TODAY -

Running around Central Ministries

Tarun Nongthombam *

Delhi's Central Secretariat, North and South block- it is home to some of the most important ministries of the Cabinet of India

Exhibit-1: Delhi's Central Secretariat, North and South block- it is home to some of the most important ministries of the Cabinet of India



When I started working a decade back, I was given a job which was strangely very different from what all my workmates in the office were doing. Nobody seemed to like the job, so, I was the sacrificial lamb. My duty was to run around central ministries in Delhi, collect information and data from them, address their queries, keep big central bureaucrats happy and that included big ministries like ministry of shipping, surface transport and highways, law ministry etc. Work which was assigned to our team was to come up with a draft national policy on road safety.

Government policy is a guideline or principle on which government functions, if framed properly can benefit the masses but it can be also be misused to satisfy few. Land use policy is one of the finest examples which can sometimes be very controversial both in central and in many state governments. Government allows builders and developers to buy land at cheaper rate which is classified as farmland initially but changing that into residential or commercial in colluding with the builders eventually.

Policy generally starts with a vision statement; in our case we had "safer roads for everyone". This was followed by a series of eleven policy statements and each policy had many strategies or action plans with identification of implementation agencies to work towards the above vision. One of the many policy statements presented to the transport ministry looks likes this, it is on vehicle control.

"The government will take steps to increase the effectiveness of the control of vehicle design, construction, operation and maintenance standards and the means by which it can be assured in order to minimize adverse safety and environmental effects of vehicle operation on road users and infrastructure."

This statement was arrived after a massive national level workshop and several meetings with different stakeholders from various parts of India. However, transport ministry bureaucrats were adamant on one thing, that is, government cannot be presented to have done nothing, so policy statements should use words like "improve upon" or "increase effort" and one can see that is included in the above statement. Every sentence was checked and rechecked including words like and, or, if. Words unsuitable to them were removed or substituted and sentence dictated. When Right to information architect, Aruna Roy says, the present RTI act looks entirely different from what was originally purposed and has undergone innumerable changes, one should not be surprised.

Having learned our first lesson on how government ministries function, our next task was to face the Law Ministry. Our job was to talk with the flock in the law ministry about making Sikh woman wear helmets when they drive two wheelers. Sikh woman enjoy exemption from wearing helmets in Motor vehicle Act. The man in the legal ministry thundered, "Don't come up with silly suggestions"; he then pointed towards a huge pile of files and told, " They are suggestions, draft policies, acts amendments coming from various ministries and citizens groups which are not practicable or implementable. Next step of all these files is towards dustbin".

When any new bill or act amendment or policy comes, it has to pass through first two basic tests, he said. First is, it should not violate any of the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the constitution and secondly, it is the directive principles of state policy test .If it violates, anything we do will become null and void. Our suggestion of including Sikh women in wearing helmets was conflicting with Right to Freedom of Religion. A Rahatnama in which topi is forbidden seemed to be written during Guru Gobind Singh's darbar. We came out after learning the next lesson in government functioning.

We finally managed to come up with a workable draft of the policy after two years of running around, submitted to the transport ministry and our job ended there. Transport ministry after that would start internal examination and inter ministerial examination on the draft policy. Last time I heard about the policy was, it was moving back and forth from one committee to another. It all started in 2003 and we are now in 2012 and one can be very frustrating at the snail pace things move in this country. It will be many more years from now for it to be approved by the parliament or will it remain in the cold storage forever is anybody guess. What a bad policy can also do, we all saw it in 2G saga.

I am very impressed by the ingenuity of Team Anna. They are trying to avert two things that will kill Lokpal. One is the time it takes in India and other is ministries and government agencies trying to save their skin, will use all tricks to dilute what was originally proposed. Lokpal will be like a guillotine for MPs and no one likes guillotine hanging around one's neck. Citizens groups working for amendment in AFSPA, Environment acts etc should be prepared to face these power centers of Government and they really are hard nut to crack. There is a saying, "Anything that happens in India happens in these corridors of Delhi".

One thing which I observed in these Ministries was the complete absence of people from NE and that includes Manipur. Secretaries and bureaucrats all from mainland, many in 50s and 60s with very little or no knowledge of NE were making decisions, framing policies and sanctioning budgets. When workshop for framing country's policy was held, states in the union were trying to convey their viewpoint and pushing hard to get to the source of the available projects and funds for their respective states, Manipur was nowhere!

My British colleague who himself had spent lot of time in Manipur intentionally brought travelers' book, guide maps, souvenirs published by his small village. He was trying to show me that his small village of few thousands people does more on selling its image than the whole of Manipur.

Our state Manipur, which we love so much, is too far off and tiny for Delhi to remember every time. We will be doing a world of good to ourselves if we start reaching out rather than waiting for others to come to us.


* Tarun Nongthombam contributes regularly for e-pao.net . The writer can be reached at nong_tarun@rediffmail.com
This article was webcasted on January 08, 2012.



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