How Demonetisation Choked Pakistan’s Fake Currency Influx Into India

Abiram_Article1_SwarajyaDemonetisation has hit multiple targets, and one certainly, is fake Indian currency notes in circulation. The outcome is clear with violence in Kashmir reducing by 60 per cent, what with the Hurriyat Conference’s funds drying up. This article is drawn from the study undertaken in Dec 2015 by Abiram Devnathan, Research Intern, VIF.

Read the complete article published on Swarajya

Know The Teachings Of Swami Vivekananda On His 154th Birth Anniversary

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Today, more than a hundred years later, his words have permeated across India and set fire to thousands across our land. In every village in this country, chances are that we shall find at least one charity named after him. What is about the vision of Swami Vivekananda that drives so many people to strive for a higher and more selfless life? Shyam Krishnakumar, VIF Research Associate, shares his thoughts from the inspiration he has drawn from this man, since the nascent age of 13.

Read the complete article published at The Logical Indian

Impact Assessment of Change in Yatris – Good Governance Yatra ’16

 

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The GGY is an immersive learning experience that changes perspectives about government and elected representatives in our country. The bar graph shows an impact assessment of this change in the yatris from the recently concluded yatra – The final question reflects that the yatra indeed is contributing to change agents for nation building.

 

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How E-Mitra Kiosks in Rajasthan Help People Access 300 Govt Services without Going to Govt Offices

Aditi Sinha and Prateek Behera write about an e-governance initiative that is streamlining the system of government service delivery in Rajasthan.

e-Mitra is an e-governance initiative taken up by the government of Rajasthan in association with several private entities to form a dedicated, transparent, and a viable system to assist the community with more than 300 deliverable state services under a single ceiling.

 

Read the complete story at The Better India.

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Why Delhi Should Discuss MCD Trifurcation Before 2017 Municipal Elections

A series of three articles aims to shed light on the rationale behind the trifurcation process; its impact; and the outcomes of trifurcation, particularly on service delivery. These articles are drawn from primary research undertaken from October 2015 to January 2016, for a Master’s thesis by Apula Singh, VIF Research Associate. Different officials across the MCD, Delhi government and councillors were interviewed to collect primary data.

Read the complete article published at Huffington Post.

Amritsar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, MoS for External Affairs V K Singh and other delegates, poses for a group photo before the inauguration of the 6th Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference, in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore(PTI12_4_2016_000023B)

How India can isolate Pakistan at Heart of Asia

By Kamal Madishetty

The holy city of Amritsar is all set to host the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial conference over this weekend, where representatives from over 40 countries are congregating to discuss and deliberate upon issues of peace, prosperity and progress of the nation which lies at the “heart” of Asia – Afghanistan.

Read the complete article published at DailyO.

Remembering Sri Aurobindo And The Vision Of A Life Divine

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Sri Aurobindo spoke of his five dreams for the nation – a united India, the resurgence of Asia, unification of the world, the spiritual gift of India to the world, and evolution through raising human consciousness. Shyam Krishnakumar, Research Associate VIF, shares his thoughts on the learnings that one can draw from Sri Aurobindo ji.

Read the full article on Swarajya.

World Governance Expedition – The Journey and Its Learnings

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Amanat Boprai, an Indian delegate recalls her takeaways from the first World Governance Expedition

2300 miles, 10 US states, 15 days, 40 meetings, 25 people – sounds intense, doesn’t it?

Sometimes the most intriguing of experiences come in the most grueling of packages. They say that “those who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves”. As far as the World Governance Expedition (WGE) delegates are concerned, this passion was the need to understand and complete not just themselves but also their nation.

