Telling apart governance from governability
D.S. Cheema
Public Institutions in India: Performance and Design
ed. Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Oxford University Press Pages: 491. Rs. 695.

MANAGEMENT guru Peter Drucker is not alone in projecting India as the economic powerhouse of not so distant future. However, it is well known that India is still underdeveloped because it is under-managed, mis-managed and un-managed. Against this backdrop, the role of public institutions in India’s governance assumes significance, as it is comm9nly believed that India’s rather modest record in development, growth and governance is mainly because of under-utilisation of large number of her public institutions.

Any modern state has to perform its complex tasks of governance through the use of many diverse institutions like parliament, presidency, judiciary, police and civil services in addition to many regulatory bodies and financial institutions. Also, nations are well governed or poorly managed to the extent of the support that is received from these institutions.

The book looks at the performance of public institutions in India as seen by experts in various fields. Beginning with the background of an oft-examined issue of relations of economic performance with that of democratic durability, the authors take the reader through the role, performance and problems of public institutions, wrapping it up with a discussion on the ever rising demands from these institutions.

It is a unique collection of essays that give us an insight into the functioning of public institutions, their autonomy, accountability, information sharing and their impact on governance. This volume records India’s ability as a nation to manage the changes which have come about in the political, social and economic environment and evaluates its capacity to adapt to the future needs.

Each chapter enables the reader to appreciate the role, strengths and limitations of public institutions in making India a strong and independent democracy. The first chapter argues that the crises of governance in India does not imply a crises of governability, which relates with resilience of democratic stability.

The author of the essay, The Indian Parliament, says that parliament, as an institution, is able to ensure executive accountability to only a limited extent. The chapter on The Presidency raises doubts about the capacity of the office of the President to cope with the political burdens placed upon it.

Regarding the Institutions of Internal Accountability, statutory/non-statutory distinction of institutions like CAG, CVC and CBI does not make the institution either more or less effective. There are factors external to the structure of the organisations, like CAG reporting to the Parliament and CBI reporting to the government that do so.

The author of India’s Judiciary analyses the extraordinary creativity of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Indian Constitution. In The Police in India, the author argues that this is in dire straits, disorganised, inefficient, corrupt and partisan.

K. P. Krishnan and T. V. Somanathan, trace the history of the Civil Services in India, its design, changes that have been made and the impact these make on its performance. Many case studies have been given.

The book is of immense interest to any scholarly readership genuinely interested in understanding the India of today and tomorrow. It will find a place in the collection of students of public administration, political science, sociology, bureaucrats, journalists, social activists and information-seeking common man from any profession.