If not always in practice, governance as an electoral slogan is a favourite for political parties. Voters are being encouraged to be ‘impatient’ — that it is okay to ask a government what it has done in 5 years on the sadak-bijli-paani front.
Once another party takes over reins though, it fashions other narratives to justify why it must continue in power. And so it continues, but governance track record is best measured over the long haul. Irrespective of which political dispensation is ruling, it requires a degree of consistence and continuity. So what are the criteria for evaluating whether a State enjoys good governance or not? According to the Bengaluru-based think tank Public Affairs Centre (PAC), these could be broad themes like essential infrastructure, support to human development, social protection, condition of women and children as well as state of law and order.
Founded by the economist late Samuel Paul, PAC has been bringing out a yearly ranking of States on governance since 2016. In its recently released ‘Public Affairs Index 2018’, the top five large States are Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and Gujarat. Among smaller states with population less than 2 crores, Himachal Pradesh ranked first, followed by Goa, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura. Assam in the large States list languishes at 18th spot; among the smaller States, Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya are ranked at the bottom.
The socio-economic development of States was measured by selecting 30 focus subjects and 100 indicators on a matrix, for which PAC relied solely on government data, avoiding private data sources that could be interpreted as ‘biased’. So the data on governance is pretty much from the horse’s mouth. This is the third consecutive year Kerala has come out tops on governance, PAC has noted. For those who follow State rankings brought out by other groups like India Today, the PAC list hardly comes as a surprise. Even if we consider rankings from 2001 onwards, the four major south Indian States along with the likes of Gujarat have consistently fared well.
The laggards too have been long familiar, like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. A study by Samik Chaudhury, Sudipto Mundle and Satadru Sikdar published in 2016 had noted that better governed States have primarily taken two distinct paths to development.
One path involves the State government in an ‘enabling role’, as seen in Gujarat — providing good infrastructure and efficient administration as a springboard for private enterprises to take the lead in ushering development. The other path has been taken by States like Tamil Nadu where governments have combined their enabling role with high level of ‘social service delivery’. However, the government of a State like Bihar is in the unhappy position of spending to drive public investment as well as deliver on social services.
While avoiding the Bihar trap, studying the Gujarat model or aspiring to better Tamil Nadu or Kerala, a State could well chart its own path to success. But for that, governance must first cease to be an empty, glib slogan.
Toll collection in Assam
The toll gate on the NH 37 at Rontholi in Raha is one of the major toll gates in the State which were closed following massive protests in 2015. The new toll plaza is to facilitate toll collection and manage traffic. reports say that two free lanes will be there on either side of the road for local vehicles. The rates for vehicles are yet to be fixed. A private company, Inderdeep Constructions, which has been handed over the charge of the Raha toll plaza on a contractual basis, will have to pay a daily sum of Rs 10.59 lakh to the NHAI. The ruckuses over the opening up of the toll plaza in a state have many dimensions.
One of them, what protesters allege, is that it is a syndicate business where politicians and mafia share the money charged from the taxpayers. The raging protests have forced the administration to close down the toll plaza. But questions that arise are: for a simple issue of toll plaza collection why is there a fire-fighting situation in the State? Are there other reasons which do not meet the eye? Toll collection by the NHAI is a regular feature across the country. However, time and again, the collection of toll by the authorities meet with a stiff resistance. Maharashtra is probably one of the states in the country which accounts for maximum number of toll gates. Protests against the toll tax collection by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) party led by firebrand leader Raj Thackeray hit headlines at regular intervals.
The NHAI has been complaining for long that it is incurring losses over the various road projects developed in the State since they are not allowed to collect toll taxes due to public protests. The situation has come to such a pass that the NHAI sought the intervention of the Centre to lift the ban on collection of toll tax from various roads in the State. Initially, the State Government did not pay much heed to the matter. However, opening up of the Raha toll gate, which was closed for last three years, signifies that the government has come under severe pressure. Otherwise, with the election approaching the government would have preferred to postpone the decision.
The Union Ministry of Highways has announced that the Centre would spend close to Rs 20,000 crore in building roads in the north-eastern States in this fiscal. For construction of roads money is required and toll collection is one of the ways to raise the resources. The protests over the toll collection appear to be motivated mainly for political reasons rather than on public interest. For a public-private partnership project (PPP) has to succeed revenue collection is utmost and it would be prudent on the part of the authorities and agitators to sit across the table to iron out issues.