Booster Dose For Governance
Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) is pushing for far-reaching administrative reforms in a declared bid to provide responsive, corruption-free governance. In long closed-door meetings held on August 20, followed by a five-hour field visit the next day, KCR told the state's 33 district collectors that various measures had to be introduced to make the administration more accountable.
Among the proposed steps is the forthcoming new revenue bill, which promises greater efficiency and transparency through the use of information technology and introduction of timelines for corruption-free delivery of services. The bill will empower district collectors to act against officers and elected representatives entangled in financial irregularities or misuse of funds. "Outdated revenue laws, mostly enacted by the British, have caused immense loss to the people and the state," KCR said. "Some 150 revenue laws alone need to be changed."
Plans are afoot to share the district collectors' responsibilities with deputies to make governance outcome-oriented. These officials will also track the performance of public representatives, including ministers. KCR also intends to make Telangana land-litigation-free. The state has 300,000 pending cases relating to title deeds.
A day before KCR's meeting with the district collectors, the government appointed Somesh Kumar as special chief secretary (revenue) and chief commissioner (land administration) in place of Rajeshwar Tiwari. KCR reportedly felt Tiwari did not do enough to fix the glitches in the initiative to update land revenue records, launched with fanfare two years ago, and Dharani, the land records website. Columns like 'occupier' and 'enjoyer' in the revenue records will be removed so that the rights of title-holders are not compromised when they lease their land. KCR also wants the village revenue officer system scrapped and employees under that dispensation listed with the panchayati raj or agriculture departments. Revenue employee associations fear the changes will dilute their department's identity and are resisting them.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is continuing its crackdown on tainted revenue officials. "Complaints [of corruption] come more from revenue offices dealing in high-value transactions, with staff even changing mobile phone SIMs or using their drivers' phones to ask for bribes," says a senior ACB source. The state also needs to raise additional resources since central grants are unlikely for flagship projects, such as the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme, Mission Bhagiratha and Mission Kakatiya. The government is spending thousands of crores on these projects every year.
Beyond administrative efficiency, KCR would like the reforms to further secure the position of his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). He hopes the revenue reforms, along with the new panchayati raj and municipal laws, will boost governance delivery and secure for the TRS in 2023 a third successive term in power.