DNA, June 01, 2014

By Pradeep S Mehta

Guj babus are more open to sharing info; in MP it is just the opposite

While the officials in Gujarat readily shared information with us and also pointed out ways to deepen our research, officials in Bhopal with much ‘enthusiasm’ violated principles of logic and work ethics

Tomorrow: A reality check on governance in Rajasthan

As an election campaign issue, the Gujarat model of governance and development is being challenged that it is smoke and mirrors. One of the indicators of good governance is how bureaucrats interact with people when asked for information. Our own field experience on different dates and with different agencies suggests that unlike other states, Gujarat babus are more open and forthcoming.

Under an international project we are assessing the impact of competition reforms in two sectors—staple food (wheat, rice and maize) and bus transport—as both impact the poor directly. The project is being carried out in Ghana, Zambia, Philippines and India. India, being such a huge country, the study focuses on Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat for the bus transport sector, while it looks at the wheat sector in Bihar and Rajasthan.

Let me share some details about how our field researchers were received in various government offices in Gujarat and MP. In Gujarat they assisted actively and data furnished—across the table and through emails after their visit—without any questions. In MP their experience was sad.

The first meeting of our research staff, Neha Tomar and Shreya Kaushik, was with a research officer in the transport commissionerate in Ahmedabad recently. He escorted them to the joint director who was forthcoming with the data and went ahead to suggest names for them to meet. “The employees were bright, nimble and helpful,” said Neha and Shreya in their back-to-office report. “Our experience at the Commissionerate was a stark contrast to the stereotype anecdotes of government offices.” Government officer fished out all data and gave them the copies.

The Transport Commissionerate was not an exception as my colleagues found when visiting the offices of the Bus Rapid Transport Services and Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Services (AMTS). AMTS supplied the data on the spot, while BRTS agreed to forward it by email, which they did after a reminder. “Ahmedabad BRTS is a hugely successful PPP initiative. The bus corridors are spotless and garnished with greenery, and it has been backed by sound logistics to ensure smooth functioning,” say Neha and Shreya.

The next day, they visited the Gujarat State Transport Corporation, which runs the inter-city bus services. They could meet the managing director, who summoned some of his staff and the data flow was very smooth.

Another set of colleagues working on clean energy awareness issues went to Gujarat to collect data. They went to meet Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission, Gujarat Renewable Energy Development Agency and other government departments. At GERC, the chairman met them with all his members and their visit to other offices too was smooth. Let us contrast this with my colleagues’ experience in Madhya Pradesh, also a BJP ruled state with another hat-trick CM, Shivraj Singh Chauhan. This state was chosen for the study on bus transport because it is the only state, which has scrapped the state road transport corporation, a brave act. They had secured appointments at Bhopal, but were not told that Transport Director sits in Gwalior. So they went to meet the RTO in Bhopal. The Bhopal RTO who had agreed to meet them had retired, but he had not whispered this to my colleagues when they had sought an appointment. One new gentleman had taken his place. Anyway, they waited for him who came in late and called them in. Balancing himself while speaking with some visitor, attending to the telephone calls and office chores, he asked my colleagues to come the next day for some papers. Next day he did hand over some papers, but it was useless.

They then went to visit municipal commissioner (MC). He questioned their credentials first before offering any information. He was told that the project is being supported by DFID, UK. Then he called up a local DFID consultant because DFID India is engaged in MP on a massive poverty eradication project. The DFID consultant denied any knowledge about the project.

In any event, how and why would he have known? He asked my colleagues to get some verification done by DFID, UK and that an email would suffice, but it must come from the DFID email domain, than from some web mail account. That was sent to him by the UK DFID project manager. He called up the MC and set things right. So my colleagues went back to the MC, but did not see an encore of what they had experienced in Ahmedabad. The Commissioner asked for a list of the required data and said he would have it mailed. Months have passed and there is no response from him.

It would not be fair to qualify the insouciance of officials in MP on basis of one anecdote. But there are other experiences of my colleagues in MP which only confirm that it is not as open as Gujarat is.

My young colleagues write with anger: While the officials in Gujarat readily shared information with us and also pointed out ways to deepen our research, officials in Bhopal with much ‘enthusiasm’ violated principles of logic and work ethics. Why was it so difficult to share information, which is anyway supposed to be made available to public? Even their websites are outdated and no one bothers to update them.

What was interesting about Ahmedabad and Bhopal visits was sharp difference in the ways of functioning. No wonder Gujarat is a model state in India for good governance. Our politicians need to do a reality check before making hollow noises.

The writer is Secretary General, CUTS International (views expressed are his own)

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