Category: The Millenium Post

Travails of policy rollout

Impact of Agnipath scheme on operational capacity of armed forces needs to be assessed and communicated properly before rolling it out in phased manner

The Agnipath scheme recruiting agniveers for the armed forces has been a hot topic of discussion over the past fortnight, and has even led to violent protests and demonstrations in various parts of the country. There is a legitimate room for dissent and debate in a democracy but violence and damage to public property cannot be condoned in any manner. However, the intensity of the adverse reaction from the youth does point towards certain genuine concerns which need to be addressed and, in fact, should have been anticipated by the policymakers. Public policy is a complex issue because it deals with human beings who are prone to rational as well as emotional responses. It is for this reason that the formulation and rollout of any public policy needs to be done with a lot of care and has to involve all the possible stakeholders. We find that as soon as negative responses started coming in after the declaration of the policy, the government started announcing various other measures like 10 per cent reservation for agniveers in Central police forces or non-combatant wings of the armed forces. Some state governments have also assured of giving preference to agniveers in state government jobs. These announcements have helped in reducing the tensions but are somehow appearing to be an afterthought and a case of too little and too late.

Public policy always has some objectives in mind but, inevitably, there are unintended consequences to any policy, and it is the job of the policy framers to anticipate them and provide solutions in the policy document. The civil servants and the defense bureaucracy should have been aware of the likely reactions, and after deliberating on those, they should have been able to address them in the policy. The political executive normally has a much better understanding of the pulse of the people, and they should easily have been able to sense the likely reactions and prepare accordingly. I was surprised to read in one of the newspapers the statement of a senior officer of the government who said that they did not expect this kind of intense reaction. It points towards inadequate attention paid to the process of policymaking. Policies are not to be framed in isolation but have to be in close touch with the ground realities.

The government has outlined various merits of the scheme. The first is putting a check on the huge cascading liability of pension payments for better utilisation of defense outlay. In the budget for 2022-23, the defense ministry has been allocated Rs 5,25,166 crore — of which 54 per cent i.e., Rs 2,83,130 crore has been provided for pensions and salaries. Thus, pensions and salaries take away a large portion of the defense budget, leaving less to be spent on modernisation of equipment which is a necessity in modern day warfare. Only 27 per cent of the overall defense budget is for capital expenditure. It has been pointed out by some experts that ideally the ratio of revenue to capital outlay in the defense budget should be 60:40 whereas for India this ratio is 80:20. Indeed, this is a genuine cause for taking remedial action. Further, the government has also said that they will absorb 25 per cent of the agniveers in the armed forces and, eventually, by 2030, reach a state where agniveers and regular recruits would be in the proportion of 50 per cent each. This would reduce the average age profile of the armed forces, which today stands at 32 years. India needs a much younger profile for its soldiers. Unfortunately, the scheme has not been communicated properly and it has got positioned as a pension reform scheme whereas any reform relating to the armed forces has to focus on the objective of improving national security and operational capability. People would have accepted the scheme better if it could have been explained to them that this scheme would make the nation more secure, and by spending more on modern equipment, the defense forces would become far better equipped to handle any threat to the nation.

The adverse reaction is coming because 75 per cent of the agniveers are getting a job only for four years, after which they are not entitled to any pension or medical facilities, and left on their own to seek further avenues of employment. The government has come out with the promise of reservation in certain jobs for agniveers but there are reasonable doubts in the minds of the youth about the level of implementation, as even today the ex-servicemen quota in most employment remains unfulfilled. The private sector may be making pious statements about how agniveers would be a useful and disciplined resource for them but considering that they would only have a class-12 level education, one wonders to what extent the private sector would be able to employ them and in which capacity. The issue of unemployment is a genuine one confronting the youth today and this is why they are reacting in such a negative manner to the proposed scheme. It is interesting to note that most of these protests are happening in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This is because these states have the maximum population of young people looking for jobs. Further, in both these states, the level of industrialisation is low and there are few job opportunities outside the government sector. In UP, I am personally aware of the thousands who apply for a grade-D level post in the government and many of them hold post graduate degrees and some of them are even PhD-holders. We can look around and see that in states like Maharashtra, Gujarat or Tamil Nadu, there is hardly any protest. Looking at the problem of unemployment, even the honorable Prime Minister has recently declared that one million vacancies in government should be filled up within 18 months.

In public policy, the issue of timing of a reform is also of crucial importance. Regular recruitment to the armed forces has not taken place for four years because of Covid, and many young aspirants have cleared various stages of the selection process. All of a sudden, they are informed that all these selections in process are cancelled and Agnipath scheme is to be implemented. Naturally, a negative reaction is bound to unfold due to a sense of desperation among the youth. The ideal thing would have been to complete all the selections which were in process and introduce the agniveer scheme along with regular recruitment in a phased manner. This would have given the opportunity of evaluating the scheme and, if found beneficial, rolling it out fully within four to five years. Some government spokesman has made the astonishing statement that this is a pilot scheme. A pilot scheme is one which is introduced on a small scale and, if it gives good results, it is scaled up. Evidently, there is apparent confusion in the government on how to make the scheme palatable to the people.

The Agnipath scheme has to be evaluated on its impact on the operational capacity of the armed forces and should be rolled out in a phased manner, depending on the results of a concurrent evaluation. Major policy reforms need far greater thought and involvement of all concerned.

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Continuous Evaluation

While one exam may be the threshold to qualify as civil servant, the officer’s promotion is based on annual performance along with seniority which ensures objectivity

Just passing one exam assures you a promotion to the top in your career and also provides a lifetime job security is the refrain I have been witnessing in various WhatsApp groups and in a spate of articles in the print media ever since the civil service exam result was announced a week ago. Many are surprised at the media space being made available to those candidates who have succeeded in the civil services exam, and in particular have qualified for the IAS. I read some opinion pieces which express surprise at this, and compare it to other countries where possibly this would not be newsworthy at all. They tend to equate this with a colonial hangover or the excessive importance to government in our society. It is not true that only candidates clearing the civil services exam get so much publicity as I have read similar stories about those who clear the JEE exam for IIT or get 100 percentiles in the CAT exam for admission into the Indian Institutes of Management and others. However, there is no denying the fact that there is no comparison to the attention being given to candidates who secure top ranks in the civil service exam. All of us are aware of the names of the girl candidates who secured the first three ranks in the exam. This is no doubt an indicator of the fact that the civil services exam is an extremely tough one where barely about 800 candidates qualify out of 8 to 10 lakhs applying and around 5.5 lakh students actually writing the exam — which means about 0.15 per cent candidates succeeding. There cannot be a more difficult competitive exam on which the aspiration of not only the candidate but the entire family is focused. Success in the exam leads to immediate recognition for the candidate and her family, and the status in society goes up exponentially.

