There has been enormous debate on the problem of corruption in India. The concerns on the collusive nexus of business and politics and the extractive politico-bureaucratic nexus working on the exploitation of natural resources of the country have been well publicized by the media. The widespread daily harassment faced by the common man when dealing with government functionaries from police and municipal departments are of course well known but eluding a systemic solution.
I was recently watching an old TV program on Gurcharan Das’ book, ‘India Grows at Night’, and all the three participants (the author Gurcharan Das, Sanjeev Aga from the Industry and Mayank Gandhi from India Against Corruption) were pointing towards improving accountability to people, as the road ahead on this issue, and it got me thinking. We have an electoral democracy for setting policies and the 5-yearly elections system to enable people to review the policy setting performance of the politicians every 5 years . The same system is supposed to review the goodness of the policy enforcement process, as part of the performance of the politicians. However, the distance of the policy enforcing bureaucracy including the law enforcing police, is too far from the people because their accountability to people is indirect, through the state or central government in power. The sheer size of the bureaucracy and its service conditions like periodic transfers, add to the sense of anonymity when evaluating its performance on implementation. Also, due to security of job in government service, there is nothing in the system that can rope in accountability of civil servants to the people, for the manner in which policies and laws are implemented on the ground. So then is there a way to democratize ‘implementation’ in the way that works for ‘policy-setting’?
Obviously, in the Indian context, I will have to delink the ballot based electoral process (though such systems for direct elections of mayors, who can appoint police chiefs (USA), and direct election of police chiefs (UK) exist in some countries) from solutions for bettering ‘poIicy implementation’. And I logically come back to my earlier panacea for many ills, viz. iterative Crime Victimization Surveys, which, I believe, are a democratic tool for making the peoples’ feedback of the realities they face to work on police attitudes and professionalism. Every such survey can work as a baseline for initiating incremental changes in the working of a police station. And every next survey makes known the improving or deteriorating public satisfaction on the incremental changes in ‘implementation’.
Institution wide steps like increasing the computerization of processes, or use of technology like cctv cameras to monitor road junctions, all finally leading to more transparency and efficiency of policing performance, and any other initiative, especially local level initiatives, which could be something as simple as a useful liaison with civic authorities to improve the state of lighting in an isolated area, will improve service delivery at the bottom of the system i.e. the police station. Since corruption thrives due to lack of any value to the system from peoples’ opinion on the effectiveness or otherwise of service delivery, increasing the accountability to the people at the absolute baseline of policy implementation in law enforcement, i.e. the police station, will surely have a systemic impact on corruption.