Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

Promises, but no delivery

In two back-to-back speeches, addressing, respectively the National Development Council and the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security, the Prime Minister has articulated a complex vision of India's future, noting, on the one hand, that we are now "on the verge of living up to our full potential" and, on the other, that "all our constraints and challenges are internal." He has recognised, moreover, that often "internal security problems arise out of uneven development" and "at the same time, development cannot take place in the absence of a secure and stable environment."

Of these two challenges -- "two faces of the same coin", the Prime Minister called them -- development is by far more intractable. Internal security crises, while deeply distressing, have manageable solutions, once the necessary crystallisation of will, strategy and resources occurs (though this is still far from the case in virtually every theatre of the present conflict). The development deficit, on the other hand, is rooted in the Byzantine inefficiencies, waste and corruption of entrenched patterns of governance that continue to hold back large segments of the economy and the population; and that the present regime, like a succession of its predecessors, appears to have no capacity to correct it. Indeed, the "sustained growth" that has been secured over the past decade and more has largely been the result of sectors of the economy that have escaped or been freed of Government control, and the entire Government and public sector, with rare exception of a few monopolistic undertakings -- such as the oil and natural gas sector -- continues to be a drain on national resources. Eventually, the core infrastructural sectors, which fall largely into the province of Government undertakings by virtue of their extended gestation, and the relative lack of private investment, on which all other future development now hinges, will become the most significant brakes on the accelerating national economy.

While the Prime Minister's analysis in this regard has been excellent -- few can surpass Indian skills in dissecting a problem into its many and complex constituents -- the prescriptions leave much in doubt. Procedural difficulties and delays in clearance and release of resources for various projects; other inhibitors such as the present policies and practices relating to the rehabilitation of those displaced by various industrial and developmental projects, and hindrances to the timely execution of major irrigation and infrastructure projects are each recognised.

But the 'solution' in most cases is the setting up of a succession of new committees to look into these problems. On virtually each one of these issues, past committees have already pronounced their damning denunciations and given clear sets of recommendations, few of which have ever been implemented. The problem has been the lack of political will, rooted principally in a collusive arrangement through which the corrupt continue to profit from inefficient controls and obstructive practices.

Worse, the managerial capacities of the Government are spread thin across a vast number of often superfluous functions and undertakings and the quality of management has seen precipitates decline, as the best minds and talent seek the greener pastures of the private sector. Under the circumstances, it is necessary that the Government rapidly hive off the numerous commercial operations it is currently wasting itself on, with little profit, and also trim the more unproductive departments within the administrative sector, concentrating purely on core functions to ensure that these are performed efficiently and that benefits start flowing to the people as early as possible.

Defence, security and justice administration, infrastructure development, education, social welfare and human security (in the widest sense) represent the crucial nucleus of governmental functions. The sooner these become the exclusive focus of the state, the more rapid will be our transition from the patchy growth we have experienced over the past years to a more equitable and sustainable "inclusive economic development".

Historically, the most critical deficit in the Indian system was the deficit of financial resources, but this now seems a thing of the past. Indeed, there is little scarcity of finance today for any worthwhile project. It is rather slipshod management and gross incompetence that are coming in the way of the efficient utilisation of project funding. Corruption and 'leakages' are not, as many rants would have it, the only problems. Minimal capabilities of planning and implementation appear to be conspicuous by their absence in most Government departments and undertakings.

The power sector, on which much of our future growth certainly hinges, is a case in point. India is one of the most inefficient producers of power today and entrepreneurial advocates have argued that a unit of electricity can cost up to Rs 10.71 here, as against Rs. 2.05 in China, Rs. 1.96 in France and a 'high' Rs. 4.10 in the UK and Rs. 5.20 in Japan. Despite this exorbitant pricing, power cuts are endemic and most industries run a large proportion of their production on even more expensive (and nationally wasteful) captive power plants.

Against this backdrop, we see national capacities stagnant for decades and only now beginning to augment at a snail's pace, much slower than their planned schedules of implementation. The Government has announced nine Ultra Mega Power Projects, each with a 4,000 mw capacity under the Eleventh Plan, but it is already apparent that these targets will not be met, even as targets for additional capacity creation under the 10th Plan remain unfulfilled. The report of a Parliamentary Committee on Energy noted in April 2007 that the 11th Plan's targeted addition of 69,869 mw was unfeasible, even while the 10th Plan target of just 41,110 mw was yet to be met. The Committee blamed the Ministry of Power for 'slipshod planning'. Worse, it noted that while budgetary allocations had been rising continuously, utilisation had actually declined, falling to just 57 per cent in the year 2005-06.

This, in fact, is the story of all major Government projects today. The bureaucracy has had an augmenting managerial deficit for decades, with standards declining precipitately over the years. All our grandiose plans and projections collapse at the stage of execution and the truth is that the planning process is increasingly becoming a blueprint for the waste and misappropriation of national resources by Government agencies. Many Government organisations and committees have documented this -- the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General does this constantly -- but no correctives are administered. Government departments appear to believe that they are outside the purview of external assessment or accountability, in accordance with reasonable norms of efficiency or competence. A reality check must be administered urgently, if the fragile enterprise of India's development is not to founder because of the inflexibility and ineptitude of the bureaucratic mind.

(Published in The Pioneer, December 22, 2007)






Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.