The biggest credit must go to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) which conducts this exam in a completely fair and impartial manner and it is perceived as such by all. Such a large exam being conducted with total honesty and integrity is a great achievement, especially when we find that much smaller exams relating to selection for government posts at lower levels become subjects of allegations of nepotism and cheating. The total integrity of the civil service exam gives it a halo of merit, and even the most powerful politicians or officers cannot interfere with it. The best is selected and this ensures that the civil servants are capable and intelligent people. I recall when I qualified for the IAS and looked around my batch, I found each one of them having exceptional qualities and knowledge. In fact, when in college, we could predict which student will make it to the civil services and more often than not the prediction came true. However, commentators, while agreeing with the fact that the exam selects the best on merit, criticize that just passing one exam provides a career of more than 30 years where promotions are based on seniority and almost everybody reaches the top. They argue for a system in which the merit is assessed at different points of time in career and the wheat is separated from the chaff and only those who continue to learn and grow reach the higher levels. The argument has force in it but I must point out that things have changed and now a candidate qualifying for the IAS does not automatically become Secretary to the Government of India, or even Joint Secretary or Additional Secretary. A 360-degree evaluation system has been introduced and now for promotions to the top the government does not only rely on annual performance reports but on feedback about competence and integrity from various stakeholders. The result has been that not more than 30 per cent of a batch is getting promoted to the top. Of course, questions are being raised about the efficacy of this 360-degree system which is opaque and often arbitrary. Still, it does ensure that not everybody reaches the top. In the system before this, the assessment was done on the basis of annual performance reports which generally tended to rate an officer as good or very good. I feel that there is a need for designing an objective and transparent evaluation system but there are issues related to this which must be kept in mind.

An IAS or IPS officer, amongst all the civil servants, works directly under the supervision and control of the elected political executive who is the final decision maker. Many decisions are taken for political reasons for which it would be difficult to hold the officer responsible. If seniority as a criterion for promotion is done away with and replaced with merit it could lead to complications as the merit would be assessed by the political masters. I have seen this in Uttar Pradesh, and it is true for many other states also that officers get aligned on political grounds with one ruling party or the other by design or by default. Some officers themselves are responsible for this as they fall to the lure of good postings under a particular dispensation. However, there are a large number who get identified for no fault of theirs, simply due to the fact that in a particular government they hold important posts and are perceived as being close to the party in power or belonging to a particular caste or community. Merit then gets subsumed under the weight of political influence. Promotions, if based on merit determined in such a manner, would lead to officers close to political party in power reaching the top. As part of police reforms, it is now mandated that top three names on the basis of seniority are sent by the UPSC to state governments for appointing one of them as Director General of Police. This has been a welcome move, considering that before this it was open to the party in power to appoint an officer who is close to them as Director General.

Even in this system, the political executive finds a way out by branding a selected officer as incompetent and removing him before the completion of his tenure. The point I want to make is that both the IAS and IPS work under political masters and it is thus very difficult to have an objective system of performance appraisal. It is for this reason that seniority is worth continuing with as a criterion for promotion. It is also not true that there is no effort to upgrade the skill-set of an officer after the initial one exam. There are now at least five phases of training for the IAS at different levels of seniority, equipping them with the knowledge required for jobs that they will hold at that level. It is also not true that all officers get important postings. Each officer acquires a reputation during his career which does determine his career path. The one exam is important as it selects the cream but it is also true that an objective system of performance evaluation free from political bias and based on attainment of results and outcomes is very much required for the bureaucracy to deliver in this age of disruption.

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Through bottom-up approach

To implement NEP’s transformational vision of ensuring multidisciplinary education, policymakers should sincerely focus on bolstering primary schooling

We are in the midst of celebrating the 75th year of our independence and the entire country is organizing functions and programmes to commemorate this year as Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. There is a lot that we should be justifiably proud of in our progress during this period but, at the same time, we should be aware where we stand with respect to various indicators of development and also consciously chalk out a roadmap to make our country a developed nation by 2047. A holistic approach of development is required but we must realize that the 21st century is one where knowledge will determine the progress of a nation. If India wants to keep pace or even go ahead of the rest of the world in the 21st century then the main area of focus has to be education. We have a vast army of young people giving us the advantage of a demographic dividend but, without providing quality education to all, this will turn into a disaster. Education is a tool of political empowerment and also the means to bring about social equality and economic progress. The SDG goal for education very succinctly puts it that we have to strive to achieve “inclusive and equitable education to all by 2030”. This is a tall order for our country where the mean years of schooling are low and the gross enrolment rate for higher education is only 26.3 per cent at the moment and the status of all education indicators are much lower for girls.

We had an education policy in 1986 under which a significant amount of work was done in the education sector but the new education policy, coming 34 years after that in 2020, has a completely new vision about what education should mean for the Indian citizen. The vision statement envisions an education system rooted in Indian ethos and seeks to transform India (Bharat) into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society by providing high-quality education to all. It seeks to inculcate pride in being an Indian but also inspires to become a truly global citizen. It is indeed a wonderful vision which aspires to blend the Indian culture and ethos with modern science and technology. The NEP decisively wants to free itself from the shackles of the colonial legacy, as pronounced in the famous Macaulay minute on education. The Indian citizen should be a self-confident person, conscious of the great culture of the country but also desire to bring in the best of science and technology.

The foundation has to be strong for any building to withstand shocks or pressures. Unfortunately, our elementary education system is of abysmal quality and this clearly means that it would be difficult to build the edifice of a developed nation on this basis. The NEP has rightly focused on foundational literacy and numeracy. The education system would now be 5+3+3+4 years instead of the current 10+2+3. There would be a national mission for foundational literacy for the first five years of a child’s education. This would be till the age of eight years and is based on the scientific premise that 85 per cent of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs up to the age of six. Today, we see the sorry spectacle, as brought out by the survey reports of the NGO Pratham that students of class five can barely read or do simple arithmetic of class two levels. This requires serious remediation if our nation has to develop. The teachers need to be specially trained in early childhood care education. In India, this work is done by Aganwadis that are not trained for this job and have a lot of additional duties to perform. They will have to be trained specifically for this job and a synergy would have to be established with the primary school teachers so that together they are able to fulfill the goal of foundational literacy. It is indeed a matter of concern that even today, there are a large number of schools where the children don’t even have chairs and desks and they sit on the floor. We cannot become leaders of the knowledge society if serious steps are not taken to completely overhaul primary education. The community has to be involved in this. I would vouch for decentralization of primary education so that the village level local bodies are able to monitor them and bring about an improvement in the quality of education.

