Monthly Archives: August 2014

Are We a Democracy Really?

IMG_0020.JPG I was reading a book ‘The Quest for a Moral Compass’ by Kenan Malik describing the history of the development of ethics in human society and it mentions Plato’s concept of the hierarchy of political systems. Rule by the enlightened elite tops the chart since the soul of such a system is in the wisdom of its rulers and it is laced with logic. Democracy is nearly at the bottom of the heap since at it’s soul is the appeasement of the baser desires of the majority resulting from the political equality that democracy creates.

Be that as it may, when it comes to operating a modern democracy, what becomes most visible is the spending on social welfare programs. What also strikes us is the large leakages that such spending provokes, with its attendant social moral degradation by corruption, as also poor quality of government services offered to people. So the typical response has been to shrink government activities and enlarge outsourcing. Which is not bad at all but it also involves large public spending. Is there any other nuanced approach possible?

One feature which is prominent in government spendings is the excessive centralisation in the allocation and spending of funds and this factor is often cited as being a facilitator in the ‘leakages’ issue mentioned earlier.  So beside the leakage and patronage based corruption of wealth redistribution schemes, is there also deprivation to the society, of other services like good policing, due to this centralisation?

Let us examine this. I am currently posted in a state government owned PSU. It is an autonomous organization with the ability to raise revenue as well as spend funds under the overall directions of its Board of Directors(all of whom, by the way, are government appointees). I see the effects of the easier availability of funds and the lesser constraints on the ability to spend, having a big impact on services that are offered to people. Granted that there may be better efficiencies on the same services that this PSU offers,  if they were given by a private firm with profit motive. But what goes out from this government PSU is great, within the constraints of government service conditions. I think one of the main reasons for this output is the efficiency and flexibility of expenditure decision making. If a department within this organization has a good idea for better services, it is taken to the Board for approval and expenditure. Such approval leads immediately to next steps for implementation of the project. This, typically creates a positive loop  encouraging employees to ideate, plan and also implement projects through spending.

Now consider what happens in a typical government department, say police. Annual needs of the dept are projected to the government at the beginning of the year and the dept is allocated a spending budget. The spending is further controlled in a centralised fashion, both by the police department and the government. This results in uncertainties and remoteness for police units to access the resources for delivering the public services of the department. The remoteness of the centralised controls on spending also chain any flexibility in spending on evolving needs. The department continuously suffers from inadequate resources, as a result. Also, the available finances get spent in a generalised fashion rather than getting  fine tuned to local needs, resulting in more inefficiencies. Like say,  there may be need for a bigger monthly fuel quota per vehicle in a police station whose areas can be accessed only through circuitous mountain roads, but since the quota is fixed centrally, and funds so distributed, this police station can have a genuine problem in meeting its service requirements on adequate mobile patrolling for crime control. Or there is an upsurge of crime in one district and the district SP may have no budget for public education since ‘ public education for crime control’ is not deemed important by the centralised funds controller. How could better policing services be provided to the people in these circumstances? The result is that everyone in the department feels the lack of resourcing, and it kills any creativity or initiative the officers might have to deliver better services, and it also opens an avenue for corruption for those inclined towards it. But most importantly, in an unseen way, it deprives people at large of the better police services that may have been possible if expenditure decisions had been decentralised down the line right upto the police station.

Democracy cannot only mean free elections. It must also mean translation of the will of the people to get better public services for themselves through electing their representatives to do that. Centralization of powers and funds then become a roadblock to achieve that. Making government organizations more effective through more and more decentralisation of powers and funds, could possibly make us more truly democratic than we currently are.

Why Isn’t the IPS Leading Organizational Transformation?

IMG_0001-0.JPGAmong the many public institutions of India, I see the police organization as the most troubled, by the rapid changes in Indian society. It is also one of the oldest Indian institutions, sharing space with the military organizations in terms of being rigidly hierarchical. It is manned by an extremely well educated set of managers in the IPS at the top of the pyramid and barely out of school constabulary at the bottom of the very wide based pyramid with graduate level educated personnel in the middle ranks.

The oft repeated question I hear is why is the elite IPS not able to make an impact on the state of policing in India. Why can’t this elite leadership modernise our police and change traditional police practices of torture of suspects and nonchalance in the investigation of complaints of ordinary people as against the extra diligence in recording FIRs and investigating even buffalo thefts of the powerful, and be sensitive to the concerns like safety of women in public spaces, despite society clearly showing its impatience and anger and sometimes disgust on the police actions on many issues. The expectations from police are of competence as well as service to the general society. Are the well educated elite in the IPS incapable of leading the police organization towards the change required? Why is this transformation so difficult?

Of course, the lack of freedom to spend money on the transformations required and the constraints on the DGP on the posting of personnel are two of the key factors. I have written on both these problems on this blog.

Recently I was visiting my training academy, the SVPNPA, Hyderabad, on a speaking assignment and for a batch reunion and I got an opportunity to interact with the trainee officers. They had these same concerns after seeing first hand in their district training, the way the department functions. One of the IPS faculty at the academy wondered if the training at NPA was lacking in some crucial ingredients as far as the basic training was concerned, to equip the trainees to face ground realities and yet make them feel the positivity that things need and can be changed. He was worried about the wide and further widening gap between the practice of policing as taught at NPA and as actually practised, which could disillusion the new entrants into feeling that police as a department, is not likely to do things differently anytime soon and therefore think it worthwhile to move on to other job opportunities.

So where does the problem lie? Traditionally police in India was a closed door organization controlling deviance within its personnel through rigorous supervision of police stations by the senior ranks, and ensuring outputs on crime management through personal supervision of crime detection by superior officers. So the focus was on the senior leadership’s personal presence to provide the leadership to fighting crime and keeping the police station working as per norms. This model is becoming ineffective due to the huge volume of work. Irrespective of police statistics, crime has burgeoned. The capacity of police stations to handle effectively the complainants and their complaints, has diminished, due to the volume of other work.

Clearly, there is need to delegate a lot of jobs currently performed by senior and mid level officers, downwards. There is need to make full use of the large constabulary and make them responsible and effective first responders in crime and complaints’ handling at the local level. There is need to carry out a training needs assessment for different ranks of personnel and make training the number one priority in the department. The results will come in a few years, but the current sense of ennui in the department can be replaced by a freshness of approach and a sense of future direction.

Another unusual area to explore for introducing change is opening the police department to research and using the results of such research to drive the change. Say, a community policing project is introduced in a city, a study of the before-after effects of the project through an academic institution, can be useful to determine if the project can be scaled up or needs to be modified or dropped altogether. Such examination can help the police and society gain continued benefits from the spending on projects. There are also many areas for research on subjects common between police and other departments like ‘Women and Child’, ‘Surface Transport’, ‘RBI’, ‘Food and Drugs’, etc, which can lead to better integrated policies for better outcomes for the society as a whole. It will also open the police department to new ideas and at the same time make their working adaptable to change requirements.

The IPS really needs to focus on methods for introducing and sustaining change within the existing constraints, if the image of police has to have a chance for a changed perception in the public mind.