances of the subscriber members and staff members.

I proceeded to deal with these three problems in right earnest in a planned, coordinated and concerted manner. For the second, I constituted a team of three officers from South India, known for their professionalism and integrity—Shri Karunakaran, Shri Thiruvengadethan and Shri Kumraswamy and entrusted them with the responsibility of drafting Manuals on the following:

• Accounts Manual (one each for provident fund, employees’ family pension fund and employees deposit linked insurance fund),

• Enforcement Manual (one each for exempted and unexempted establishments),

• Banker’s Manual (all the PF money gets deposited with SBI),

• Investment Manual (the pattern of investment is laid down by the government and all investment operations are carried out within that),

• Office Practices and Procedure Manual.

These Manuals were completed in record time and are in use till date. Initiative for preparation of a new Manual or Employees Pension Scheme (introduced on November 16, 1995) was taken by me when I joined as the Union Labour Secretary in early 1996 by the same team of officers. The same has since been completed and is in use today.

The first problem had to be tackled through an exercise of (a) decentralisation and (b) massive computerisation of all regional and subregional offices backed by a couple of human resource development initiatives such as the setting up of a Central Institute of Training at Janakpuri, Delhi (NATRESS) and six zonal Institutes of Training. Decentralisation had two primary objectives. It makes EPFO more accessible to subscriber members in terms of maintenance and settlement of PF accounts and redressal of grievances. It reduces the workload and makes it manageable.

Decentralisation also implied deconcentration of power and to an extent minimises corruption. This process, which involved opening of over 100 sub-regional offices, was a major step forward in carrying PF to the doorsteps of subscriber members and was generally welcomed. Similarly, the initiative for providing orientation and sensitisation through training yielded good results and was acknowledged by the government, CBT, EPF, central trade unions and others as a pioneering step.

Massive computerisation of all regional and sub-regional offices was preceded by a thorough systems study but by the time the same was completed and the hardware was to be installed there was resistance from the trade unions of staff members within the organisation on the mistaken or ill-perceived notion that this would result in negative rate of growth of the number of people to be recruited in future. Since the strength of trade unions lies in the number of their members, the resistance was under-standable. Through a series of workshops it was found possible to remove the ill-perceived notions of the trade unions and computerisation of all offices was eventually a fait accompli in a short period of time. This has yielded tremendous results by way of ensuring accuracy and transparency of all transactions.

The most notable initiative was in the field of providing an institutionalised framework for ventilation and redressal of subscriber members and staff members (which was conspicuous by its absence on the date of my joining). Grievances of subscriber members arise mainly in the following areas:

• non-issue of annual statement of accounts or delayed issue;

• non-settlement of provident fund, employees’ family pension fund and employees’ deposit linked insurance fund or delayed settlement (the delay may be of the order of 15 to 20 years);

• non-sanction of non-refundable PF advances against specific purpose(s);

• non-transfer of PF accounts in the event of transfer of a member of PF from one establishment to another;

• non-sanction or delayed sanction of staff corresponding to the number of accounts and according to the norm prescribed;

• delay in confirmation and continuance of adhoc arrangements for years without reason;

• transfer from one region/sub-region to another which involves movement of family and causes hardship.

These grievances from both the sections are human issues and had to be viewed from a humane angle. The following institutionalised arrangement was set in motion to deal with both the areas of grievances as under:

• At the central office a day (Friday) was earmarked to enable me to listen to grievances from both in an orderly fashion.

• This was to be a completely meetingless day and no work was to be transacted by the CPFC other than listening to grievances.

• Wide publicity was given in all national and regional dailies to the effect that the CPFC would be personally listening to the grievances of subscriber members and staff members.

• Every grievance was to be recorded first manually and later transferred to the computer.

• It was to be marked on the same day to the concerned section in the Central Office. That section will send it to the concerned regional/sub-regional office, as the case may be for the speediest redressal.

• A deadline was given for redressal of each grievance.

• Deputy CPFC, headquarters (Shri S.P. Mehrotra, who has since retired) was given the responsibility to monitor, coordinate and ensure achievement of the desired results of the entire operation at his level; he was to report to the CPFC on the basis of action taken and results achieved every day.

• Concerned officers, both at headquarters and in regional/sub regional offices, were ticked off for any laxity or inaction as was estab-lished on investigation into a complaint.

• Similarly, a day was earmarked by every regional and sub-regional office when grievances of subscriber members and staff members could be heard by the head of that office and action initiated with a view to redressing the grievance.

• There was continuous review of the entire process undertaken at the central, regional and sub-regional office levels by the CPFC himself with a view to ensuring that (a) the deadlines were met, (b) grievances were redressed to the best extent possible, and (c) in the review of the work, conduct and performance of every officer, positive disposal of grievances was an important unit of measurement of good performance.

I left the EPFO on October 15, 1981 (after being there for about two-and-a-half years). By then lakhs of grievances had been registered and redressed (it is not possible to count the exact number of grievances handled during these two-and-a-half years). The entire process had produced a salutary effect and had brought a world of relief to the subscriber members many of whom had been patiently waiting for years to get their claims settled (I had received trunk loads of letters of gratitude from a large number of subscriber members to the effect that without the institutionalised arrangement their grievance would have never seen the light of the day). The process and its meticulous monitoring and coordination brought cheers to so many widows, orphans and destitutes who were, in the words of Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore, ‘weary and worn, withered and forlorn’.

The process had a few undesirable conse-quences as well. A grievance arises on account of inaction or delayed action on the part of a functionary to whom certain tasks have been assigned. In case of the EPFO, these functionaries are the staff members. Very often non-issue of annual statement of accounts, non-transfer of PF accumulation in the event of transfer of a member from one establishment to another, non-settlement of claims for final withdrawal of PF are on account of laxity and inaction or motivated delay on their part though there may be other reasons as well. It so happens that ventilation of the grievance of a subscriber member would mean disciplinary action against a staff member if on preliminary investigation it is found that the delay in settlement was intentional or motivated and not just procedural.

In the ultimate analysis it should be noted that PF is a trust and all concerned, that is, right from the Chairman, CBT, EPF down below to the level of an LDC or UDC all are custodians of that trust. Any irresponsible action (which includes motivated or intentional delay in processing a rightful claim) would amount to forfeiture of that trust and would be condemnable. All officers and staff members of the EPFO should treat themselves as custodians of a sacred trust reposed in them by millions of subscriber members and should rise to uphold that trust. Anything to the contrary would tantamount to a breach of that trust, breach of discipline and breach of the contract under which they have been appointed. While their own genuine grievances deserve sympathetic consideration and redressal they have no moral and ethical right to drive others to desperation by their irresponsible action and conduct. This is the only way by which a scientific correlation between redressal of grievances and acts of indiscipline could be established.

A former Union Labour Secretary and an erstwhile Senior Advisor to the International Labour Organisation, Dr Lakshmidhar Mishra is an Honorary Professor at the IMI, New Delhi and a Special Rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

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