Sunday, 7 August 2016

10 programmes Prime Minister Modi should implement in 2016

 Please consider these 10 programmes 

Narendra Modi is the first Prime Minister of India who is paying attention to several important issues, from cleanliness to making India a developed country. In my opinion, if we want to save democracy in this country, we should extend full support to such a Prime Minister and give suggestions for improvement. It is with this intention that I am suggesting ‘10 Programmes Prime Minister Modi may consider in 2016.’

1.          Reform of bureaucracy  

While political rulers lay down policies, the responsibility for preparing detailed roadmap and for implementation lies with the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, Modi has inherited a highly inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy. On paper, it is mandatory that the posts of additional secretaries and secretaries to the Central Government should be filled on the basis of “merit, competence and the specific suitability of the officer for a particular vacancy” (Clause 14 of the Central Staffing Scheme). In actual practice, most of these appointments are made in utter violation of above rule and are, therefore, illegal. The political leadership may not be aware of this rule and no Cabinet Secretary would ever draw its attention to it.

 Most of the additional secretary and secretary level posts in different ministries are held by IAS officers irrespective of their suitability. For example, there is no way an IAS officer can have ‘specific suitability’ for the post of telecom secretary. More than 31 years ago the Economic Administration Reforms Commission (EARC), headed by an imminent administrator, L. K. Jha, had recommended that ‘for the key posts in economic administration something more than general administrative ability is needed' but the IAS bureaucracy managed to get it ignored. The system of time-bound promotion (which makes officers fossilised), close nexus between the politicians and bureaucrats (to benefit each other through corrupt practices) and lack of accountability (blaming the ‘system’ for lapses) have made our bureaucracy, by and large, unsuitable for rapid economic development. During 37 years that I spent in the Government of India, I noticed four major weaknesses:

(a)             Barring exceptions, no Secretary provides any leadership to his juniors.

(b)            Barring exceptions, no Secretary shows any courage to tell the political leadership if it is wrong.

 (c) When Secretary (or the senior most officer dealing with the subject) has no personal interest or he is not under any pressure to take interest, the subject matter brought to his notice is, irrespective of its importance, routinely sent down below and, in an almost free fall, lands before an Assistant . He and his desk officer make even a simple matter look complex to show their importance. As a result, an issue which can be resolved in a day remains hanging for months, even years.

(d)  Most of the complicated issues which have to be dealt with at senior levels are beyond their capacity.

If Prime Minister wants to take India forward, he has to make revolutionary changes in bureaucracy to improve the capabilities of officers and make them realise their responsibility. If there is political will, it is not an impossible task. It is high time that an administrative reforms commission is set up for the 21st century. Pending that the Prime Minister should consider a few measures: end of the monopoly of the IAS and selection of most suitable officers irrespective of the service to which they belong; creation of “management pools of officers” in different spheres of management and skill, drawn from different services; and a management information system to keep track of the performance of officers to ensure that decisions are taken correctly and quickly, senior officers are not just file pushers and there is accountability for delay or bad decisions.
2.  Mandatory ex-ante appraisal of policies and programmes to check wrong decisions and ex-post evaluation (impact assessment) for mid-course correction and drawing lessons for future.

     The methodology of appraisal/evaluation (of which cost-benefit analysis is an integral part) is well developed and has wide application. It is a multidisciplinary task. Every senior officer should have knowledge of the tools and techniques of project appraisal. In addition, the government needs a dedicated team of officers who are well-versed in project appraisal/evaluation. The erstwhile Planning Commission had a full-fledged Project Appraisal Division (PAD) since 1972. For a long time it was quite effective in giving objective advice to the government.  Unfortunately, it has only a token presence in the Niti Aayog. That expertise is always needed in the government. For example, the Ministry of Industrial Policy and Promotion cannot function effectively unless the policies and proposals under consideration are appraised by experts.

    In the Planning Commission, a Programme Evaluation Organisation was set up in 1950s for the evaluation of welfare programmes. It should be developed as a professional body for evaluation  (impact assessment) of new programmes on a regular basis. 

     In fact, the expertise is needed outside the government also. One of the reasons for bad debts of banks is lack of objective appraisal of proposals for loans

3. Unique multipurpose identification number (UMID)
Most of the countries of the world have introduced or are introducing unique multipurpose identification number (UMID).  Inspired by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that issues Aadhar cards, Indonesia set up a similar organisation and introduced multi-purpose ID number, using the state-of-the-art technology, to replace dozens of different ID cards. We are still far behind such a system. Scrutiny of the documents since the idea was first mooted in India would show that all those who were asked to prepare blue-prints of such a system during the UPA regime made a mess of it. 
     Originally Aadhaar had a limited purpose. It was not even proof of citizenship. There was plan to have a population register of all citizens for issue of multipurpose identification number. Now the application of Aadhaar is being extended. In the absence of centralised collection and storage of information, each authority required to issue biometric data-based identity card/number – Aadhaar, passport or registration of property – collects the same information afresh. Even after collection of biometric data and all the details, municipal corporations asks for several documents - proof of ownership of property, affidavit with photograph from new owner attested by executive magistrate, copy of house tax notice/receipt, certified location map, two different Identity proofs (any two of driving licence, voter card, government identity card, PAN card) and attested copy of passport size photograph - for mutation of property in municipal records.