Teachers are crucial if school education has to turn round the corner. The new education policy rightly says that efforts have to be made to restore the respect and dignity of teachers which should motivate her to feel responsible and accountable for imparting quality education. We need to create an environment where the best are willing to enter the teaching profession and are prepared to work in outlying rural areas. There should be a regular programme of training and capacity development for teachers, and to keep them motivated the governance has to ensure a fair and impartial system of career management and progression. Qualified teachers should be recruited. Vacancies need to be urgently filled up and a system evolved to protect the teachers from the menace of transfers.

The goal of having a multidisciplinary approach at the school level is laudable but difficult to implement. The school systems as well as teachers will have to be oriented and geared to take up this responsibility. Besides, it is imperative to give equal importance to vocational and extracurricular education but, once again, this requires a lot of reforms at the school management level.

The new education policy has given valuable suggestions about developing education from primary to higher level but I feel we have to begin by focusing on school education. If the quality at this level remains poor then higher education will not improve. Education must get the highest priority from all political parties and the governments otherwise the problem of unemployment will grow larger and we will have an army of frustrated youth who would be diverting their energies into deviant channels. The future of India depends upon how we manage and transform school education.

A reliable succour?

Looking through the lens of social realities, rather than just in economic terms, revival of old pension scheme appears to be a viable proposition

A recent debate has been triggered on the issue of demand of the government employees to be given pension as it was done before 2005 under the old pension scheme (OPS), and not as per the new pension scheme (NPS) — brought into existence by Central Government in 2005 and adopted by all state governments except West Bengal at different points of time. Uttar Pradesh has been witnessing a major agitation in this regard by various employee associations and, recently, in the run up to the assembly elections, the Samajwadi party had promised in their manifesto that they would revive the old pension scheme if voted to power. Soon thereafter, the Government of Rajasthan went ahead and announced the implementation of the old pension policy for their employees. Recently, I also noticed advertisements appearing in newspapers justifying this decision and pointing out its several benefits. In a similar vein, the Government of Chhattisgarh is seriously considering reviving OPS and several other states are also actively examining the issue.

Noted economists and several retired civil servants have been voicing serious reservation on the revival of the OPS. Their contention is that this would be a financial disaster for the public finances of state governments as salaries and pensions were a major drain on the state resources and were increasing every day due to increase in the number of employees. Additionally, longevity of people was causing a huge strain on the budgetary position of governments, leaving limited resources for expenditure on capital items or social areas like health and education. It is true that the logic used to replace OPS by NPS was that the pension liabilities were rising too fast and the state finances would not be able to bear their burden. To discuss the implications further, it is essential to understand the mechanics of both the schemes. In the OPS, a retiring government officer or employee was entitled to 50 per cent of his last basic pay drawn as a monthly pension till the end of his life. He would also be eligible for an increase in dearness allowances announced from time to time to counter inflation by the government. In the case of the death of the employee, his wife was entitled to get 50 per cent of the pension amount for her life. The NPS does away with this system and instead provides for a monthly contribution being made by the employee (10 per cent) and the concerned government (14 per cent) of the basic salary of an employee and this contribution has been kept in a separate fund where fund manager is expected to invest this in the market and get good returns. On the date of his retirement, a lump sum is available for the employee where he can draw 40 per cent and leave the balance 60 per cent in an annuity scheme to get monthly returns. It is true that this would have a lesser impact on the cash flow on the governments than the OPS. However, it must be examined as to why it is being universally opposed almost by all officers and employees who joined service after 2004.

The employees argue that the NPS is linked to the market. They are apprehensive that the amount contributed is being invested in the stock market and that they would get an amount at the time of retirement which is determined by the stock market. There is, thus, no certainty as to what the value of their contribution would be and nor do they have any role in deciding how the amount is to be invested. Employees have different number of years of service and with the age of entry to almost all government services having been increased significantly, many employees are retiring even after just around 20 years of service. During this period, the NPS corpus that is created by their contribution is too small to give any significant lump sum return or a viable stream of returns through annuity. The employees’ associations have been quick to point out several cases where on retirement the employee has been getting a measly sum under the NPS which is too meager to enable the employee to live his balance life with any sense of dignity or comfort. The problem has been further compounded by the fact that many state governments have not been making their contributions regularly to the corpus and also that there is no real time knowledge that an employee has about the fate of his pension fund. Significantly, they point out that if the NPS is as attractive as OPS as pointed out in justification by some governments then why is it that their senior officers who joined the service before 2004 are availing the facility of OPS and not opting for NPS. Similarly, they allege that the policymakers have themselves not made NPS applicable to them. It is also significant to point out that NPS has not been made applicable to the armed forces where the OPS is continuing. In a recent advertisement issued by Rajasthan Government, it was pointed out that the second national judicial pay commission has recommended OPS for the judicial services and the national human rights commission has also expressed its opinion that the state should examine the human rights element involved in NPS vs OPS.

Even though it would not be correct to examine this issue from a purely financial angle I would like to first examine this aspect. All that the OPS is saying is that 50 per cent of the last salary should be given as pension on a monthly basis. There is no reason why state governments cannot plan for this by continuing with the 14 per cent contribution every month and keeping it in a separate corpus and earning returns on it. The budget size of each government is increasing by almost 10 per cent every year and there is no reason why the contribution to the pension cannot be increased by the same amount every year. In this way, the government will be spending only as much every year as they are spending under the NPS. The returns on this corpus can come as an addition to the state finances and, from this, a monthly pension can quite easily be paid to the retiring employees from the government treasury. In this way, I do not foresee any extra pressure on state finances which could imply curtailment of expenditure on physical and social infrastructure. Other innovative ways of handling the situation can also be thought of.