We wanted to understand all the best practices so that somehow, anyhow we could come up with policies relevant to India. Below are some of the best policy practices in the US that can be adopted:

1. Research and Policy Making

Quality of Research

It is believed that Indian quality of research is subpar as compared to our American counterparts. The WGE delegates met Professors at Harvard, Duke and Georgetown to understand the issue and what makes the work coming out of these institutions a benchmark for excellence. Two aspects came to the forefront – First, the prestige associated with academic research along with the high societal status of professors and researchers warrants that the best and brightest are drawn towards this field in the US. Second is the outright autonomy given to academia to perform research on issues of their choice. This gives researchers the creative freedom as well as the liberty to push conventional boundaries of thought. This right was beautifully elaborated by a researcher we met at the Brookings Institute who said that anyone can buy a paper that says what you want it to, but real value can be added to strategic planning only through independent analysis.  In contrast, in India, there are multiple forces which prevent our academics from putting their best held and researched views forward, for fear of backlash. There is a need to create a more receptive atmosphere for all opinions in our society with the final decision still resting with the policy makers.

Evidence & Impact Oriented Policy

Improving quality must go hand in hand with evidence based policy making and not on the “gut feeling” of the policy maker. This can happen only if the government has in its network, experts who could offer an in-depth perspective in policy making. This will be critical as we enter a networked world where the linear thinking of Indian ministers and bureaucrats will no longer be sufficient to solve major policy problems. This sentiment can be institutionalized in three separate ways. First, knowledge centers like JPAL MIT or the Beeck Centre at Georgetown, could be established. They conduct evidence based analysis using tools such as Randomized Control Trials, etc. to design optimal policy interventions. Second, just like SEZs have been established to promote business, separate zones in the city have been devoted to research institutions and we could follow suit. The Research Triangle Park in North Carolina is one such eg. where major local universities, govt. and private think tanks have established their base and can play an important role in providing a boost to the local economy as well as creating a common platform to exchange ideas. Third, serious thought can be given to establishment of academic institutions like the UNC School of Government where professors not only perform research but also have a huge advisory role, which sometimes takes up almost half of their time. Bureaucrats and other policy practitioners from the North Carolina area can get in touch with respective experts at UNC to solve their everyday work issues.

Such mechanisms will not only make sure that the policy created is based on evidence and research but also provide for measurement of impact by experts to design better interventions in the future. This measurement of impact is a major vertical along which severe behavioral change is required. This is because from the government’s perspective, the impact of policy programs is generally measured in terms of the number of people who went through the program without considering other important factors such as the number of people who actually benefitted as a result of the intervention or the degree to which the problem was actually solved. Impact measurement is also critical from the point of view of NGOs as we believe there are far too many NGO’s in the country working on similar or overlapping issues and that too with very little impact. There are two possible explanations for this: either the impact measurement techniques employed by the NGO’s aren’t up to the mark or there is a need to scale up the impact. In either case, there is need to predict and understand the impact of policies in a better manner to have custom-made, well-suited programs for various policy problems that India is confronted with.

2. Engagement of civil society with Government

Another lesson that the world’s largest democracy can take from the world’s oldest is in respect of the robust participation of the civil society in policies made by the government. Innovative new models like citizen cabinets and participatory budgeting as happens at the Federal level in the United States or at the state level like in Iowa (2009-2010) could be looked into for inspiration. Moreover, the potential in India’s demographic dividend has been in talks in all aspects of economic growth, then why should policy be left behind? The WGE delegates met with a lot of talented young professionals interning in the Boston City Council, the Mayor’s offices, etc. This idea can be customized for emulation in India to create fellowships in three different categories. First, youngsters can be brought in as Innovation fellows to look into age old bureaucratic and policy problems with fresh eyes and come up with creative new solutions. Secondly, technology fellows could be brought in to analyze the areas where technology would not be just a prop or a political gimmick but would create true value and work towards implementation of the same. Finally, digital fellowships could be offered to bring in youth to tap into the mass of ‘youth generated content’ out there on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Change.org, etc. This information could then be used to figure out the needs of the youth and also implement innovative programs, for eg. if 1,00,000 people sign up for a question online, then the Prime Minister has to answer it.

