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.

Sameeksha_Gupta_and_Shivraj_Singh_Chouhan,_Nov_2013

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.

A new attitude towards ‘government’

Shashank Rai

We were all in Vadodara at Hotel Planet. We gathered in front of the gate after light breakfast at 7:30 am. In 10 minutes, we were told that the bus has arrived. And it began, 15 of us ready to embark on a journey which was supposed to change our outlook towards governance and government (trust me, they are distinct, until a week back, I also thought them to be same). Little did we know what lay ahead, but we were brimming over with enthusiasm, completely oblivious of the fact whether we would be able to sustain the enthusiasm for the next few days, since one thing was certain that the next few days were going to be different from our conventional lives.

Lets go some time back in history….

It was 16th November when I heard from Shubham about Good Governance Yatra. He told me that it aimed at training young minds about various models of government and intricacies involved in policy making. He advised me to register in case it excited me. I believe that such knowledge is important for someone who sees his future as a policy-maker. Looking at current breed of politicians, let me re-emphasize: it is important, but neither necessary nor sufficient. It was 1 am in the night, without further ado, I started the application process and it was 3 am, when I finally clicked on the Submit button. 3 days later, I heard back from Shubham saying that I was selected.

Now fast-forwarding to the eve of the D-day:
12th December, 2014 :

I arrived at Vadodara in the evening after a long and tiresome train journey from Hyderabad. All the yatris were asked to assemble at Hotel Planet, quite close to the railway station. I met with the fellow yatris who had already arrived, I could sense the thin wall of formality which would soon be broken, rather shattered (broken is too weak a word to describe this). Our dinner was hosted by Jigar bhai, in charge of the Gujarat leg of the yatra, where we were briefed about GGY and Vision India Foundation (the NGO organizing the yatra). It was an all-in-all Gujarati meal & then I realized why Narendra Bhai (our honorable PM) asks for Gujarati food wherever he goes. We were given the reading material and asked to be mentally prepared for a hectic and packed 8 days.

Gujarat being on the western part of India & it being winter season, the sun was a bit lazy but we weren’t. We did beat the sun, and the sun woke up to find us ready to start the journey.

Our first project was a visit to Sardar Sarovar Dam followed by a visit to one of the Rehabilitation villages. After a 2 hour ride, the bus stopped in front of a spacious white-coloured building in a sparsely populated area. We could see hills on our both sides, we later came to know that they were the Vindhyas and the Satpura Range, between which flows the NARMADA. The interiors of the place were decorated with various pictures of the Narmada, the dam itself in different phases of its construction, and the adjoining power station. And there stood Sardar, the Iron Man of India beaming with pride at whoever enters the premises, as if he wanted to tell us – Fulfillment of my vision lies at your shoulders, don’t give up. After a brief visit around the hall, we were taken to board room where a senior engineer, in his 60’s, was waiting for us to show us a presentation. The presentation chiefly dwelt on a brief history of the dam, various obstructions in its path, the adverse and useful impacts of the dam. It also talked about the engineering marvel of the dam, and the details like usage of radial gates instead of vertical, which I’ll omit here.

After the theoretical understanding, it was time for some practical observations. So, we left for the dam site. On the way we stopped for some time at the site of the Statue of Unity, where the construction was in full swing. We were told how it was going to boost the tourism industry in Gujarat and come up as a chief center for water recreation. Finally we reached the dam site. We could see a massive wall between Vindhyas on one side and Satpura on the other. Standing on top of the wall, when we looked upstream, there was water everywhere till the sky met the water surface and became one with it. In all the amazement, we were reminded of how many villages might have been submerged under that mighty reservoir. From the reservoir, ran a canal (called the Narmada canal) which carried water to various parts of Gujarat and also 70 km into Rajasthan through its network.There were also 2 power stations, one with capacity 1200 MW, and the other with capacity 250 MW. The 1200 MW power station has reversible turbines, it would produce electricity when water is released downstream, but it can also serve to pump water upstream in case there is excess water downstream. The main intention of Gujarat behind the dam is to provide drinking water and irrigation facilities to otherwise drought-prone region. Gujarat is a power surplus state, hence a major share of the power generated goes to Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

After an eventful first half, we came back to the same old building for lunch. There we had some government officials waiting for us who supervised the resettlement and rehabilitation process. Post lunch, we were shown a presentation which focused on how Government of Gujarat has followed a liberal rehabilitation policy through which the benefits have reached the last person displaced.Now it was time for verification…

We went to the largest and oldest rehabilitation village, named Suka. When we got down from the bus, the children gathered around us like in any other village. Let alone children, even the adults hardly remembered that they had moved from somewhere else. It was only when we interacted with the old people that we could do a comparative analysis.

