Friday, October 16, 2009

Governing India: The need for alternate scenarios

With 638,767 settlements scattered over 3,287,240 square kilometers governance in India is not quite the same as the Singaporean city-state-nation, the Vatican or Hong Kong. With a handful of people to 10 million plus inhabiting Indian settlements the constitution, lifestyle, life-purpose, needs and experiences are vastly different from anything the Indian Constitution gears up to address.

An altered context
From the nineteen forties, when the Indian constitution was drawn up, India has altered not just its constitution but also its very character. Its population, then a mere 340 million is now four fold larger[i]. Now over 20 percent of the people live in 4,378 urban settlements in contrast to less than 4 percent in fewer than 2,000 urban settlements[ii]. The rate and density at which services need to be delivered has exploded introducing an era of “speed money” as well as “chalta hai”. The water demand, for example, in these settlements has risen 10 fold, the energy demand between 10 and 200 fold.
The traditional joint-family, extended-family and religion-based information networks have given way to television soap-operas and internet. Instead of listening to nature India now listens to Barkha Dutts, Lallu Yadavs and the local sahebs. India has become disconnected from reality and wisdom through intermediaries who are busy in real-time drawing attention from the local realities, declaring the state of the world as well as declaring the rights and the wrongs. The rate and direction of change in India is significantly different.
The world too has changed; it is global, non-local, connected, ultra-mobile, highly material and very much faster. There is little or no feedback on the impact of decisions based on distant events for long periods of time. Increasingly decisions are further and further removed from those who are impacted by them the most. The issues of health, prosperity, education, culture, housing and resources have been tremendously altered. . The notions of access, ownership, democracy, empowerment and liberty have undergone radical transformations.
What do we need to govern?
The issues of access, ownership and use of resources are crucial. Who owns land, water, air, forests, minerals, and energy? How will the access of these to all be decided? What is the just way to use these on a local, regional and national or even international scale? How can fair decisions be made and issues be addressed without injustice, coercion and corruption? 
The issues of identity and security are a very important agenda for a highly populated and mobile nation. Not only is it essential to build trust amongst people but also amongst its organizations – businesses, NGO’s, governments.
The issues of life-style and life-purposes range from social, cultural, educational to economic issues. The rights to live alternate life-styles, pursue different purposes, belong to diverse cultures, have varied social practices and subscribe to alternate business practices and economics has been the very essence of India’s diversity. The “flat-world” is flattening the diverse India and the wonders and wisdoms its people have cherished. 
The issues of justice that recognize justice for the individual, the organization, the region and the nation need to transform from progressing redressal from local to national exclusive systems to more open and inclusive systems of justice.
Obsolete governance
The seventh schedule of the constitution distributes decision-making domains between the union and state government[iii]. This list is a long winding list of specifics, not one based on enduring principles of local, regional and national governance. There is no list for local governance. 
The list does not define enduring domains for governance: ownership, access, settlement design, identity, local, regional, national and international transaction, publicly auditable decisions, open and inclusive principles of justice.
The over-governance of India is a sad reflection of the constitution of its government to procedural ends rather than purposeful means. 
The huge machinery of the various governments of India drive procedures to fulfill procedures. Whether this be the subsidy, urban development, SEZ, river management or the creation of unique ID’s, all government programs cry for being meaningful to the people who they would supposedly service. 
60 years of “independence” are witness to the self-serving machinery that makes the best of ideas die a meaningless death and the brightest minds of India waste as mediocrity watches on. The procedures are a testimony to cover-ups, conflicts-of-interest, lack of expediency and ad-hoc decisions rather than the absence of these.
Do we the people count?
Part V to IX of the Constitution of India describes the structure of the governments of India and its constituents. The constitution creates top-down governance by virtue of vesting controls of the various state governments in the Union Government and the local governments in the State Government. 
With this structuring people have little determination on the decisions in their local worlds.  This usurps the power of “we the people” in the preamble of the constitution to the machinery of government.
The disillusionment in the common man, as experienced in the indifference, lack of participation and even giving up the right to franchise, strongly signal the sleeping discontent of the populace. Does the constitution allow self-rule of even the very neighborhoods in which we live? Has the Nagar-Raj bill just created yet another mechanism for coercing we-the-people?
Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak demanded for swaraj or self-rule during British India. Swaraj is not about taking back rule from another country; it is about each person’s right to decisions in the country. While today we may wish to ask for suraj or good-governance the people are asking if they have swaraj itself. Is it time to ask back the swaraj?