The crucial thing is that the old pension acts as a social safety net for the retiring employees. You only have to look around to see that it is a pension or family pension which allows a pensioner to live a life of dignity and enables him to address his health issues that crop up after retirement. The society is such that children look after their parents if the parents are earning a monthly income to cater to their needs. If a lump sum amount is given then it rarely remains with the old parents, as the children lay claims on the amount to meet some immediate financial requirements of theirs. An OPS ensures that a retiring employee is not dependent on his children and lives in comfort for the remaining part of his life. Every issue should not be seen simply in economic terms and the realities of social life need to be factored in. The government should seriously consider reviving OPS to keep their employees motivated and also get the best brains to apply for government jobs. If the apprehensions around NPS were not genuine then the phenomenon of almost all employees and teachers agitating on a regular basis for revival of OPS would not be there. Policymakers must view this issue not as simply an economic problem but one concerned with providing lifelong social security which is a major objective of a welfare state.

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A flawed framework

Making the MCQ-based CUET mandatory for UG admissions will promote coaching culture and ignore comprehensive parameters of selecting candidates

Each year, the month of June raises the heartbeats of thousands of young boys and girls, as they rush to apply for admission to Universities for undergraduates courses, based on their class 12 marks. Such is the situation today that even a student with marks in the high nineties is not sure of getting the subject or college of her choice. Delhi University witnesses cutoffs as high as 100 per cent for several courses. I wonder how students score 100 per cent in subjects like literature or history! There seems to be intense competition among various boards to provide higher marks to their students. I read somewhere that this year, students from the Kerala board were more favourably placed than others. There is no doubt that different boards have different ways of evaluating their students and, often, there is a difference in the curriculum also — making it unfair to compare their scores. I have been Principal Secretary of Education in UP. I remember that there was a time when marks secured in the UP board used to be far below those in other boards, and students of UP board found it almost impossible to get admission in Delhi University. This issue was addressed accordingly, and now, even UP board students are securing sky-high marks — though the general level is still below other comparable boards.

Let us first understand what the common university entrance test (CUET) is all about. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has made CUET mandatory for Central universities and has suggested that state and private universities should also follow it. The National Testing Agency, under the Ministry of Higher Education, has announced the format for CUET. The admission to UG courses in Central universities will have CUET replacing the class 12 marks-based admission system. This test shall be based on the NCERT syllabus and will be divided into four broad sections. Section 1A and 1B will involve papers on languages, which will test the reading and comprehension skills of students. Section 1A is compulsory for all and will test the candidate in English or any of the 12 chosen languages. Section 1B shall test their proficiency in specified foreign languages. Section 2 shall test the knowledge in core subjects out of a list of 27. This includes subjects like visual arts, performing arts and music. Section 3 is a general test — not related to any domain subject — which shall test the mental ability of the students. A candidate is allowed to take up a maximum of nine papers in two different combinations. The CUET will not rank students but will provide scores, based on which admissions shall be made. The board exam scores will not have any impact, except that a minimum qualifying score shall be indicated by different universities.

Quite obviously, the main merit of such a system is to put all the students coming from different boards on a level playing field. The race for high cutoffs shall be done away with. This clearly is an improvement over the earlier system. However, this could lead to a situation where the students will focus on preparation for this test rather than learning the prescribed syllabus for class 12. A similar kind of situation is apparent in the case of students applying for engineering entrance tests. It is true that the domain subject will be based on the class 12 NCERT syllabus, implying that students have to be thorough in their class 12-level knowledge. However, multiple-choice questions cannot substitute class 12-level exams. Important skills like written communication, power of discussion, analytical reasoning and logical flow are difficult to test in an objective paper. In this light, it may be worthwhile to consider giving anywhere between 25 to 50 per cent weightage to class 12 board exam results. Such a measure could bring in the best of both systems.

It is also almost certain that coaching institutes for CUET will sprout up in every nook and corner. You only have to look around and see the coaching institutes that have mushroomed for engineering, Law or management entrance tests. The CUET then becomes a question of who can afford the better coaching institutions, and also, test the particular kind of skills required for solving CUET papers, which will be imparted by these coaching shops. The system will work to the detriment of those coming from underprivileged backgrounds. Moreover, very recently, the CSAT, which was an aptitude test for civil services preliminaries, was reduced to a qualifying test after a furore all over the country that this test discriminated against students from rural backgrounds. The same arguments will apply to CUET. Strangely, the chairperson of UGC has confidently stressed that coaching will not be necessary, as this would be different from IIT entrance because the ratio of seats for applicants will be 1:5 against 1:50 in the case of IITs. Furthermore, he said that the level of difficulty of the questions would be moderate so that the students are comfortable without coaching. Frankly, I am unable to see any logic in these arguments. I can foresee that coaching institutes shall spring up within a year of the introduction of CUET.

All over the world, questions are being raised on the efficacy of such tests as a reliable medium for ascertaining the eligibility of students for admission. Even the time-honoured SAT has been open to questions. Many foreign universities are now not in the favour of SAT and have dispensed with SAT as a requirement for entrance to the universities. Moreover, serious issues have been raised about SAT being a genuine test of merit. Most foreign universities now have essays, social activities, references and interviews as means of testing a candidate for admission. Maybe Indian universities will also have to consider adding some of these parameters in their evaluation of a candidate.

The biggest point in favour of CUET is that it is common for all. Curiously, this is also the main criticism of this test where critics argue that one-size-fits-all tests may not give the desired results. It is also to be noted that the CUET needs to be designed intelligently so that it becomes a true reflection of a student’s ability and talent. One critic very candidly said that a test is only as good as the person who sets it.

One feels that CUET is an improvement over the earlier system but it is still a work in process, and much more discussion and understanding will have to go into having a university entrance system that does not discriminate and genuinely tests the aptitude and competence of the students.

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Two-tier route to growth?

While the Budgetary focus on physical infrastructure for growth is a step in right direction, neglect of social infrastructure will likely propel inequality

The Union Budget for the year 2022-23 has continued with the emphasis on growth with the expectation that a high rate of growth would lead to a better quality of life for people. Nobody can dispute that growth is important but there is also the spectre of rising inequalities which cannot be overlooked. Growth has to be inclusive in nature and it is against this paradigm that the Union Budget needs to be evaluated.

We must start with the positives. There is a substantial increase of 35 per cent in the capital expenditure with ambitious targets for roads, railways and ports. This emphasis on development of physical infrastructure was very much required to lay the foundation for industrial growth and economic development. It will also create a demand for items like steel and cement, which should act as an incentive for increase in private investment and also provide jobs for those involved in the construction activities. The real test of the matter would lie in the implementation in both quality and quantity terms. Looking at the trend of expenditure against the current year’s Budget, the prospects do not look very bright but then one should not be unduly pessimistic, and hope that the government machinery will be able to fulfill the ambitious goals of capital expenditure that have been provided for in the Budget. It is also significant that despite the increase in government revenues, this expenditure will have to be met through additional borrowings which will increase the substantial interest liability in the Budget.