Each family was given 5000 sq feet of land for residential purposes irrespective of the size of their plot in their native place. Additionally,  they were also given 45000 cash to construct their house. In fact the rehabilitation policy of GoG was so liberal that the adult brothers who earlier stayed together were given 5K sq feet land each. With regard to agricultural land, each family was a either 2 acre or equal to the land he previously owned in submerged village, whichever is greater. Each of the houses had electricity connection & the roads were well laid out. We were told that the municipality pays the bills of the streetlights (an allowance for the rehabilitation village, unavailable to other villages). The fields were well irrigated from the water from the Narmada canal, they did not have this facility in their native village. Overall the people were happy, their living standards had gone up, evident from DTH antenna on the top of almost all the houses. in fact we were given chilled water to drink when we asked for it, suggesting that the family even had refrigerator. The villagers told us that a doctor visited the village twice a week, and they can call ambulance in case of delivery or other serious conditions. Certainly, Suka is not a model village, it had its own share of problems like lack of proper schools, teachers, sanitation facilities, but it’s a shame that these problems are common to all the villages in India. Additionally, the government has provided them with so many freebies that they don’t take any initiative on their own, they want the government to do everything. the bureaucrats accompanying us told that the plan was to merge Suka with the host village, but we believe that it won’t be easy since this will mean an end to their special status. Another contentious point that we found out was that the government is still paying 45K to new families being resettled, but in the present time, constructing a house in 45K is close to impossible.

I wondered at the kind of pessimism we carry with ourselves. Each one of us was skeptical after the presentation since our prior experience with government and bureaucrats has knowingly or unknowingly taught us not to trust them. It was a Sunday. The engineers and the bureaucrats still came and answered all our questions. The passion with which they spoke bears testimony to the amount of work they have done. If they had not done a good job or were ashamed of their work, they would not be standing in front us with their heads held high, and quenching all our doubts.They laid a lot of emphasis on the political will for the success of this project. In fact if it were not for the persistence of GoG, the Sardar Sarovar Dam would never have seen the light of the day. In fact the engineer was quick to point out that the proposal to increase the height of the dam was pending since 2006, but

They laid a lot of emphasis on the political will for the success of this project. In fact if it were not for the persistence of GoG, the Sardar Sarovar Dam would never have seen the light of the day. In fact the engineer was quick to point out that the proposal to increase the height of the dam was pending since 2006, but as soon as Narendra Bhai occupied 7 RCR, it was cleared & the work has started with so much vigour that they are 6 months ahead of schedule.

On the 4th day of the Yatra, we visited Punsari village, the first digital village of India. We were received by Himanshu Patel, who is the present Sarpanch of the village and the man behind the transformation of the village. It is here that I realized what a Sarpanch can do for his village. I come from a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh where Sarpanches come and go, but the village remains as it is. Himanshu ji has transformed the face of the village. The biggest takeaway from this visit was that if your intentions are good and you are well informed of government schemes, you can do a lot. We all know how popular is dairy-cooperative in Gujarat. Like any other village, the women in Pansari had to travel miles carrying milk. Himanshu ji thought that a bus run by Gram Panchayat for carrying women to and fro milk-collection centres will solve their plight. But it would have been a great strain on the funds of the Panchayat, hence he got the funds through some NGO for women, and now the bus is running. Similarly he has come with CCTV cameras at regular intervals, which has not only reduced the crime rates, but has also made the government officials including police more regular, as it is now very easy to monitor them. The entire village has WIFI access, and he doesn’t forget to charge Rs 50 for this facility. One practice that runs through all his facilities is that he doesn’t give any of those for free. He charges a token amount, which is essential, otherwise people end up losing its value.

