Archive for February, 2011

There is a strong case to empower and hold States accountable while the Centre focuses on policy…

February 19, 2011

India has seen 11 5-year plans go by and there is little doubt that a lot has been achieved. But as we get into the throes of getting our 12th five year plan in place, it might be good to reflect on Nitish’s recommendation. In the post independence era, Central schemes might have been the way to go primarily necessitated by weak local infrastructure and governance. That is no longer the case today and with States having increasingly demonstrated that they can shoulder the responsibility of development, it might be time for the folks in Planning Commission to let the States set the priorities for what they consider vital in their development trajectory. The Centre can still set the national policy and armed with an annual collection in excess of of 3.7 lakh crores in taxes, it wields substantial power to ensure that the Sates follow through on their promises…

Have faith in us, end central schemes: Nitish

NEW DELHI: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday asked the central government to abolish all the schemes it sponsors and confine itself to broad policy complemented with technical and financial support to states, setting the tone for a radical shift in India’s economic policy.

“The Centre needs to trust the states and confine itself to broad policymaking,” said Kumar, credited with returning governance and growth to India’s poorest state, at the Economic Times Roundtable for Combating Food Inflation that focussed on tapping the farm potential of eastern India.

The nearly hundred schemes that more than 25 central ministries and departments oversee are the showpiece of the United Progressive Alliance government’s development and pro-poor credentials. The call for decentralised planning is equally significant because centralised planning has been one of the cornerstones of India’s socialist economy. The large number of centrally-sponsored schemes adds to the confusion in their implementation, said Kumar said at the event that discussed concerted efforts to boost farm produce in eastern India.

Kumar’s alternative system envisions states implementing schemes and the centre acting as a monitoring and advisory agency. The central government should provide policy direction, planning prowess and technical expertise, leaving the states to chalk out a long-term development plan for themselves, said Kumar.

The centre frames and almost entirely funds centrally-sponsored schemes. Kumar has proposed the current system of the centre deciding almost every thing from prioirty areas and the allocation should be replaced with a more participatory process.

“We can give them good governance and they should tell us what they expect of us. They can fix targets and leave it to us to achieve them.”

He suggested working groups comprising representatives of the states and centre and independent experts to prepare focus areas, schemes, its beneficiaries and the micro-level impact.

Though the United Progressive Alliance government at the centre is unlikely to easily yield ground to the states, Kumar’s proposal found resonance in some policymaking quarters.

Planning Commission member Mihir Shah said there is a lot of merit in Kumar’s perspective. “We at the Planning Commission also feel that the wide proliferation of CSS (centrally-sponsored schemes) needs to be looked at,” he said, adding that The Twelfth Plan will attempt to rationalise the number of schemes and give more flexibility to states.

Referring to agriculture, Kumar said though Bihar is being touted as the center of the next green revolution, the state needs firm and long-term policy assistance from the central government to make it a reality.

“There is talk about Bihar having a lot of potential but there should be policy assistance from the centre,” he said. Kumar also demanded allocate adequate resources from the centre to harness the potential of eastern states. He called attention to a new sub-scheme under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana that was launched with an outlay of 400 crore for bringing green revolution in eastern India. “It is a small amount compared to the development deficit in these states,” he said. Likewise, the launch of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act is welcome but it is creating labour crisis for agriculture. Instead, the scheme should direct agriculture labour in the fields sharing the costs with farmers.

Kumar also lamented the neglect of Bihar by central government agencies. Food Corporation of India has 73.73 lakh MT storage capacities in Punjab whereas it is only about 6.72 lakh MT in Bihar. Similarly, Central Warehousing Corporation has built a storage capacity of 6.95 lakh MT in Punjab whereas it is only 1.26 lakh MT in Bihar. These agencies must create additional storage capacity in the state, he said.

The Bihar CM outlined various initiatives in the areas of improving the quality of seeds, adding value to agricultural produce and encouraging marketing and invited the private sector to take advantage of and complement these initiatives. Kumar told private companies that law and order has improved in the state.

