Guest Column | Towards sustainable governance: Embracing change for collective welfare - Hindustan Times
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Guest Column | Towards sustainable governance: Embracing change for collective welfare

May 21, 2024 05:09 AM IST

We should aim to realise the promise of inclusive and equitable governance for all by reforming institutions, promoting transparency, and empowering communities through an updated or new statutory framework.

In contemporary governance discourse, the term “new normal” has taken on a dual meaning. Initially met with apprehension, it denotes a troubling shift marked by decisions lacking empirical grounding, straining public finances, and fostering a culture of compliance through intimidation. However, upon closer examination, this “new normal” unveils an opportunity— a deliberate shift towards sustainable practices rooted in evidence, empathy, and the collective welfare of society.

The notion of a “new normal” in governance should signify a deliberate shift towards sustainable and accountable practices. (HT File)
The notion of a “new normal” in governance should signify a deliberate shift towards sustainable and accountable practices. (HT File)

Within the corridors of bureaucracy, dissonant voices lament the erosion of traditional democratic principles. Civil servants, traditionally regarded as the backbone of democratic governance, express concerns about decisions made without evidence or data, exacerbating fiscal strain. The suppression of dissent and relegation of factual reporting perpetuate a culture of compliance through intimidation, threatening the foundational principles of transparency and accountability.

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In the face of these challenges, it becomes imperative to acknowledge the intrinsic nature of change within governance. However, this change must be constant and deliberate, grounded in contextual realities rather than driven by utopian ideals or vested interests. It should prioritise public interest, upholding the principles of democracy, transparency, and accountability.

Harsh realities, wrong priorities

The prevailing ground realities in our society are entrenched poverty, pervasive lawlessness, unemployment, inadequate healthcare and education, endemic corruption, deficient infrastructure, and economic disparities. Furthermore, the infiltration of criminals into politics poses a grave threat to the integrity of governance systems. In addressing these challenges, it is essential to question whether current governance changes effectively serve the marginalised and underprivileged, leveraging technology and data science for their benefit, and prevent the entry of criminals in politics as done in the case of public services.

Answers to these questions defy simplicity. Governments may defend their decisions as gradual steps towards addressing social and economic issues, critics argue that policies often prioritise short-term political gains over long-term societal well-being. For instance, populist measures such as cash handouts and freebies - free water, electricity, and rations may be politically expedient but neglect essential investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure crucial for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. These also signify bureaucratic inertia often undermining merit, innovation, and the efficacy of policies. Instead of being transient, the subsidies seem to have become a permanent feature of political decision-making.

The disillusionment among youngsters, the vanguards of change, with traditional policies and practices is a palpable consequence. Movements advocating for systemic reforms, such as the Jan Lokpal agitation in 2014 and the farmers’ agitation in 2019, had ignited hope but have fallen short of expectations. Aspirational politicians, ensnared in perpetuating existing norms, favour excessive public spending over efficiency and accountability, exacerbating social inequalities and straining resources.

Multifaceted approach

To address these challenges and usher in sustainable governance, a multifaceted approach is necessary. Firstly, embracing change requires a focus on transparency and accountability, both legislative and judicial. Rigorous enforcement and stringent oversight mechanisms are essential to deter malfeasance and ensure financial prudence. Legislative oversight and budgetary processes should safeguard public funds from misuse or improvident spending, with legal repercussions for deviations from established norms.

Moreover, for the security of socially and economically challenged populations, new social contracts must evolve. Reservations, if necessary, should be implemented judiciously, with exclusion thresholds based on family incomes to prioritise the most vulnerable. Income support and subsidies should be tied to achieving sustainable levels of family incomes. Education and health services should be expanded more equitably, with subsidies for the poor until they achieve sustainable universal basic incomes. The vulnerabilities exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the urgent need for compassionate care and equitable access to essential services.

The notion of a “new normal” in governance should signify a deliberate shift towards sustainable and accountable practices, rooted in evidence, empathy, and the collective welfare of society. We should aim to realise the promise of inclusive and equitable governance for all by reforming institutions, promoting transparency, and empowering communities through an updated or new statutory framework. Acquiescing to unsustainable decisions that defy the logic of public interest should not be the norm but rather an aberration in governance.

Thus, embracing change towards sustainable governance requires a concerted effort to prioritise public interest, uphold democratic principles, and address the multifaceted challenges facing society. We can pave the way for a future where governance serves the collective welfare of society, leaving behind the pitfalls of complacency and embracing the opportunities for positive transformation, fostering transparency, accountability, and inclusivity.

sureshkumarnangia@gmail.com

(The writer is a retired Punjab-cadre IAS officer. Views expressed are personal.)

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