Policy Stuck Between Politics and Convenience

(All pictures are sourced from the newspapers delivered at home).

A new state was born. On June 2, 2014, after a six-year struggle, the state of Telangana came into existence. Bifurcated from the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh, citing that successive governments ignored the region, Telangana now governed itself.

The identity of a state within the federal union of India gave it the legitimacy to govern itself. Seven years down the road, the government formed by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), received bouquets and brickbats.

Elected twice to the state assembly, the ruling TRS government has legitimacy through the Constitution and public mandate.

Governance, however, extends beyond the realm of government. Governance is a cumulative effort of multiple stakeholders that engage in deliberation and dialogue to formulate policy. These decisions translate into action. It is a long-drawn process that tries to accommodate all stakeholders.

Similar challenging issues on governance plague governments across the country. National governments and multilateral bodies like the United Nations are not spared from these issues of governance.

A few challenges of governance are – centralization of power and authority, criminalization of politics, human rights violations, low levels of education, less active society and delay in judicial judgements. There are other governance challenges. The list can go on. However, I will try to throw light on a few issues of governance in Telangana.

The newly formed state of Telangana is home to the cosmopolitan city of Hyderabad. Hyderabad has global recognition and attracts investors and tourists across the globe. But the city has a poor record in public sanitation and solid waste management.

An article in the Hindu newspaper dated September 3, 2021, titled ‘Establishment of garbage transfer points in limbo’ talked about failed opportunities and efforts to modernize waste management.

The first attempt at modernization of waste management happened in 2009. The government of undivided Andhra Pradesh led the initiative. Having obtained clearance from the State cabinet, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) signed an agreement with Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd.

The PPP mode agreement gave wide-ranging responsibilities to Ramky. It made the company responsible for the primary and secondary collection, transportation from source to disposal site, scientific management of landfills and all the activities solid waste management (SWM) chain. It did not go down well with the sanitation workers of GHMC. And the project was stalled.

The Minister of Urban Development, KT Rama Rao, revived the project in 2019. The project comprised 17 transfer stations and 90 secondary collection and transportation centres. Open garbage trucks were to be made a memory of the distant past.

Two years later, the project is yet to take off in its entirety. A stalemate in deliberation between the government and Ramky pressed the pause button. Ramky insists the government hand over the entire SWM chain as per the contract to set up the promised secondary collection and transportation points.

However, GHMC sanitation workers are against it. They are protesting the transfer of the SWM chain to Ramky. Hence, Ramky has only set up plants for garbage treatment and disposal.

Various studies ranked the citizens as stakeholders of significant importance alongside the local government. The municipal sweepers ranked low on the scale of importance.

The local government failed to include the citizens, the primary stakeholders. Nor did they heed the voice of the sanitation workers. The government also failed to fulfil its responsibility of setting up trash cans and creating awareness among the public. Focus on the exchequer without including the stakeholders is creating hurdles for the project.

Shifting focus from the urban landscape to the rural hinterland, we encounter the issue of low literacy rates. A news report in the Indian Express published last year pointed out Telangana had the fourth-lowest literacy rate among big states.

The overall literacy rate stands at 72.3 percent. And the rural literacy rates highlight the role of gender as well. Telangana recorded the second-lowest literary rate among women at 53.7 percent. Compounding the problem only 30 percent of the demography between ages 18-23 are educated.

The statistics show that education has not percolated into the rural areas in Telangana. There is a stark gap in percentages of literacy in terms of gender and region. The burden of education in rural areas is on the government. External stakeholders such as private players do not contribute much to this area.

Secondary stakeholders – the government and NGOs drive the mission of rural literacy. Villages face harsh socio-economic realities of poor infrastructure, the distance of schools and the safety of the girl child. These are contributing factors to the low literacy rates.

In contrast, the urban population has a high literacy rate of 81 percent. The rural literacy rate late languishes at 57 percent. It is reflected in the spatial patterns where urbanized districts of Hyderabad, Warangal Urban, Rangareddy enjoy high literacy rates. These districts in the hinterland have poor literacy rates falling below the threshold of 50 percent.

This is a tragedy that writes itself. The citizens are not rich enough to provide education to their kids, the government does spend enough to provide amenities and talent and lack of profits keep the corporates away.

With my last example, I draw attention to the issue of centralization of power. Last month, the Ministry for Fisheries announced the formation of fish marketing societies. The State government stated that the intent behind the decision is to increase the income of fishermen. It is a decision taken after a panel discusses the issues faced by fishermen.

The formation of fish marketing societies is aimed at cutting out the middlemen. To achieve the stated goal, the Minister asked the irrigation bodies and ponds under gram panchayats to transfer control to the Fisheries department. The government is considering bringing urban water bodies under the control of local municipalities.

The existing program of making fisheries sustainable by stocking fish feed is bringing good results. The District Stocking committees that include members of gram panchayats manage the count of supplied feed, distribution and maintaining evidence of outcomes of the program.

The government is taking power away from local governments that are successfully managing fish production citing that middlemen are eating into the incomes of fishermen. This change benefiting the government is coming at the cost of the citizen and local government.

These three examples point out that despite the egalitarian definitions of governance, stakeholders are not given much importance by the government. Political convenience determines the involvement of stakeholders in policymaking.

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