It’s not that there was no resistance, every system has inertia & Punsari was no exception, but with strong will and trust in his actions, which comes only when you are on the right path, Newton obliged and the state changed. People of Pansari have moved from a state of resistance to a state of acceptance, so much so that the youngsters are coming up with ideas for apps to make life simpler. From my personal experience, I had lost faith in government schools but in Punsari, the intake in government schools has increased manifold and dropout is almost zero. Himanshu ji has installed CCTV cameras in classrooms, with screens located at several centres in the village. What this basically means is that a guardian can keep a check on the activities of his child, and the teachers are also at their toes since they know that they are under surveillance. He is planning to tag each house so that you canlocate each house on GPS. To increase the participation of people, he is planning to install machines in various parts of the village where you can vote Yes/No. He plans to use it to gauge public opinion before taking any decision. To support the various initiatives he has taken, he has made sure that the Gram Panchayat comes with other sources of revenue. He gives the Panchayat land on rent for pastures, grazing land. He also charges tax from shops or other businesses located in the Panchayat’s land.

We visited around 15 projects. If I start writing about all of them, I can go on and on, but due to the constraints of time and space, I just wrote about two of them.
Finally, the prized question,
What did I gain out of it ?
If you expect my answer to be something tangible or quantifiable, I am sorry to disappoint you. It has transformed me as a person.
Can’t that change come through other means?
May be, may not be. I attended the Yatra, and I can comment on what happened as a result, but when you ask what would have happened if I hadn’t attended it and done something else, it’s a completely different space with too many conditional statements and too many unknowns.

Final Words

Deep inside me, there lies a person who wants to be part of change that he wants to see. But all I had done till now was criticize the policies from a 3rd person perspective without having a complete picture. I had become so cynical that I started believing that whatever little progress that the country has made or is making is not due to the government, but despite the government.

It is this attitude which GGY has sought to change. It made me realize the intricacies of policy making, and showed me how the policies that I had so far criticized had the pros, which media had intentionally or unintentionally ignored. As I have mentioned earlier that political will plays a very important role. I would like to quote a line from one of our projects: Targeted approach, pressure from the top, and demand from the bottom are responsible for its success. It reminded me of a statement I heard long back: Politics is a dirty game, but rather than sitting back and cribbing, get up, enter politics and prove it otherwise.

 

Shashank is a software engineer at Microsoft.

Good Governance Yatra’15

 

Swami Vivekananda once said:

Experience is the only teacher we have. We may talk and reason all our lives, but we shall not understand a word of truth until we experience it ourselves.

This triggered a conversation in the VIF team meeting. Without an immersive experience, training and education in policy making will not have its intended outcome.  The idea of Good Governance Yatra germinated. GGY aimed to provide an experiential learning ecosystem for bright young minds, who wish to build a career in the domain of public policy and governance.

 

The 1st expedition was planned: 1 Bus, 8 Days, 4 States, 15 Projects, 18 Role Models, 20 Yatris, and 2700 KMs on the road.

The journey was a stupendous success on all parameters. Here is a brief report.

 

The first edition of Good Governance Yatra was from 13th-20th December 2015.  A diverse set of yatris consisting of a balanced mix of students and working professionals from backgrounds like Engineering, Economics, Developmental Studies, Social Service, Law were onboard. With a baffling yatri profile, the yatra saw enriching discussions on policy parameters for judging and adding value to the visited projects. The enthusiasm was contagious. The people we met were equally exuberant in sharing their experiences, and learning with these young yatris.

 

Gujarat – 13th to 16th Dec

The Yatra began at a mega-infrastructure project, Sardar Sarovar Dam. Awed by the massive concrete structure, sweeping backwaters and the extensive purpose it serves, the yatris were attentive to the every detail thrown at them by the accompanying chief engineer of the project. But, having heard a lot about the flip side of the project, the delegation went to the neighboring Sukha Village and had a look into the lives of the displaced community there. Much to their delight, the villagers were content with their lives, thanks to the newly laid irrigation canals and 24×7 electricity supply.

