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Making India Work [contd.]

Read Part I (book review) here.

We often criticize our bureaucracy of being slow and stubborn - frankly after working with them I realize that they are not so bad. These institutions are manned by more people who share the 'common man' space than those who form bourgeois - hence even they feel the need to decentralize governance and carry out reforms. But the number of stakeholders in the governance system in India is so humongous that matching everyone's expectations and changing the system monolithically is not an option.

And its not just bureaucratic mechanization which make the system unmalleable to change, but also the complexities and uncertainties of real systems. As an example, take the case of an earlier experiment to create planned cities - Chandigarh. The experiment failed for reasons partly known partly unknown and on the contrary Gurgaon - an unplanned city flourished but still lacks some basic amenities like public transport [Read full case study here].

Another aspect of change management is the sheer cost of change at the scale of a country like India. As this article suggests - a rights-based approach which argues for a minimum threshold level of food, clothing, shelter, health, education, employment, gender equality and so on - is the wrong approach for India. We simply lack the volume of resources needed to fund these.

Nanda Bissel's proposed models are also rights based - however he also proposes valuation of natural assets, and a subsequent redistribution of wealth from elites to poor, urban to rural etc etc. He believes that India has the inherent wealth to provide for basic rights of all its citizen - only that they are concentrated with a top few. He even gives examples by comparing shareholding patterns of top companies in India and the US (Page 60).

I believe the stumbling block though is neither funds nor mechanisms for redistribution of wealth - while we do need to create institutions to take care of these dynamics like setting standards, valuation of natural assets or exchange of these assets, but these mechanisms can be developed going forward. The key to any reform in India is decentralization of power.

We can speak of it passionately or logically - but decentralization is the need for India. Whether it is to empower local communities to take decisions beneficial to local population (ex. land acquisitions / redistribution), or to simplify the process of execution or simply to ensure that local authorities like police force or municipalities can be made accountable to the people whom they serve.

That apart, the system just needs a gradual shifts - mind you gradual does not mean slow - but may be bottom-up, step by step. One can drive a lot of different change engines across the board - but not engage all gears at once all the way to top. And spinning of such multiple engines is possible only when we decentralize.

To do so, we need new states to be created which would create a government nearer to the local population and in turn lead to empowerment of local governments. I earnestly hope Telangana movement succeeds for the larger cause of decentralization and fuels other movements such as Vidarbha and many others.

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