Current Public Administration Magazine (FEBRUARY 2022)

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

1.Accountability & Responsibility

  • Erosion of Party System

This year’s assembly elections have signalled two significant political undercurrents. The first has been the ugly display of post-ideology politics marked by endless cross-party defections. What has happened during the election season has been an extension of the massive exodus of fortune seekers whose only concern is the host party’s ability to provide “ticket” and “tekka” or election ticket and position.

As per an Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report, 443 MLAs and MPs had quit their parties and re-contested on their host party’s ticket between 2016 and 2020. If one includes those who did not re-contest, the figure will be higher. In Goa, 60 per cent of the MLAs changed parties. Punjab MLA Balvinder Singh Laddi switched parties four times in two months. Within days after joining TMC, Sushmita Dev was made a Rajya Sabha member. The BJP rewarded 10 of 16 Congress defectors in Karnataka with ministerships. A dozen Congress-NCP defectors were in the first list of BJP candidates in Maharashtra polls — another sign of the bargain for power and quid pro quo. In Maharashtra, where hopes are fading for a BJP return, many BJP leaders have joined the Shiv Sena. Hours after Amit Shah’s visit in February last year, seven BJP councillors joined the Sena and six others later. West Bengal had a spate of defections from the Trinamool Congress to the BJP, including four ministers and 13 MLAs. Most of them scurried back after Mamata Banerjee retained power.

For today’s politicians, power is the essence of life. Ideology, political commitment and loyalty are variables. The party system that existed until a decade back is under challenge. It is more like business executives seeking better career options. It has become purely transactional. Karnataka deputy speaker AnandMamani has put the post-ideology politician’s mindset in black and white. He threatened to resign if he is not made a minister. Another BJP MLA warned that unless he was given the chairmanship of a better board or corporation, he will quit. Last October, a BJP minister and his MLA son in Uttarakhand joined the Congress because the son was denied a ticket.

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2. Indian Government and Politics

  • Electoral Democracy Vs Constitutional Democracy

The recently concluded assembly elections have some larger implications that we need to take note of. The consequences are not confined to the five states where the electoral battle was fought.
In much of the world, the electoral aspects of democracy are now being used to undermine the non-electoral dimensions of democracy. This process can be called the battle between electoral democracy and constitutional democracy. In this day and age, democracies don’t normally die as a result of military or executive coups. Processes internal to the democratic system can severely weaken democracy itself, even causing its collapse.

Today, such contradictions exist in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Russia, to name just a few countries. Donald Trump also attempted something similar in the US. Differently labelled as right-wing populism, majoritarianism or illiberal democracy, the core of this politics consists of the following proposition: If we can get elections to legitimate our platform on behalf of a racial/ethnic/religious majority, we can use electoral power to attack – via legislation — the idea of minority rights and undermine – also via legislation — standard democratic freedoms such as the freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religious or cultural practice. A freely conducted vote can thus be used to cripple the other freedoms that modern democracies also value.

The BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh (UP) belongs to this genre of democratic politics. The BJP has won a majority as an incumbent, thus receiving legitimation both for how its government functioned for the last five years as well as for the principal tropes of the election campaign. The anti-Muslim tone of Yogi Adityanath’s government did not end with the conclusion of his five years in power. Some of the themes of his election campaign were also explicitly anti-Muslim. The “80 vs 20” formulation referred to the fact that UP is roughly 80 per cent Hindu and 20 per cent Muslim. Adityanath critiqued his adversary, Akhilesh Yadav, for using public funds to build walls for Muslim cemeteries. The same was true of the “Ali vs Bajrangbali” slogan. Overall, a victorious plurality of UP’s electorate was willing to ignore Adityanath’sfailure to contain the Covid pandemic, which caused enormous misery last year, and a considerable segment of UP’s youth disregarded the crushing problem of widespread unemployment. That some of the welfare schemes were popular is beyond doubt. But after all is said and done, the anti-Muslim pitch of the BJP’s UP campaign was for all to see and was embraced by even those who were not recipients of welfare benefits.

3.  Financial Administration

  • Special Situation Funds

Indian financial markets witnessed two crucial reforms earlier this year. SEBI came out with a dedicated regulatory framework for special situation funds (SSFs). And, the RBI approved the new dual-structure bad bank, NARCL-IDRCL. Both these reforms are aimed at solving India’s bad debt problem. While the bad bank is an upgraded version of the existing asset restructuring companies (ARCs) model, the SSF is a relatively novel concept.

