The jewel under wraps: Impact assessment of the 2nd ARC reports

What is the relevance of Government appointed Commissions and Committees? The perception is that it is a strategy for keeping the long pending governance issues under folds.  The Government justification is that it is a sincere effort to garner specific expertise recommendation for chartering a feasible way forward on a significant challenge at hand.  Assuming that the Government claim is genuine, then it should be mandatory and specifically mentioned in the terms of reference a concrete time line both for receiving the recommendation and also for public record on substantial actions taken by the Legislature and executive towards implementation of the relevant accepted recommendations of the Commission/Committee.

There is plethora of recommendations received from various Commissions/Committees which for want of any effective action become irrelevant with the passage of time.  The specific case under the scanner here is that of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2nd ARC) which was set up in August, 2005 as a Commission of Inquiry for preparing a detailed blueprint to revamp the public administrative system under the chairmanship of Shri M. Veerappa Moily.  The Commission was set up with a clear mandate to suggest measures to achieve a pro-active, responsive, accountable, sustainable and efficient administration for the country at all levels of the Government.  The first Report of this Commission on the Right to Information was submitted in 2006.  14 more Reports have been submitted since, the last being the 15th Report submitted in the year 2009.

Starting with a bang on Right to Information (RTI) with laudable promises of addressing the major deficit in “good governance’, it is close to eight years since its commencement and exactly four years since the last Report submitted in April, 2009, still there is no ‘Action Taken Report’ in public domain as regards the major recommendations of the 2nd ARC.  As per the reply to an application under RTI moved by Public Interest Foundation (PIF), the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, has disclosed that the total expenditure incurred in the working of the Commission till January 2013 amounts to approximately Rs. 11.90 crore.

Subjects dealt by the 2nd ARC are key agendas of contemporary relevance like ethics in governance, steps to ensure effective administration at the state level, district administration, local self government/Panchayati Raj institutions, participative and transparent delivery of public services, citizen-centric administration, promoting e-governance, crisis management, public order and police reforms, judicial accountability, ombudsman/Lokpal etc.  It is no body’s case that these important issues of governance should be addressed through a single reformative step forward.  Given the federal character and also accountability to the Legislature, the initiatives of course correction would emanate from multiple points leading to upgradation of the present system of governance which is the widely recognized as incapable of meeting the nation’s expectations.  The present polity is facing multiple challenges and ineffective redressal is causing the threat of multiple organ failure.  Sincere adoption of relevant recommendations of the 2nd ARC would have certainly guided in the positive direction leading to resolution of the various important deadlocks that our nation is grappling with on a day to day basis, it only points to the sorry state of affairs that the recommendations of the 2nd ARC are still wanting effective actions in terms of ground level execution.

Thanks to Right of Information Act, which certainly draws its strength from 2nd ARC itself, efforts to probe deeper by PIF on the fate of relatively more important reports on the 2nd ARC from the perspective of advocacy towards good governance, was rendered futile.  The specific reports explored for outcomes were the 4th Report on Ethics in Governance and the 5th Report on Public Order.

The careful reading of the 4Th Report on the Ethics in Governance shows the pivotal impact that could have been made through the serious consideration and adoption of its recommendations. Commission gave wide-ranging recommendations on electoral reforms which included partial state funding for elections, amendment to section 8 of RPA, 1951 to disqualify persons facing charges of grave and heinous offences, collegiums of bipartisan nature for the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner etc.  As per the information, the recommendations relating to electoral reforms have been forwarded to the Ministry of Law & Justice.  Also, recommendations on integrity of public servants, seizure of illegally acquired assets and measures to curb black money are now with the respective Ministries.  The Commission had also highlighted the delay in trials under the Prevention of Corruption Act.  It had recommended a time limit for various stages of trial and the Apex Court was to lay down guidelines to preclude unwarranted adjournments and avoidable delays.  The vital recommendations to cleanse the system and introduce integrity and efficiency has been put on a snail pace action.

On the first RTI application filed in December 2012, to know the status of adoption of all recommendations under the Fourth Report on 2nd ARC, the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (DoARPG) informed that out of a total of 134 recommendations 79 recommendations were accepted by the Government and 21 were referred to other fora, remaining 34 were not accepted by the Government. Out of the 79 accepted recommendations actions on 53 have been completed and 26 accepted recommendations are pending for implementation by the Government. Not completely satisfied with the nature of the answer which seemed to be concealing more than revealing by refusing to divulge any details on subject matters towards which recommendations got accepted or rejected, PIF again filed another RTI application. This time the RTI application inquired to know the status of acceptance of specific recommendations on issues of grave importance like institution of Lokpal and Lokayukta, Political Funding, Anti-Defection Law, Disqualification of the MPs under Section 8 of the RPA, Coalition & Ethics, Fate of MPLADS & MLALADS, Ethical Framework for Judiciary, Speedy trial under Prevention of Corruption Act, Confiscation of Illegally acquired property through corrupt means. But the answer again was evasive in terms of the fact that rather than giving concrete actions on the status of the action taken on these specific agendas, PIF was redirected to various Government Departments. This only shows that there is no concrete movement on the central issues as per various Reports submitted on the 2nd ARC.

Similar fate was met out to PIF’s inquiry on the Fifth Report on 2nd ARC which deals in the area of Public Order. This particular Report deals with recommendations on the much-debated grey areas of present day Governance like Police Reforms and Repealing of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.  Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (DoARPG) simply informed PIF that this Fifth Report which was submitted in 2007, is still under the consideration of the Government.

Given the fact that the issues covered under the purview of the 2nd ARC are critical to extricate from the morass of governance paralysis that India faces today, it is indefensible that the recommendations are being subjected to routine procedures and formalities and no attempt has been made to fast track the execution.  The term of the present Parliament would be over by May, 2014 and perhaps there may be yet another proposal to constitute a 3rd Commission for administrative reforms to placate various position seekers.  It is necessary that the Action Taken Report in a time bound manner is placed in the public domain so that the accountability increases and the propensity towards using Committees/Commissions as a procrastination strategy is effectively checked.

By Nripendra Misra, Director, PIF & Tannu Singh, Research Associate, PIF

(This article was published in the Dainik Jagran on 16th June, 2013)