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Hollow Authority

A TV news channel has reported in Doon that, even as ‘strict protocols’ have been enforced for people coming into the state regarding corona tests, etc., these are being applied only to those driving in. Otherwise, common folk are just walking across the border unhindered. And, herein, lies the tale on how the bureaucracy functions. The adherence to rules is only for the form; otherwise those trusted with their enforcement seem incapable of applying their own mind. It is no wonder then that the most elaborate plans fail on the ground. Should it be a surprise that infection rates are rising exponentially in Uttarakhand? The problem is not just in relation to Covid-19 but all acts of governance.
It will be said that the government agencies are overburdened, understaffed, exhausted with the already long battle against the pandemic. This is true enough but there are also certain fundamental issues involved. The bureaucracy functions along greatly outdated models rooted in the British Raj; the principles of modern day management have not been put in place. Everybody agrees there is a problem but so strong is the vested interest, internally, in keeping this system going that all efforts to modernise are thwarted in one way or another. This is one of the principle factors preventing India from achieving its enormous potential.
At the root of it is, of course, the corruption that generates revenues for every player in the game. And it is not just the money – there are other seductive pleasures of exercising bureaucratic powers such as status, sense of self-importance, the ability to influence decisions through discretionary exercise of authority, etc. In an age when decentralisation and technology upgradation are the keys to effective functioning, the opposite continues to be done with power being exercised by just the few – particularly those who are beyond public accountability.
How is the system to be transformed from the present top-down model? One way is to continue empowering the third tier of democracy – the panchayats and municipalities. Unfortunately, despite legislation and other moves to this effect, the very same bureaucracy has managed to sabotage it by making political authority subservient in key decision making. They just keep churning out ever more rules and regulations, ensuring thereby that the obtaining of clearances hobbles anybody with an independent approach. The commissions, boards and authorities keep coming up, with the sole purpose seeming to be creation of jobs for bureaucrats – many of them post-retirement. They have even become the CEOs of religion, the latest being the Devasthanam Board. The CMs will come and go, but the bureaucrats will remain almost forever. Unless common sense prevails, this process will continue to the detriment of overall governance.