Extending Yoga for effective governance
by Raghav Mittal on 22 Jun 2015 6 Comments

One of the best event managers in his own right, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accomplished a unique feat of making the entire globe acknowledge and appreciate the resplendent power of yoga, which in his own words is something “beyond physical fitness”. The maiden International Day of Yoga marking the Summer Solstice has somewhere set forth the trajectory of his government.


Like the entire repository of literature and a living tradition eulogizing and elaborating the meta-physical conundrum of the art and craft of yoga, the motifs and meanings embedded in the Modi Mantras of Effective Governance and Converging Development would have to be duly enunciated. 


There is no doubt about the inducement of a renewed set of vitality into the system at all levels; the rigour, vigour and candour is emphatic. However, the larger direction and exact trajectory of this resounding vitality is either hazy or masqueraded in impregnable symbolism, something which ancient masters of yoga used to adopt for giving the art and craft a sacred hallow. The murky mundane world needs the Modi mojo for understanding the unfurling of the same, something increasingly muddled by bureaucratic vision and values of safeguarding the coterie for perpetual survival.


Take the case of HRIDAY, a well-meaning scheme with a well christened acronym (duly laying the preamble and spirit to resurrect the sanctum sanctorum - hriday - of the heritage cities) under the auspices of the Ministry of Urban Development, to develop and augment the heritage precincts of some ancient cities, including a major segment of the sapt-puris which every Indian cherishes and reiterates in his morning prayers.


Public servants are probably not meant or mandated to keep these tenets in their vicinity. They need the assistance of an international consulting firm (KPMG in HRIDAY’s case) to structure the scheme’s implementation. Doesn’t the National Institute of Urban Affairs which claims to be Promoting Integrated Solutions for Urban India have the ability to construct a cogent scheme in consultation with the careerist bureaucrats at whose beck and call the entire country starts and stops?


Introducing a global name possibly exonerates them of accountability or responsibility in case the desired results are not accomplished. Incidentally, this does not go into their records as maintained by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. It is high time bureaucrats are held accountable for the entire scheme/project handled by them so that accountability or credit can be fixed, as due.


In a lighter vein, I have never understood the addition of “Public Grievances” in this very Private Ministry handling the affairs of India’s most privileged sahibs. We should have a separate department to handle Public Grievances across the spectrum, rather than tag it as a meaningless appendage to service transfers and pensions.


To return to the execution of public projects, one may note that during the last investment cycle for Braj (Mathura district), the Vice Chairman of Mathura Vrindavan Development Authority pushed for a railway over-bridge over a meter gauge line which handles a 4-wagon train that plies between Mathura with Vrindavan thrice daily, at a whopping expense of Rs 23 crore. Old records revealed that there was an approved proposal to meet the same purpose through a meagre investment of Rs 60 lakhs by deploying a railway barrier! The bureaucracy needs to move beyond seeking and controlling enhanced budgets and act as genuine custodians of public interest.


A significant section of the HRIDAY scheme draws from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) scheme where a similar set of consultants were hired and contractors commissioned. None of the officials concerned with the HRIDAY project want even a mention of JNNURM, even in closed chambers. Their libraries also seem to be out of bounds for reference to the past materials. They just don’t want to learn from past accomplishments, mistakes, inefficiencies or designs. 


Take the Vrindavan Parikrama Marg, which was designed and developed with great fanfare at immense public expense. Today, the visitor is repelled by the sorry state of affairs, yet no one is bothered to investigate the reasons for its colossal failure. Instead, a new set of bureaucrats want to gamble all over again with public money, without even a public audit.


The World Bank grant for Braj region, a whopping Rs 441 crore, was used for this irresponsible, unaccountable experiment, without a developmental audit for the same. The Principal Secretary, Tourism, Government of Uttar Pradesh, a sensitive and hard-working official, when apprised of these facts during a review meeting at Mathura, though not responsible for the old mess, felt compelled to defend his institution’s infallibility by misusing the powers and authority vested in him.


Similarly, the World Bank is funding the resurrection of some 12-odd Kunds in Braj region, into which a significant sum of public money has already been spent during the last decade, without any impact.


Then, a comprehensive tourism master plan was created for Braj region very recently. Without giving it a chance, the World Bank has mandated the creation of yet another plan from scratch. This is the reality behind the spending of the taxpayer money. 


There is thus an urgent need to create an OPEN DATA portal (http://data.gov.in) of the government of India whereby all material generated out of public funds under various schemes are available for public scrutiny. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India must also examine these duplications which entail such a huge waste of public money. 


Mathura is currently endowed with a plethora of schemes and funds. There is a World Bank supported Pro-Poor Tourism Development Project for Braj region, steered by the Mathura Vrindavan Development Authority (MVDA); there is HRIDAY which should be steered by the Executive Officer of the Mathura Nagar Palika but has been taken over by an enthusiastic Chief Development Officer. Both the schemes are being run in silos with little coordination or convergence, though there is a great overlap in project proposals and perspectives. Different consultants have been deputed and operate in different universes. 


It is tragic that the bureaucracy remains shrouded in the colonial legacy of infallibility, suzerainty, convoluted accountability and a lifetime of impregnable asylum. There is an urgent need for accountability and responsibility of these backroom boys who continue the imperialistic order by mutual back-scratching. The new Chief Vigilance Commissioner erred in stating that he would protect honest bureaucrats; he should have promised not to spare dishonest bureaucrats.


The Prime Minister would certainly be aware of the grave challenges he faces. He has to imbue the bureaucracy with the concepts of Custodianship, Continuity and Convergence in order to create a new culture of governance. The staggering success of International Yoga Day at the national and international plane gives one reason to hope.


The author is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur

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