Most Indian cities and towns suck! Period! They are among the worst places to live. The vast overwhelming majority of India’s cities and towns consistently rank among the world’s least livable places. They are ugly, chaotic, filthy, and highly polluted. Their infrastructures are deplorable. Their governance and quality of public services are third-rate. Furthermore, rule of law and safety is basically non-existent anywhere. India is a jungle-raj where anyone is free to do anything that one pleases, as long as he or she has the right contacts in government and police. The living standards of India’s cities and towns are consequently among the lowest in the world, with most Indians living in squalid conditions befitting insects.
In this article, I shall explain how Swarna Bharat Party’s governance would dramatically affect all of us who reside in the cities and towns of India by transforming them into the world’s most livable places.
All the cities of Australia and Canada currently feature in the top rankings of most livability indexes. Just imagine Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Surat, Allahabad, etc, with their rich colorful vibrant cultures and quirks in the same league. India would become an Australia on steroids, with hundreds of Melbournes and Sydneys blooming throughout the length and breadth of India.
For the sake of an example, let me use my beautiful home-city of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka. With its superb beaches, beautiful lush greenery, cultural diversity, and rich vibrant colorful cultures; Mangalore bears numerous similarities to Singapore and has all the right ingredients to become the world’s most livable city if it were in the right hands.
Let’s suppose that I, Joyson Fernandes, were elected Chief Minister of Karnataka and had to implement Swarna Bharat Party’s manifesto at the state level. I wouldn’t be able to implement all of the reforms, since that would require an SBP government at the centre and a mandate in at least two-thirds of Indian states. However, I and my team of ministers would still be able to implement enough reforms to dramatically improve living conditions and put all of Karnataka’s cities and towns on the path towards becoming the world’s most livable places.
These are the top 14 reforms that my government would implement in such a hypothetical scenario. As I’m writing this, I’m testing my knowledge of the SBP manifesto. So I’m writing off the bat. This is NOT to be taken as if I’m writing everything the manifesto states about these policies. I’m merely writing the basic points.
(1) Liberalization of the economy – Without a free-market capitalist economy, we won’t have sufficient jobs for our people and neither will we have sufficient tax revenue for providing high-quality public goods, like rule of law, justice, police, infrastructure, etc.
We shall endeavor to make Karnataka the most business-friendly state in India by removing all unnecessary regulations and restrictions on commerce and trade. For instance, the APMC act will be abolished and farmers will be allowed to trade with whomever they want and as per the prices of their choosing. Likewise for all burdensome labour laws, which dramatically increases the cost of doing business in India; thereby causing mass unemployment.
We shall also install a single window clearance for approvals and compliance certification processes. Taxes will be simplified, rates lowered, and unnecessary taxes abolished.
All of these reforms will ensure that there is a huge boom in private industry and agriculture; and therefore a surplus of well-playing jobs for residents of Karnataka. Being India’s freest economy, Karnataka will become a golden land of opportunity for people all over the country.
(2) Reforms to our bureaucracy and government – Without making our government and bureaucracy accountable, nothing can be achieved. We must have an incentive-compatible outcomes focused governance system for there to be optimal high-quality results in public policy and the delivery of public goods.
All government departments shall be consolidated into a few large ones, and shall be headed by super-secretaries answerable to the government. These super-secretaries shall be recruited from the open-market, and paid market-rates equivalent to top managers in the private sector. However, they will be held accountable for any corruption that takes place under them and also for delivery of high-quality services; while subject to instantaneous termination for any failure to perform.
This single reform will ensure a high level of efficiency of government departments in Karnataka, hitherto unknown in independent India. Corruption will dramatically decrease within a year, with any residual corruption being caught and punished.
On a side note, the salaries of all elected representatives will be significantly hiked to private sector standards, while being tied to performance. They shall receive bonuses if the economy is doing well and suffer huge pay-cuts if the economy suffers. This will ensure that our politicians are accountable to the public at all times, and perform their duties really well.
Ministers will be given KPIs to perform and deliver. Should they fail to do so, they will be terminated and replaced with a more competent MLA.
(3) Electoral reforms to ensure high-quality political representation – The quality of our public representatives matters a great deal to the quality of governance we get. In fact, it’s the single most important factor determining the quality of governance. Without honest and competent politicians at the helm, no reforms to Karnataka’s governance system and economy are possible. If the current crop of corrupt ignoramuses were to keep “governing” Karnataka, then the state’s economy would forever remain stagnant and our people poor.
Corruption in politics has become the norm, because honest people are barred from contesting elections through prohibitively expensive election costs. This leaves only the corrupt and criminal to contest elections, and as such, all politicians are now corrupt and / or have criminal charges against them.
My government will fix this by passing a bill in assembly that will assure compensation to political candidates for each vote won, thereby minimizing election costs. At the same time however, all limits on election expenditure will be removed. Election campaigns will be audited by the Election Commission, and there will be stringent disclosure of all family assets and election expenses; failing which the political candidate will be automatically disqualified.
Furthermore, candidates with criminal cases will have their cases fast-tracked within a year, and those convicted will be barred or disqualified from holding political office.
With all these reforms, the corrupt and the criminal will be filtered out of politics at the very first step, as honest people increasingly contest and win elections. This will completely eliminate corruption in Karnataka’s politics.
(4) Justice system reforms – We need a strong, accountable, and responsive justice system in order to punish crimes, protect property rights, enforce contracts, adjudicate disputes, protect free trade, and prevent fraud. For this purpose, judges will be elected at the state-level by the people. This would allow people to assess the suitability of a judge for making day-to-day decisions.
Judges will be paid well as their salaries will be tied to that of the top private sector managers. The jury system will be instituted to ensure fair trials. And checks-and-balances such as a State Lokpal, independent prosecuting agency, and mandatory death penalty for corrupt judges will be instituted. The training system for judges will also be significantly upgraded.