The next destination for the yatris was the Dahej SEZ on coastal Gujarat. The SEZ was metamorphosed from a barren land to a bustling industrial hub. Interactions with the city officials apprised the yatris of the clustered city planning and the softened labor laws. After this, the delegation moved on towards Anand, to visit the collection and production center for Amul dairy products. After having an amazing tour around the production centre, the yatris had an interactive session with the CEO. The yatris engaged with the Amul team on a diverse range of topics including, the low-cost high-efficiency methods and their cooperative business model centered around benefitting the milk producers. Later in the evening, the yatris had an engaging interaction with Dr. Manoj Soni, the youngest Indian Vice-Chancellor. He presented the Gujarat State Education Policy in 7 crisp points and took questions from yatris.

The third day was spent in the two major cities of Gujarat, Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. The delegation visited Sabarmati Riverfront and Kankaria Lakefront to interact with their respective agencies and learn about planning urban recreational zones, and a PPP model for tourism development. After this, the delegation visited a unique Slum Re-development project in  Ahmedabad. The yatris were overwhelmed with the newly constructed buildings providing 2BHK residence for slum dwellers, and a cleaner environment to reside in. After an informal discussion with the residents, the yatris moved to the Secretariat. The yatris interacted with the Education Minister (Sh. Bhupendrasinh Chudasama), Minister for Women and Child Development (Smt. Vasuben Trivedi) and the Minister of Finance (Sh. Saurabh Bhai Patel), to understand the long term vision that goes into policy making, and learn from their share of experiences about the intricacies of policy implementation. The yatris were amazed with the clarity of vision in the ministers, and their dedication towards providing a better social environment. The delegation’s next stop was the GIFT City (Gujarat International Finance Tec-City), a global finance hub and multi-speciality SEZ . The city plan amazed the yatris with the long run planning for the commute, waste management systems, and the business development plans to attract corporate houses.

The next morning, yatra took a side road from urban, state-driven projects to a rural lesser-known project of Punsari digital model-village. Punsari presents a unique developmental model for villages. Some unique initiatives the pro-active Sarpanch has taken include  village-wide WiFi, PA system, CCTV monitoring of schools, and a village run transport system. Mr. Himanshu Patel, a visionary sarpanch delighted the yatris by sharing his journey as a sarpanch and how he developed the village through proper utilization of government schemes and funds. The yatra then proceeded to an Agricultural Excellence Center at Vadrad, run in cooperation with the Israeli government. The centre boasted of directly serving 10,000+ farmers with its soil-less agricultural techniques promising high yield and low crop damage. This marked the end of the Gujarat leg of the yatra, and the delegation moved to Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi for the remaining yatra.

 

Rajasthan – 17th Dec

The delegation reached Jaipur on the afternoon of 17th December and directly headed to Jaipur Metro underground construction site. The site visited was located in a sensitive area due to the presence of heritage structures. Accompanied by the project engineer and operations in-charge of Jaipur Metro, yatris had a chance to go deep into the construction site. This was followed by an interaction with Mr. Nihal Chand Goel, CMD of Jaipur Metro, who introduced the policy front of urban transportation planning to the yatris on the choice between various transport options for a city, project planning at various stages, land acquisition methodology and project finances. Immediately after this, the delegation met the team at e-Mitra, a flagship e-governance project of Rajasthan Government. A presentation informed the delegation of the journey of e-mitra from being just a payment portal to providing almost all the government services with spectacular efficiency. While getting their queries cleared, the yatris got a chance to get into the depth of policy challenges in bringing together various government departments providing hassle-free services. Later, they were also joined by Mr. Akhil Arora, Secretary for DoITC, Rajasthan Government, who shared his own experience of working across government departments. Following this, in order to have a complete understanding of the functioning of e-mitra from a user’s perspective, the delegation visited a nearby e-mitra center. This marked the end of Rajasthan leg of the yatra, and the delegation left for Delhi.

