MLF seminar on Making the Government Work for You: Getting the Government’s Ears

Shailesh Gandhi, the former central information commissioner, pointed out to an eager audience the tools at our disposal to compel an unresponsive government to act

That our government does not function is a common refrain; it is a topic of discussion at every dinner table. But ‘why the government does not work’ was the question raised by Shailesh Gandhi, a former central information commissioner, in a session titled “Make your Government work for you”, organised by Moneylife Foundation on the 23rd of May in Mumbai.

Addressing an audience of around 70, Mr Gandhi broke the ice with “India belongs to each individual citizen. Thus, we ourselves are responsible to make our government work for us.” To do this, Mr Gandhi spoke about an important tool designed for the common man, namely, The Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2005.  This tongue twister of a statute is commonly known as the ‘Transfers and Delays Act of 2005’.

The above-mentioned Act governs the transfers of government officials in Maharashtra. The Act specifies that the tenure of government servants will be three years and transfers will normally be made only in April and May of each year. It provides for reasons to be recorded if transfers happen otherwise. Mr Gandhi pointed out that under the Act, in case of any discrepancy, anyone can file an application against the action with the information commission.

Often, we find ourselves disappointed, not only by inaction but also the apathy of government agencies when our complaints fall on deaf ears. This Act, however, shows us a way. It mandates that no action can be kept pending for more than three months, and if left unattended beyond that, a simple application with the complaint can be sent to the secretary of the concerned department; or when the relevant authority is a municipality, the municipal commissioner.

In the discussion, Mr Gandhi explained how the government is simply not structured to act and that the present government’s resources are insufficient to govern a gigantic country like India. He emphasised that simple tools like the ‘Transfer and Delays Act’, if utilised, have a potential to change the system. An important first step is to exert pressure. He concluded by saying, “You can make this Act work. If you want your government to work, you will have to act.”

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MLF seminar on our legal system: What Are the Flaws in Our Laws?

Economics and Indology scholar Dr Bibek Debroy regaled Moneylife Foundation audience with his depth of knowledge and amazing stories about ludicrous Indian laws

An enlightening lecture by Dr Bibek Debroy, eminent economist, columnist and academician, was organised by Moneylife Foundation on 27th May in Mumbai. Dr Debroy took the audience on a journey from the beginning of the movement for law reform in 2001-02, its development and current status. He also enunciated the issues concerning the barriers that old and archaic laws place in India’s path to growth.

In his characteristic incisive style, Dr Debroy livened the session with real-life experiences and anecdotes. These covered the various projects he has headed, the longest disputes in the history of Indian courts, the plight of a dead man—Lal Bihari—and the funniest laws in the country.

“The dimension of legal reform in India is like a huge black hole”, Dr Debroy said. He hypothesised that “if we can fix the various dimensions in our legal system, our GDP will grow by 1.5%.” He not only discussed the problems within our legal system, but also the various stages and elements of legal reform.

The oldest laws in India can be traced back to the nineteenth century. Around 200 pieces of legislation pre-date our Independence. It was only in 2000-2001, that an effort was made to get rid of some of these redundant laws. Like India, several other countries continue to have some bizarre laws. However, unlike India, these laws are not used to harass citizens. “With a new Narendra Modi government, there is an expectation of overhaul of the legal system. The new prime minister has been talking about statutory reforms that he had carried out in Gujarat. There is some development on civil laws, but there is equal need of reforms in criminal laws, including police reforms,” he said.

In an informative question hour, Dr Debroy expressed optimism that the new government will implement many of the law reforms that are being talked about. Shedding light on the intricacies in law reforms, such as the identification of the redundant laws, the process of repeal, the different kinds of statutes, the need for simplification, etc, Dr Debroy lucidly and patiently answered each question that was posed to him.

Dr Debroy spoke about the pivotal role of the law ministry as a catalyst of legal reforms in India. He concluded the session by saying, “Unless we correct the system, all the talk of GDP growth, is poppycock.”

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