Improve government efficiency by decentralizing authority

Currently, Kerala government concentrates authority and distributes responsibility, creating bottlenecks, inefficiency and lack of responsiveness.

The Times of India report, “Periyar [2] pollution: Notice to paper mill” (May 5, 2016) [2, 3, 4] offers an illustration of this problem. The reports details inaction and delays in dealing with pollution in Kerala.

The report says, “Covering a distance of 1.5km from Pathalam [2] bund to Pathalam bridge, the river had turned black. It’s a cause of major concern as this water is supplied by KWA (Kerala Water Authority) to people. The conventional purification done by the company is not sufficient to remove chemical pollutants,” said Martin Devassykutty, and environmentalist.

“Despite repeated complaints, the district administration, police, local self-government authorities and the KSPCB (Kerala State Pollution Control Board) have failed to prevent this. It;s an open secret,” adds the report.

Inaction about river pollution on the part of the authorities is obvious. Part of the reason could be lack of clearly defined roles and assigned responsibilities for the various agencies involved. Why is the police involved? There is a tendency in Kerala to involve police in all sorts of things. Unless there is a law and order issue, it should not be the responsibility of the police. Otherwise, the effectiveness of the police in its core mission, law and order, suffers.

“Yes, Kochi drinks this water. If chemical effluents are discharged into the river, it calls for intervention by the highest authorities in the state. The KWA follows a conventional process of purifying water before distributing it to residents,” said Babu Thomas superintending engineer, KWA.

It seems there is a diffusion of responsibilities across too many government agencies. But decisions are to be made at the “highest authorities in the state.” This arrangement promotes inefficiency, delays, and opportunities to “pass-the-buck.” If the goal is operational efficiency and effectiveness, then authority to take actions proportional to the responsibilities also need to be delegated to the agency with the mission. Kerala government roles and responsibilities seems to be designed to cause bureaucratic delays, inaction and increase control and power vested with the “highest authorities in the state” (“KWA is ‘helpless”).

KWA is the water distribution agency for Kerala. Therefore, all responsibilities and authority related to providing clean water must be vested with the KWA. KWA should have the ability for real-time monitoring of water quality, take all necessary actions against polluters, including taking immediate actions in hazardous situations. The proper role for the “highest authorities in the state” is oversight of the KWA, and not getting involved in the operational actions necessary for the KWA to fulfill its mission.

Kerala government needs to be reorganized. Decentralize and distribute authority proportional to responsibilities to increase efficiency and effectiveness. And implement oversight capabilities for accountability.

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