 

Union Government – 18th Dec

The day began early, and with a lot of on-board projects, the delegation was brimming with excitement to learn from the governance models put forward by the central government. The first project of the day was a visit to the MyGov.in office and an interaction with Mr. Gaurav Dwivedi, CEO of the project. He shared with the yatris, the history of the project, and how this first ever experiment on open democracy was planned and executed. This was followed by a quick user feedback of the MyGov.in interface. After this, the delegation moved to the nerve of the Indian government, north block, which houses the home and finance ministry. The delegation was also joined by Mr. Sachit, Co-founder, Stayzilla, our partner organisation, who had arranged home-stays for the delegation throughout the yatra. The delegation was then addressed by Dr. Jitendra Singh, MoS PMO, who spoke about the need of having youth centric policies, and the need to engage youth in governance. This session was followed by an informal interaction between the minister and the yatris, where the yatris shared their on-ground experience with the minister. The delegation later moved to visit Common Services Center, the central e-governance agency delivering all major online services like PAN card, voter registration, and managing all the major e-governance, and online complaint portals. On interaction with Mr. Dinesh Tyagi, CEO for CSC, the yatris were amazed to see the zeal and passion driving him and his vision of providing easy service to all citizens. Been in administrative services for long, Mr. Tyagi shared his life experiences and how the autonomy makes CSC an efficient organisation. Thereafter, the delegation went on to visit Rural Electrification Corporation (REC). Being on a mission mode to fulfill the Prime Minister’s promise of electrifying 18,500 villages in 1000 days, the REC team brought new definitions to transparency with its mobile application, Garv. Live updates about the status of the project, continuous monitoring of the on-ground engineers and deadline based implementation has made REC, one of the flag bearers of good governance. Interaction with Mr. Dinesh Arora, who heads REC, also enlightened the yatris on the existing system’s fallacies, and how one can bring efficacy in old systems. This was followed by a presentation of  Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), which is running on a mission mode to bring LED lights to every home, and thereby reducing the Nation’s power demand. EESL is distributing LED lights at one-third the market price without providing any subsidy using innovative purchasing schemes.

 

19th Dec – Haryana

The delegation began early on the next morning and left for Haryana to visit the implementation of the state government’s flagship scheme, Beti Bachao Beti Padao. The first project was at a village named Hasanpur, which houses a modern Aanganwadi (Nand Ghar) , built through a grant from Vedanta. The delegation was joined by Dr. Yogendra Malik, who serves as an advisor to CM for Beti Bachao Beti Padao (BBBP) and Swachh Bharat. He briefed the yatris on various government schemes to promote the girl child and bring an end to female foeticide. The session proved a myth buster for ones who had stereotypes on Haryanvi mindsets. This was followed by a visit to an all women police station at Sonepat. Interaction with the police officers educated the yatris about the crimes related to women, and the impact of having an all-women police station. Post this, the delegation left for Delhi, where the yatris enjoyed a tête-a-tete with the Vision India Foundation team. They relished the story of the team, how the idea came about and what the organization aims to do. This marked the end of 7th day, and the night continued late for the yatris, who were eager to have some last fun filled moments together before the expedition ended.

 

20th Dec – Delhi Government and Convocation

The last day of the yatra began with a visit to a Sewage Treatment Plant at Keshopur by the Delhi Government. Accompanied by Mr. Ankit Srivastava, APS to Delhi Jal Board, the yatris were informed of the sewage treatment process. He also discussed with the yatris about how the demand-supply gap for water can be met by treated sewage water. The social psychology towards “dirty” drain water was also debated upon, and the yatris took a step ahead and drank the water cleaned by the “Toilet to tap” project. The yatris also got to know about decentralised sewage treatment, which is the current policy pursued by the government and was the next project in the itinerary. The delegation moved ahead after this, to have a final adieu at the campus of SOIL (School of Inspired Leadership), where the convocation function was chaired by Mr. Arun Maira, a former member of the Planning Commission. The session began with a brief about the yatra and experience sharing by the yatris. Mr. Maira later spoke about the need to having committed individuals in nation building process, and supported the VIF mission of aligning one’s career with nation building. The session finally ended with the award distribution and presenting the certificates to the yatris.

