Rebooting the system of reforms

Vishal Sharma
District Industries Centre Jammu has started registering industrial units online both provisionally and formally. This marks an important first in its history. DIC, Jammu may have witnessed many positive changes in the past, but its migration to e-enabled rendition of two of its most important services has to be up there with the very best it may have ever seen or would ever come to see in future. In that sense, it would not be a hyperbole to say that DIC Jammu has carved a slice of history for itself.
Coming as it does in the backdrop of a World Bank report indicting J&K state recently for its poor performance on industrial reforms vis-a vis other states in the country, it is likely that it may either be ignored or dismissed as an insignificant step. When the image of the state as a whole has taken a hit, it is a given that such a reform will be seen as mere window dressing.
Though the latest World Bank indictment is indeed a cause for concern, it is also an opportunity for initiating industrial reforms. And we must seize this opportunity. It is an axiomatic truth that reforms have come about only in times of adversity; when the governments had their backs to the wall; when they have been presented with a Hobson’s choice. They have never been brought about when the going has been easy. As such, the call to reforms at present also has a familiar setting and context in so far as J&K is concerned.
In that sense, J&K has a golden opportunity to unleash a whole host of reforms cutting across various departments and stakeholder organisations. In the past, they, at best, have been limited to one or at the most two departments only. Consequently, the effect of reform has petered out after the initial hurrah. Most importantly, barring one or two substantive transformational changes, reforms have been sought to be introduced by allowing irregular relaxations/concessions and perverse incentives to masquerade as reforms.
In most cases, reforms have been seen merely as dispensing with a few mandatory clearances from some regulatory departments in response to the demands from some organisations. It has never been weighed in that such corner cutting can be a recipe for industrial disasters in a state where industrial clusters and habitations are for the most part contiguously located. This has predictably undercut not only the integrity of the whole process, but also compromised the strategic aims, thus, defeating their very raison’ detre.
States which have known why they are reforming have reformed better. We, on the other hand, have given the impression that we did not know why we have made a few institutional/policy changes whenever we have made them. It appears to have kind of happened in our case or we have simply bumbled through to it; either because the templates for them have come attached with the coat tails of the package of incentives flowing from the GoI or there have been some irresistible external stimulus. There has not seemingly been any clear reform conception and formulation underpinned on achieving any tangible goals.
This would need to change though. For instance, Gujarat’s, a leading reformer, success is not because it has reformed better than others. It is because its reforms have been aligned to the Gujarat needs and stength. Gujarat’s location near the coast offers it the advantage that a landlocked state like J&K does not have. Its location and the kind of its land make it a natural choice for a manufacturing base. Gujarat recognised this early on and hit the ground running with the reforms. J&K on the other hand can’t be a big manufacturing hub; at best it can have fair to middling clusters of component industries. It should leverage that and other niche products and try and excel in that rather than competing in all segments with other states.
The other facet of the reforms must be institutional as opposed to procedural. Easing procedures on standalone basis without making necessary changes in the structural and operational paradigm of the related institutions so as to enable these procedures to effectively take effect would be counterproductive. Also, the instruments of the government which have to enforce the procedures would be hamstrung in the face of the institutional deformities/incapacities and that would cause individual discretions to creep in. That’s when the whims and fancies of individuals would start permeating the system. This wouldn’t be a reform. This would be regression.
The best way to deal with the institutional and individual nepotism after larger policy issues have been sorted out is to make the entire system e-enabled. E-regime is equitous, transparent and efficient. Once such a regime is in place, the individual discretions would have no place. The system would be controlled by specifically designed softwares, which would not accept any command and produce the desired result, if it is not accompanied by the documentation it is demanding. Imagine, would a proposal which requires a certain set of documents to be uploaded on the designated portal for it to be processed on line be processed in the absence of even one of such documents? No. Where would there be a place for any discretion in such a system?
When DICs take gradual, but assured steps towards such a state of affairs, the system would have no choice but to reboot after a series of such steps reach the required critical mass. DIC Jammu may have taken a small step, but it can act as a force multiplier for other such like steps. For this to happen, it is important that all the stakeholders join hands in a mutually reinforcing manner. In fact, after some time online registration should be the only option for registration. The continuation of dual options- online and manual- may in some way act as a perverse incentive against the online option.
DIC s are the engines of the industrial growth in the state. The real reform must begin here. For effective implementation of the policy goals, their strengthening has to move on two fronts. One, we must build the capacities of the human resource available in these centres and second they have to be adequately equipped to render e-enable services. At present, they are ill-equipped and over burdened. They are delivering services in this day and age with the mindset and tools of the yesteryears. Nothing would, however, adequately empower and enable the personnel at the DICs as much as the unequivocal fiat from the above that is grounded in the rule based framework.The day they would be assured that they have to go by the book and book only would be the day when they would be truly empowered. That the imperative of dovetailing the individual empowerment and institutional changes is overriding should not be overlooked at any costs.
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