Tag: Civil Society

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.

Click to read original article.

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.

Click to read original article.

IAS as a service: Has it performed to expectations or failed the nation?

Most people have a tendency of holding the IAS responsible for anything that goes in the country.

In recent weeks there has been a debate on whether the IAS as a service has delivered or has it failed the nation. Different viewpoints are being expressed. Indeed, there can be arguments on both sides of the balance. Indeed, there can be arguments on both sides of the balance. I personally feel that IAS has delivered despite the constraints under which it functions. Ground level realities are very different from the view from outside which many sections of the society tend to take about the performance of the IAS as a service. It is also felt that in the IAS there is complete job security and promotion is automatic on the basis of seniority and there is no objective performance appraisal system in place to determine the sustainability of officers for senior level posts. There are many who have a tendency of holding the IAS responsible for anything that goes wrong in the country.

Strangely, the general view is that the IAS as a service is very closely knit and self perpetuating and always defends itself and members of the service. This is very different from reality where IAS officers are more concerned about their individual careers rather than to think about the IAS fraternity as a whole. Far too often the IAS officers have a propensity of criticizing the service and those who are senior love to say that the ethos and values of the service are on the decline in the younger batches. I do not believe this to be true. There are the good, bad and the ugly in the IAS as there are in other professions and it is incorrect to try and give the entire service a bad name.

Some years ago in the Uttar Pradesh IAS Association some officers who became crusaders against corruption in the service organized a secret ballot to vote for three most corrupt officers in the UP cadre. This move was hailed in the media and various forums but with a negative connotation and the story went around that the IAS was a corrupt service. An act of self cleansing attempted by some officers was turned into a tool to damage the reputation of the entire service.

A colleague of mine has very rightly pointed out that many IAS officers in order to show themselves as being intellectually progressive criticize their own service. Other sections of the society then use these very utterances to condemn the IAS. Introspection and self improvement are essential but the service has enough achievements to its credit to make its members feel a sense of pride in them.

Many individual IAS officers have done outstanding work in the Districts and in policy making but, unfortunately, most of it not documented. Only recently with the advent of social media have some IAS officers begun to talk about to work done by them and the innovative way in which they have delivered good governance the service as a whole can be, justifiably, proud of itself for having played a very important role in keeping the nation together and also ensuring that the government works according to the democratic principles and the spirit of the constitution. Some IAS officers have posted on social media that no doubt the steel frame has got corroded but how do we handle the corrosive environment in which IAS officers function?

Many people, when they discuss this issue with me, are quick to point out that rules and regulations are made by the IAS and if they are hampering the working of the government then the IAS should change them. It is true to some extent and it is also a fact that the IAS officers have been responsible for modernizing many rules and procedures but they cannot change everything.

They also function under a system where the politician is the master.

One thing that has emerged from all the discussion is that there is a need for a performance based promotion system for the IAS. There is a very extensive system in existence which has been continuously improved upon over the years but it is still not very satisfactory as it does not separate the wheat from the chaff. A large proportion of officers get a very good or outstanding rating without their meriting it. The promotions are on the basis of seniority subject to unfit which means only those involved in court cases or departmental enquiries are left out. The Government of India has recently introduced a three sixty degree evaluation system for the Secretary level and other senior posts. This has resulted in almost 30% to 50% of a batch not being able to get promotion to the Secretary level.

However, the working of this system is quite opaque and has caused a lot of resentment amongst officers. My view is that there is a definite need for an objective evaluation system for the IAS which should lead to the promotion of those officers who acquire new skills and knowledge, have qualities of leadership, have good communication skills, have the capacity to motivate and inspire a team and are not scared of taking prompt decisions in public interest. Officers who deliver results and outcomes should reach the top and not those who merely push files, are risk averse and believe in maintaining the status-quo. Unfortunately, the current system encourages good file work and not delivery of results. This is a difficult exercise because in my experience I am yet to come across a truly objective performance evaluation system. There is always an element of subjectivity which can become dangerous in the current environment where the politicians are evaluating the performance of officers and there is a tendency to brand officers along lines of caste, community or perceived proximity to members of a political party merely because they have served on important posts in a particular government.

It is easy to say that an IAS officer should give free and frank advice and uphold what is correct but these days it has become hazardous to do so particularly in State Governments where the Minister or Chief Minister takes this as an indication of willful dissent and is prone to transfer you to unimportant posts or worse start an enquiry against you. Today the IAS officer has to walk the political tightrope very adroitly otherwise he could have a fall from which it would take him years to recover.

