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Indian Administration

Sanjoy Bagchi

Edited by Amita Singh
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 319, Rs. 380.00

By Kamala Prasad
Pearson Longman, Delhi, 2006, pp. 404, Rs. 550.00


Amita Singh, an associate professor in the JNU, has collected a bunch of essays presented at an international conference on administrative reforms, good practices and their sustainability that was held in her institution in 2003. The title of her book is rather misleading because, as she herself concedes, the core of the book does not really deal with reforms but with certain innovative “good practices” that had “worked well with minimal state intervention”. Good practices are not really administrative reforms. Nevertheless, her lengthy Introduction covering nearly a quarter of the volume contains a panoramic survey of administrative reforms from the early days of the East India Company to the end of the last century. It is a useful compendium of information gathered at one place and shows that the country’s administration had been evolving in response to the changing demands of time. It belies the popular conception that the monolithic bureaucratic structure has been static throughout.   The essays as usual in such compilations are of uneven quality. Fortunately there is no overlap. The ten papers have been grouped under three broad headings. The first three relate to innovations in urban local government; the next three deal with recent structural developments in the power and transport segments; while the last four are concerned with the social sector. The first paper deals with the decentralisation scheme undertaken by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to deliver services at the citizens’ doorsteps. It is a descriptive account and does not assess the success of the experiment. The second paper finds that urban degeneration in Kolkata and Bangalore are of a similar kind but resulting in different types of problems. The good practices in the former have been initiated mostly by the State while in Bangalore the senior bureaucrats have usually led the way, often through well-established NGOs. There is, however, no mention of the breakdown of the civic services in Bangalore where a crisis point has been reached by rapid growth. The third essay describes the local government initiatives in American cities. It is a typical American university product lacking in depth and critical analysis.   The next two papers deal with electricity regulatory authorities. The state electricity boards had shown all the weaknesses of monopolies. They were being regularly milked by political parties in government for their own selfish interests including filling their own private coffers. The regulators should have been independent of the government “...

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