Social innovations for empathetic governance

Sunday, Jun 9, 2013, 14:26 IST | Agency: DNA

Heirs, who have tried to transfer title of land after the death of the owner, know of the hassles involves, not to speak of the corruption. But this tragedy can also be an occasion when the state administration joins the family in mourning. It then ensures that without coming to the land revenue office, all formalities are completed by the revenue staff and the updated mutation records are handed over to legal heirs before the month of mourning ends.

Such responsiveness was ensured in Amravati, Maharashtra under guidance of then divisional commissioner, Ganesh Thakur. I learnt about this, and many similar empathetic innovations in delivery of public services, while interacting with about 100 district collectors at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), coordinated by Dr Prem Singh.

We hear about scams, corruption and leakages and become cynical about our country and its governance. These problems, undoubtedly, are serious and are indeed eating into the vitals of our society. But there is another side to our governance and it’s the positive, empathetic side. We have to learn from positive initiatives in the public systems at different levels and find ways of encouraging  them wherever possible.

I had earlier shared a story of a teacher in Walia, Bharuch who had redesigned the government school so beautifully that the children didn’t want to go home until forced.

Bharuch Collector Dr Rajendra scaled this experience to 110 schools and Anganwadis.

Students of a leading private school in the city went to these schools to see and learn.

What a reversal (but political and administrative leaders don’t put their children in these schools)!

If we can tame the Columbus in us and try to scale up ideas initiated by others, we become part of a very large solution. If everybody has to discover his own solution, then we are into a very costly system of learning. In Buxar (Bihar), the district collector notices a serious problem of information about public works invisible at a project site. The boards were removed or damaged. He created database of all office bearers of the panchayat and of the details of every scheme from its launch to completion, work done and amount spent. The office-bearers received an SMS in Hindi three times during implementation of the project regarding its status. A complete transparency was ensured.

During the sugarcane season, a lot of workers from Dhule (Maharashtra) migrate to other regions for work. Their children are deprived of education and, in fact, often work in the fields with their parents. The administration decided to have seasonal hostels for children to stay in the village and meals were provided to them. Thus, disruption of education was prevented. This is a model, which can be scaled up to cover all of the country so that no child remains out of school.

The government is willing for food subsidy to two-thirds of the population, but only one-third of the people live below the poverty line. This misguided expenditure on people, who can afford food, can be used to eliminate child labour and ensure that all kids go to school, as per Right to Education Act.

But a paradox exists. We celebrate small experiments when it’s actually an obligation of the state to ensure that no child remains out of school. There are several such small initiatives, but the fact that we do not have a database of them led us to propose a partnership between IIMA, SRISTI and LBSNAA so that no good example of social innovation is lost.

The minimum we can do is to share such examples. I have met officers in UP who have had 17 transfers in 15 years. To expect innovations from them is perhaps expecting too much. But things will change. There is no other way that India’s development story will become inclusive enough. May the tribe of such officers expand!

The author is a professor at IIMA.

Anil K Gupta


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place