It must also be kept in mind that the basic principle of governance is to have the right man at the right place. However, rarely does an IAS officer get to work with the team of his choice. He has to give results working often with a mediocre team and facing political interference at every level.

Despite the above, several IAS officers have achieved a lot and have been shining examples of competence and integrity. There is a lot of scope for introspection, self improvement and also major reforms in the entire system of governance. However, given the ground realities it would be harsh to say that the IAS has not delivered at all or failed the nation.

Click to read original article.

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.

Click to read original article.

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.

Click to read original article.

An insight into an IAS officer’s work with the Government

Here’s an excerpt from Making a Difference by a successful retired IAS officer, Alok Ranjan, who served with distinction in various assignments in the State Government as well as the Government of India.

Working with the State Government

A very revealing incident took place when I was the Principal Secretary Urban Development and the urban local body elections were to take place. They were thirteen posts of mayors and as per the act and rules, there was a clear roster system to determine which seat would be general, which reserved, which would go to women, etc. The CM wanted particular candidates to contest from specific municipal corporations and I was summoned by the CM Office and given the brief to prepare the roster accordingly. I explained that this is not possible as the rules and their interpretation was clear. The stratagem of taking legal opinion was then adopted by the CM Office and the Principal Secretary Law interpreted the rules differently which accommodated eight out of the thirteen proposed mayor candidates. I said that I did not agree with the opinion but if given in writing, I would abide by it. However, the CM was keen that at least three other proposed mayoral candidates should be accommodated in the roster. To my utter disbelief I was called and told by the CM Office in the presence of the Principal Secretary Law that for eight seats, the interpretation given by the law department should be used while for other three, my earlier interpretation should be employed. I had to show my dissent by saying that I could agree with an interpretation I felt was wrong if given in writing, but I had to be consistent and could not possibly choose different interpretations for different mayor seats. At my refusal, the officers present looked at me as they would at a goat about to be sacrificed and I realized that my goose was cooked and mentally began to prepare for my transfer. Imagine my surprise and amazement when the CM saw my point and agreed with it. It just shows that often the officers close to the CM try to be holier than the king. If they put up both sides of the picture to the CM they will invariably get to the right decision.

Secretariat working is all about files which are almost like living organisms having a life and energy of their own. A good Secretariat officer believes in not keeping files pending and he is proud to proclaim that his table is clear. However, this movement of files has little relation to actual decisions being taken and on closer examination, he will find that the files have been sent to law, finance or personnel departments for advice. The files move to and fro with volumes of noting which ensures that no accountability can be fixed on anyone at a later date. A close relative of this strategy is the formation of a committee to examine the matter which takes its own sweet time to give a voluminous report. Even developing a system of tracking files and prescribing maximum time limit for files to stay at a particular desk does not help.

The Principal Secretary of a department is expected to provide leadership to his team. He has to have the skill set to build the team which shares the objectives and goals of the department and works towards its fulfillment. The key task is to prepare the budget of the department, then release the budget to the field officers and monitor physical and financial progress. Above all, he has to assess the problems in his department, resolve them and achieve the required outcomes. Unfortunately, this does not often happen as the officers are more concerned about processes than giving results. Calling or attending a meeting becomes an end in itself and occupies the majority of the time of the secretaries and the heads of the departments. The job of a Principal Secretary is not only to assist in policy formulation but ensure implementation. Often we hear the rather unfair and incorrect statement that policies are good but implementation is poor. The reality is that policies are framed in the rooms of the Secretariat overlooking the harsh realities at the field level and a good policy must take into account how it can be executed…

To really play a transformational role, the officer must focus on results and outcomes but unfortunately, the officer is often more concerned about the process than delivering results. I have personally seen many brilliant officers mellow down in the Secretariat to the level of becoming ‘inaction wonders’. They disconnect themselves from the field and get mired in the rules and regulations with the results that the files become thicker, with no difference being made to the actual delivery of public services. For instance, if an officer is Secretary in the urban development department and is busy disposing of files while cities are full of garbage and filth rotting on the roads, then it implies that his working has no connection with the real issues confronting his department. Similarly, there is no purpose served by the Health Secretary clearing files on a daily basis if the quality of healthcare remains abysmally poor. Teachers remain absent from schools while the Secretary Education is busy issuing detailed guidelines and instructions which have a total disconnect with the realities in the field. This leads to discontentment amongst the people as they are receiving poor quality of public services. It is, thus, mandatory to make better outcomes the focus of each and every department and the performance of all the Secretariat, departments should be measured accordingly…

