The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- A new reform commission may not ensure better administration

Unfortunately, administrative law is not readily available and this is especially true at the state-level. Remarkably, a government-appointed commission on the review of administrative laws said in September 1998, 'The Commission was seriously constrained by the fact that it did not have access to a complete set of subordinate legislation in the form of rules, regulations and administrative instructions, issued under different Central Acts, by individual Ministries and Departments. It appears that the Legislative Department itself did not have such a complete compilation of rules, regulations and procedures issued by the Ministries'Another handicap was that the Central Ministries did not have full information about the rules and regulations issued by State Governments by virtue of the authority vested in them by Central laws.'

The broader agenda of administrative law reform involves two kinds of relationships that can overlap ' dealings between the citizen and the government and dealings between an enterprise and the government. The latter can again be divided into the three phases of an enterprise's existence ' entry, functioning and exit. The former involves birth certificates, death certificates, land titles, assorted requirements of establishing one's own identity and issues connected with accessing public services. For both the citizen and the entrepreneur, the years since 1991 have witnessed the exertion of countervailing pressure, documenting corruption and inadequate delivery of services, even if this countervailing pressure tends to be located in certain geographical parts of the country. For instance, for citizen pressure, one can mention the Public Affairs Centre in Bangalore, Lok Satta in Hyderabad, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan, Jana Agraha in Bangalore, the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi, the work of the Administrative Staff College in Hyderabad, the Consumer Education and Research Centre in Ahmedabad or Parivartan in Delhi.

These have questioned not only executive inaction through public interest litigation, but also inefficiency and leakage in government expenditure. Right to information acts in Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi, Rajasthan and Maharashtra are partly an outcome of such pressure. In 1997, a conference of state chief ministers agreed that all states, and the Centre, should have such a law. Not all states have followed this agreement, although this seems to be changing.

On the entrepreneurial side, countervailing pressure, highlighting constraints to efficient decision-making through discretionary subordinate legislation, has been highlighted in reports brought out by larger chambers of commerce and industry like FICCI, CII and ASSOCHAM. Many such studies suggest that transaction costs (including infrastructure inadequacy costs) add around 20 per cent to the costs of doing business. The World Bank's recent document, 'Doing Business in 2006', highlights non-infrastructure-related procedural or transaction costs. But these studies also tend to include infrastructure costs in transaction costs. Big business alone is not the issue. Since transaction costs have economies of scale and scope, they have a distributional angle and hurt the small entrepreneur more. One instance of countervailing pressure being exerted on behalf of small entrepreneurs is Manushi's work on cycle-rickshaws and vendors. This eventually led to intervention by the prime minister's office and changes in municipal laws.

At the Central government level, the fifth Central pay commission flagged the need to make government more citizen and business friendly. This report was submitted in 1997. Also in 1997, there was a conference of chief ministers on effective and responsive administration. In 1995, the finance ministry sought to introduce reform measures in different Central ministries and government departments. In 1997, this was followed by an exercise started at the initiative of the PMO. Reportedly, 43 ministries and government departments identified administrative law (and statutory law) where simplification, rationalization and harmonization are possible. There is no report card on the extent to which these recommendations were implemented.

In 2000, the prime minister's council on trade and industry submitted a report on administrative and legal simplifications. Understandably, this had an industry focus and listed the following as industry concerns. 'Large number of clearances/permissions required; Complex regulation governing day to day functioning; Multiple agencies regulating operations functioning independently; Lack of co-ordination between various governing agencies; Frequent changes in poli cies/procedures/tariff structures; Unpredictability of changes; Lack of clarity on issues between Centre and States; Transaction oriented approach of the system instead of a corporate approach, leading to increased costs and delays; Lack of openness and transparency in communication and providing information.'

The action plan, emerging from the aforementioned chief minister's conference, focussed on three areas where administrative law reform was important ' making the administration accountable and citizen friendly; ensuring transparency and right to information; tackling corruption and motivating the civil services. There is also a Central government identification of departments where the citizen interface is the most.

While this is a Central government list, many issues concern state governments and even local bodies. Indeed, citizen interface with the government is often at the local body level. At the state government level, reform initiatives have varied across states and have also sometimes been a function of the extent to which donor agencies have pushed governance reform. While few states may have set up law commissions, the track record on setting up commissions or task forces on administrative reforms is better. There is no need to catalogue these, because the new ARC is a Central one. If all this has been done, why do we need a new ARC, as opposed to implementing earlier recommendations' I don't know.

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