Third Floor

A good number in India is aware of the Third Floor (TF) in Odisha. Specifically in business and policy circles. Never before in public governance has a floor of a building been so ubiquitous and central to the lives of the state. Odisha’s contribution to the national wellbeing is growingly significant and that covers extremes –  minerals powerhouse to climate impact. South Block, North Block, Raisina Hills, Capitol Hill, Leningrad or Tiananmen Square, 10 Downing Street are recognised seats of power. But in Odisha a floor of a building rules. No one takes the name of any person(s) who sit(s) in this quarter of the secretariate but always refer to the ‘Third Floor’ for everything that happens in the state. It is the metonym for Odisha government. Quite akin to the Oval office, though not in shape, but in the context of power. This is a good reminder of the unique style of governance in Odisha. The ruler is distanced from the politics of the ruled but engages the ministerial gentry instead. When it comes to policies and decisions, the floor decides and directs. There is clear synergy between politics and policy making. This, I think, has helped make and implement policies in Odisha. If there was a measure like the “target quotient” of public schemes, Odisha could score quite high in India and the region. Well timed, unmistakably customised for ‘focus’ beneficiaries, the dividend of schemes has been leveraged by the dispensation like never before in the history of Odisha. If the schemes ride well on the outreach services of the government and in turn spurs political bonanza for the political class, I don’t think it is uncommon, irksome or detrimental.

The Third Floor in Odisha links internal and external worlds. The office helps the executives to establish and deliver the government’s overall strategy and policy priorities, and to communicate the government’s policies to the legislature, the public and national and international audiences. It’s both the backroom and the front office of the Odisha government. The buck stops here.

We need decisions and ownership at the highest level to implement programmes at the last mile. The biggest challenge for sustainable development in the next decade (along with the 2030 plan)  is the operations at the ground level. The effective transition from policies to action in communities, places, and businesses all over the state will make or mar our future.  We can already experience growing environmental degradation and a widening gap between rich and poor. At the same time, the world is connected like never before in emotions, commerce and practically everything. Sustainable development in Odisha is and will be going forward, based on a set of principles that would profoundly affect national, inter-state  and possibly international governance. Our public and academic discussion concerning sustainable development will focus more and more on intergenerational equity and the precautionary approach or principle.

You would do me a great service by not reading any politics or political alignments here. I am an advocate of integrated decision making, which would ensure that our developmental goals and endeavours are incorporated into the decision-making processes for development and are not kept aside. This can happen when there is a single command system. If in governance bold decisions are not taken and once taken are not followed by action, it would remain a monolith without any role. The private sector in any case would run on an automated mode, with scant public consciousness. Unity of command means unity of direction, be it driven by political considerations. In a democracy there has always been and will continue to be this drive towards electoral gains. But even under the study of organizational theory and practice, the basic concepts and principles of unity of command and span of control (a primary element of public administration) are both central and indispensable to successful public administration practice in any geography, both developed and developing.

In Odisha’s Budget 2021-22, Education, Sports, Arts, and Culture, Transport, Rural Development,  Agriculture and allied activities, Water Supply and Sanitation, Social Welfare and Nutrition, Health and Family Welfare, Irrigation and Flood Control, Police and Welfare of SC, ST, OBC, and Minorities have been allocated higher budgets (average over 15% in comparison to the last FY). With ambitious targets, on-the-ground implementation need to be timely, and outcome based. Who would ensure that and review constantly? Schemes like Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan, PMGSY, PMAY-Gramin and Biju Pucca Ghar, KALIA, BASUDHA, Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana and many more need to be driven with an outcome-based approach. Besides, we have the World Cup Hockey and other major events coming up.

If there is this inevitability of politics in the air, so be it. Climate disasters are looming large, and the total expenditure in 2021-22 is targeted at Rs 1,70,000 crore. Half the FY is over, and we need to fructify the annual increase of 17% over the actual expenditure in 2019-20.  This expenditure is proposed to be met through receipts (other than borrowings) of Rs 1,26,014 crore and borrowings of Rs 40,986 crore.  Total receipts for 2021-22 (other than borrowings) are expected to register an annual increase of 11% over 2019-20.  Borrowings (gross) are estimated to see an annual increase of 67% in 2021-22, over 2019-20. The legislature and the executive need to work together to bring about the change we all want at least for the foreseeable decade. Odisha is now under tremendous transformation and speed of change. The Collector and the Collectorate, on whose shoulders rest the entire development agenda, need to be on the fast lane of transformation. This requires handholding and close monitoring. Clear decisions are required to guide the Collector.

In the years gone by, we have seen the repercussions of loose commandeering. Our development is directly proportional to the decisiveness of the state administration. It is easy to critique the strong central command fearing concentration of power at a single point and I don’t deny its possibilities. Cabals and kitchen cabinets are not new to our administrations – national and state. Caucuses will develop and try to take advantage of the situation because it is easy to blame all ills on the single point of commandeering. When it comes to the spoils of power, the same coterie would be exploiting the situation because governments may come and go but coteries lurk around. They only change colours with the season. Unity of command and integrated decision making should not be abandoned for the devilishness of power brokers. By doing that we bolster the cliques surrounding the governance. This is more relevant for Odisha because the economy largely depends on natural resources which necessitate dominance of regulations which in turn enhance the possibilities of red tap-ism (read approval raj). The more the economy faces the market directly, the less will be the games of file-pushers.

We the civil society, are responsible as watchdogs to scrutinise, voice and assist the TF in mopping out the excesses and indulgences. The leakages due to inefficiencies in vacillating administration on one side and the nepotism on the other, if weighed, would be equally dangerous for us. But if the administration is spineless, corruption and nepotism would be co morbidities. That would be additional burden on us. World cup in Rourkela, Berhampur city waste management, cleaning of temple cities, health care, creation of education hubs, disaster management, ease of doing business, are but a few cases I can cite as examples where one can sense distinct stamp of definitive decision making and empowerment of junior bureaucracy to manage deliberate disruptions and impeding slothfulness.

The unity of command is essential to avoid confusion and manipulation. At least there is a single window which takes decisions and things move. The youth need confidence in the state and confidence in general public comes from action on the ground which emanates from decisions with certainties. All active governments, everywhere on earth rest on a few to do for masses. Duality or multiplicity of command would keep the entire machinery under confusion and conflicting situation, for instance, “whom‟ to follow and „what‟ to follow. Further, a subordinate can also evade orders by playing-off one superior against another, which undermines the collective purpose.

In Odisha I have seen governments in the past, from close quarters, run by cliques. Their performance was confined to self-service and brazen cronyism. This has happened many times in other governments too. Where there is power, there would be suitors. But when the inner circle assumes and deploys power maturely, we need not be cynical or insecure. That is way better than the corruption of inaction and irresolution. Youth in Odisha want jobs, farmers want productivity, markets want expansion and electorate wants firmness. The Prime Minister stands for solid action, which is audacious, futuristic and globally trend setting.

Not everything is perfect and can be perfect. The TF would naturally need to change its lens from time to time to avoid complacency of absolute power. It is our duty to nudge and apprise. Please suggest if you have a better plan. After all it is our state and our future.

Third floor has the grit to take direct charge of the state GDP & GHI. (Gross Domestic Product and Gross Happiness Index).


[Disclaimer: The views by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent that of website]

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