Judicial corruption will be minimized in the coming years, and any residual corruption in Karnataka’s justice system will slip through the cracks and be punished.
The huge monumental backlog of lakhs of pending cases will be cleared by significantly increasing the number of judges to 135 per million persons, fast-tracking cases of undertrial prisoners, mandating continuous hearing of all cases, and tripling the expenditure on justice in three years.
(5) Police reforms – We will hire the top echelons of the state police force (commissioner, ACP, DCP, etc) from the private sector, and hold them to account for performance delivery; failing which they will be paid a huge severance package and fired. We shall also increase the pay of all police personnel, while tying that of the top officers to that of private sector managers. At the same time, checks-and-balances such as a State Lokpal and performance appraisal of officers will be instituted to nip out corruption and criminality within the ranks of Karnataka police. We will also implement many other reforms to modernize the police force, and ensure that they are accountable for their conduct at all times.
The prison system will be privatized, monitored for institutional misconduct, and regulated for the meeting of minimal quality standards.
All of these reforms will ensure that the Karnataka state police becomes honest and professional; with corruption and abuse of authority to become virtually non-existent in the coming years.
(6) Local government reforms – Only elected local councils can fix our cities and towns. Likewise for a reformed panchayat at the village level. This is an easily implementable reform at the state level, which does not require any constitutional amendment.
Local councils will be responsible for providing essential public amenities like sanitation, water, power, local infrastructure such as roads and pavements, cleaning services, landscaping, public parks, food inspection, etc. They will hire CEOs on contracts to provide these services at low rates, and hold him accountable for delivery of high-quality output. Should the CEO fail in meeting his obligations, he shall be dismissed outright. The local councils / panchayats shall be supervised by a Local Board comprised of ordinary citizens in order to preclude any possibility of corruption.
Local councils shall finance themselves mostly through land rates and property taxes, but also partly through public bonds and state government funding. Essential city-wide / town-wide infrastructure will be taken care of by coordination between local councils through an Association of local councils. The mayor will be elected from among them, but he as with all councilmen shall be a part-time volunteer.
After its implementation, Karnataka’s cities and towns would see dramatic improvement of living standards and quality of governance in terms of infrastructure and environment. In a couple of years, all of Karnataka’s cities could then aspire to compete with the world’s most livable cities in Australia and Canada.
(7) Relaxation of land-use restrictions – There will be a significant scale-back of zoning laws, and other land-use restrictions. Rent Control will be abolished, and FSI restrictions for buildings will be increased to 25; in line with international best practice. This will allow a proliferation of cheap and dense housing for the middle-class and poor in Karnataka.
(8) Clearance of slums – All government land, including the lands on which illegal squatters have built settlements shall be sold to private bidders, who will then be contractually obliged to house the previous residents of slums in residential complexes on a part of the land. In this way, all slums in Karnataka will be cleared for cheap but decent residential housing.
(9) Development of human capital – We shall take great care in developing Karnataka’s human potential so that the state leapfrogs ahead of the rest of India in per-capita productivity and income, thereby becoming India’s wealthiest state.
Extreme poverty will be eliminated in three years through the Negative Income Tax scheme.
All govt-run schools, colleges, and vocational training institutes will be privatized and co-regulated with private associations for quality. Vouchers will be given to students who can’t afford education.
All govt-run hospitals will be similarly privatized, and regulated for safe conditions. The poor will be afforded vouchers for basic healthcare, and all residents who can’t afford emergency healthcare shall receive interest-free loans.
These reforms shall see Karnataka’s education system and healthcare become among the world’s best; and dramatically improve the quality of the state’s human capital; thereby creating a healthy, well-educated, and prosperous citizenry.
(10) Improvement in the supply of public transport – All public transport, such as buses, quasi-monopolies like subways and monorail, etc, shall be privatized; but regulated for service rates. Private management of public transport will ensure that Karnataka receives world-class transportation at a cost-effective price.
(11) Elimination of corruption in the real estate sector – Multiple reforms will be implemented in order to remove all black money from the system. This will involve a complete overhaul of the developer system in order to ensure that the mafia which operates in this system is brought to book.
(12) Repeal of all laws restricting peaceful human behaviour – Among the various government departments shall be a Freedom Department, which will be tasked with assessing all state laws and repealing those laws which hinder peaceful human behavior; such as laws restricting freedom of speech, freedom of religious conversion, cow slaughter, beef ban, etc. By the end of five years, we should have successfully repealed all such laws; thereby making Karnataka India’s freest state.
(13) Ensuring world-class public infrastructure – With an accountable bureaucracy and political leadership, we can ensure the provision of world-class statewide public infrastructure without any corruption. We shall facilitate the provision of intra-state infrastructure through the private sector, and hold them contractually accountable for meeting high quality standards. Karnataka shall thus become the first and only state in India with first-world public infrastructure serving its residents.
(14) Ensuring a protected natural environment with thriving flora and fauna – We shall privatize all wildlife parks, sanctuaries, and bio-reserves by leasing them to private business entities under regulatory control. These entities will be contractually obliged to preserve indigenous flora and fauna; failing which they will be fined heavily and the lease will be revoked. Regulated commercial harvesting of wildlife and flora will be allowed.
We shall clean up the polluted environment of the state by charging pigovian taxes on industries for general pollution, recovering the cost of cleanups from individual polluters, and passing strict but sensible regulations on private industry to protect the environment. These reforms will mean that by the end of three years, Karnataka shall have clean and almost pristine natural environment virtually free of pollution. The state’s wildlife and flora will be thriving, with most endangered species experiencing a dramatic rebound of populations.