The second-most significant aspect in the Budget is the clear focus on digital technology. In every sector in the Budget statement, one finds schemes related to introduction of digital technology. This will definitely improve the functioning of various departments and provide better services to the people. We have the concept of drones in agriculture to improve crop statistics as well as land records. In the education sector, E-Vidya is being used to develop about 200 channels to provide quality education to the school-going children. Similarly, in the health sector, digital healthcare has been given paramount importance. This is the age of technology and only that country will go forward which develops a knowledge economy. The importance given to digital technology is a step in the right direction and prepares India to face the disruptive challenges posed by the fast-changing technological environment. This should also lead to a creation of a new set of job opportunities for the youth.

My main concerns around the Budget are regarding the sectors of health and education that haven’t seen any increase in budgetary allocation. Besides, apart from introducing digital technology there is no new scheme to bring about qualitative improvement in education and healthcare. The development of social infrastructure is as important as the physical one. We have examples of various countries which first focused on education and healthcare to develop their human capital and then emphasised on physical infrastructure. Only a well-educated and healthy society can take full advantage of the opportunities created by enhancement of capital expenditure. Health and education should be the topmost priorities of the nation and this should have been reflected in the Budget. For instance, having a digital health card and digital infrastructure is undoubtedly useful but digital intervention without a sound physical foundation is not likely to yield the required outcomes. Healthcare will improve only if there are more doctors, nurses, paramedics, ICU beds, hospitals and other health-related infrastructure. This requires significantly stepping up the expenditure in public health, which is still languishing at only about 1.3 per cent of GDP whereas it should be stepped up to 2.5 per cent at the earliest. The pandemic has exposed the huge gaps in our healthcare system, particularly in the rural areas. This should have sensitized the government to accord highest priority to the health sector.

Similarly, the pandemic has created huge issues in the education sector, which should have been reflected in the Budget. E-Vidya is a welcome move but it is no substitute for improving the education infrastructure, quality of teaching and learning outcomes. I am also mystified by the reduction of allocation for the crucial MGNREGA scheme. People are still suffering from the adverse impacts of the pandemic which has pushed millions into poverty, who require the safety net of a rural employment guarantee scheme like MGNREGA. Also, I was looking forward to the introduction of an urban employment guarantee act along the same lines as MGNREGA to cater to the unemployment problem in urban areas. This could have helped in creating productive assets and more consumer demand. In fact, the Budget has not taken any significant step towards enhancing consumer demand which contributes more than 50 per cent to the GDP and acts as a stimulus to private investment.

Previous year’s Budget talked big on disinvestment and privatisation but current year’s Budget is silent on these goals. For the current year, against the target of Rs 1.75 lakh crore only about Rs 9,000 crore has been realised. Expectations are that with the LIC IPO, it would reach Rs 78,000 crore. The roadmap for the future is not clear. It may be that not being able to push through the structural reforms in agriculture, the government has become a little cautious. Furthermore, the government had announced monetisation of Rs 6 lakh crore of public assets and there were talks of realising Rs 88,000 crore this year itself. Once again, the Budget has not spelt out any details regarding this.

The middle class, particularly the salaried section, was eagerly looking forward to some benefits in income tax but the Budget has not touched the income tax rate at all. A reduction could have once again stimulated consumer demand by putting more disposable income in the hands of the people. However, it is noteworthy that the tax rates have been kept constant which is a positive point in itself.

We can hail the budget as being a growth-oriented one, and also appreciate the stress on digital technology. However, in a society where inequalities have gone up over the last few years, more thought could have been given to the inclusiveness and development of human capital.

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Finding the right fix

Rather than imposing a mandate over officers, the Central government must assess the reasons behind their ‘unwillingness’ to be deputed for Central roles
A controversy is raging these days regarding the proposed amendments to the IAS (cadre) rules proposed by the Central Government. Several states have reacted strongly opposing these amendments as they feel that this would give the Government of India much greater control over the posting of IAS officers to the Center. This amendment is agitating the State Governments more because of certain recent orders issued by the Government of India like those relating to the Chief Secretary of West Bengal and some senior officers of the same state.

To put the matter in perspective it is important to understand the current rules regarding deputation. Central deputation in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is covered under rule 6(1) of the IAS cadre rule 1954 inserted in May 1969 which states that “a cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the State Governments concerned and the Central Government, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government”. It further states that “provided that in the case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government”.

There were around 5,200 IAS officers in the country as of January 1, 2021, and 458 were on central deputation. The Central Government is concerned because the required numbers of officers are not coming forward for central deputation and the Government of India is facing a shortage of officers. Central Government wrote to the State Governments recently pointing out that States were not sponsoring an adequate number of officers for central deputation. Depending upon the strength of the IAS officers in a particular state a central deputation reserve is created which indicates the number of officers, at various levels, who are eligible for Government of India deputation. Based on this, the Central Government asks for an “offer list” of officers from which it selects the required officers. The Government of India has now proposed an additional condition in 6(1) which states “provided that each government shall make available for deputation to the Central Government such number of eligible officers of various levels to the extent of the central deputation reserve”. It goes on to add that “the actual number of officers to be deputed to the Central Government shall be decided by the Central Government in consultation with the State Government concerned”. It also says that in the event of any disagreement the State Governments shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government within a specified time. In the letter written to the State Governments, the Central Government has also said that “in specific situations where services of cadre officers are required by the Central Government in the public interest the Central Government may seek the services of such officers for posting under the Central Government”. The states realized that through these changes the Government of India is taking greater control over the IAS officers and this is the reason why they are objecting quite vociferously.

It is significant to note that the willingness of the officer concerned to go on deputation to the Government of India is essential as per rule 6(2) which states that “no cadre officer shall be deputed except with his consent”. The clause about posting the officers in the Government of India in public interest appears to override this crucial requirement of the willingness of the officer concerned. In effect, it would mean that any time the Central Government can pull out an officer from the State Government to serve in Government of India irrespective of the willingness of the State Government or the officer concerned. This has become the real bone of contention, particularly, in the light of recent examples of West Bengal and earlier Tamil Nadu.

