As the example of education shows, India’s bureaucratic reforms are falling short of maximising governance

THE PURSUIT OF “GOOD GOVERNANCE” has become ubiquitous in Indian politics. Across party lines, in the run-up to every election, voters are offered different visions of better public administration and improved state services. But each vision has a common theme: disciplining and tightening control over India’s errant lower-level bureaucrats.

While the specific solutions can vary, the broader discussion traverses two dominant views. First, a techno-optimistic approach, which encourages the use of technology as a means to discipline bureaucrats by making their actions more transparent. The Modi government’s attempts to “maximise governance” through the biometric tracking of bureaucrats’ attendance, and its focus on “process re-engineering”—as announced on the first annual “Good Governance Day” last Christmas—belong to this family of reforms. State governments have taken similar steps in recent years: from installing CCTVs in administrative offices to using GPRS phones to track the whereabouts of frontline officers.

The second school of thought emphasises legal and civic action to instil discipline and responsiveness in the bureaucracy. The United Progressive Alliance government’s enshrinement of the rights to education, information and food, and work, resonate with this project of citizen empowerment. The Aam Aadmi Party’s anti-corruption campaigns propose a marriage of public activism and technological reforms, encouraging citizens to expose deviant administrators using social media.

Yamini Aiyar is the director of the Accountability Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research.

Shrayana Bhattacharya is an economist with a specialisation in public administration, and a former research consultant with the Accountability Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research.