More than four years after it took office, the Narendra Modi government has yet to finalise the appointment of a Lokpal. Vacancies among Central Information Commissioners (CICs) are rising. Several high courts and lower courts remain short of judges. All this adds up to a governance deficit which can be even more damaging than the fiscal deficit. The Modi government inherited a broken economy, packed with cronyism, nepotism and corruption. Modi said recently that on taking office had he revealed the full extent of the parlous state of the economy, global investors would have fled.
That line of reasoning is now wearing thin.
The quality of governance rests on three key pillars: Parliament, judiciary and law enforcement. Sweeping parliamentary reforms are overdue. In India’s first Lok Sabha election in 1952, 489 Lok Sabha MPs represented a population of 361 million. On average, each Lok Sabha MP represented 7.38 lakh citizens.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, 545 MPs will represent a population of over 1.30 billion. On average, therefore, each MP will represent 23.85 lakh citizens — three times as many citizens as in 1952.
The chamber that matters: Each MP will represent 23.85 lakh citizens
What India needs is an expanded Lok Sabha with smaller, delimited constituencies — and most radically of all, a severely truncated Rajya Sabha.
The Lok Sabha is the chamber that matters. The Rajya Sabha’s raison d’etre is to represent the voice of Indian federalism through the states. That is no longer a strong argument. It was relevant in the first few decades of Independence when regional parties were few and weak. Now virtually every state has a regional party represented in the Lok Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha is a sinecure for retired politicians, a backdoor entry for those who can’t win elections, and a grace-and-favour avenue to reward loyalists.
If we can’t scrap the Rajya Sabha altogether, reduce it to 100 MPs, change the rule that the Chairman can’t marshal out disruptive MPs (which the Lok Sabha Speaker can, but doesn’t) and disallow it from holding up legislation (currently it is barred only from blocking money bills).
The House of Lords in Britain has undergone reforms that have reduced its importance. It can no longer hold up legislation adopted by the House of Commons beyond a specified period.
A fish rots from the head down.
The Rajya Sabha is a sinecure for retired politicians
If Parliament remains unreformed, the entire body politic, including civil society, will be infected.
The second pillar on which good governance rests is the judiciary. In India, the judiciary suffers from two fatal flaws. First, India is one of the few democracies where judges in the Supreme Court pick themselves. The Collegium functions like a brotherhood. It may quarrel among itself, publicly and privately, but it holds fast to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1993 to arrogate to itself the right to pick those who will occupy its benches.
In the United States, there is a complex process to appoint life-long judges in the Supreme Court who are first nominated by the President and then go through rigorous grilling in the Senate. The recent rejection by the government of dozens of advocates applying to be judges after being recommended by the Supreme Court highlights the weakness in the Indian system. Several applicants were the sons, daughters, nephews or brothers-in-law of sitting judges, revealing the deep rot of nepotism in the judiciary.
India is one of the few democracies where judges in the Supreme Court pick themselves
The second fatal infirmity in the Indian judiciary is the practice of endless adjournments and appeals.
In the Vijay Mallya case, currently being tried in the British High Court, his right to appeal the High Court’s verdict was firmly refused.
In India, appeal is automatic. While an appellate jurisdiction is necessary, it should not be automatic, allowing litigants to prolong cases indefinitely.
The third vital piece in the jigsaw of good governance is law enforcement.
Most of the problems that have bedevilled India over decades have to do with bad policing. The Modi government, like all previous central governments, argues that policing is a state subject. However, even in the 20 states it governs, the NDA government has ignored the Supreme Court’s 12-year-old directive on police reforms. In truth, no government has the stomach for police reforms.
The current system where law enforcement is corrupt, incompetent and nepotic suits the ruling dispensation. But it exacts a heavy toll on the country. Local MLAs bully or co-opt police officers. The result: tardy investigations and low conviction rates. By controlling transfers and promotions, politicians subvert law enforcement.
When the three pillars of governance — Parliament, the judiciary and law enforcement — are rusted, democracy is diminished. The Modi government inherited this corroded infrastructure of governance but has not done enough to remedy it.
With four key state Assembly elections looming, the government’s attention will shift from policymaking to campaigning. The Modi government came to power in May 2014 on the crest of two waves — anti-Congress and pro-Modi. It can’t bank fully on either in 2019. If it had undertaken bold financial reforms on personal and corporation tax, the economy would have ridden a consumption boom, fuelling faster growth. Good governance itself adds percentage points to economic growth and builds a more just society. That now must await a new government next year. Modi’s biggest advantage is the indifferent quality of leadership in the Opposition. That will likely win him a second term. But if good governance is not fixed, that will amount to five more years of missed opportunity.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)