Playing yesterday’s game

By Indrani Bagchi – The South China Sea is several seas away from us. The NSG membership will happen some time after we (the people and the government) have stopped hyperventilating about it.

Instead, look closer home. India’s immediate neighborhood remains on its treadmill: furiously running through myriad crises without actually getting anywhere.

Can India get beyond firefighting as a foreign policy goal in its backyard?

The real neighborhood challenge comes from an ever deepening China-Pakistan relationship. Andrew Small, author of a deep study of the China-Pakistan axis, says he has noticed a much greater political consonance between these two countries in recent years. India should abandon the “Indian rate of progress” as it builds up Chabahar in Iran, which would be the best counter to Gwadar.

It is a fact that two years on, India under the Modi government is still floundering in the same Pak-China swamp. The “neighborhood first” policy promised a new approach. Instead, we continue to play yesterday’s game. more>


Stay out of politics, Supreme Court tells Governors

The Times of India – The Supreme Court has downsized governors’ discretionary powers and told them: They are to shut their eyes and ears to political imbroglios, even horse-trading, as long as the council of ministers headed by the CM enjoys a majority .

Writing a note highly critical on Arunachal governor JP Rajkhowa’s role in the state’s political instability, a constitution bench of Justices J S Khehar, Dipak Misra, Madan B Lokur, P C Ghose and N V Ramana unanimously said: “Activities within a party, confirming turbulence, or unrest within its ranks, are beyond the governor’s concern. more>


  • Understanding the Uttarakhand crisis,
  • Arunachal Pradesh verdict: SC lays down governor’s limits,
  • Top 10 observations of Supreme Court on Arunachal Governor JP Rajkhowa,
  • Arunachal Pradesh row: What message does the Supreme Court give to the political class? Sanjay Hegde,
  • How the drama regarding government formation in Arunachal Pradesh unfolded, Shantanu Nandan Sharma,
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    Upholding free speech

    Times of India – The Madras high court struck a blow for imperilled freedom of speech when it defended a book of beleaguered Tamil author Perumal Murugan, who stopped writing following intimidation by caste organizations.

    Murugan’s acclaimed Tamil novel Madhorubagan caught the attention of some caste-based groups a few years after its publication. Subsequently, the author was hounded as “sentiments” were offended.

    The upshot was that he not only announced that he would stop writing but also asked his publishers to withdraw all his work. It is this situation that the court judgment reversed by taking a stand in favor of democratic rights.

    The judgment does well in pointing out the fallacy in a line of reasoning that has become all too common in India. An identity-based group claims its sentiments have been hurt and threatens violence; the state then steps in and in the interests of “peace” bans the work of art or advises its author to withdraw it. In doing so, however, the state legitimizes violence and fails in its first duty: to assure the security of its citizens. more>


    Caged still?

    The Times of India – Even after the 2013 Supreme Court observation that CBI was like a caged parrot, little seems to have changed in the workings of the investigating agency.

    Consider that in Madhya Pradesh‘s [2, 3] Vyapam scam – which has seen at least 48 people die, many in mysterious circumstances – the agency is yet to catch the big cats. In the 2G telecom scandal, there hasn’t been a single conviction till date.

    CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) doesn’t inspire confidence either on professional competence or political independence. To avoid accusations such as AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) is making, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government should work out ways to make CBI truly independent and accountable only to Parliament. more>


    Digital India is dying

    Times of India – It looks as though India’s ability to build a local digital economy may be failing.

    Whilst many investors were excited at Digital India’s arrival, many are now walking away, viewing India simply as a digital colony of global digital businesses like Amazon and Alibaba. This is leaving India’s largest digital success stories in precarious positions. The likely outcome is that they will not be able to compete with global balance sheets.

    Lessons can be drawn by comparing Europe and China today.

    Europe is effectively an extension of America’s digital economy, whereas China nurtured the development of local digital businesses by giving them time to build capabilities before global companies could enter.

    India is the top priority for global internet companies to extend their businesses here – but government must urgently evaluate whether this is really in the nation’s interests. more>


    Celebrating inefficiency

    The Times of India feature, “Cutting the Gordian Knot” (June 10, 2016) shines light on the obsolete Kerala government organizational structure, and the resulting inefficiencies.

    Kerala government secretariat is the mother-ship for red-tape in Kerala. The secretariat hierarchy consists of 9 levels:

    1. Chief minister & Council of Ministers
    2. Chief Secretary
    3. 46 Secretaries
    4. 108 Additional Secretaries
    5. 82 Joint Secretaries
    6. 94 Deputy Secretaries
    7. 175 Under Secretaries
    8. 500 Section Officers
    9. 1800 Section Assistants

    Below this hierarchy are the field departments. The secretariat on average handles 500,000 files a year. Last year alone there were 150,000 files pending action.

    Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan [2] has a “ambitious plan to overhaul the functioning of the secretariat to improve efficiency. ” Reform suggestions include “pruning secretariat staff and formation of a decentralized directorate, like the one followed by the Center.” However, the opposition to the plan was immediate. “Bringing in a directorate system bypassing the secretariat will affect detailed scrutiny of a proposal from a field department. The pros and cons of such a proposal can be understood only at the secretariat level of expertise,” said M S Bijukuttan, general secretary of the pro-CPM Kerala Secretariat Employees Association (KSEA).” Absolute nonsense!

    What expertise does the secretariat have, other than knowledge of bureaucratic rules, regulations and ready-made objections list? And the “detailed scrutiny” is pseudonym for causing delays, creating opportunities for corruption, favoritism and promoting “obstructionism culture.”

    Decentralization of functions, responsibilities and authority is the way to improve efficiency. The proper role for the secretariat is oversight, supervision and audit of the state bureaucracy. The secretariat should get out of the way of field offices from taking action. The secretariat may, however, provide support functions for actions field offices are taking, or contemplating taking.

    New management practices are opposite of the Kerala government structure. Innovative organizations (in both government and business) are getting rid of permanent office workspaces [2].

    For genuine reform, the Chief Minister should start by changing the 19th century mind-set focused on concentrating authority prevalent in Kerala government institutions and agencies. The second principle to adopt is the concept of “flat organizations” [2].

    The report, “In race with snails, files would lose,” details causes for delays, inaction and reign of bureaucracy in Kerala government: “The processing system in the secretariat referred to by chief minister Pinarayi vijayan as the core reason for administrative delay literally resembles the game of snake and ladder.”

    Another report, “Secretariat could become paperless in six months,” illustrates the publicity seeking goal setting common in the Kerala government: “All the 42 departments in state secretariat are likely to switch over operations to e-office platform in another six months. The other departments are supposed to send only scanned copies of the files.”

    “Paperless office” is a dated concept that has lost its relevance with popularity of internet. Yet, Kerala government keeps using it as some sort of trophy to be won, illustrating the lack of objective measures.

    Here are examples of data that could objectively measure efficiency of Kerala government:

      • What are the minimum, median, average and longest time taken for processing files?
      • The data need to be collected for each individual staff and at the department level.

    Making claims about “paperless office,” gives an impression of achieving something without actually making real progress.

    The technology platform used, e-office from National Informatics Centre (NIC) is outdated, and the claims about “paperless office” are questionable. E-office provides paper document scanning, storage, management and workflow support functions. It seems the interface is based on printing a paper document at the sending department and scanning it at the receiving department. Better way is to use internet and “Master data management.” If e-office uses paper scanning interfaces, then describing it as a “paperless office” platform is committing fraud.

    The approach to take is focus on achieving objective goals for administrative efficiency with automation with or without paper. It is the results that matter, not the methods.

    B Ashok, a senior civil servant and secretary Ayush department, points out, the real challenge with the reform plan: It is about personnel redundancy. He says, in the article (“Institutional approach required”), “If a proper work study is done,. a third of all the posts created in the Secretariat and many departments might prove to be far in excess of requirements with automation. If the promise of organizing a meritocratic Kerala Civil Service like the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) is pursued, those aspiring for promotional avenues in the participating departments would be the first to protest.”

    Hence an administrative reform in isolation is unlikely to succeed. Kerala has exhausted all gimmicks and piece-meal fixes. Only viable option remaining is complete transformation of Kerala economy, government, education and institutions.

    To sum up, the proposed administrative reforms by the Chief Minister is unlikely to succeed. Instead, what could work is a comprehensive effort to transform Kerala:

    a) Economy

    b) Government

    c) Education

    d) Industry

    e) culture

    Past reforms in Kerala may have been implemented focusing on single area for change, sequentially. But the world has become too complex, interdependent and competitive for isolated reforms to be effective any longer.


    The chamcha factor

    Pahlaj Nihalani’s declaration that he’s a ‘Modi chamcha’ reflects growing sycophancy across parties
    By Sagarika Ghose – Parties are afraid of open and honest ideological debates because they believe that any new idea could lead to loss of vote banks.

    Governments pay lip service to making India better for entrepreneurs, yet chamchagiri is killing the space for political entrepreneurs.

    Politicians who have new marketable ideas can’t hope to be heard, they have to set up their own parties. Today, personal loyalty has become a substitute for political ideology.

    Since there is no space for debate and dialogue, anyone who questions is seen as a rebel, be it Yogendra Yadav in Aam Aadmi Party or Biswa Sarma in Congress or Shatrughan Sinha and Kirti Azad in BJP.

    Discordant voices are stilled in the name of party discipline. more>