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We need the power of one

Multiple authorities with overlapping powers contributed to the CWG mess, writes PC Sen.

india Updated: May 13, 2011 12:19 IST
PC Sen

The organisation of the Commonwealth Games has spawned a tsunami of articles, but none has dwelt upon why things went so wrong. Investigating agencies can produce encyclopedias of causes and remedies, which will remain unread and un-acted upon. The Government of India neither remembers things nor learns from the past.

Having spent over three decades in administration, a few cardinal principles of good governance come to mind. Firstly, in India, results are best achieved when people report to a single head. When the British were thinking of having two chief functionaries in a district — the collector and district magistrate to carry out regulatory functions and another in charge of development — they studied the system for several years only to conclude that good governance is best achieved when officers have to report to, or people approach, a single head.

The best practices of our recent past illustrate the point — the Asiad Games preparation proceeded without a single hiccup because everyone reported to Rajiv Gandhi; the Telecom Mission under Sam Pitroda, when the government resorted to the mission mode, large irrigation projects where commissioners were invested with powers of the Secretaries of all relevant departments of the state governments; the national and state elections and the Census operations.

Secondly, in special circumstances, the person responsible for execution or management reports to no one, or at most, one superior. For example while the district collector normally has to report to the divisional commissioner, the chief secretary and secretaries to the state government, in a law and order situation, the same person reports to no one and no authority can issue directions to him.

Thirdly, when critical tasks are to be performed, officers are carefully selected. Experienced chief ministers retain certain key positions — collectors of a few critical districts, police officers in charge of Intelligence or Information and Publicity — for officers handpicked solely on merit.

Lastly, there is an old adage in administration that ‘uninspected work is never done’. Traditionally, execution was the responsibility of the officer invested with the powers to undertake the task, while superintendence was the responsibility of a senior officer.

Delhi is administered not merely by the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, but a plethora of other organisations — the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, Delhi Police, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi Development Authority — reporting to an another plethora of persons/departments like the Lt. Governor, Union Home Ministry and the Ministry for Urban Development.

During the Commonwealth Games, the recipe for chaos was exacerbated by certain functions being invested with Union Sports Department and the Organising Committee for the Commonwealth Games. Later, when all hell broke loose, people demanded a single authority — a Rahul or Sonia Gandhi, or the prime minister — to take control. This was done successfully, providing occasion for hosannas in which the whole nation joined.

Ironically, in the act of investigating the CWG, we have set up a multiplicity of authorities — the CAG, CVC, the former CAG and CBI. This band will be joined by investigating officers from the ministries concerned, both of the central government and the government of Delhi, as well as committees of Parliament and the state legislature. By the time all the reports are presented, the nation will be happily savouring some other crisis.

But then, ‘we are like that only’.

P.C. Sen is a former IAS officer. The views expressed by the author are personal