there are areas where the State could choose to get involved
but only if this involvement does not affect the delivery
of more high-priority services. Maintaining a mass transport
system is one example of this intermediate category. Finally,
there are service delivery areas where the role of the State
(and therefore, the Government) is absolutely irreducible:
public order and rule of law, justice, school education,
primary healthcare, basic infrastructure, natural resource
development and social security. At a minimum, any functioning
government must deliver (at least) these services to its
citizens. If the State fails to provide quality service
in these top-priority areas, its very existence could be
India, successive governments since the licence-permit-quota
socialist days functioned without having a clear grasp of
this rather basic conceptual scheme of service delivery
and role of the State. As a result, over the decades, we
have witnessed the diversion of valuable public resources
into several non-priority or low-priority areas. Even today
there is not much clarity, both inside the Government and
outside it, on the issue of providing versus provisioning
a particular public service. For that matter, until recently,
our government was literally baking bread and selling cakes!
This lack of prioritizing has greatly eroded the quality
of service provided by the government in the 'absolute-must'
only have to look at our justice-delivery system for illustration.
There are 250 lakh pending cases in courts all over the
country that would take at least another century to be processed,
going by the present rate. Getting justice is painfully
slow and enormously expensive; in the end, there is still
no assurance of securing justice. For millions of ordinary
citizens, going to the courts is not even an option. The
quality of service provided by our governments is equally
dismal when it comes to areas like providing basic universal
healthcare or free-and-compulsory school education.
the scope and quality of State-provided services bear little
relation to the issue of resource scarcity. Our governments
spend more than 1800 crore rupees of taxpayer money, in
our name, each and every day! Had these public resources
been appropriately deployed, significant improvements could
have been made in the service delivery by the government.
Consider this: ensuring basic sanitation across India would
need about 140 million toilets, costing a one-time investment
of around 35,000 crore rupees. While it might seem a huge
figure, it merely equals 20 days worth of our governmental
expenditure. Similarly, 16 lakh classrooms can be built
across the entire country with just 9 days of governmental
public services are consistently delivered at below-acceptable-standards
mostly because of the biased relationship between the service
provider (government agencies or departments, in this case)
and the client (i.e. the citizen). This systemic bias arises
because of the monopoly of the service-provider, high degree
of centralization, lack of accountability and transparency
in the functioning of the concerned government agencies.
These factors result in bureaucratic inertia or corruption
and more commonly, both. Added to this, the ordinary citizen
has to live under the socialist mindset where the government
employee is a 'benefactor' while the client/citizen is a
'recipient' of largesse.
how can we ensure that vital public services are delivered
in a more efficient manner? Only when the State-service
provider adopts key reform measures: introduction of easy
accessibility, simpler procedures, greater transparency,
increased accountability and delegation of power to local
governments. In order to ensure that these reform measures
are initiated and then implemented, the citizens themselves
need to assert themselves in a collective and informed manner.
may not come as a surprise that these fundamental reform
measures are almost entirely non-monetary.