A noted economist on Thursday backed the UPA government's handling of Anna Hazare's agitation for a strong Lokpal, saying the civil society was free to make suggestions but it cannot be allowed to impose solutions.
Senior fellow at the Columbia University Jagdish N Bhagwati said perhaps the greatest disappointment with the country's civil society activists was their presumption that they can supplant the democratic process.
"The UPA government has been exactly right: civil society can agitate, it can make suggestions, but it cannot be allowed to impose solutions. They are good at flagging an issue; they are not good at flogging," he said delivering the 24th Intelligence Bureau Endowment lecture on 'Designing Institutions for Governance Reform'.
Bhagwati said the civil society is an important supplement to parliamentary democracy but caveats must be added if it is to play a creative rather than a destructive role.
"At minimum, they (civil society) also need to learn the value of dialogue instead of diatribe. The Anna Hazare movement was startling in the way that the NGOs fell out, often with high decibel denunciations directed at their own kind, turning into uncivil society instead," he said.
The internationally renowned economist referred to the often reported diatribe between different civil society activists like Arundhati Roy in one side and Arvind Kejriwal in other.
"The mayhem among these activists reminds one of American free-style wrestling where there are no rules or, more cynically, the only rule is that you must hit below the belt!," he said.
Referring to corruption in higher and lower bureaucracy, Bhagwati said the UPA government has responded in the last few weeks to both types of corruption by introducing a blitzkrieg of legislations -- such as the protection of whistle blowers, the Lokpal Bill and the Judicial Accountability bill -- that are of the 'adaptation' variety.
"They have been immediately questioned as weak and inadequate. But the real problem with this response is not its problematic efficacy. Rather it lies in the fact that these measures do not provide 'mitigation' which would reduce the incentives for corruption," he said.
Offering suggestions on reducing graft, Bhagwati said high level corruption requires that the incidence of the licence system be minimised while corruption at the lower level could be eliminated by introducing technology in the administration.
"Yet another idea is to turn the estimated bribe into a payment for the certificates to be issued, so that it turns into a fee-for-service charge to be put into a fund for the bureaucrats, much like the tips paid for service in restaurants," he said.
The economist said other suggested incentives include bonuses to bureaucrats that vary with the quickness of the service they provide. Conversely, penalties could be levied on the bureaucrat who delays service beyond a defined norm: though, penalties could run at times into union problems whereas bonus payments will generally not.
Move From Dialogue to Diatribe:Bhagwati to Civil Society
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