(By Devika Banerji)




There’s a strong case for toggling careers across the pvt, academic & govt sectors. Everyone stands to gain…

February 13, 2011

There’s a strong case for toggling careers across the pvt, academic & govt sectors. Everyone stands to gain…

Amplify’d from
India needs you

Samar Halarnkar, Hindustan Times
February 09, 2011
A lawyer from Chennai goes to Britain. He gets a degree from London School of Economics; returns to India to be a government officer; becomes a professor of economics; enters the legislative council; swings back to the government as director general of statistics; enters the private sector and

serves as vice-chairman of Tata Steel and Tata Motors; re-enters quasi-public service as president at the Indian Institute of Science; then winds up as minister for railways and the finance minister of India.

In an India where public and private sectors are largely watertight compartment, this sounds quite a fanciful resume. Yet, John Mathai lived in an India that allowed talent to follow its fancies, to toggle between diverse careers and experiences. In 1950, he resigned as India’s finance minister, accusing his prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, of wasteful expenditure and disagreeing with the need for planning. (Some irony here: the 1944-45 Bombay Plan, of which Mathai was one of the architects – JRD Tata and GD Birla were among six others – recommended State intervention in the economy and segued into the first five-year plan.)

Once the public sector and the civil service took charge of the commanding heights of the economy and India itself, the flow of talent between public and private service halted. Now, mindful of the revolution of expectations redefining public life and politics, governments eager to show results are trying to bring some shine back to the rusting frame of India’s vast, largely inefficient, civil service.

Whether NDA or UPA, successive government haven’t had the courage – or inclination – to restructure the powerful bureaucracy. In this era of coalition governments, it’s hard to imagine something so drastic. Yet, it’s obvious that national and state administrations require the disruptive force of innovation if they are to respond to the myriad needs and demands of emerging India. So, efforts to bring in ‘outsiders’ grow.

At senior levels, this is not new. In 1984, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi chose an Indian expat in the US to be his technology advisor. Satyanarayan ‘Sam’ Pitroda energised India’s telecommunications revolution. In his latest avatar as innovations advisor to Manmohan Singh, Pitroda is trying to construct the National Information Infrastructure, a project to take broadband to India’s panchayats, so that real-time, transparent administration can stretch from parliament to village.

There are others in the government’s top echelons who have been hired from among India’s global elite. India’s chief economic adviser, Kaushik Basu, who is presently involved in writing the 2011 Economic Survey, is still a professor at Cornell University. Rhodes scholar and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, gained lateral entry into the bureaucracy after a bright career at the World Bank. Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of India’s second-largest technology company, Infosys, is chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, the agency that aims to provide 600 million Indians with a 12-digit identification number by 2014.

Nilekani’s organisation is a harbinger of the new civil service. At his agency, Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers work with engineers and other professionals – many on sabbatical, paid and unpaid – from a slew of private-sector companies, including Cisco and Intel. Why do they do this? As one investment banker from Singapore, now working for Nilekani, told me, “Where else in the world would I get an experience of this scale and complexity? Public service and a beefed-up resume.”

Nilekani also heads an expert group that last week recommended that the government should use India’s vast private-sector technology talent for public purposes: set up private companies (with a majority government stake) that will be nimble, flexible and independent enough to handle the complex job of grafting technology onto administration. For now, Nilekani’s group has suggested these companies run projects that could handle various taxes, pensions and expenditure worth billions of dollars. It would be a pity if the government doesn’t give the group more ambitious tasks. With five government officials, Nilekani and Nachiket Mor, president of a foundation for inclusive growth set up by ICICI, India’s largest private-sector bank, the expert group is an amalgam of talent that represents the new world it seeks to create.

But how can this new world enter the lower and middle bureaucracies? How can they be infused with private-sector talent to ensure delivery of services?

The draft of the Right to Food Bill, the contentious effort to make food a constitutional right, has one suggestion – give people from any walk of life, between 35 and 45 years of age, a one-time, five-year shot at public service. The drafters of the bill, the National Advisory Council (NAC), have a great worry – it’s all very well to provide a raft of new economic entitlements to the poor, but who will enforce these? Their answer is the district redressal officer, who will – and this is controversial, to say the least – sit in judgement over the district collector, the undisputed king of the district for more than a century. “You can select people from the pool of idealism across India,” an NAC member told me. “This will be a mid-career, lateral entry [into public service]. Can we not find 700 idealistic people for 700 districts?”

This is laudable. It could also mean another layer of bureaucracy over the bureaucracy. The fundamental challenge remains: how does India increase the opportunities for professionals to enter public service on a large scale? When can a John Mathai waltz in and out of public service – as easily as he could more than 60 years ago?