Working with the Government of India

The biggest attraction of a GOI posting is the international exposure. In simple language, it means the prospect of foreign travel and also a chance of a foreign posting. Ministries are categorized according to the avenues of foreign travel that they promise. That is why ministries like commerce are sought after and the competition to get into them is high. When the GOI officers meet each other, the common topic of conversation is the number of countries that an officer has visited. Some claim to have crossed the half-century mark whereas others make tall claims of having scored a century. I happened to go as JS Defence and defence was a ministry which had very few opportunities for foreign travel. If at all they travelled, it was mostly to Russia. Many of my colleagues looked sympathetically at me and said ‘could you not manage a better ministry? ’I was told that most officers avoid PHD ministries – personnel, home and defence – as they have the least chances of foreign travel. So, defence, despite being such an important strategic ministry, has few people opting for it. Within the ministries too there is intense competition for the international co-operation desk. A foreign posting or deputation to an international organization is highly coveted. This is despite the fact that these assignments do not give great opportunities for doing challenging work. Late T.S.R. Subramaniam who retired as Cabinet Secretary and had served in the state, center and in an international organization, had commented in his book that the maximum work is done in the districts, then the state government, then the GOI and finally the international organization where you have a lot of time on your hands. Still, the lure of the international posting is there.

The GOI concerns itself with policy formulation at the national level and is generally not involved in the implementation aspect, which is the responsibility of the state governments. In some departments like defence, external affairs and commerce, all the action is at the GOI level. There are, however, huge GOI bureaucracies dealing with subjects on the concurrent or the state lists. Sometimes, one wonders whether it is necessary at all. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture in the GOI has ten Joint Secretaries whereas agriculture is a state subject. There is a serious case for reduction in the size of certain ministries at the centre and also of clubbing several ministries together as it is strange that the Ministry of Agriculture is not involved with issues related to fertilizer, water or agriculture credit.

The ministries of such size at the GOI exist because of political reasons and also the bureaucratic culture of creating work to perpetuate work and justify itself. The major mechanisms for this are the centrally sponsored schemes where the major financial contribution (60 per cent or 75 per cent) is done by the centre and schemes are formulated at the GOI level with detailed guidelines. The problem arises as no two states are alike. The same schemes will succeed in one state but the conditions in other states will not favor its implementation. Thus, the states constantly argue that funds should be transferred to them and they be left free to design schemes. However, there is no denying that there is greater wisdom available at the GOI due to its knowledge about the best practices in the states, presence of experts and availability of international inputs. The GOI involves stakeholders, specialists and consultants in designing policy and the due diligence done is of a very high order. Yet, there cannot be a universal policy looking at the extreme variations between states. The solution, as usual, has to be in between…

To succeed in GOI, one needs to study the department in detail, understand crucial issues, articulate your viewpoint and have the ability to carry officers of other services and specialists along with you. It requires great qualities of leadership to set the goals and milestones for your departments and then lead the entire team towards fulfilling them. A dedicated officer will always find working in the Government of India to be a transformational opportunity.

Click to read original article.

A letter from Alok Ranjan to all IAS aspirants

Alok Ranjan, the former Chief Secretary of the Government of Uttar Pradesh, has had the career that most people dream of. So, he has put together the information that every aspiring officer should know. While sharing his own experiences, he has provided a deep understanding of the IAS as an institution, valuable tips and insight for cracking the daunting UPSC exam, and how to build a successful career in the services.

Dear Readers,

It was a difficult decision after having done my MBA from IIM Ahmadabad to resign from my job and write the IAS examination. I was fortunate to succeed in the exam in my first attempt and secured 4th position in India in the IAS and was allotted to the Uttar Pradesh cadre. I retired in 2016 after 38 years of a very fulfilling and satisfying career. I can say with complete confidence that no other service or job can provide the diversity and richness of experience that a career in the IAS provides.

I often meet young boys and girls embarking upon a career and find that most of them have dreams of joining the IAS or the civil services. Despite the numerous alternative career opportunities that are available, civil service is still the preferred choice of many. Students prepare for years to get through the hallowed portals of the civil service. For those who succeed it is a realization of their cherished aspirations while others keep making honest efforts year after year hoping that one day they shall succeed.