Most states are having a central deputation reserve shortfall. Over 14 states have a CDR shortfall of over 80 per cent with the West Bengal figure being 95 per cent and it is above 90 per cent for MP, Haryana and Telangana. It is a fact that most states are not meeting their CDR obligations. This is not in consonance with the concept of an All India Service. This is happening even though the annual recruitment to the service has gone up since 2000. There is a particular shortage at the level of Joint Secretaries, Directors and Deputy Secretaries. This is a genuine problem that needs to be resolved through consultation between States and Central Government.

It is also essential to understand the concept of All India Services as well as the federal structure of the constitution. The idea behind the creation of All India Services like IAS has been to have a common perspective between the State Governments and Government of India and that States should also function towards the achievement of national goals. On selection, IAS officers are assigned to a State cadre where they serve in the district and State Secretariat and acquire knowledge about the ground-level realities. They can also opt for central deputation and generally, they spend five years in the Government of India if selected and acquire a national and international perspective. He carries his experience back to the state after his central deputation period is over. The All-India character of the service is maintained by the mechanism of giving 1/3 of the vacancies in a state in a particular year to candidates who belong to the state and the balance is given to the officers from outside the state.

I think the most important point is that there should be a willingness on the part of the officer to go to the Government of India. He should not be forced to do so. Central Government must analyse why officers are not offering themselves to the Government of India. At the Deputy Secretary/ Director level the main issue is that at the same level of seniority the officer is working either as a District Magistrate or head of a department or some other important post in the state where he has a lot of authority to make decisions and the job is immensely satisfying. Further, creature comforts like a vehicle, house, schools for children and availability of health care are ensured. At the Deputy Secretary level in the Government of India, many of these hygiene factors are absent and even the job content is such that very few decisions are taken at that level and the officer is primarily involved in pushing files. If the Government of India really wants officers to opt for them at this level of seniority, it should focus on taking steps to enrich the job content and also provide basic creature comforts. I am surprised why there are fewer officers on offer for the Joint Secretary (JS) level posts because the JS is a crucial person in the Government of India and most decisions are taken by her and she contributes in a big way to the working of the department. The reasons for the shortage at the JS level would need to be studied. I feel one reason could be that a lesser number of officers were recruited into the IAS between 1990 and 2000 as a measure to slim down the bureaucracy who was misplaced and from 2000 onwards more officers are being selected into the IAS. The states are also guilty of not sparing officers for Government of India postings because they are doing some very important work and they cannot be allowed to go. They have been instances where due to political reasons the names of officers are not forwarded to the Government of India. I feel it is the responsibility of the State Governments to have the required number of officers in the central deputation reserve. Thereafter deputation to the Government of India can take place on the basis of the willingness of the officers and consultation between the two governments. This is how the character of All India Services can be maintained and also it is in accordance with the federal nature of our union. The problem only comes when political reasons start influencing this process either from the Government of India or the State Government level.

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Urgency for Reforms

Indian bureaucracy is in dire need of reforms to ensure its independent and harmonious functioning, as also to hold it accountable to the people

I had the opportunity of chairing a session in the annual convention of the Lucknow Management Association (LMA) on the very important topic of governance reforms for the transformation of Uttar Pradesh (UP). My session was on bureaucratic reforms and leadership development. The panel consisted of illustrious speakers like ex CAG and IAS officer Vinod Rai, Pradeep Mehta of CUTS International and Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM Indore. Though the focus was specifically on the state of UP, the webinar had a larger relevance in the context of the entire country as it is clear that good governance is essential to make India a developed economy. Various studies have established a clear correlation between good governance and pace of growth of GDP. Very often it has been argued that various political parties on coming to power come up with a large number of infrastructure projects and development schemes but have not made any substantial reforms in public governance.

Good public governance is about a system where there is accountability, transparency, impartiality, fairness and integrity. The institutions of governance have to perform their designated roles. It is important that quality public services are delivered to the citizens, which is the ultimate goal of good governance. There is no denying the fact that there is a need for greater result and outcome orientation in the government system. Bureaucratic reforms are an essential component of governance reforms.

Curiously, whenever there is a discussion on bureaucratic reforms, the talk centers on reforming the Indian administrative services (IAS). It is true that IAS is at the top of the bureaucratic structure but it accounts for much less than one per cent of the total bureaucracy. Merely reforming the IAS will not change everything as reforms have to travel down to the last level of the bureaucratic ladder. I can give a classic example of this from my experience in UP. At the top level, we went through several sessions of discussions, formulated policies and issued detailed government orders regarding ease of doing business. We were rewarded for this by attaining a high rank amongst the States in the ease of doing business rankings. However, despite our claim that all clearances should be given online, the prospective entrepreneur had to vigorously follow up at the lower level of bureaucracy to actually get his work done. For example, we found that though online clearance for power connection was given, the entrepreneur did not get the connection for a long time and had to constantly make an effort to contact the junior engineer to get the job done. Ease of doing business failed at the last stage of implementation. It is for this reason that it is important to consider changing the mindset of the entire bureaucracy and not merely the IAS.

The panelists rightly felt that there was a perception about the bureaucracy being unresponsive, insensitive and insulated from people. It is up to the officers themselves to look within and alter their working style to make it people- oriented or citizen- centric. For this they will have to look at themselves as providers of public services to the people and not as rulers. This requires an immense amount of humility, empathy and compassion. Training and orientation programmes can help in bringing about this attitudinal change. However, the real change will come if there is an inbuilt system of reward and punishment which rewards the right kind of behaviour and result orientation. It is not as easy as in the private sector to have quantifiable targets for issues relating to public policy. However, some degree of quantification is definitely possible. There are performance evaluation systems which can be designed to accurately measure the attitudinal aspects also.

For bureaucracy to perform, it has to come out of the maze of rules, processes and regulations, under the garb of which it generally shelters itself. This is possible with wide-ranging reforms in the entire system of governance where an officer is not penalized for bonafide actions done in public interest. We need these reforms to ensure a system of prompt decision-making which is the basis of good governance. Above all, the bureaucracy today needs to be innovative and always ready to take initiative in resolving problems of the people with a positive orientation.

It is not that the bureaucracy cannot perform. There are several instances of outstanding work done by the officers. Two recent examples are the vaccination drive against Coronavirus and the development of Kashi Vishwanath Temple corridor. I remember, during my tenure as Chief Secretary from 2014–16, we implemented game-changing projects like construction of Lucknow- Agra expressway, Lucknow Metro and Dial-100 in a record time with no cost overrun. The quality of execution was also exemplary. Even today, officers in the districts are doing a lot of good work which is not being recognised because of lack of documentation.