3. Internalization of Incentives

The final step remaining after understanding the needs and developing a custom made policy is its implementation. This requires a deep rooted behavioral change in our bureaucracy which suffers from a “false sense of entitlement in India”, as was pointed out by a distinguished Harvard alumni. The mindset needs to be changed from bureaucrats and politicians thinking of themselves as rulers to administrators just in line with the concept of “Pradhan Sewak” as espoused by PM Modi. To quote an example, the delegates were pleasantly surprised to see how even elected state representatives and senators were cleaning up after themselves, giving personal tours to the WGE delegation as well as asking our feedback on their policies; thereby showing a much decentralized and inclusive form of everyday functioning of the ‘elites’. Finally, some short term practical solutions such as the ‘Bad judges list’ which names judges whose cases aren’t finished on time etc. can be adopted in India to create accountability in the system for public servants for eg. judges, bureaucrats and politicians. Basically, the idea is – for implementing policy within institutions, internalization of incentives is required to get people excited to do their jobs and to do them well!

Amanat Boparai is a Delhi-based policy researcher. She was a delegate at Vision India Foundation’s World Governance Expedition 2016.

Aadhaar Platform to be Given Legal Backing – Much Needed Legislation

Shobhit Mathur

“We will undertake significant reforms such as the enactment of a law to ensure that all government benefits are conferred upon persons who deserve it, by giving a statutory backing to the Aadhaar platform. Public money should reach the poor and the deserving without any leakage.” – Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Union Budget 2016-17 speech

The Aadhaar project was aimed at authenticating beneficiaries and directly transferring benefits and services to them. Currently over 98 crore Aadhaar numbers have been generated. The government has been able to directly transfer benefits to 16.5 crore beneficiaries through it. The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) in LPG has been particularly successful and the Government aims to expand it to other schemes. The Government expects to save Rs 15,000 crore in leakages in cooking gas subsidies each year. If the Government could save 40% of what it spends on food grain subsidy by reducing leakages, it will save about Rs 50,000 crore annually.

No wonder the Government is keen to expand the Aadhaar platform by introducing a bill for targeted delivery of financial and other subsidies, benefits and services using the Aadhaar framework in the current session of Parliament. Mr Jaitley in his budget speech announced that DBT of fertilizer subsidy will be piloted in a few districts. At present manufacturers sell subsidized urea to farmers and claim the subsidy from the Government. India gives a large subsidy on fertilizers, about Rs 72,000 crore annually. DBT of fertilizer subsidy to farmers will plug the diversion of urea to non-agriculture uses and neighboring countries.

However the Aadhaar project lacks legal backing and the Supreme Court has limited its use to cash transfers, PDS and MNREGS. Legal backing to Aadhaar can help it overcome legal challenges and permit Aadhaar to be linked to many more Government schemes. The Supreme Court has asked a constitutional bench to look into whether the Aadhaar platform violates the citizen’s right to privacy as it collects and shares biometric data of citizens.  A legal backing to Aadhaar is just a statutory step; it does not amend the constitution which is perhaps needed to permit schemes like Aadhaar. So, if the constitutional bench decides that the Aadhaar platform violates the right to privacy, the legal backing will not hold.

Clearly the Government has decided to invest further in the JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile) trinity. Reducing leakages and better targeting of beneficiaries will provide more fiscal space to government.  Additionally delivering within-government transfers (e.g. MNREGS) via JAM will reduce idle funds, lower corruption and improve ease of doing business with the Government. The last-mile delivery challenges (getting money in the hands of the beneficiaries in rural areas) and opposition from civil society groups (which petition against the Aadhaar platform) will be the most difficult to overcome.

 

Shobhit is the executive director at VIF.

The Need for Civil Society in Good Governance

Shobhit Mathur

As conscious citizens, we cannot hope for good governance without civil society’s engagement. A well-functioning democracy needs everyone’s participation and investment.

The socio-economic problems plaguing our nation are huge and need immediate attention. We rank at the bottom of the list on several human development indicators. Numerous NGOs have spawned to champion uncountable causes. It is reported that India has 31 lakh NGOs registered, i.e. one for every 400 people in the country.

This is twice the number of schools in the country and 250 times the number of government hospitals. However, NGOs in India have paid little attention to the larger issue of gaps in policy making and governance shortfalls.

