Governance in India: bridging the islands

Governance in India: bridging the islands

Governing India is certainly not an easy task. A country of such diversity and plural character does not allow itself to be governed so easily.

This has often led to sarcastic comments like the atheist starting to believe in god as only god could run this country. However, there are many to blame when it comes to governance.

Over decades of independence and discovered autonomies, governance has been allowed to invade territories hitherto unknown. How else would you explain the organisation, mandated to run the railways, keeps itself busy in selling packaged drinking water even though running the railways is often found wanting on many counts?

We are grossly inadequate in public healthcare but then governance is busy in salvaging loss-making hotels and airlines. It is a country where pizza, at times, reaches homes earlier than an ambulance!

It could be a matter of debate whether least governance is the best governance, but over-governance is certainly bad governance. One important sector is our land laws. It is no secret that these laws still carry a great deal of legacy of our colonial past.

Rather than improving the quality of governance in core sectors, governance has been allowed to spread in non-core arenas. After all, the primary duty of the government is to provide basic governance. Hotels, airlines etc are peripheral to governance, if at all.

It is a sad commentary that our land laws are so complex that a simple deal in real estate necessitates hiring the services of professional lawyers. Property registration is one such area. Registration in the present form was introduced by the British about a century ago. The then masters were looking for additional avenues to augment their sources of income.

Since the primary purpose was served, they stopped at creating a department. The tragedy is that over six decades after independence, we are still at the same place. Thus, our sub-registrar offices are yet to be integrated with the offices of primary land records (that is, tahsildar or municipal offices in urban areas). The thinking process of current governance is so much authority-centric that clients (read general public) are often relegated to the background.
The forms, rules, processes and procedures keep the ease of governance in primary focus. Public convenience is incidental, if any. How else can we explain the genesis of assessment year in income tax when the entire nation uses financial year?

Over decades of self-rule, our own mandarins seem to have lost touch with the ground realities. Each department prefers to create and then defend their own islands. If you need a favour, you must approach their door, separately and often consecutively.

It is entirely possible that you may register a property and still may not succeed in owning the same, even if the registration is valid! Got confused? Let me make it simpler for you. Suppose I own a disputed a property and still I wish to sell it to you. You may pay me the money and get the property registered in your name. Still owing to the dispute, you may not actually own the property.

The government shall not come to your rescue despite collecting lakhs of rupees as registration fee. Reason? The registration wing knows only to collect the fee and virtually nothing else. Why? The same modular approach. One wing of the government need not know much about the other.

Furthermore, there is no provision for refund. It is a one-way street: you cannot retract once you have registered. Even in law, the fee collected generally is not refundable. Only a government department can be as outlandish as they have laws to protect them.

If you have ever successfully purchased a property, you would know what I mean. When we go to the temple, we find so many statues of gods and goddesses. Each one needs to be revered.

In our example, next in line is tahsildar. Your entire endeavour may be shot down by this next god, on grounds more than one. You may ask why you were not cautioned at the time of registration. The simple answer is that the registration office was on a different island; and has no connection with the revenue office!

One fails to understand why the additional mutation fee of a few hundred rupees could not be collected at the registration office and mutation done then and there!After all, when we go to a pathologist, he does not give separate prick each for blood-sugar, haematology, malaria, dengue and so on.

Independent offices

Since the policy, thinking and mode of implementation are implementer-centric, each of the government offices have evolved independently. In the absence of any fear, these public offices have evolved in their own citadel islands. The genesis of this particular situation lies in history and decades of inaction perhaps. The approach is simple – if you want a favour, come to my doorstep.

By reliable accounts, government is one of the biggest litigants in our courts. It is no surprise that genesis of a number of such cases owe their origin to the modular approach of governance.

No reliable estimate exists on the impact of litigation on national income, but the figures could be tantalising whenever they are available. It must be admitted that some wonderful work has been done in the recent times in areas relating to land records. The Bhumi project of the Karnataka government has successfully brought all land records on the database.

Similarly, the recent move by the registration offices to initiate e-stamping has reduced hassles being faced by the citizens. Now you can go to any registration office in the same district. However, the crucial task of integration of related offices remains unattended.

(The author is a senior IFS officer, Karnataka Cadre)

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