Sunday, April 18, 2004

The underbelly of development
B. B. Goel

Good Governance in India
by C. P. Barthwal.
Deep and Deep, Delhi. Pages 302. Rs 750.

EVER since the 1990s, Third World scholars have been fascinated and lured by western terminology viz. restructuring, reinventing, reorienting, reengineering etc. On the same analogy, governance or good governance, an idea floated and touted by the World Bank and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) as a condition for granting technical assistance to developing societies, has become a buzzword. It encompasses an efficient, effective and transparent administration in a democratic framework, which is citizen friendly, citizen caring and responsive to address the issues of public interest.

Good Governance entails a host of salient features—participatory, accountable, transparent, consensus-oriented, responsive, equitable and inclusive and based on the rule of law. India has the largest number of the illiterate and the poor and she has not only the dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but also ranks almost at the bottom in the Human Development Index. It has shaken the credibility of the democratic regime. India Shining is still a distant dream.

The book is an outcome of the compilation of papers mostly by research scholars and teachers of public administration/political science along with some of the resource persons who participated in a refresher course sponsored by the University Grants Commission (UGC). The 39 chapters have been grouped into six parts.

There is near unanimity that good governance has been proclaimed and practised by the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata (Ram Rajya and the righteous path called Dharma) as well as by Kautilya and Ashoka The Great. The idea of "good" has also been expounded by all political theorists, whether Greek, Roman, Contractualist or Utilitarian.

If the Mughal concept of empire was based on the trust of the people and the British "governed, but did not rule," the Gandhian ideal of Gram Swarajya and the government’s thrust for an effective and responsive administration (since 1996) propounds the traits of good governance. It can be summed up as universal welfare and happiness of all (Sarvajana hitaih, Sarvajana sukaiah). Undoubtedly, good governance is quite difficult to achieve in totality.

Various contributors have also endeavoured to examine the entire gamut of governance from the parameters of bureaucracy, police, Army, human rights, terrorism, corruption, democracy, public participation, decentralisation, the NGOs etc, but without undertaking region or subject specific case studies, which could have contributed significantly to the nascent literature on good governance in the Indian context.

However, discussion in relation to international ramifications has been nicely dealt with. One of the foremost and sacred duties of an editor is to give a round up of the ideas of the contributors to hold the reader till the end. The editor has taken all the credit of having brought out the volume by just contributing only one article, the introduction, and that too without synchronising and explaining the viewpoints of individual contributors.

It is customary to annex a select bibliography at the end for the benefit of researchers, an aspect that the editor has ignored. Many articles have no references or footnotes as a token of scholarship in research. Duplication and overlapping is rampant, providing little consistency, continuity and inclination to the voluminous work. The book, being highly priced, is bound to remain on the shelf. It also proves that publications by Indian industry outnumber the readers.