This book is for those young boys and girls who nurture the desire to join the IAS. I want to communicate through this book that it is possible to get selected in the IAS provided you have the right kind of motivation and are prepared to put in the requisite amount of dedicated hard work. This book is also about the challenges and opportunities that an IAS officer faces during his service period. it is not an autobiography but I have used interesting anecdotes from my career to illustrate the situations that an IAS officer faces and the leadership principles which are essential for him to ensure quality public service delivery and good governance. It is for this reason that this book would be of interest to the serving IAS officers as well as all those who are concerned in any way with issues related to public policy. A student must think of joining the IAS if she wants to bring about a positive change in society and contribute to the development of the country. Issues of power, position, and status cannot be ignored but they should not be the prime motivation for joining the IAS. This service gives you the opportunity of touching numerous human lives. You can bring about a transformation in the quality of life of the citizens. This book is all about making a difference to society which should be the main goal of an IAS officer.

A person interested in joining the IAS should prepare herself mentally for at least three to five year before the IAS exam. He should take a keen interest in current affairs and also read widely on all possible subjects. This is an extremely tough exam where you have to compete against thousands for a hundred seats and therefore your preparation has to be that much more solid and deeper. It is best to devote at least one year of single-minded focus and effort to this exam. You need to develop your personality as well as your communication skills as well as a logical and analytical way of thinking. This book will give those preparing for IAS some very useful tips for both the written exam and the personality test. I have talked about the experiences of an IAS officer as a District Magistrate which is, perhaps, the most rewarding and exciting posting in the service. A young IAS officer gets the opportunity of leading the entire team at the district and he is the voice of the government at the District level. Any scheme gets implemented if the District Magistrate takes it up. There is tremendous authority attached to this post but along with this comes a great sense of responsibility and accountability. It is, indeed, a thrilling assignment and most IAS officers never tire of talking about what they achieved in the Districts.

State Government provides a tremendous opportunity to make policies that could influence the life of the ordinary citizen. You could be looking after education and make a mark by improving the quality of education or you could be looking after the health and can make a difference by reducing infant and maternal mortality. Every post in the IAS has the potential of giving you an opportunity to bring about a positive change in the lives of people. A great experience at the State level is the post of the Chief Secretary who leads all the government officers and employees in fulfilling the ideal of good governance. IAS gives an opportunity of working with the Government of India where you get National and International experience and the policies you make impact the entire nation.

I have also discussed some of the common myths and beliefs about the IAS like the need for domain specialization, promotion on the basis of seniority, political interference, corruption, professional integrity, and lack of promptness in decision making. I have tried to show how some of these could be individual attributes but the system also plays a great role in molding the personality and administrative style of an IAS officer.

It is my fervent belief that a career in the IAS can be hugely satisfying but the relevance of the IAS for the future requires the service to introspect and reinvent itself and for this, it has to look within and make itself responsive to the changing needs of the 21 st century. The IAS is not merely a job but is a service to society and the Nation. The greatest reward that an IAS officer can get is when the common man on the street feels that a positive difference has been made in his life.

All the best!

Click to read original article.

How did the ICS evolve into the IAS?

Alok Ranjan’s Making a Difference provides an insider’s unique perspective on the IAS and the role it plays in public administration and development. Here’s an excerpt from the book about how this service evolved over a period of time.

I often hear people talk about the Indian Civil Service (ICS) and compare the IAS unfavourably with it. It is important to understand in this context that the nature of the job, responsibility, working environment and expectations of the people from the IAS differed hugely from that of the ICS in the colonial days. It is, undoubtedly, the successor service to the ICS but it is not the same and cannot be the same.

For those who are unstinted in their praise for the ICS, it is a sobering thought to be told that this hallowed service was considered neither Indian nor Civil nor a service by the great leaders of the nationalist movement. Yet it would be interesting to trace the journey of the ICS, its origins and contribution, and then try to understand how it evolved into the IAS. It would be relevant to examine how the IAS itself is evolving and undergoing change in its character, nature, diversity and reputation.

In the eighteenth century, the East India Company gradually spread its tentacles through most of India and from a professed trading company, it became an agency of governance on behalf of Britain. Naturally, administering such a huge country needed the Army and the Civil Service. Teenaged men were recruited into the East India Company Civil Service and they spent their time in India collecting revenue for the company and maintaining law and order. In 1800, Governor-General Lord Wellesley decided that teenaged recruits would have to undergo special training in India. For this, he decided to set up the college of Fort William in Calcutta, but this proposal had not been approved by the company’s Directors in London.

