April 04, 2020
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Dreams And Droughts

Legislators sans executive power and administration sans legislative powers: balancing the two gives us the administration we have today.

Dreams And Droughts

My dream for India is to see the waters of the Brahmaputra kiss the waters of the Cauvery.” In all my years in journalism I was never able to use this awesome quote. Covering the ministry of defence made it very difficult to insert this somewhere. Even though it came from the most difficult man to meet in the ministry, Bharat Ratna Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. I had gone to his office after work, and he was giving me copies of all the reports he had worked on for India’s technology vision of 2020. I then asked him what his personal vision on a national scale was. Exposed to conversations on rocketry, thermal imaging and such other technologies, I had to ask him to explain this quotable quote.

It was very simple. He was envisioning a river map of India, much like a road map, in which various watercourses are linked to form a water grid. In that lies India’s solution to the drought in Barmer, and simultaneously floods in Burdwan. This canal system—at a national scale—will also ensure that India uses most of its freshwater, rather than letting it waste into the seas. At the same time, it will raise the water table in areas where there has been an exponential increase in the development of tubewell irrigation along with an insufficient recharging of subsoil reserves. In his mind, Dr Kalam was also envisioning a potential for inland water transportation. News from across the border speaks of severe strain between Sindh and Punjab on sharing Indus waters. Figures for damage to the wheat crop in southern Punjab and Sindh are scary. India could learn from that experience to formulate its own system. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, all of this, or even a part of it, would require tremendous political and social cohesion to achieve. I already feel better now that I have shared Dr Kalam’s dream.

As mentioned last time around, the state government has commenced drought relief measures with effect from January 15. The delay was occasioned primarily by financial considerations, for a failure of rains is apparent by the end of August. The later the commencement, the lesser the amount the state government has to pay for these projects. It is as simple as that, and at a time when pay and allowances for many of the departments are being managed through borrowings, it is well-nigh impossible to expect Jaipur to dole out funds unreservedly. The struggle for getting projects sanctioned is in full swing, and the sarpanch who gets more than one for his panchayat should count himself, and his villages, very lucky indeed. Charges are also flying thick and fast about a partisan attitude within the administration in sanctioning the relief projects, in terms of which panchayat gets what project, and its value. There is a history to this.

One of the things that has amazed me no end while moving around the three districts that I cover is the quality of intellect and commitment at the district level. The stereotype of the unmoving district collector who refuses to take a positive step, or that of a bullying superintendent of police—both hand in hand with the local goons—is not reflective of the ground reality. Like most of what happens in India, there is a vast grey area, within which slotting of roles cannot be so fixed and rigid. There are certainly some who are irreparably unpleasant, but they are in a minority. What has been an eye-opener is the fact that there is a difference in intellect and dedication between the state cadre and those from the central services. There is no doubt about that, and what is particularly disturbing is that many from the state services behave more politically motivated than the politicians themselves.

Those from the central services are not afflicted to the degree that the local ones are, for obvious reasons I suppose. One of the collectors that I deal with is an immensely intelligent person, and of the three SPs, two are from iit while the third is an mbbs. This is not to say that SPs are smarter than the collectors, just that the other two have been promoted from the state services. They are slower to react, and more prone to buckling under pressure.

From the commitment at the district stage to what happens subsequently to these bright men and women can only be called a depressing journey. Now that I see it before me, it is easy to understand where we go wrong administratively. The Devikot incident mentioned some time back was a revelation as to how the various levels of administration and policing respond. And the grey area that envelops the boundaries of the legislature and the executive is where the problems lie. There are undefined roles at play, of the legislator sans executive authority, and the administration sans legislative powers. Both are trying to influence the other, and it is a balance of these two interests that gives us the administration we have today. In that sense we have yet not evolved from the colonial times where the district magistrate entertained the requests of the native notables, and dispensed with the funds keeping an eye on their interests. This is exactly what is going to happen with the drought of 2001.

(The writer stood for elections as the bjp candidate in Barmer, Rajasthan. He now works full-time in the constituency and is writing a column on life and development issues in Barmer.)

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