Many problems we face today are a consequence of systemic problems and fixing them should be a topmost priority. In this article, we make a case for why more NGOs in India need to work with the government and why such NGOs need to be patiently supported by the citizens and philanthropy organisations.

Let’s take the issue of women’s empowerment in the country which has lately gained prominence. Several private and charitable organisations are working to address this at various levels. The issues being tackled range from declining sex-ratio, limited access to education, high school dropouts, early marriages, lack of access to healthcare, etc. Millions of rupees as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funds are channelled to fund the above initiatives and thousands of volunteers are devoting millions of manhours towards it.

An entire private parallel NGO and funding structure has been created to address the problem and this involves a tremendous investment of resources. However, the role of the state is central to solving large scale complex problems in a sustainable way. Investing any amount of resources without taking policy and governance issues into consideration would not result in any sustainable solution.

Let us take an example of a policy intervention to address this issue. The government of Madhya Pradesh launched the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (ladlilaxmi.com) in 2007. Six other states have now replicated this scheme with some modifications. This scheme was launched in MP to address the declining sex ratio in the state, improve access to education and health for the girl child and reduce child marriages. Under the scheme the government purchases a National Savings Certificate worth Rs 6,000 on behalf of the girl child for five consecutive years – i.e. Rs 30,000 in total. Different amounts can be drawn when the girl reaches the sixth, ninth, eleventh and twelfth standards. If a registered girl reaches the age of 21 and was not married before the age of 18, the girl receives Rs 1 lakh.

Till 2013, 15 lakh ladlis benefitted from the scheme. In a study conducted by the Directorate for Women Empowerment in MP, it was found that 97 percent of the Ladlis of 2007 are enrolled in schools now. There was a marked difference in behaviour of families towards the girl child; increased instances of family planning, immunisation, enrolment in schools and reduced preference to child marriages.

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A total of Rs 2,326 crore had been spent on the scheme in the first six years of implementation. The government has the machinery and resources to execute such multi-dimensional long-term projects. It needs fresh ideas, good people and technology most of the time.

Scale and sustainability of change can only be achieved with government involvement. However, it is a common experience that working with the government is challenging and frustrating. That is the reason civil society and businesses have avoided involving government in its developmental projects. But isolating the government will never result in long term sustained change.

NGOs in India have tried to substitute for the state and have been unable to scale or sustain their impact. Very often good hard work is done to undo the impact of the policy gaps of the government. Instead of working against each other, government, businesses and civil society need to collaborate to bring lasting change.

There is a need for more NGOs to work in building capacity in the government, to help it function more effectively and efficiently. There is a need to support organisations working in this space – i.e. policy research, policy advocacy and efficient policy implementation or good governance. Good governance creates the favourable environment for overall economic development and prosperity. Internationally, a few organisations have taken high impact steps in this regard and are engaging with the government in a positive way.

Let’s take the example of Liberia. In 2005 when Liberia came out of 14 years of civil war all its institutions were destroyed. The country had a budget of $149 million while it had debts of $3 billion. To address this, the Scott Family Fellows Program was founded with a generous $1,000,000 grant from the family of Ed Scott Jr.

Ed Scott JrEd Scott Jr
The fellowship programme recruited young professionals to support the government of Liberia, as ‘special assistants’ to senior Liberian government officials, primarily cabinet ministers. The programme placed a special emphasis on encouraging qualified Liberians to apply. The fellows worked with the goal of helping Liberia in its urgent reconstruction and development efforts.

In the Indian context as well, without investing in the human capital who would be future leaders, we cannot hope for governance to change. There are a few organisations which are making an effort in this direction, but given the huge need for fresh talent more such efforts are needed. We need fellowships which support such young talent in the public policy and governance space.

These efforts need to be recognised and supported through patient philanthropic support. They have undertaken a challenging path, but the results will be seen in the long run in a sustainable way. As conscious citizens, we cannot hope for good governance without our engagement. A well-functioning democracy needs our participation and investment. As the governments today are increasingly open to engagement and the citizens restless for change, it makes such efforts more relevant than ever before.

 

Originally written by Shobhit Mathur for Swarajya.