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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 30 New Delhi July 18, 2015

Inculcating Ethical Values to Improve Current State of Governance

Monday 20 July 2015

book review

Aarti Khosla

Ethics for Governance—Reinventing Public Services by B.P. Mathur; Routledge India (Taylor and Francis India), New Delhi; August 2014; pages 408; Rs 495.

The need for good governance in the country is often reiterated. It is also one of the promises made by every party while seeking votes as they know that people are fed up with the present state of governance. Efforts are made by every government in power to bring about certain changes to improve upon the existing frustrating dispensation of administration. Notwithstanding what Madhav Godbole, a retired Home Secretary, suggests in his latest book that good governance was never on India’s radar, it has been very much so.

Reforms have been undertaken in the Civil Service structure, rules and regulations, conduct expected of civil servants from the time we became independent with several committees, commissions giving plethora of reports on how to go about improving the system of governance for the benefit of the people. We did not succeed and instead of improving the system, it has further deteriorated. The missing link in all our efforts has been the promotion of ethical values which alone can promote good governance because good governance requires good people. Dr B.P. Mathur’s book is highly relevant inso-far as it discusses this aspect. Dr Mathur had been a distinguished civil servant having worked in several posts at a very senior level before retiring as the Deputy Comptroller General of India. He has the experience, passion and commitment to ethical values which turn out a good administrator. Hence his book has the authenticity which a bystander of the system would not have.

Quoting the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, at the concluding session of the Constituent Assembly, the author makes out a case that the administration of the country and welfare of its people depend upon men who administer it. What are the ingredients of good governance? Quoting extensively from different sources like the UNDP, World Bank, Planning Commission etc. the author lists these requirements as rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, equity and effectiveness. If for all these virtues men of character are needed then what are the values required for such character-building? Part II of the book details those values as drawn from religion and the moral code. Here religion is discussed not in any sense of a dogma but religion in the sense of propagating spiritual and moral values which make a man a good human being. Then there are certain values expected by the society we are living in. These societal plus religious values form the universal values listed at the end of this chapter. Character-Building for National Reconstruction is the theme of one chapter in this book.

Taking the reader through the historical back-ground of administration from ancient India, the author talks of the ethics of Ramayana and devotes a full chapter to the fundamentals of governance as in Mahabharata and the concept of statecraft as delineated by Kautilya during the times of Maurya, the declining standards of administration during the medieval period and then the administration during the British rule which left a formidable legacy of ‘unified civil service and judicial system based on rule of law, a modern communication network’. Independent India, however, required a different orientation to meet with the require-ments of democratic principles enshrined in the Preamble as well as the Directive Principles of State Policy in our Constitution in keeping with the current economic scenario where in spite of economic growth 30 crore Indians live below the poverty line. There are other challenges too like environment degradation and ecological disaster brought about by mindless exploitation of natural resources. All these require a different way of working than followed hitherto and sensitivity to the wellbeing of the people. That is why the author believes that wellbeing of the people should replace the growth of GDP. A new matrix of growth has to replace the present one. He finds the Gandhian ideology relevant even today to that of the model of economic growth we are pursuing. We may not agree with many of these ideas but the fact remains that once individual wellbeing is at the core of an economic model, any path would be welcome.

It is only in Part V that the author comes to the real focus of his book—the public services and why they do not function. He counts those reasons as lack of accountability, outdated rules and procedures, highly centralised system, poor work culture, lack of professionalism and, of course, politicisation of services. How can we reinvent them? Though there is a full chapter on this, somehow the answer eludes us even though references to the experiences of some nations like the UK, Newzealand, the USA are given. In Part VI of his book he talks of the core subject of his discussion, that is, the ethical framework for public services which require devotion to work, honesty andintegrity, fearlessness and courage, a sense of mission, spirit of service and sacrifice.

In the last PartVII of the book he discusses the challenges faced in governance. Combating corruption is one of these—a major one. Corruption, he says, is a symbol of something that has gone wrong in the management of the state. Truly so. A few steps are indicated to have a corruption-free India. The book ends with a discussion on the need for good leadership and individual excellence.

All in all, the book makes an excellent read notwithstanding the repetitions of several points and historical narrative. It should be a recommen-datory read for every trainee officer as it gives an elaborate explanation of what is wrong with our current state of administration and how the same can be improved by inculcating a set of ethical values in the art of governance.

The reviewer, a senior Railway official (now retired), worked as the Additional Secretary, Department of Personnel, Government of India. She is an expert on governance and public administration.

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