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EDITORIAL

Of Institutions, Regulators and Governance

Ashim Bhuyan
(The writer can be reached at ashim.bhuyan65@gmail.com)

Institutions play a pivotal role in the progress and development of a country, and it is even more relevant for a democratic country like India with its diversities and complexities. Institutions and regulatory bodies can uplift the progress of a country, and lack of institutional framework may come in the way of progress of a nation.

Institutions may or may not be within the framework of the Constitution. The Election Commission, Controller & Auditor General (CAG), judiciary etc are examples of institutions within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Then, there are other institutions like the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), CSIR, ISRO etc that are playing exemplary roles.

Why Institutions and Regulatory Framework?
Institutions provide focus, roadmap and expertise compared to governmental and ad-hoc machinery, apart from being responsible for the assigned work and role. Institutions need to function independently, and should be insulated from the governmental machinery and government interference. These institutions would be more important and long-lasting than one government or two (or more than two) at the Centre or in the States. They provide continuity for national interest and public good.

The Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) was formed in the early 1990s with statutory powers as an institution, and it is doing a remarkable job in the securities market, including the stock markets and mutual fund industry in the country. Yes, there were times when this regulator was found wanting, but then, it continues to evolve and grow.

Closer home in Assam, an example is ASEB. As per the recommendations of expert committees for State Electricity Boards (SEBs), restructuring were initiated, and the operational efficiency of ASEB has improved. At the same time, ASTC continues to languish, all at the cost of taxpayers’ money.
On February 3 and 4 this year, the global investors meet “Advantage Assam” was held at Guwahati, attracting quite large amounts of investments by way of MoUs. To translate these MoUs into reality, loads of work at the ground level needs to done by the State government; be it for tourism, infrastructure, energy etc. Government machinery, as it stands today, may not be capable of carrying out this job. An institutional framework, in different areas, is necessary for a continuous focus and expertise, and to deliver results. Yes, the government would, and has to be involved. However, a governmental approach with its bureaucratic shortcomings has, normally, been found wanting. The work and benefits of Advantage Assam must be continuous, lasting more than one government or two, and far-spreading, with lots of expertise and focus. The State government should note that the Niti-Aayog is a Central government institution, and has its own CEO, apart from its chairman and vice-chairman, and the core objective of the institution is policies for economic development and growth.

Institutional Framework is Good
The judiciary is an institution. There are many instances, when the judgements have gone against the government and the executive, and also against popular opinion, but the judgements are normally respected, most importantly, by the people of the land. Similarly, other institutions are also respected if these are fair and transparent. Institutions, normally, also insulate the government against adverse situations. This is good for the government and the executive as it need not unnecessarily get involved in issues that are being dealt by institutions. This is also better governance. Though the government of the day is responsible for the issues of the day, institutions would help it to deal with such issues on a regular basis with long-term implications. The State machinery need not get into being involved where institutions are assigned the task. This would mean more time and energy for the government and the executive to have their focus on other issues that matter. This also allows direct interface between the stakeholders, most importantly the citizens, and the institution.

Institutions of the Yore
This part of the country had certain democratic and strong institutions, beyond the royalty, kings and the State machinery. The namghars, xatras, moina parijats, mohila samitis etc played key role in different times. There were discussions, deliberations etc involving everyone in the society, and, thus, making the society cohesive and with strong bonding. These institutions have now fallen apart, mainly because of the interference of the State. However, as the State got involved in diverse areas, it has lost control of the core issues, and hence is losing trust of the people. The institutions, on the other hand, had trust of the people.

Good for the Political Class
In today’s trying times, there is immense pressure on the political class to perform and deliver. Most of the times, the political class does not have expertise, and perhaps, most importantly time, to bring solutions, and, thus, resorts to ad-hoc mechanism. This happens to even the most well-meaning politicians. The political class also tends to over-promise. The political class faces public ire for job opportunities, infrastructure, development etc. This leads to disillusionment among citizens. Institutions would have expertise to offer better solutions and alternatives, which, in turn, would be good for the political class. The political class would be able to concentrate on public opinion and issues, rather than dealing with issues where they do not have sound background.

Good for Citizens
If we look around the globe, we would easily observe that the countries that have sound democratic values, and that are high on human development index, also have strong institutions. Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand etc flourish because each of these countries have strong democratic institutions. In the recent times, the President of the USA and the Prime Minister of Israel are under investigation by the FBI and the police, respectively, though each of them continue to hold their respective posts without any threat to their positions. The institutions continue with the jobs of their investigations. In India, in contrast, if such situations arose, the executive would have had to resign without getting a fair opportunity.

The nation and, more particularly, Assam need institutions that can deliver and that the public can trust. Going by the examples around the globe and the country, developing institutions would be the key for progress and development of the State of Assam. Its per capita income was much higher than the national average at the time of independence. The per capita income of the State is now way below the national average. This fall from grace has much to do with governance, rather than any other challenges and problems that the State faces.

If we are to develop the tourism sector, for example, we need institutions that can actually develop the tourism industry. Just a media campaign involving a big star or a festival here and there would fizzle out soon if the ground realities like creating an environment for tourists and tourism is not created. A visitor to the State would always be out of place unless he himself (or his tour operator/guide) prepares well in advance for a visit to the State, including his accommodation, transportation, food etc.

Fortunately, lot of experiences are already available in the country, and also within the State, which should help the government to have institutions that can actually contribute to the growth and prosperity of the State.
In a nutshell, the development of Assam and the country as a whole would depend a lot on the institutions that we develop and allow to flourish for the betterment of the people.

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