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 Rule of Law
Tell me the rules!
Business Standard India Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sanjeev Sanyal
It is widely acknowledged that the poor quality of general governance is India's central problem. There are a plethora of rules, procedures and forms that apply to routine activities, and common citizens can't easily find them. we need a fundamental change in the way common citizens are informed about the laws, rules and regulations that they are expected to follow. Here are three simple steps that would dramatically tilt the scales in their favour, writes Sanjeev Sanyal in Business Standard.

The poor quality of general governance is widely acknowledged as India’s central problem.


The essential premise of all systems of governance is that common citizens follow the rules of the land. In turn, this assumes that the citizen knows the rules or can easily find them. Unfortunately, this is no simple task in India.
There are a plethora of rules, procedures and forms that apply to routine activities like getting a driver’s licence, applying for a gas connection, setting up a business, building a home and so on. I am not talking here about the great laws that are contained in the Constitution or debated in Parliament. I am referring to the little rules and regulations that govern daily life. These rules are usually set by government departments, local bodies and other agencies. Even if the original guidelines are clear, these rules are inevitably subject to change. Very soon we find ourselves in a quagmire of modified sub-clauses, exemptions, internal contradictions and complex procedures.


Given the above situation, we need a fundamental change in the way common citizens are informed about the laws, rules and regulations that they are expected to follow. Here are three simple steps that would dramatically tilt the scales in their favour:

First, it must be made mandatory that all rules, procedures and forms be placed on the website of the relevant agency or department as well as prominently pasted on the office notice-board in English and Hindi (and/or the local language). Today, we have an arbitrary system where some agencies put up their rules on the Web and some do not. More often than not, the information is partial, out-of-date or simply misleading.


Second, all laws, regulations and procedures must be presented as a coherent whole rather than as a series of circulars and notifications. At present, a citizen needs to follow a complex paper trail in order to understand what is expected of her. Even officials do not often know the current state of the law (or pretend not to know).


Finally, the time and date must be mentioned every time a rule or regulation is uploaded or changed. This is very important because it will tell the citizen when the new law has come into effect. Preferably, the law should come into effect after a few days (say a week) after the change has been notified in order to allow the citizen to comply.


Many of the problems of governance in India flow from the lack of transparency. The above change — preferably enshrined in legislation — would make the state transparent and strengthen public institutions at the cost of individual incumbents. In turn, this would dramatically reduce rent-seeking and inefficiency. The necessary information-technology platform is simple and already exists. Furthermore, it does not have to be introduced everywhere at the same time but can be introduced in one state or department at a time. Most importantly, it will cost virtually nothing to set up and even less to maintain. The real problem will be one of mindset. Today, the attitude is that the rules can be changed arbitrarily without making any effort to inform the citizen. My proposals will make it the business of the state to clearly notify the common citizen of her rights and duties.

This article was published in the Business Standard on Wednesday, October 13, 2010. Please read the original article here.
Author : Mr Sanyal is an economist with a leading global bank, and an Eisenhower Fellow on urbanisation
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