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Legislators and Bureaucrats: Working together for Public Good

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At a recent national interaction between legislators and bureaucrats organized in Mumbai by the Pune based  MIT School of Governance, the issue of how the two groups could collaborate for social good came up. While both working together in the spirit of the Constitution is a utopian dream, there are structural issues which make the relationship tough and difficult in a transitional economy where discretion rules the roost, and the citizens need to approach their elected representatives for getting their ‘work’ done. The ‘work’ is largely undefined – it could range from admissions to prestigious educational institutions to priority in referrals to a hospital, conversion of land from agricultural to nonagricultural or residential to commercial use, or constituency related issues – laying of roads, sewer lines, establishment of bus stations, the introduction of new routes or the closure of liquor vends.

Legislators are right to the extent that as public representatives, they have the responsibility to raise the concerns and issues of their voters. That they must do – for no one knows the facts on the ground better than them. Not only do they tour their constituencies, they also attend innumerable  engagements, weddings, prayer meetings and funerals, besides keeping track of the birthdays and anniversaries of their influential constituents. In fact their ability to get re-elected depends upon the personal connect which they can establish with their voters. By their own admission, when making phone calls to officers, they put their phones on the ‘speaker mode’ to impress their constituents, and they expect a stock answer from the officer at the other end that the ‘work’ would be done.

However, there is a larger question? Is this the primary job of the legislator? Her job in the real sense is to examine the legislation, including the subordinate rules and regulations and see their actual impact. Based on their field experience, they should point out the practical difficulties faced by the citizen. But rather than attempt a systematic revamp of the systems ands processes, they are happy if  their ‘work’ is  done , irrespective of the long term implication. Rather than ask for transfer of  individual doctors or teachers, the question should be: has the Public service commission done recruitment as per schedule? Why are question papers leaked? Can we not have foolproof systems for competitive examinations? Likewise they should ask: why has land consolidation not even been attempted? Why are the revenue, municipal and registration departments not connected when the nation boasts of being an IT superpower.

Rather than disrupt the proceedings of the Assembly on the flimsiest ground, it is time legislators took their primary task more seriously. If there are good systems, it will have a positive impact on the performance of bureaucracy, thereby leading to a win-win situation for all the stakeholders – the general public, the legislators and the permanent bureaucracy.