Good governance requires a relationship of mutual trust between the politicians and the bureaucrats. They are like two wheels of a vehicle which have to move in tandem otherwise the vehicle will not be able to move. Unfortunately, the instances of political interference in governance are on the rise. The mechanism of transfers is used by the political executive to control the working of the officers. Senior officers are not able to get the team they want because of this interference. It is well known that unless you have the right man on the right job it becomes difficult to deliver results. Today it is almost impossible for an officer to have a team of his choice.

It is necessary to develop leadership qualities at all levels of bureaucracy. The officers have to be trained to work in teams and be motivated and inspired to achieve the goals set for the organisation. They must develop the quality of reflective listening which means absorbing the opinions of others and also developing crucial negotiation skills. The bureaucracy has to implement laws in true spirit and provide justice to all citizens. They should wield power for the benefit of the citizens and development of the country. A system should be evolved where the officers need not reinvent the wheel every time but learn from the best practices of others.

Bureaucratic reforms are possible if there is a political will to do so. I hope that the mission Karamyogi started by the Government of India will prove to be a positive step in this direction. The bureaucracy must appreciate that the real test of their performance is in the hands of the citizens. They must deliver if they want respect. It is urgently required to reform the system of governance and make it accountable to deliver outcomes without which the bureaucracy shall never be able to justify itself.

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Budget of hope

An expenditure budget focussed on consumer demand, private investment, health, education and agriculture is the need of the hour

On February 1, the Finance Minister shall present the Budget for the financial year 2021-22. The Budget comes after a year-long economic crisis which was the result of an unprecedented crisis in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic. Everybody is looking forward anxiously to the forthcoming Budget to gauge the response of the government to the crisis and also the direction of economic growth that it would indicate. The 1991 Budget was historic as it came in the wake of a serious Balance of Payments crisis and ushered in an era of economic reforms.

The current crisis is much more threatening than that of 1991 as it is for the first time since 1979 that the country is poised to declare a negative growth rate to the extent of 7.5 per cent. This is despite the fact that the economy has shown remarkable resilience and bounced back much faster than expected with even the Reserve Bank of India claiming forthrightly that there is a V-Shaped recovery of the Indian economy. However, it cannot be denied that the pandemic has set back the economic clock and it will take time and a proper blend of policies and reforms to take the economy forward on the required rate of growth.

It is true that even before the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic struck and caught us all unaware, the growth rate of the Indian economy had been slowing down continuously to record a 4.2 per cent growth rate in the preceding year. Unemployment, farmer distress and a host of other economic issues were lingering on the horizon, waiting to be resolved. This Budget, therefore, presents a huge opportunity to give the required momentum and direction to the economy. This could well be the “Dream Budget”. It is true that not all economic decisions of significance are taken during the budget session only, and the government has to keep taking sound policy decisions throughout the year to respond in a dynamic manner to the changing economic scenario. However, the timing of the Budget is such that it would indicate the pace of economic recovery as well as bring into being, the economic reforms across various sectors.

This Budget, thus cannot be an incremental pedestrian budget but has to create an environment which would bring about a quantum leap in economic growth. It is all the more important because the Government of India has set for itself an extremely ambitious target of taking the economy to the level of USD five trillion by 2025, which would require a growth rate in excess of 8 per cent every year in real terms.

The first focus area has to be that of resources. Government will need funds if it wants to step up expenditure on priority sectors, but in the aftermath of the pandemic, there is very little space left for an increase in taxes. The administering of the Corona vaccine is also expected to cost about 6,000 crores and there are speculations that this could be met through a cess imposed for this purpose. This may not be very advisable, as the need today is to put more cash in the hands for the consumers rather than taking money away from them. Macroeconomic theory clearly points out that economic growth is a function of consumption demand, private investment, government expenditure and balance of exports over imports.

Among these, consumption demand has about 55 per cent weightage, and thus, it is a clear pointer that if the consumption demand is raised then the economy would grow faster. It becomes clear that the Budget has to prioritise raising consumer demand. One of the ways of doing this would be to paradoxically reduce the tax rate or do away with some of the imposed cess, so that there is more money left in the hands of the consumer to spend in the market. In addition, stressed sectors like hospitality and tourism need a booster dose of direct cash transfer. This can also be done in other sectors as well.

Special schemes for putting more money into the economy would be beneficial at this moment. This would in turn give the much-needed fillip to the private investment, which so far, has not shown any propensity to increase despite the exhortation by the honourable Prime Minister of India. We have to go forward and further facilitate ease of doing business by suitable reforms in land, labour and other related sectors, but these measures have to bring results at the ground level to genuinely attract more private investment. The government has to step up its investment in public infrastructure in a big way to enhance private investment as well as put more money into the hands of the people. Investment in infrastructure will have a multiplier effect on the economy, besides, leading to increased capital formation.

Some of the measures that can be taken to increase the resources are through public sector undertakings divestment or by offering tax-free bonds. The expenditure priorities have to be healthcare, nutrition, education, agriculture and medium and small scale industries, with public health becoming the topmost priority of the nation. Of course, we cannot ignore the all-important defence sector. New Education Policy was announced in the midst of the raging pandemic and is high on intent and idealism but needs to be translated into cogent schemes and action plans. This Budget would set the ball rolling with special schemes in education sectors to enhance foundational learning as well as to bring about an all-round improvement in the quality of education.

The current century is the one where those investing in knowledge lead the race, and if India has to occupy a dominant status, then there has to be a sharp increase in the budget allocation for research and development in various sectors and also special schemes to incentivise R&D in the industrial sector. The Budget will also clarify the real meaning of Atmanirbhar Bharat, which should not in any way, become like the import-substitution policies after the independence which were the hallmark of self-reliance.

Atmanirbhar Bharat should mean an India having a vibrant manufacturing sector, producing quality goods for the domestic as well as the global economy. The Budget would be watched keenly to see what kind of schemes and incentives are introduced to make the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat a reality. The farmers’ agitation has shown that the agriculture sector is under a lot of stress and needs more direct support from the government. The PM Kisan is an excellent scheme but the amount has to be increased beyond Rs. 6,000 per year to give more direct support to the farmers — already impacted by the volatility of the agriculture market.

