M. Veerappa Moily, chairperson of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, is busy giving final touches to the reports on public order and urban governance, which, he says, will be submitted to the government within a month.
But the former Karnataka chief minister and a senior Congress party member invites attention as much for his views on the government’s economic management as for his stand that reservation for students of other backward classes (OBCs) in Central educational institutions needs to be pushed. Being an OBC politician himself, Moily’s name has cropped up as a possible candidate for the President’s post as well.
A former Supreme Court lawyer, Moily spoke to Mint about his belief that the apex court will give in to the government’s proposal for OBC quotas; his dissatisfaction with economic growth that fails to percolate to the masses; and his solutions to the country’s administrative ills. Edited excerpts:
How do you view the ongoing tussle between the government and the Supreme Court over the proposed quota for OBCs?
Parliament passed the Act unanimously. As chairman of the Oversight Committee, I made sure the general category students would not suffer because of the proposed 27% reservation for OBC students. We provided extra funds to the institutions. Everybody agreed. When there is a consensus in the country, how can the judiciary be above the Constitution, above the people, above the country?
The apex court questioned the validity of the Census of 1931. Would you support a caste-based census to satisfy the court?
I think today or tomorrow, the court will agree. In the wisdom of the court, if it wants a particular method, the issue can be resolved. But justice is not law alone. The court cannot deprive thousands of students. It can’t hold back the entire process on a technical issue. This is not the story of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. Justice is Solomon’s justice. When two women were fighting over a child, the mother had to get the child, without waiting for the DNA tests. You can’t hold the process back because of a technicality. In modern times, there are methods other than the census. There are other surveys available, like those of the National Sample Survey Organisation.
How do you react to allegations that the proposal for reservation is politically motivated?
Reservation cannot be a political vote-bank. It is prescribed in the Constitution. It is the basic feature of our Constitution: social, economic and political democracy. Even the US hasn’t reached the stage where affirmative action may no longer be required. Affirmative action is not exactly the same as reservation, but something similar. Kennedy passed an executive order in 1961, and they still give an award every year. The private sector participates in it without objection to reach out to achieve social goals. Education is considered a public good there. General Electric Corp., I think, in 1996 or 1997, said affirmative action is the best business. Can you expect (Bajaj Auto chairman) Rahul Bajaj or (former Infosys CEO) Narayana Murthy to say the same thing? They’ll say it is bad business. Look at the contrast! But without social democracy, there can’t be a political democracy. Mindset has to change here.
If Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh contribute the highest to the per capita GDP of the country, it’s only because of the inclusive growth in these states where reservation has been in force for the past four decades.
Where do you stand on the ongoing debate over alleged judicial overreach?
The Constitution has clearly defined the role of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. So long as none of them tries to step into the territory of the other, there will be no conflict. If the executive and the legislature discharge their duty, the judiciary cannot interfere. It is only when either the executive or the legislature does not perform its duty, and there is a vacuum, then there is a possibility of the judiciary trying to occupy that vacant space. We should try to see all these three wings perform their duties so that they leave no vacuum. It is the job of the judiciary to interpret the Constitution, not to make its own law.
Is the commission looking at reservation as policy in any of its reports?
The report on conflict resolution will look at reservation along with insurgency, terrorism, ethnic and water disputes, regional imbalances; in fact, all the conflicts that the country is facing. We will look at the root causes and come up with solutions.
What is your final deadline? How many reports are likely to be there in all?
We started work in August 2005. September 2007 was the deadline for all our reports, but our work may extend till March 2008. We have a staff of just 10-15, but we have already submitted four reports, on the right to information; unlocking human capital; crisis management; and ethics in governance. There may be about 15 reports in all.
The next report will be on public order. It will look into all facets of public order, including police reforms and the criminal justice system. We are likely to submit it in 15-20 days. We have looked at all reports submitted by the various committees set up by the government, including the last one on the Police Act, headed by Soli Sorabjee. We also looked at the relevant Supreme Court judgements. After this, in 20-25 days, we will submit a report on urban governance. Then comes conflict resolution, followed by the one on financial management systems, after which will be a report on the budgetary system.
We are also looking at terrorism, both national and international, and trying to come up with solutions by studying its genesis.
Then we are looking at social capital, the federal polity and civil service reforms.
Is there a well-defined mechanism for implementation?
The government constituted a committee, on 30 March, with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee as the chairman and, including him, 12 ministers, to consider the implementation of the recommendations of the commission. There are many groups of ministers, but none as big as this. The Prime Minister has also appointed an exclusive secretary in the department of administrative reforms and grievances to oversee implementation. Several state governments have also formed several committees to ensure implementation.
Don’t you think the failure to act often stems from a lack of will, rather than a lack of knowledge of the right thing to do?
I believe honest systems will displace dishonest men. Especially in these days of technology, it is possible to devise systems so there will not be much interface between the officers and the persons dealt with, not much interaction. That will put the system on autopilot. I have been a minister, a chief minister and I have seen it work. It can work.
Why is it so difficult to evolve a political consensus on one of your key suggestions, which is to bar people facing criminal charges from politics?
In any system, including the political system, there may be 10% people resisting change, but there are also 90% people who want good governance. Those 90% will eventually prevail upon the 10%. The 10% are always more visible, but today or tomorrow the 90% will overpower the 10%.
Turning to your other area of expertise, are you in sync with the government’s economic management?
There can always be some aberration in a growing economy. However, I don’t think high growth must mean high inflation. That’s what the modern theory of economics says.
Where has the government gone wrong then?
You can’t find fault with an individual, like the finance minister alone. But I feel you can’t have midway correction. When you build a growth model, you need constant fine-tuning. That’s because growth may not percolate to the masses below, but inflation will affect them.
Is the current policy geared to make India a superpower, which, I understand, is the theme of a book that you are working on?
I think more could be done in terms of monetary management, that too without hurting growth. Housing loans, for instance. If housing suffers, everything else will suffer. India can become a superpower only if there is inclusive growth. You can’t exclude large sections and hope to become a superpower. The government must work as a team. Only then can the country progress.
Take price rise. If you control mandis (commodity markets) in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, you can control the price of onions.
Would you comment on reports that you are in the race to become the next occupant of Rashtrapati Bhawan?
The President is selected by consensus. It’s not for anyone to be an aspirant or my filing an application. It’s for the country to decide.