 

More details about the yatra can be found here.

 

Learning, Unlearning, Relearning: Good Governance Yatra’15

Anuva S. Agarwal

To stare at the window, to see the roads pass by
Amidst the constant and excited banter inside, to watch a different side of the country hitherto unexplored, we try.
When journeys became destinations and destinations become journeys,
Where the minds resonated each thought with a selflessness unknown.
Projects that were once mere facts on paper have now each become that open door we’d never thought, existed.
The insights into the VIF machinery, strung chords deep within,
To watch those eyes that burned with the passion, charisma and conviction of an idea that was meant to change.

I had a simple wish. It began as a passing thought and I didn’t know how it’d be fulfilled.
It was, to be amongst a culture that had no inhibitions and was outright ready to do something to change the world.
Moving beyond the confines of our comfort zones, realising my personal limits in respect of staying hungry, minimising sleep and yet not feeling the lethargy creep in, the sheer joy felt at that moment of a ‘connect’ with a fellow yatri;
Singing on the wayside of the highway when the bus petrol got over, dancing like the bus corridor was the dance floor, listening to poetry recited by fellow yatris, respecting idiosyncrasies, laughing till the throat went sore – this yatra has undoubtedly reinstilled a belief in the change that is possible, via visits and ‘jumping into’ a system that truly bothers.
I have a major weakness in me – I become indifferent to situations very easily even if they are important, say, a certain activist movement or an exam result or an exam, and I have always wondered why.
“Indifference is an outcome of apathy, which in turn is born out of disconnect”.
This revelation hit me almost as if the impact was physical, just yesterday! I suppose it was merely the last straw.
I don’t need say anymore about how this Yatra has helped rid us all of the supposed set of ‘disconnects’ we had in our minds.

I thought it would be impossible to find a bunch of people, in one place, one for whom the word ‘ego’ doesn’t exist.
Where humour is the only language and iridescent bonhomie, a trademark.
Well, I was proved wrong, for, these 8 days have given me nothing but this.
We came as individuals but depart as a team.
Fathom the complexity, embrace with integrity. Make your life your own finger print.

#governspired

 

Anuva S. Agarwal was a yatri at Good Governance Yatra 2015. She studied masters in economics at Shiv Nadar University, Noida. The views expressed are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Vision India Foundation.

Greenhouses Gases and Vegetarianism

The world is struggling to protect the environment and achieve sustainability. Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are real concerns. Population growth has exploded from around one billion people two centuries ago to seven billion now, of which more than 10 percent do not have enough to eat. Under these conditions, it is imperative to re-examine the environmental impact of human diet.

In preparation for the Paris climate conference in December, India has recently put forward its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to limit its carbon emissions and mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Nowhere in India’s INDC is there any discussion of the environmental impact of human diet, meat in general and beef in particular.

Evidence suggests that meat is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that the production and consumption of meat are responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to 13 percent from all transportation. A non-vegetarian diet can release anywhere between two to ten times more carbon dioxide equivalents than a vegetarian diet, depending on the type of meat. Beef production releases methane, which is 23 times more harmful than CO2. One pound of dry beans produces 0.4 kilograms of CO2 equivalents against 1.6 produced by chicken and 7 by beef. Greenhouse gases cause global warming and meat produces greenhouse gases.

The study by the FAO also concludes that livestock agriculture is the ‘single largest anthropogenic user of land.’ Livestock takes up 70 per cent of all agricultural land, making it a key factor responsible for deforestation and degradation. A non-vegetarian diet not only leads to more degradation but also requires more land for its production. A Netherlands-based study published in 2002 noted that an ‘affluent’ diet requires three times as much land as a vegetarian diet. With the world population growing and people suffering from hunger, it is remarkable to consume a diet which needs more land and even degrades it.

The American state of California is suffering from acute water shortage. The Pacific Institute, a US-based research center, reports that meat and dairy products consume nearly half of California’s water. India too is a water-stressed country. Falling water tables pose a food security risk for the nation, and agriculture is a key sector for water consumption. The FAO also observes that livestock is the largest source of water pollution. Livestock maintenance pollutes freshwater sources, degrades coral reefs in coastal seas and harms human health. Therefore, just like land use and degradation, meat consumes more water while also polluting more of it. Land and water resources are used to produce grains which are in turn used to raise livestock. This has significant consequences for land, water and energy available to the world.