      In addition, there are different verification rules for different purposes: KYC for mutual funds, KYC for banks, PAN for income tax, voter identity card and so on. The centralised collection and storage of biometric and other personal data for issue of UMID would save considerable time and money. This should be treated as a sovereign function to be performed by the central government. Outsourcing is a security risk and may result in violation of privacy. Information about all economic and other important activities should ultimately be linked to single UMID centrally stored so that gradually all the requisites information about every citizen are  available at the click of button and service providers do not ask for separate documents. For example, such a provision would make it easy for the government to deny LPG subsidy to those having income of Rs. Lakh or more. Separate UMID should be issued to non-citizens  living in the country. Such measures will also make the task of security and investigating agencies easier. It would be easy to keep track of criminals and antisocial elements.

4.  Teach for India (on the pattern of “Teach for America”) to improve the quality of the school education

One of the biggest flaws of the Nehruvian model of development was neglect of school education. Superstructures in form of IIMs and IITs were built without solid foundation. The country is facing acute shortage of good schools and trained school teachers. Thanks to the system of promotion without examination, students in the higher classes of government schools cannot read books prescribed for lower classes. While it will take time to have the requisite number of qualified teachers, we can adopt the American system of ‘Teach for America’ (TFA) introduced in 1989. The TFA is a non-profit organisation which recruits, through a tough selection process – only about 10 to 15% of the applicants finally selected –, bright college students to serve as teachers – after a short training programme – for at least two years in a public or private school. So far more than 50,000 persons have been selected who taught more than 5 million students across the USA. During the teaching period, they are paid salary of a school teacher. After they have completed the mission, if they go back to another profession, they are given credit for the service to the nation. The programme is funded by philanthropic individuals and organisations. In India the government may sanction initial fund and invite philanthropic organisations and corporate bodies (which could be given tax \rebate) to contribute to the noble cause. Those who participate can be given due seniority and preference when they opt for another profession. In the USA education loans are waived to the students participating in the programme.

5. Swachh Bharat: engage the beggars

Sweepers employed by the municipal bodies are insufficient to clean the mess. The government may consider engaging the able-bodied beggars with the help of NGOs for collection and segregation of garbage to be deposited at the designated places. Such beggars could be given cooked food for their work. A pilot project could be started in part of Delhi which has more than 60,000 beggars. Mumbai has more than 300,000.  If it succeeds, it should be extended to other areas and cities.

6.  Towards slum-free India  

     It is not less important than development of smart cities. Thousands of hectares of public land have been encroached upon due to migration of people to the cities. While throwing them out raises humanitarian questions, letting them stay hampers implementation of important development projects. The government should carry out a survey of land use in each city to draw up plan for rehabilitation of slum dwellers well before they are thrown out from the encroached areas.

7.  Prevention of wastage of food grains

By 2025 India would be the most populous country of the world. Even now more than 190 million Indians are not able to get two square meals a day. On the other hand, there is massive wastage of food grains primarily due to poor storage facilities. Roughly grains worth Rs. 58,000 crore are wasted in our country every year. As against the storage capacity of 100 million tonnes of food grains in China, we have facilities for only 60 million tonnes.  The country needs to launch, on a war footing, programme for the construction of storage facilities along with improved packaging and logistics for movement.

8.  Quick action against hoarders and ‘satta’ operators

     The recent runaway increase in prices of onions and pulses has once again exposed the clout of hoarders. According to a news item in the media on December 30, 2015, income tax raids in Delhi and Mumbai exposed large scale rigging of commodity markets by hoarders and ‘satta’ operators. The government must utilise all its machinery fully and effectively to overpower them before they start dictating prices.
9.  Checking food adulteration and use of chemicals in food items, fruits and vegetables

     Our markets are full of vegetables, fruits and other eatables containing very harmful chemicals, synthetic milk, adulterated food items, etc. These could be more harmful than polluted air. No developed country tolerates such heinous crimes. In our country, actions against offenders are taken only occasionally and not in proportion to the seriousness of the crime. As a result, there is hardly any fear. There is need to launch a national mission – more stringent laws and relentless action - against adulteration and use of harmful chemicals.

10.  Effective monitoring system to monitor programmes

Prime Minister has launched several programmes, some of which – for example, Swachh Bharat, construction of millions of toilets and skill development – are quite unique. The danger is that if these programmes do not yield the desired result, the people would lose faith in the promises made by him. For example, if the toilets are not properly maintained and become unfit for use, it would be a disaster. There has to be an effective monitoring system to regularly monitor all such programmes to ensure that there is no laxity at any stage.

Devendra Narain

December 31, 2015

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