Governance is often seen as what the government does, which is only partly true. Although governance has been variously defined, most of them recognize that governance has two aspects – one, it is exercise of power and authority and two, it is about the government’s ability and capacity to effectively fulfill its mandate (for a full discussion on governance – what it means and how it can be measured, please see Assessing State of Governance prepared by Center for Good Governance for Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Government of India).
Effectiveness of government is critical for good governance as it largely determines the quality of public services, particularly those that the poor access, such as primary health, education, water and sanitation, etc. It also plays a major role in providing a conducive environment for others i.e. the private sector and civil society to play their roles effectively. This translates into ‘ the capacity of governments to manage resources efficiently, and to formulate, implement, and enforce sound policies and regulations’ (Kauffmann, Recanatini and Biletsky). There is no denying that government’s role is rather critical in the governance framework. However, to lay the entire blame for poor governance at the door of government of the day and in some cases of successive past governments amounts to turning a blind eye to the other party – that is, the citizens, the private sector, the media, the civil society.
A good illustration of this is provided by the proposed legislation by Karnataka to regularize deviations in building bye laws in urban areas in the state. According to the news paper report there are an estimated eight lakh building and site violations in Bangalore alone and another six lakh violations in rest of the state. There are obviously two sides to it. There is the government’s (or the local body’s) capacity to enforce the bye laws and prevent violations; but, how about the 14 lakh individuals and more perhaps as many of the buildings might be flats, (surely most of them from well-to-do sections of the society), who thought nothing of violating the bye laws?
The same news paper reported a few days back that Bangalore which had about a thousand lakes a few years ago is now left with less than 250 lakes. The water bodies are encroached upon with impunity in collusion with officials and elected representatives. Who are the beneficiaries of these encroachments? I guess they are the usual suspects – people like us – the middle class.
The Hussain Sagar lake and Mir Alam tank in Hyderabad both supplied drinking water to the city at one time. Today one would hesitate to even put a finger in them as they are so polluted. Over the years both have been severely encroached upon and are just a fraction of their original size. Some of the encroachments – essentially slums – are sponsored by political leaders to create vote banks. The celebration of ganesh festival when thousands of idols are dumped into Hussain Sagar lake has political support across the spectrum for obvious reasons – but again how about the citizens who have no qualms about polluting life giving water bodies?
The recent disaster in Uttarakhand that has stunned the country with its enormous dimension and implications is again a story of private sector companies not seeing beyond their own bottom lines – to hell with environment and ecology.
This is the reason why one must bring in the second dimension of governance into public discourse – that of exercise of power and authority by non government actors. Governance in this sense is seen as ‘the space various stakeholders viz. the state, citizens, civil society and the private sector give each other in managing their affairs and interests. In this sense, all of them not only have a stake in governance but they are also responsible for the state of governance because governance is as much about enforcement and regulation as voluntary compliance with law.’ One might argue that if there is an enlightened and effective government the other parties would behave. It is true, but in many cases placing the entire burden on government is not practical. Governance is also about respect for law and institutions of governance. In any case, a weak and ineffective government is no excuse for others to forget their responsibility. Good governance takes the both government and the civil society to be responsible. It takes two to tango.
Srinivas Kumar Alamuru
[Disclaimer: Views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of CBPS.]