From a District to the State
Shailiza Mayal
April 23, 2019

Working in Karnal, the Haryana Chief Minister’s constituency, as a Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associate (CMGGA) was a unique experience from the very first day. From understanding the political implications of the assigned district to discerning the roles and responsibilities of various departments at the district level, the CMGGA programme was an invaluable learning experience, both personally and professionally. It drastically changed my perspective on how the government works and what it takes to ensure the implementation of the plethora of state and central government policies, schemes, and programmes. The CMGGA programme also gave me the opportunity to closely observe the challenges faced by the administration at the district level—something I had no prior knowledge about. In the district, I was neither an insider nor an outsider. Working closely with the administration and being exposed to the internal functioning of the departments made me empathetic towards the challenges faced by them. However, not being an employee myself, I was able to maintain a critical perspective on the way the government functions and help strengthen the system.

Working with the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Karnal introduced me to the myriad roles the DC is expected to perform. From being a member of hundreds of district-level committees,  monitoring the work of more than 10 departments, to handling law and order problems, the DC’s role can be overwhelming. The district administration’s job is seemingly straightforward—implementation of the central and the state government’s policies, schemes and programmes. But it is not as simple as it sounds. Even though there are detailed guidelines defining the process and the steps to be undertaken by the administration, when it comes to implementation, they are  never enough or exhaustive. There are 22 districts in Haryana and the ground realities of each district are different from the other. No matter how exhaustive the guidelines are, they can never address all the diverse challenges a district might face. It is therefore left to the district administration to strategize the rest, based on their context.

The face of the district administration is the DC and the list of tasks she is assigned is endless, and also, largely vague. There were days when I felt only a superhero could do all of it! The scale of their work is enormous, the stakeholders they manage, both above and below them in the hierarchy, innumerable, and the nature of their work, diverse.

In reality, it is not the quantum of work but the complexity of the system that hinders efficiency. There are different departments for every sector–education, health, social welfare, women and child development, etc–with a defined mandate and fixed responsibilities for every official across hierarchies. There is limited authority with district officers to control ‘what they do’. It is only the ‘how to do’ that is within their locus of control. The departments along with the DC’s office have to work in collaboration to achieve the end goal, that is, delivery of schemes and services to the citizens. Why then does the administration still face multiple hurdles in achieving that?

In my view, the most important reason for this is the lack of a robust and easy-to-understand system that connects these departments. At the district-level, the DC is the link between departments, but she is inundated with work and therefore, most districts do not have a concrete strategy to start off with. There are always conflicting priorities and no clear alignment with the central or state government on what must take precedence. Right from the state to the gram panchayat, the ownership and responsibility of implementation is passed from one authority to another. On top of all other systemic issues, absence of incentive structures, accountability mechanisms, and a data-backed review and monitoring framework, results in poor implementation of even the simplest programmes.

Having worked in the district and built a strong understanding of how policies are implemented, how departments work, and the challenges faced by them, I wanted to put these learnings to use. I realised that there is little that you can change at the district level, as the district doesn’t have requisite authority and changes within a district aren’t systemic. This motivated me to work at the state level, where I had the backing of the state leadership to solve governance issues, a constraint I faced at the district level. At the same time, I wanted to bring in the district’s perspective into the design and implementation of policies and work on sustainable solutions.  

Samagra’s unique approach to systemic transformation focuses on the implementation element of a potential solution as rigorously as the design element and is geared towards developing solutions that are practical and implementable. Implementable being the keyword here. Samagra realizes that it is not about giving recommendations and asking the state government what to do, but also about supporting and building the capacity of the department in actually implementing the recommendation.

I strongly believe that the state is the pillar of support for the districts, blocks, and panchayats. Therefore, the state should be the lever of change to ensure systemic transformation in the truest sense. Samagra has given me an opportunity to work at the state level and transform governance which can lead to long-term sustainable impact.'