Rising expectations falling standards

Delhi’s brutal gang-rape and subsequent testimony of the girl’s friend not only shows that how the police system has failed but also the overall loss of faith in government institutions. Reason is: failure of the government to make its machinery accountable to people.

If you are an ordinary citizen in Delhi, registration of a case of chain snatching, eve-teasing or even robbery is not easy with Delhi Police. Elsewhere, it is even more difficult and people fear going to a police station for lodging a simple complaint.

The government, which is now talking about amending colonial Indian Penal Code to raise punishment for rape, has never tried to make police administration accountable to people. If you have weight and have power to trouble the local police official, the cops will act. Or else, you could be treated worse than an accused in a police station.

Police contact with people is minimal. I haven’t seen in the last 15 years of my stay in Delhi, a senior cop visiting residents and assuring them about their security. A night patrol constable sometimes meets the security guards. If the police is more proactive and interacts with residents, I think, its image can improve a lot.

But, you cannot blame the police alone. The entire government administration lacks the ability to gain confidence of citizens, whom they have to serve, primarily because complete absence of accountability regarding day to day affairs.

India like many other countries lack a federal public service delivery law that makes government officials directly accountable to people. Some states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have public service delivery laws enforcing strict time-lines to deliver services but major centres like Delhi and Mumbai lack such legislation.

Consider this. The government has introduced direct benefit transfer and linking all government services to unique identification or Aadhaar number promising better governance. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) mandated to issue Aadhaar numbers has not been able to issue the numbers within a timeframe. There are many people who haven’t received their Aadhaar numbers even a year of enrollment. Many received their numbers more than six months after enrollment. It is happening as there is no accountability of UIDAI officials towards citizens.

Getting a ration card or a birth certificate or cooking gas connection within a certain time-frame in India is still a distant dream. I was zapped when a senior Indian Oil Corporation official told me this week that there is no policy prescribing the time limit within which a new cooking gas connection is to be issued. In absence of such guideline, one can only expect corruption and mis-governance to take place.

My apologies for transgressing from the original topic but I firmly believe that the government needs to think of a system to make its institutions accountable to people, rather than politicians and bureaucrats only, whose use this discretion to exploit the poor and the middle-class.

The anger witnessed across India after the agonising gang-rape in Delhi is indicative of your crippling public offices. We should not forget that India’s young population is highly aspirational, well-informed and wants the government to deliver. I think such protests would spread if the government fails to implement effective governance reform and restore belief of people in public institutions.

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