India suffers from a chronic bad debt problem. Higher bad debt requires higher provisioning, locking up more capital in the banking system. This reduces credit supply and hurts economic growth. To overcome this problem, banks and financial institutions were initially allowed to sell their stressed loans only to ARCs. Now they can sell to SSFs too. Transfer of stressed loans to ARCs and SSFs would release capital locked-up in the banking system and help improve credit supply.

SEBI has introduced SSFs as a distinct sub-category of Category I Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs). AIFs manage privately pooled funds raised from sophisticated investors with deep pockets. While AIFs have traditionally played a prominent role in equity markets, their participation in distressed debt markets has been limited. Regulations did not permit AIFs to participate in the secondary market for corporate loans extended by banks and NBFCs. The new regulations now create a special sub-category of AIFs, namely SSFs, which are allowed to participate in the secondary market for loans extended to companies that have defaulted on their debt obligations. This is a major reform in the right direction.

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4. Current Topic

  • Hijab Ruling

Religion has been at the centre of human societal existence since time immemorial. Religion is, and has always been, an indispensable and ineffaceable part of our lives. The Karnataka High Court’s much-awaited judgment on hijab has upheld the state government’s circular of February 5. The 129-page judgment is on the expected lines with the three-judge full bench headed by Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi discussing at length the doctrine of essentiality and how hijab is not an essential religious practice of Islam, and, therefore, concluding that the petitioners’ arguments against hijab are liable to rejection.

Strangely, the learned judges made no reference whatsoever to the acceptance of the review of the Sabarimala judgment (2018) and framing of seven questions by the seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court. The Sabarimala review (2020) clearly shows that the Supreme Court itself is in doubt about the correctness of the essentiality doctrine and whether courts should assume the role of clergy. The judgment is also historic as it has given much importance to discipline and control over liberty and diversity: The high court has upheld the dress code because it would promote harmony.

Religious freedom is premised on the belief that every human being has the inherent dignity to explore his or her conscience and pursue the truth. Religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families, and the community and its denial may unnecessarily lead to frustration, depression and exclusion. The judgment begins with a quote from Sara Slininger that the history of the hijab is quite complex and has been influenced by the intersection of religion and culture. While some women no doubt veil themselves because of societal pressure, others do so by choice. But the judgment spent hardly any time on the question of “choice” made by the few Muslim girls.

5.  Indian Administration

  • Governance Failure

Uttar Pradesh is often in the news, even when there are no elections. It is a large state, with a large population. It has a large economy and India’s growth and development trajectory are dependent on what happens to UP. UP’s districts are heterogeneous and a shade over 10 per cent of UP’s GSDP (gross state domestic product) originates from the Gautam Buddha Nagar district, which includes Noida, Greater Noida, Dadri, Jewar and Dankaur.

UP is a state with extremes, understandable for a large state. At one end, there are districts like Gautam Buddha Nagar, Lucknow, Agra and Prayagraj. At the other end, there are districts like Chitrakoot, Mahoba, Shravasti and Balrampur. However, visibility-wise (depending certainly on who is viewing), Noida gets some extra prominence, and now, so does Greater Noida. The New Okhla Industrial Development Authority is a “planned city”, as is Greater Noida, the extension.

Noida was set up on April 17, 1976 and April 17 is “Noida Day”. Section 3 of the Uttar Pradesh Industrial Area Development Act 1976 provided for the notification of a Noida Authority and the 1976 legislation was “for the constitution of an Authority for the development of certain areas in the State into industrial and urban township”. Noida has won several awards.

But there is one aspect on which Noida has won no awards. I am referring to the CAG’s Performance Audit Report on “Land Acquisition and Allotment of Properties in NOIDA” in Uttar Pradesh. This is Report No. 6 of 2021, tabled on December 17, 2021. “This report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) contains significant observations arising out of ‘Performance Audit of Land Acquisition and Allotment of Properties in New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA)’ during the period 2005-06 to 2017-18 of the Government of Uttar Pradesh (GoUP). The report emanates from the scrutiny of files and documents pertaining to NOIDA and collection of data from other government departments and agencies viz. Registrar of Companies (RoC), Uttar Pradesh Real Estate Regulatory Authority (UPRERA), PaschimanchalVidyutVitran Nigam Limited (PVVNL) etc., and its cross verification with the data of NOIDA. In July 2017 ,GoUP entrusted the audit of NOIDA, and three other Industrial Development Authorities (IDAs) to the CAG.” This is the first report of the kind and the objective sounds reasonable. In the interests of transparency and accountability, there should be many more of the kind. But the Noida report belies such hopes.

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