To understand how diet measures up against other efforts towards sustainability, consider solar energy. Typically, solar energy saves one kilogram of carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour of energy. An average Indian consumes 700 kWh per year. Shifting to solar energy saves that many kilograms of CO2 equivalents. Shifting to a non-meat diet can save up to 1 ton of carbon emissions per person per year, more than that achieved through solar energy. And the cost? Zero. The world can take a big step towards sustainability, and this is a step that comes at no cost. In fact, it saves money while saving the planet.

Roughly 40 percent of Indians are vegetarian, making India home to more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. This saves enormous amounts of greenhouse gases when compared to other nations. When the parties meet to negotiate climate change, India must highlight its vegetarian behaviour. India’s INDCs should be based not only on what the government is planning to do. It should also come from what Indian people have been doing for years. Five hundred million Indians have mitigated and will keep mitigating global climate change, simply by not eating meat. India should support sustainability efforts for research, development and entrepreneurship so that humans can gradually shift to a green and healthy diet.

The referred study by the FAO gives all possible solutions to save resources and reduce emissions but does not advocate a change in dietary habits. The UN and the international community need to recognize meat reduction as an actionable goal in order to achieve sustainability. In a scenario where eating beef has become criminal for some and fashionable for others, we need to forge a middle path. This path should neither be criminal nor fashionable, but rather responsible. There is no conservative or progressive way to save the environment. There’s only the way that works.

Armin Rosencranz, advisor to Vision India Foundation, and Sahil Aggarwal, program director.

The article was originally published in The Statesman.

One Year of Nation Building

 

1 year of VIF

Twelve months ago, VIF started its journey with a policy workshop at IIT Delhi. As we complete one year of nation-building, we feel proud to share our story so far.

On 6th November 2014, the day that marked VIF’s launch, we had asked the participants about their career choices. The average age of respondents was just over twenty years. Coming from some of the best institutes of the country, more than 22% said they want to go for politics / bureaucracy / and related careers. A similar number chose entrepreneurship.

This could be the most passionate and fortunate generation in India for centuries. This is the youth for which we are building the nation of our dreams, and this is also the youth which will realize this dream. Young India wants to make a difference. We keep working to ignite this spirit.

Over the last year, we built a strong advisory board and mentor panel consisting of academicians, industry leaders and professionals. Our network of ambassadors reaches three continents, and our 6-member executive team is as excited as ever. Soon, we will also have ten fellows join us for different projects.

We hosted the nation’s first Policy BootCamp which was appreciated by politicians cutting across party lines, reputed bureaucrats, grassroots workers, academicians and social leaders alike. Delegates spent 21 energetic days with us, many of whom regard this as a transformational experience.

15 summer interns worked in stressful climate to bring changes. Some worked in remote tribal villages, some with top-level governance agencies and policy makers. From these experiences, it is clear that the system can involve young talent to bring unforeseen progress.

To further train aspiring change agents, we have planned programs like the Good Governance Yatra. We are also about to roll out an advanced policy research camp in partnership with one of the world’s best university and a reputed grassroots organization.

With a strong technology background, our team has developed products which can transform the way democracy functions in India. These technology products will make democracy truly participative and help elected representatives improve their efficiency and effectiveness in managing the constituency.

In addition to this, we have co-published a book on citizen engagement, worked with government agencies and political parties for research, and conducted Hangouts with renowned personalities in this space. While doing all this, we partnered with state governments, academic institutions, members of the parliament, non-governmental organizations and more. Moving forward in creating this ecosystem where we train young people for nation-building, we are consolidating our programs and working on specific reforms needed for the country.

A detailed description of the journey so far and the roadmap of the organization is here.

India needs a critical mass of change agents. Once it crosses that tipping point, there will be no looking back. The youth is craving to be a part of the change. Will we, as a nation, provide the right opportunity and mentorship?