Steamrolling stakeholders’ interests amounts to irrational governance
WIDESPREAD criticism forced the government to scrap the Goa Municipalities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020. Acting on the cabinet’s recommendation, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari promulgated the ordinance on December 22, 2020 making changes to the laws governing municipalities. There was widespread resentment over the changes, especially among traders who had shops in municipal markets. After the All Goa Merchants Association United Forum, an umbrella organisation of the traders threatened statewide agitation, the government put the ordinance in abeyance and now has withdrawn it. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had defended the ordinance saying the amendments were part of business-friendly measures. He went on to add that the state government was open to any changes suggested by stakeholders. However, the government’s efforts to calm down the agitating traders and other sections by putting the ordinance on hold did not succeed and it was forced to withdraw it.
Through the ordinance the government had sought to amend the Goa Municipalities Act, 1968, and provide for stringent provisions with regard to transfer of municipal property, making it obligatory to obtain government’s permission before any such transfer was made. The government had sought to regularise unauthorised possession of municipal shops, besides aiming to generate revenue to the municipal councils. It had sought to limit the lease period of shops to 10 years providing for their auction thereafter. It had also wanted to curb unauthorised transfer of premises of municipal councils and provided for stiff penalties for violations of the laws and make the offences cognizable and non-bailable. The traders dubbed the ordinance as “draconian” and demanded that it be repealed forthwith. They had also objected to a proposal to allow the municipal bodies to hand over the municipal buildings to private developers for redevelopment purposes. The traders in their representation submitted to the Chief Minister demanded that wider consultations be held with the stakeholders before the changes were made to the Goa Municipalities Act.
This is the second time in just over a week that the state government has been forced to withdraw its decision following public outcry. On January 15 the Chief Minister announced shifting of the proposed campus of Indian Institute of Technology-Goa from Shel-Melaulim in Sattari taluka following vehement opposition to the project by the locals. Much like the scrapping of the ordinance to amend the Goa Municipalities Act, the state government first stood firm on continuing with its decision on the construction of IIT-Goa at Shel-Melaulim. It was only when opposition to it became strong that the government retreated. There have been instances in the past too of the government issuing orders and then withdrawing them following public outcry and pressure. Such decisions and retreats constitute proof of irrational governance. They show that the government did not devote enough time and resources to study the subject and to consult the stakeholders to take them on board before arriving at and announcing a decision. In a vibrant democracy the government should seek to change laws or build a project by following a consultative process and doing a proper evaluation of objections and suggestions. A government cannot be run by popular will at every step of course, because that would make governance impossible. At the same time riding roughshod over the interests of the stakeholders does not work.
The government should avoid taking decisions that have the potential to cause widespread resentment among people and lead to a law and order situation. Though it is not necessary that the public should be consulted while framing all the laws, the government should make it a habit to ensure that stakeholders are taken on board while enacting or amending laws that would have direct effect on them. The main principle of good governance is maximum benefit to a maximum number of people. There are bound to be objections to any project or amendment to laws by the government. What the government has to do is to work in a transparent manner right from the time of conception of a project or amendment, so that the stakeholders can present their objections and suggestions. The government need not be shackled by objections, but at the same time it should incorporate suggestions.