This Budget should come out with a comprehensive scheme for creation of Farmer Producer Companies in such a manner that they can be operationalised to bring about the required aggregation of farmers to come out of the cycle of the low income trap — brought about by fragmentation of landholdings. The Budget should also come up with innovative social safety nets for the migrant labourers whose plight shocked the soul of the nation. Medium Small and Micro Enterprises, especially those related to food-processing have to gravitate towards rural areas to create employment in non-farm activities near the villages, so that people do not have to migrate to the far-off states in quest of jobs and basic minimum income. The Budget should also focus on increasing the exports from India in both agriculture as well as manufacturing.

The growth in exports over the last few years has not shown an encouraging trend. Last but not the least, it is the all-important issue of employment which has been further accentuated by the pandemic. The government must come out with concrete proposals to tackle this problem head-on and create an economic environment where sufficient jobs would be created to absorb the youth joining the workforce in large numbers every year. Introduction of an urban equivalent of MGNREGA could be one of the options. The public sector banks are in urgent need of recapitalisation and the Budget will have to address this to enable the banks to give more credit to generate more investment.

There is no doubt that this has to be a momentous budget, which will set the tone for the recovery of the economy and general well-being of the society in the years to come. This Budget is coming at a defining moment in the life of the nation.

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Unprecedented undertaking

India’s vaccination campaign will pose many challenges of logistics and governance

Following the approval of two vaccine candidates in India, the first lot of vaccines have reached the states for priority vaccination of healthcare workers. One can hear the immense sigh of relief that is widespread and already there is a sense of euphoria that the crisis is behind us and we can look forward to a quick return to normalcy even though it might now be the new normal. In my life — and I am over sixty years old — I have not seen a crisis of this dimension that has shaken the entire world. People have lost their near and dear ones and a lot has changed, including the imperative of moving to a digital economy, online education and work from home.

Many of these changes that the pandemic has forced upon us have shown hidden benefits which might enable them to continue in the future. But it must be emphasised that by no means is the pandemic over and there is no cause for relaxing precautions. I feel that the Government handled the crisis reasonably well but now is faced with the herculean task of administering the vaccine which presents a logistics and governance nightmare. In the order of priority set by the Centre, healthcare workers and frontline workers are to be vaccinated first, followed by those above the age of 50. One has to register to avail of the vaccine.

The first part of vaccinating the health care and frontline workers should not pose much of a problem as they can be easily identified and administered the two doses at requisite intervals. However, my experience of administration shows that administering the vaccine to those above 50 is not going to be that easy. In India, we are plagued by VIP culture and the most annoying habit of queue jumping which is likely to take place in a big way. I can visualise politicians and senior civil servants trying to get themselves and their families vaccinated on priority once they are convinced that the vaccine that does not have any adverse effects. District magistrates and directors of various hospitals will have to wrestle with this problem as it would be difficult to evolve a rational system for this.

It is possible to vaccinate people on the basis of a list drawn on the basis of the date of registration and that should be made public so that it is difficult for influential people to try and get preferential treatment. However, there are going to be numerous vaccination centres making it difficult to have such a simplistic solution. On the other hand, there could also be many people not wanting to take the vaccine as they are not convinced of its efficacy or fear the adverse effects. Further, with registration being a requirement how would those not having a smartphone or awareness of the online registration process avail of this facility?

The vaccine will be supplied in batches and the first question will be that of allocation between states. What should be the criteria of allocation? Should equal doses be given to each state or the amount should vary according to the level of the infection in a state or the fatality rate? The next stage would be the allocation of the vaccine to different districts at the state level where again similar questions will have to be addressed. Whatever the decision is, some people are bound to feel unhappy about it. The most important thing is to communicate the scientific truth about the vaccine to the people so that they take the vaccine and develop a rational attitude towards it.

We do not want a situation where a single adverse reaction may derail the entire campaign. Often such vaccines lead to allergies and provisions have to be made for immediate handling of these allergies so that it does not fuel the rumour mills. A close watch has to be kept on rumour-mongering through social media on deaths taking place which have no connection to the administration of the vaccine. It is important to inform the people and keep doing so on a continuous basis and thereby build an atmosphere of trust.

We can use celebrities as we did for pulse polio where we had Amitabh Bachchan re-enforcing the message of pulse polio continuously. That apart, government officers and doctors and experts whose voice has authority should be on media as well as social media to give authentic information about the vaccine and it’s likely after-effects. Communication will have to be done in all languages used in various parts of the country to reach the maximum number of people and sometimes I have found that such messages are best communicated through street plays, poems, storytelling and community events which involve the entire population in the campaign.

Any campaign succeeds only when the people own it and give it their total support. The objective of administering this vaccine is to control the pandemic and save the life of the people and as such would require sustained efforts over the next two years to reach a significant percentage of the population of the country. This work cannot be done by the health department alone and would need coordination amongst various departments of the state. The coordinating role will have to be performed by the district magistrate at the district level and the Secretary Health/Chief Secretary/Cabinet Secretary at the state or the Central level.

One significant point raised by many people is regarding the existence of cold chain points to ensure that the vaccine is kept at the right temperature. Former Health Secretary Sujata Rao recently wrote in an article that of the 28,932 cold chain points half are in the five southern states, Maharashtra and Gujarat while the eight states in the north and Odisha that account for over 40 per cent of the country’s population have only 28 per cent of the cold chain points. She has rightly pointed out that along with this uneven distribution and the fact that weaker states suffer from a shortage of doctors, health care professionals and medical equipment means that different states of India have different capacity to implement the vaccination program with quality and accuracy.

The same will apply to large states like UP which has huge regional imbalances. Moreover, it would be quite a task to ensure the second dose of the vaccine within the stipulated time and also to maintain the cold chain in extremely remote and backward areas. The Prime Minister and several chief ministers have been talking about implementing this campaign in an election mode. There is no doubt that conducting elections in such a vast and diverse country has been a tremendous administrative success. It is amazing how polling booths are set up in almost every village or mohalla and polling parties are nominated and sent there with all necessary equipment to conduct the elections.

Massive transportation and security arrangements are undertaken and free and fair elections conducted. There is no doubt that a similar level of commitment, dedication and organisation as well as the involvement of all concerned government officers are required to make the vaccination campaign a success. This is possible but the question is whether this momentum can be maintained for a period which is likely to be almost two years? Elections, at best, require this kind of sustained effort for about two months. Then if the entire government machinery is focusing on the vaccine campaign for such a long time, would not other aspects of governance and administration which are equally necessary to bring about economic recovery suffer in the process? Already because of the pandemic, the education of the children, the nutrition programs and handling diseases like TB have been adversely impacted. Ultimately, we all must rise above politics and ideologies and join hands to make this campaign a success.

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