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 (Image Courtesy: narendramodi.in)
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is perhaps attracting more eyeballs than ever for two reasons. First, he has started 2016 with a bang. He is scouting for innovations in governance to transform his rhetorical vision into robust, inclusive growth. 
He excelled as a dream merchant at a global business summit on 29th January.  He proved that he only loves to quote or twist data that scales up his image as leader with magical wand who can turn around slump into boom. Mr. Modi took credit for developments that originated elsewhere.
His notable initiatives in January include Start-up India, meeting with secretaries of different ministries in groups to get refreshing ideas on issues such as energy conservation & efficiency and Ganga rejuvenation. 
In his interface with officials, he has relied on project monitoring through a platform called PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation) that he launched in March 2015. The interactions have inspired favourable ‘leaks’/ ‘exclusives’ in media. News attributed to sources showed PM pitching for dismissal of non-performing officials and timely redressal of public grievances. 
Second, Mr. Modi’s natty pictures are the star attractions in the Government advertisements. It has lately become almost a daily fair at least in eight English dailies that I read.  His image glitters even in advertisements for events with which he is not directly associated. His image is becoming trade-mark for all advertisements and official websites that profile different government entities & their achievements. 
The advertisement blitzkrieg is unprecedented, which perhaps irked Jairam Ramesh into accusing Mr. Modi of indulging in “shameless personal PR campaign.”
Leaving aside political diatribe, one should debate the potential impact of Government’s initiatives. Are these an image make-over exercise that would ultimately deliver little? Are they not just old wine in new bottles? Has Mr. Modi or his advisors done the requisite home work to transform his vision into reality? And when it comes to crunch, the high-profile presentations by secretaries appear to be dud.
Any layman would be wondering at the significance of Swachh Bharat presentation to PM at a recent meeting with secretaries. Does the presentation provide for a solution to the squalor and stink that overwhelms Delhi periodically? This happens due to frequent strikes by sanitation staff of municipal corporations for non-payment of wages.
Why should citizens believe in Mr. Modi’s rhetoric on Swachh Bharat when he has failed to reform three municipal corporations of Delhi that are directly under the control of his party and the Union Government? Did he notice the litter at Raj Path in New Delhi in the morning a day (30th January) after the completion of national ceremony, Beating the Retreat? Can Swachh Bharat Mission succeed without enforcement of penalties on litterbugs? 
Such issues are bound to crop up in the public domain as credibility deficit. This is more so because of Government’s parsimony with information disclosure.  The nation is thus clueless about what innovations in governance, “transformative change”, “innovative budgeting and effective implementation” that the Government is lining up. 
The cynicism about meetings and presentations is justifiable as such efforts were made by Mr. Modi’s predecessors too with modest to insignificant outcomes. Dr. Manmohan Singh, for instance, interacted with all district collectors in May 2005 and listened to presentations on good governance at that unique conference.   
Several innovative schemes to improve administration were launched during the UPA regime. A notable instance in point is SEVOTTAM (Uttam Seva) model or public service delivery excellence. Another example is Model Code of Governance (MCG). UPA Government had also prepared framework for State of Governance Report. 
There has been no significant improvement, however, in delivery of public services. Law and order situation has deteriorated across the country. Police-bashing is the norm. Mob violence has become the rule of the law. A law-abiding citizen feels more insecure today than in the past. 
The public would naturally be curious whether Mr. Modi has asked secretaries to make presentation on all contentious issues constraining governance. And if so, what is that is stopping him for ordering disclosure of such presentations? 
Any presentation pitching for improvement in the administration would be a dubious effort if it is bereft of success stories and failures, which can serve as stepping stones to Achche din.
If PM is indeed serious about creating an eco-system for virtual Utopia in India, then he should unveil a new MCG. And the Government should respect and follow it like a religious scripture. 
It is here pertinent to quote partly his 16-point Utopian blueprint for India that he elucidated at the Global Business Summit organized by the Economic Times. Mr. Modi stated: “We have created a platform for a new future and for a new India:  An India where every child is born safely and maternal and infant mortality are below world averages, An India where no person is houseless, An India where every town and every village, every school and every train, every street and every house, are clean and sanitary, An India where every citizen has access to good health care, An India where every village has 24x7 electricity,  An India where every city is vibrant and livable, An India where girls are educated and empowered, An India where every boy and every girl is skilled and ready for productive employment,…”
It would be virtually impossible to attain such goals without imbibing of MCG at all levels of governance from PM to Gram Pradhan. 
