Published: Friday 15 February 2002

Reversing the trend

Apropos your special report 'Power trickles down' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 15, December 31, 2001) . Though Maharashtra was the first in devolution of irrigation rights and responsibilities, it has fallen far behind other states that introduced this move more recently. S N Lele, one of the founders of the Pune-based Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (soppecom) recently wrote in a Marathi magazine that in the past 15 years since the inception of water users cooperatives, though 600 societies have been formed only 226 have actually had agreements signed and rights devolved. In this process, only two per cent of the area at present is under irrigation. States like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have in the past two or three years far outstripped Maharashtra. Andhra has handed over rights to 10,000 cooperatives in three years resulting in water conservation and a 50 per cent increase in area under irrigation in this state. Orissa has formed 120 societies, many of which solely constitute of women who have diversified the cropping pattern resulting in an increase in income as well as more economical use of the water. In Tamil Nadu though water users cooperatives are over 100 years old, the government has issued an ordinance in order to promote the formation of these societies rapidly on a wider scale. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have also in the past two years actively promoted such associations.

I have, over the past six months, been struggling to get a water users' society registered under the jurisdiction of the Nira Right Bank Canal. Though the necessary instructions have been issued by the concerned minister and chief engineer, the executive engineer who is to issue the necessary certificates of intention continues to avoid doing so stating that some of the farmers object to the formation of the society. Though the applicants for formation of the society consist of more than 51 per cent of the beneficiaries and irrigate more than 51 per cent of the land covered by the project. I look forward to the passing of the modifications to the irrigation act making the formation of these societies mandatory.
Phaltan, Maharashtra

Community participation in resources management has always been appreciated for the uniqueness it provides in term of efficiency and result-oriented effective management. Traditional methods with judicious use of scientific and technological input have a potential to create a base for sustainable usage of resources. This is shown again with the success of water programme in Nasik, Maharashtra. We need to seriously think about reversing the trends in resources management by involving community in decision making process. Whether it is water or forest, devolution of power to local communities is effective in this sense. Instead of the government making the decision and implementing the scheme, let the community take the decision and government act as administrative body facilitating the required input for the programmes. Community-based local institutions can also act as observers in order to keep transparency and accountability in government departments and local cooperatives. This will ensure target oriented sustainable socio-economic and environmental development.
Mumbai, Maharashtra...

Bureaucratic block

Reference your editorial 'Making bureaucracy work' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 14, December 15, 2001). The greatest bottleneck in India's economic and social development is its bureaucracy. The system, which helped the British to rule over India for more than 200 years, should have been abolished at the time of independence. Unfortunately, the old system continued. In fact, all the new services were patterned on the previous system. As regards the question of making bureaucracy work, it is possible only when rulers know their job well and themselves are honest. As most ministers have virtually no understanding of their portfolio, they are hardly in a position to guide and force the bureaucrats to work. There have been cases where even the Prime Ministers have signed on the dotted line, little understanding the implications of their decision.
Yojna Vihar, Delhi

Our Prime Minister was recently heard lamenting the existence of cumbersome rules and procedures that detract foreigners from looking at India as an investment destination. He forgets that occupying the highest position in the decision making body of the country, the onus of bringing about any change rests primarily on him. The corrupt bureaucrats will always remain the greatest stumbling block to any developmental activity. The alacrity with which some of them secure postings in tribal development areas only points to their eagerness for exploiting the opportunity to amass wealth. Lion's share of the funds alotted for the welfare of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes over the years has only helped the bureacrats to add to their own pockets. Integrated Rural Development Programme (irdp) was one major scheme, introduced with the idea of helping the weaker sections of the society by providing employment opportunities and a reasonably decent livelihood. Even after 15 years, the level of poverty remains more or less the same. The failure of the successive Union and state governments in eradicating poverty is criminal and the bureaucrats' share in this tragedy is reprehensible.
Thane (west), Maharashtra

Much before 1947, someone made a remark: "The Indian Civil Service consists of officers who are, generally speaking, honest and industrious. At the same time, they are a set of people most irremovable, irresponsible and amenable to nobody except their own collegues." After India gained independence, disbanding the Indian Civil Service (ics) ought to have been the first step taken by the new government. Instead, the Indian Administrative Service (ias) emerged as the new avatar of the ics. At that time there was a need for an administration which was geared towards development and responding to the aspirations of the masses. Instead it continued to focus on maintaining law and order with total insensitivity to the feelings of the public. As a result, only a handful of ministers know how to deal with bureaucrats today. In fact, most of the politicians and the bureaucrats are corrupt. They often work hand in glove to make money. Files do not move and decisions are taken when the price is paid. Otherwise, everything is lost in the quagmire of rules and complicated procedures.
Gandhigram Trust, Tamil Nadu

Good governance in India will only remain a rhetoric unless committed politicians and non-corrupt media strike at the very root of bureaucracy. Recently, I happened to visit one of the ministerial headquarters in New Delhi which houses a cabinet minister and a score of State ministers. The babus there were sitting in the canteen and playing cards during the office timings. When the ministers cannot keep their backyards tidy, to expect them to govern the nation to goodness is asking too much.

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