‘Good governance is our birthright,’ said Prime Minister Modi, poignantly addressing the radio program ‘Mann ki Baat’ in July 2018. He unequivocally stated the importance of access to good governance and positive results of development, albeit inadvertently mentioning the strong connection between the two. It is worthy to question whether this connection is an assumed one or does it translate in reality?
A comprehensive report titled Public Affairs Index 2018 (PAI), also released this July is a measure of the state of public affairs. The parameters included range from essential infrastructure to supporting human development, social protection to maintaining law and order. Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka are among the top five states delivering good governance while Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh rank the lowest on the index, indicating higher social and economic inequalities.
But, there is more to these results than what appears. Further exploration reveals that poorer performing states are rich, resourceful and possess high potential. They might be poorly managed such that they reflect substandard governance. For example, Jharkhand, one of the poor performing states is home to 33 million people, of whom 13 million are poor. It lags behind other states in terms of improving conditions of the poor and consumption equality, share of workers with salaried jobs, maternal health, and nutrition and sanitation levels. At the same time, Jharkhand has 40 per cent of India’s total mineral reserves, but accounts for 10 per cent of the total mineral production in terms of value. This is a display of poor allocation of resources whose optimal utilization could result in employment opportunities and aid in eliminating poverty.
State’s focus on addressing disparity in development
To elaborate on whether the state’s efforts to address this disparity in development outcomes is in congruence with its governance performance, we conducted a simple analysis. We looked at the choice in number of districts identified as ‘aspiration of developed districts’ in a state performing low on PAI 2018.
The following graph illustrates the stark differences between the number of identified aspirational districts (by NITI AYOG) in select states against their ranking on Public Affairs index (PAI). While the rankings are conducted by separate agencies, it is fair to deduce that there would be some association between the performance of a state in public affairs and the number of backward districts identified. For example, Haryana ranked 10 in PAI has 1 identified aspirational district, whereas Chattisgarh ranked 8th in PAI has 10 aspirational districts.
Governance for local development
The common discourse of what governance is and ought to be is measured through citizen participation in the management of their economic and social resources. This understanding is shared by the Indian governance paradigm that inscribes participation through democratic means in local development.
But, is this belief in development shared by the citizens? The need to answer this question is imperative for not only improving governance, but also for development interventions to translate into relevant aspirations and sustainable outcomes.
To the rural citizenry, the face of local government is their ward representative, a Panch member or a Panchayat secretary. The election of these governance actors is a political one. Physical developmental outcomes for rural citizens is their functional local school, mettled village road, a reliable water source or any result of any intervention that is tangible that could provide for their most essential needs.
Each eligible participant in elections; would however like essential services to not be influenced by actors in power for personal or political benefits. The two terms-development and governance are increasingly being seen and practiced in conjunction. Development is perceived as the freebies that the State offers to some (who like it) and not to some (who feel left out); while governance is perceived as a mechanism to exercise power and to control development. Thus, the disenfranchised population loses interest in their own development and lack of democratic participation does not assign them agency to stand up and make a change.
Call for systemic change to address inequity
The fundamental design of governance and regulation of development does not allow for system level change in the social, political or economic inequalities. Governance at a local level should be perceived as an accountable agency for the needs and necessities of its constituents. Needs-based development is the crux of local governance which stands unfulfilled with basic amenities such as drinking water or teacher-attendance in schools prevailing in most regions.
A possible way to reconsider ‘local governance and developmental outcomes’ is to measure it using parameters that integrate indicators to reflect the state of development. This is to understand the state of affairs in a given area, without measuring governance and development in silos.
Development planning, whether conducted by civil society or the State, must advocate for accountable resource allocation through democratic participation of the masses. Being one of the largest economies in the world means little for the larger disenfranchised people if their local governance is non-responsive to their basic needs.
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
By Saurabh Sood, Malvya Chintakindi