Shyam Ponappa / November 03, 2005
A good way to ruin India’s potential of achieving the BRIC forecasts (Brazil, Russia, India, and China as leading economies by 2050) is to indulge in a raucous fracas about the new airport at Bangalore. Surely the Janata Dal (S) knows this. Could it be a conscious strategy to make Karnataka like Bihar? Let us hope not, because that could be a horribly effective strategy. Even before this, Reuters reported a BPO entrepreneur in China saying: “We ask our clients to go to India first and then fly to Shenzhen … Because the minute you land in Shenzhen you can see the environment is much better.”
For the beleaguered denizens of India, few things bode more ill. We must think of drastic ways of building systems in India that work for its citizens, as the executive and legislature do not seem able to do so.
I wonder if people wish, as I do, for more assertive spontaneous action by our justice system (suo motu initiatives). Worse, I am inclined to urge abetment in this process if it is legally feasible, despite reservations such as an unwillingness to recommend foreign investment in projects that would leave them at its mercy.
Could it be in the public interest to invite judicial intervention in India as an interim measure? If so, should people take to “adjudication support” activities? I am suggesting a variant on assistance to litigants (“litigation support” or “dispute resolution”). The twist: on select matters, present the facts and logic that courts can use for spontaneous action in the public interest. That is, prepare the argument as though to file public interest litigation (PIL), but do it only to invite judiciary action, and let the courts decide on priorities and “prosecution”. It could be used for problem solving, as with the Bangalore airport and infrastructure; or for systems development, as in creating a fair and effective policy and administrative framework for telecommunications, or for energy. Most ambitiously, the judiciary could curb political excesses through incitement to religious or ethnic bias, i.e. transgressions of Article 15 of the Constitution, whether for a particular community such as the Vokkaligas or Yadavs, or against any or all others.
While there is little doubt of India’s increasing prosperity, there are too few developments of systems for the public good, despite a stellar cast at the helm. With a large population, poor infrastructure, atrocious systems, and a predatory, self-seeking culture dominating politics and society, where the educated and prosperous behave irresponsibly, we desperately need systems for the public good.
Few of us can dedicate the effort and money it would take to prepare a case, file a PIL, and follow it to conclusion. But many can contribute evidence on things that would harm our collective interests, provided this is channelled with systemic support.
With an overburdened justice system, more PIL suits are avoidable. Therefore, even as our judiciary hews into the backlog, and oversees the design and execution of a document and case management system with processes to improve throughput (which they are doing), providing them with good information support could help them decide where to focus with regard to judicial activism.
Systems Building: A start
It is customary for the judiciary to evaluate opposing arguments and then decide, calling on domain expertise as required. This integrated, multidisciplinary approach is essential for systems development, and yet seems to be lacking in our executive’s and legislature’s approach.
Also, the judiciary probably appreciates the complex web of aims -- objectives, policies, laws, rules and regulations, procedures, institutions, practices that comprise good systems -- which collectively make for a sound policy framework. Hence, they could compel the induction of (a) integrated expertise, and (b) socio-technical systems inputs, such as the work at the Next Generation Infrastructures Foundation (http://www.nginfra.nl/) for a sector.
Although beyond the customary ambit of the judiciary, whose purpose is not the development of new systems and institutions, this approach abides by democratic processes.
Bangalore Airport/Infrastructure: Rights & Responsibilities in Politics
Bangalore symbolises much more than the city. The Bangalore airport and infrastructure in Karnataka (with an equally egregious example from Bihar, perhaps? Or from UP? Or?) could serve as an exemplary case. While the airport is the flashpoint, there are other ramifications, e.g. the smear against Infosys (hence the issue of inappropriate ways to pursue political ends, when the judiciary could step in to temper rights with obligations), the efforts to stall the Bangalore-Mysore Expressway and to prevent its servicing the airport (also an issue of inappropriate political action). Tirades against NR Narayana Murthy and Infosys and undermining infrastructure initiatives damage our collective reputation and potential, not just the individual, corporation, or community.
Our collective interests are damaged in a similar manner by gambits like:
- the Ayodhya temple movement,
the strategic populism of the Congress, like giving away “free” electricity and blighting the prospects for reform well beyond their limited tenure and the extent of their territory (because such actions create a negative perception of India itself),
abdication of responsibility by state and local authorities,
the Left’s misrepresentation of confrontational trade unionism as employee rights in IT and BPO enterprises, whereas both employee and employer rights may be better served by models such the Dutch works councils (http://ideas.repec.org/p/use/tkiwps/0306.html).
A well-designed facilitation system could be organised that plays to a burgeoning IT nation in building our internal systems and markets, e.g. by a platform and access on the web, incorporating elements of the UK’s government-sponsored MySociety.org’s project, TheyWorkForYou.com (a non-partisan, volunteer-run web site that helps people track elected representatives). This could enable effective use of the Right to Information Act, with innovations like wiki and Google Maps Mash-ups, and specifically designed features to help the judiciary rate, prioritise, and track issues. It could also make for channelling participation from multiple sources with a loosely structured advisory panel, with the likes of Aruna Roy’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (the MKSS started the Right To Information movement in Rajasthan), Janaagraha with its public disclosure system in Bangalore set up by the Ramanathans, Bunker Roy’s Social Welfare and Research Centre of Tilonia with its original focus on water, Bibek Debroy’s work rationalising the laws (Project LARGE), Parivartan in New Delhi (e.g., Vishal’s experience with Vasant Kunj potholes: see http://vishallucknow.blogspot.com/) and its associates in other centres, the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, and the Bangalore IT Forum.
It will undoubtedly be a challenge to emphasise a rational, constructive, knowledge-based, convergent approach (i.e., integrating the respective domains, whether it is engineering, finance, law, organisation design, etc. and keeping them objective and task-oriented). Over time, this could evolve into governance mechanisms in the form of workable public-private partnerships. The key will be to focus on achieving results, stressing logic, systems, and technology. In fact, the judiciary will need to protect the whole initiative from being hijacked by opportunistic self-seekers, the shrill rhetoric of the antidevelopment brigade, and such like.