By PV Rajeev
Here, in this book, we have a retired bureaucrat writing about administrative reforms in India. It is notable that the author has worked as a reader in economics at the LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussourie. The narrative in the book is divided into three different segments—administrative reforms at the central government level, at the state level and in local bodies. For the benefit of readers, the book assembles a great deal of reference material on the status of recommendations of the report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.
The two administrative commissions in the past identified a host of areas needing reforms. While a good many of their recommendations have been acted upon, a large number of recommendations have remained unimplemented. ‘Lack of political will’ has often been held responsible for non-implementation of various recommendations. Experience of other countries also shows that introduction of various reforms depends greatly on the political process as it may require approval of the legislature.
However, the political process is not so smooth. Recent years have seen different political parties wooing the voters by promising freebies such as computers, TVs, bicycles, electric mixers, pressure cookers, etc, during elections. In response to a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court on freebies, the apex court in its judgment observed that although the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be considered as ‘corrupt practice’, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.
Although the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 prohibits convicted criminals from participating in elections, this does not debar those on whom criminal charges are yet to be proved. These elements take shelter behind the judicial principle that “a person is deemed to be innocent until proved guilty”. As a result, criminal elements have entered the election arena. The civil society activists, in this context, have been pleading that there should at least be a prohibition on participating in elections for those people who are facing heinous criminal charges, such as murder, rape or kidnapping.
Electoral reforms are quite integral to administrative reforms and the sooner they are introduced, the better it would be for the country. These reforms are beyond the capacity of the bureaucracy as the reform measures often require the approval of the legislature. In a democracy, therefore, the responsibility to bring about such reforms lies with the political parties.
These are some of the pertinent issues discussed in the book. The book is timely as it has been launched when the country is passing through a process of general elections, which are not only being keenly contested, but whose outcome is far from certain.
(PV Rajeev is former economic adviser to Government of India)