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Opinion Punjab's New Political Agenda: Development And Good Governance

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
July 15, 2011

Punjab's new political agenda development and good governance

Gobind Thukral - The South Asia Post - July 15, 2011

Of late Punjab's politics, largely hinged to personalities or at best dictated by communal oddities of the state is moving towards issues of development and governance. It is true that leaders from both sides often make perky remarks or sneer at each other. If Capt. Amarinder Singh said in May this year, "We are going to take their [Akalis] pants off. This is what we are going to during elections. " And, that was his theme song. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal retorted. "He [Amarinder Singh] is in the habit of taking his own pants off all the time."

This could be a bit bawdy humour in a rustic Punjabi manner. Yet it does provide some comic relief to the otherwise hassled Punjabis. Nevertheless the fact remains that both sides are trying hard to focus on important public issues. If Congress finds Akalis utterly lacking in good governance and development, the latter challenge it for an open public debate as to who has done better for Punjab.

Clearly the ruling and those in opposition are getting more focussed towards these two vital areas.

The state that has to elect a new assembly by February next year is already in an election mode. With both, the ruling coalition of Akalis and the BJP and the Congress has sounded the bugle for the big fight. This time there is another player, Peoples Party of Punjab trying hard to make a three corner contest. Whose apple cart the new party chief Manpreet Singh Badal upsets is not very clear as yet.

But no political grouping can avoid basic issues which Punjab's state of development and its agitated people have thrown up. There has been a governance deficit that had been worsening over the years. It has pushed Punjab deeper in the fiscal quagmire. An ordinary citizen, who has neither the money to grease the palms of the officials or politicians for a good sifarish has no dignity. No identity either.

A lowly patwarior the top financial commissioner, a constable or state's police chief, an ordinary citizen has no access to them. His basic rights of getting certain services are denied as matter of routine. He is at the mercy of officials and their hangers on. A citizen elects a government in a sovereign democracy. Preamble of our constitution has a romantic ring; "We, the people of India ...in our constituent assembly ...do here by adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution." Power is ultimately vested in the hands of the people. Yet everyday this giver of the constitution is mortifiedand hounded. This system, legacy of the British Raj breeds corruption and nepotism. Development and social justice suffer in myriad ways. Precious public funds are wasted or pocketed by the officials and politicians.

The void created by a governance deficit now finally is being realised by the politicians. Punjab on June 8 unveiled the Right to Service Ordinance-2011 to provide services under a specific time frame. Akali Dal President and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal hadconstituted Punjab Governance Reforms Commission with the sole aim "to improve the welfare of the disadvantaged, marginalized and deprived sections in Punjab and achieve good governance based on high ethical standards." It was realised that the present system of governance was not suited to the challenges. The unequal access of social programs and skewed distribution of benefits of the various economic programs based on gender, caste and class could no longer hold.

The young Badal had tough time and even after the Commission chairman Dr Pramod Kumar had submitted detailed reports and held extensive sessions with the officers, there was hell of opposition from a section of bureaucracy. Some saw red, with erosion of their powers.

Happily some deft handling; more of cajoling and less of intimidation would see Punjab take a bold step. From July it shall ensure timely delivery of services to the people of the state. There shall be no discretion available to the state's often lethargic and corrupt bureaucracy to deny basic services to the people. Those who disobey face punishment and demotions.

Already citizens are no longer required to provide 138 different kinds of affidavits. Only 15 affidavits remain on the statute book. This is indeed comforting for the harassed and hapless citizens who face insurmountable hurdles. This was always a demeaning experience to stand almost as beggars outside police stations or government offices.

Services like procuring driver's licence, revenue records, and water supply and sewerage connections, copy of FIRs, passport verification and NOCs will now be available to the people within a stipulated period. Officers failing to provide the services within the requisite time frame, varying from one day to 60 days, will face penalty ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000, besides departmental action. In all 67 services are listed.

Sukhbir Singh Badal who had to wage a lonely battle to get this measure reach its final stage is creating a commission to oversee the implementation this measure. The cabinet has cleared 8,000 posts to help provide timely services to the people.

Of late, Akalis, particularly after finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal’s exit, were sensing erosion of support in their traditional rural vote bank. Observers note that once the government is able to implement this new services law in letter and spirit , there shall be a clear political dividend available to the ruling Akali BJP.

The Congress, though is committed to development and good governance, has not really realised the import of the new reforms. The party though in election mode with rallies and meetings all around considers the whole exercise as a gimmick. State Congress president and former chef minister Capt. Amarinder Singh been a frontline critic. Privately he admits the importance of this bold step, but feels that the Akalis shall not be able implement and ultimately only the Congress will do that.

Issues are many and they largely go unattended. These cause wounds of discontentment. There is looming agrarian crisis. During the past one decade over ten lakh farming families have left their age old profession. Terms of trade are largely against the farmers. Wheat paddy cycle has added to the woes and the land is fast losing its fertility and water getting polluted, causing sickness. Farmers are decaying. Punjab like its farmers is down in deep debt. Industries are in doldrums. Only real estate sector is flourishing.

There are over 35 lakh unemployed or unemployable youth, loitering around and falling prey to drugs. Education is in a mess and class four students cannot recognise basic Punjabi alphabet or figure out elementary arithmetic. Same is true about health and transport. Messy filthy cities are becoming more and more unliveable. Who in Punjab does not wish to migrate to North America, Europe and West Asia?

If the politicians wish to do some good to the unfortunate people of Punjab who have yet to come to terms after suffering 12 years of protracted violence, should remain focused on development, social justice and these all important governance reforms. People shall bless them.

Punjab Governance Reforms Commission was constituted with aim "to improve the welfare of the disadvantaged, marginalized and deprived sections in Punjab and achieve good governance based on high ethical standards."




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