Ease of doing business and making life easy for citizens
Government needs to do more in many such areas where improving the governance is more important than minimizing it. — Anil Javalekar
Prime Minister while addressing recent Governing council meeting of NITI Aayog emphasized for the ease of doing business and making life easy for citizens. This is the precise desire of Indian commons right from independence. The life of Indian commons was never easy whatever was the period and whoever ruled. Ancient Indian life in Vedic period and Ramrajya might be the last era when Indian commons lived happily. The era of foreign invasion, including mogul and British, was of loot and slavery. The spirit during independence struggle and actual independence made Indian commons to desire for better life. However, even after Independence, the modern political democracy that is modelled on western thought and adoption of state intervention models made the life of Indian commons more difficult. Time has come to critically examine the relationship of state and citizen and determine whether the current governance systems permit people to function as a citizen and an individual in the most productive manner.
Status of Governance
India, after its independence in 1947, chose the republican model of democracy that enshrines the Constitution as its framework for authority. It was a noble thought to universally grant its citizens social, economic and political franchise; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and opportunity, and promotes among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individuals. It built governance through constitutional bodies at local, taluka, district, state and national levels under a federalized framework built on collaboration of all institutions. In many ways, these institutions have become all-encompassing and established creeping influence over all aspects of citizen’s life. These controls and structures were expected to make the life of its people easy and make them safe – however, the reality is otherwise. India chose to write its own Constitution yet missed to reform and cleanse the institutions that were to carry out the mandate. The bureaucracy, judiciary, law enforcement and civil/penal statutes continued to be archaic and built on English philosophies that treated Indians as “the ruled”. The governance systems in India behaved like rulers rather than servants of the public. For example, there are still requirements to inform, register or take permissions from various authorities almost for everything right from marriage, construction of house, opening of shops or giving service, organizing functions to take the dead body to burial ground or cremation. While the nation became politically independent, as a government system, India continued to treat its own people shabbily and that has continued till date. It is also the primary reason corruption has been so deep as governing authorities have wide powers to determine the success or failure of any enterprise or an individual’s ability to succeed in life. Even now in the era of freedom of expression, one cannot express freely on social media for fear of persecution or facing discrimination for one’s stand. In the circumstances, the relationship as evolved only on the lines of trust-deficit between government and citizens.
Faulty governance system
It is glaringly obvious that the real tragedy of governance is its deep distrust of its citizens – it seeks to control rather than enable.
First, it sees every issue as law-and-order issue and doubts every citizen and their every activity.
Second, the system sees every activity and every citizen, including poor and aged, as a source of revenue. It collects revenue in the name of providing facilities, protecting citizens or public assets or simply to meet its own expenses, even unjustified expenses.
Third, the system acts as if it owns the citizens and their assets - therefore, they prepare and implement plans or projects disregarding the rights of citizens – often leading to loss of livelihood or life. The citizen is therefore always vulnerable and most disempowered constituent in this equation.
Fourth, the system allows discretion to authorities who use this for favors. The justifications are defined by them. This led to unequal treatment and institutional bias translating to corruption.
Fifth, most important, immoral, and unprincipled politicians control the governance system. This has allowed the nexus between politicians and governance system making life difficult for Commons. All these traits are the hangover of the British rule which prioritized the interests of the government over the interests of the governed.
Governance made Justice difficult
Indian justice system, which is the last pillar of constitutional protection, tries to help Indian commons and many times save them from heavy governance. However, the judicial system itself dependent on this governance system and has become helpless. Commercial laws are archaic and not in keeping with evolving business environment. The judiciary is over loaded. Simple civic issues remain unaddressed for years which makes citizens wary of the process of justice. Investigation is done by police and it is allegedly work under influence. Now Supreme court is considering feasibility of creating an independent and separate cadre of Judicial Magistrates for monitoring evidence collection during criminal investigation which may help to some extent. The fact is that courts judge the case on the basis of evidence and therefore, it depends on how the case is presented by governance system mainly by local police. Above all, the Indian lawyers interpret the law to defend the crime and this interpretation goes beyond the thoughts of law makers. Governance system needs many reforms in this area.
Government’s recent initiatives to improve the Governance
1. The major change has come in the form of technology adoption for providing services to citizens. E-governance has made impact on the life of citizens. Issue of Aadhar cards with biometric mapping mitigated the fraud in identity documents and unaccounted income/wealth. These tools of transparency will make it easier for government to rely on self-assessments or self-declarations and free people from the tyranny of permissions. Linking it with welfare schemes made them accessible to the common man locally, through common service delivery outlets and ensure efficiency, transparency & reliability of such services at affordable costs so to help realize the basic needs of the common man - such e-governance brought direct and visible benefit to millions of poor. Umang is one app that gives all services at one go including life certificates and is helpful to make life of commons easy.
2. The government’s drive for digitization leap frogged the country into the wallet revolution and brought millions of cash-based businesses into digital mainstream – this will enhance transparency, points of governance and confidence so that clean businesses may in future operate with low compliance burden as long as they maintain transparency.
3. The introduction of Goods and Service Tax (GST) was truly a landmark legislation that will prove to be a watershed moment for business structures. Its implementation has been mired in technological glitches and flurry of notifications/ rules and has simplified the multiple taxes of VAT, Excise, Service Tax and multitude of mandi/cess taxes locally into a single structure. Simplifying procedures for tax compliances by citizens are also important. Tax calculation and submission of e-returns as also addressing of grievances are being simplified so to reduce compliances.
4. Focused on empowering common citizens. The communication technology has made citizens express and even criticize government and its policies. Social media has changed over the years and can play a better role. Government has recently announced rules for this media so to stop misleading and fake information. This will help citizens to express freely but control spread of fake news.
5. Efforts made to help ease doing business. Government has launched business Action reforms in 2015 and ranking states according to their performance. The Business Reform Action Plan 2018-19 includes 180 reform points covering 12 business regulatory areas such as Access to Information, Single Window System, Labour, Environment, etc. The Action Plan for the year 2020 consists of 301 Reform points spread across 15 Areas. This is helping business to start and do business without much interference of governance system.
Need more efforts
True, India has reached to 63rd rank out of 190 countries as per the World Bank report 2020 due to improvement in the ease of doing business. The ease of doing business refers to the regulatory environment in the country and India is focusing mainly on certain parameters like starting business, getting credit on easy terms, paying taxes, easing of trade and enforcing contracts. Indian approach to wealth creation is shifting from suspicion to facilitation for collective good.
Making of life easy for common citizens is most important and for that the election reforms to keep criminals out, police reforms to make the law and order without harassing citizens and political reforms where politicians play politics based on some principles and keeping national interest in mind are more important. Government needs to do more in many such areas where improving the governance is more important than minimizing it.
Anil Javalekar: NABARD retiree, Co-Editor of books: ‘India’s Perspective Policy on Agriculture’ and ‘Droughts and way Forward’. Regular contributor to Swadeshi Patrika (English and Hindi).