Author Archive for Nikhil

The Minimum Viable Accountability Product

The lack of a proper law to ensure that public grievances are addressed appropriately is fast becoming a common public grievance. A Right to Accountability Act, along the lines of the Right to Information Act, has been proposed in the July 14th edition of the Hindustan Times.
In my perception, there are two problems with the proposal as described in the paper:

a. The proposal for a Right to Accountability suffers from the same limitation as the current Right to Information Act, which is that the final arbiters on each matter are the Information Commissioners, whose financial and social incentives are aligned with those of the the government and its officials, and not with the wishes of the people. The Information Commissioners refuse to penalize the govt officers withholding information, and there is little that an appellant can do in this situation.
It can be anticipated that Accountability Commissioners would not buck this trend.

b. The fact that information has been withheld can be proven far more easily (or does not need to be proved) than government negligence in a particular case. Negligence, if reported by an individual, can in many cases simply be denied by the government. If the individual does not prove negligence, it becomes a case of accepting the complainant’s word against the government servant’s, something that the government will never do.

Added to this is the biggest hurdle that the proposal doesn’t talk about.
c. Political resistance will be very high to a law that seeks to make the establishment accountable.
The demand for a law that proposes to bring about total or near-total accountability is effectively a demand for revolution, which is unlikely. Only investments in incremental change are likely to pay off.

Whenever a discussion about the Indian government and the need for change takes place in the public domain, emotion often tends to overshadow the need for pragmatism. The discussion needs to be focussed not on the grand vision of how accountability will be achieved in India, but the first step. The brainstorming should be concentrated not on the law that will give powers to every indifferent citizen to police any errant politician/bureaucrat, but the enabling legislation that will give tooth to the activists and people who are motivated enough to want to make a change. The Minimum Viable Accountability Product.

Hopefully, the discussion about such an accountability law can be started in this forum.