The first principle of MCG should be transparency in all activities of the Government excluding the domain of national security. This obvious calls for proactive and timely disclosures as stipulated under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. 
Public thus expects Mr. Modi to implement this principle and follow RTI Act. Let him bite the bullet by disclosing all the expenditure on his foreign trips. It is here pertinent to quote stingy disclosure dated 14th  January 2016 on pmindia.gov.in. 
The Disclosure lists 19 foreign visits undertaken so far by Mr. Modi in his capacity as PM. It has solitary mention about expenditure incurred on the first visit to Bhutan in June 2014. The expenses incurred on all other tours have not been revealed as the respective bills are either under process or have not yet been received!
What is more galling is the statement that bills about four visits undertaken by his predecessor, Dr. Manmohan Singh, are still being processed. The bills include the tour to Russia that he took in September 2013. Does it take over three years to process bills relating to a visit? If every taxpayer operated in a similar fashion, then the inflow to national exchequer would reduce to a trickle. 
If Modi Government can declassify, digitize and upload documents on Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, it can and should do the same for all other documents in accordance with declassification provisions of the Official Secrets Act.
Such an initiative would create opportunities for development economists to understand failures and successes of the past on the governance front.
This brings us to the second principle of MCG. No scheme, no policy and no project should be conceived and flaunted as new magic from the Government without making appropriate reference to past efforts. Adoption of this principle would no doubt take fizz out of Modi Government’s reforms balloon but would help avoid pitfalls. It will help officials plan and execute schemes well. 
The Government can appreciate this principle by taking up the example of Start-up India (SUI). The Action Plan ‘Starting a startup revolution’ says: “the Government hopes to accelerate spreading of the Startup movement: From digital/ technology sector to a wide array of sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, social sector, healthcare, education, etc.”
All these sectors already have start-up schemes with some such as agriculture having multiple ones. Way Back in 1982 when the term ‘Start-up’ had not gained currency in India, Indira Gandhi Government had constituted  National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) to promote self-employment amongst the science and technology manpower and to facilitate setting up of knowledge based and innovation driven enterprises. NSTEDB is currently implementing several schemes.
In 1996, the Government constituted Technology Development Board (TDB) to provide equity, soft loans and other support measures to ventures that focus on commercialization of indigenous technologies or adaptation of the imported ones. TDB had provided assistance of Rs 1300 crore to 325 projects as on 31st March 2015. The Board is currently scouting for an asset manager to manage its investments in start-ups. 
Yet another notable earlier instance of start-up initiative is the one that was launched by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in December 1999. Named National Venture Fund for Software and IT Industry (NFSIT), it is operated by SIDBI Venture capital, a subsidiary of Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI). 
Modi Government should draw lessons from implementation of all existing start-up schemes to make its own initiative a grand success. It should have the humility to acknowledge the good work done by previous governments. 
This brings us the need for preceding all big-bang initiatives with a public consultation process. This should constitute third principle of MCG. It is indeed unfortunate that Modi Government has not produced a single white paper or consultation paper on vexed issues such as population control, centre-state relations, lawlessness, citizens rights versus duties, environmental-judicial activism versus growth & jobs and uniform civil code. 
The fourth principle of MCG should be prioritization and harmonization of conflicting needs and demands of different sections of the society. A concerted and clear-cut focus on this principle can yield sustained dividends in the form of inclusive and holistic development of the society.
The fifth principle of MCG should be strict and swift enforcement of rule of the law to prevent fast erosion of public’s faith in all organs of the democracy.
Above all, the persons occupying seat of powers must lead by example. The initiative for this must come from the top. When PM exhorts the rich and middle class to give up LPG subsidy, the public also expects him and all other persons occupying top echelons to walk the talk on expenditure management. 
The gold standard of true leadership should be swift shift from colonial comforts of Lutyen’s Delhi to living standards of middle class. Can Mr. Modi create an ecosystem for transformation of political leadership in national interest?   
                                           
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 31jan2016

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