 The Directors did however establish a college in Hertford Castle in England in 1806 and then moved to Haileybury three years later. The selection of candidates to Haileybury was by a process of nomination by the Directors. They had to be seventeen years old and come from distinguished families. There was no question of selection based on merit; family pedigree was considered the most important attribute. People joined the civil service for adventure and with a spirit of altruism. The salaries and the pensions offered were very attractive. After nomination and before joining Haileybury, the candidates had to take some kind of a written and oral exam where they were tested in history and mathematics as well as language. The foundational course at Haileybury was for two years and the candidate studied mathematics, philosophy, literature, law, history, general economics as well as Indian languages. Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic were also taught. It is a different matter that these languages were not of much use when the civil servant landed in India. They had to administer in the vernacular languages and learn them as soon as they were posted to the field. The educational atmosphere at Haileybury was not very demanding and most candidates focused on just clearing the exams. There were lectures for about two hours everyday and a lot of free time was available to socialize and indulge themselves in drink. There was, however, the minority who studied hard and were known as ‘Steadies’, much like the ‘Keen Type Probationers (KTP)’ of our time who took the training at the Mussoorie academy very seriously. Though discipline was lax at Haileybury, a feeling of esprit de corps was very visible and close friendships were formed which lasted for a long time. Haileybury continued till 1857 when the British Government took over the governance of India from the East India Company, and introduced a system of selection into the ICS on merit, through a competitive examination.

The British Government made this change as they felt that selection by patronage would no longer meet the needs of governance and that meritorious candidates were required. Initially, the ICS drew a majority of its entrants from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge but this soon changed. The Macaulay Committee laid out the guidelines of the selection which prescribed the maximum age limit initially as twenty-three but subsequently brought it down to twenty one. The committee designed an exam that demanded strong factual memory and a concentrated study of academic texts. The graduates had to study beyond their university syllabi to prepare for the exam and much like today, establishments like Crammer came up to prepare candidates for the exam.

There was a lot of criticism of this ‘Crammer’ system and many felt that unsuitable candidates were being selected just by preparing some questions that happened to appear in the examination paper. Still, many were of the view that the selection system provided better candidates than the earlier system that was based on patronage. This was followed by the Lord Salisbury Reforms which decided that candidates would take the exam at the school leaving age (seventeen to nineteen years) and then they would be on probation, studying in a university for two years. This system lasted from 1879–1892 but some leaders were of the opinion that candidates were being selected at too raw an age and they did not take their probation period in the university seriously. Another criticism was that it deterred Indian candidates from taking the exam.

Since the 1830s, Indians had joined the Government of India (GOI) in the capacity of Deputy Collectors, Deputy Magistrates and bore the burden of governance supervised by a handful of British ICS men. Lord Cornwallis in the eighteenth century had excluded Indians from high positions in the government. The 1853 Act opened up the service to all natural-born subjects of the crown. However, it was near impossible for Indians to compete as it was expensive and there were religious considerations which did not allow Indians to go to London to attempt the exam. Satyendra Nath Tagore was the first Indian to have been selected. In 1869, four Indians qualified, including Surendra Nath Banerjee and Romesh Chandra Dutt. The Indian National Congress in 1885 appealed for a simultaneous exam at a centre in India. In 1886, the government appointed a Public Service Commission which raised the age limit for the ICS to twenty-three years, enabling more Indians to write the exam. Even then, till 1910, only 6 percent of the ICS were Indians.

Click to read original article.

A menacing threat

As air pollution is taking a heavy toll on people’s health, the government should formulate stringent air quality standards apart from creating public awareness

WHO’s recent fresh air quality parameters are far more stringent than those formulated in 2005. For instance, the 2005 limit of PM 2.5 at 10 ug/m3 has been cut to 5ug/m3. The idea is to draw the attention of the nations and individuals to the chronic problem of air pollution and its adverse impact on health. As many as seven million people die every year due to problems related to air pollution and 140 million people in the world breathe air that is 10 times more polluted than the WHO-prescribed limit.

The air quality standards prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) are several times higher than the WHO standards. If we refer to the PM 2.5 standards, we find that the limit in India is 40ug/m3 and the 24-hour mean is 60ug/m3. It has been observed that on average, Indians have 30 per cent weaker lung functioning as compared to Europeans. This is the reason behind the spurt in the respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in the country. There is an urgent need to attend to this problem arising out of lack of awareness — both at the individual and community level.

The air quality is measured along the Air Quality Index (AQI) by CPCB. A score of less than 50 is considered good while that above 400 is considered severe. Most Indian cities cross the AQI level of 200 during the winter months.

51 per cent of the air pollution in India is caused by industries, 27 per cent by vehicles, 17 per cent by crop burning and five per cent due to fireworks. The six main pollutants are PM 2.5, PM 10, CO (carbon monoxide), NO2 (Nitrous oxide), O3 (Ozone) and SO2 (Sulphur dioxide). Vehicles are the main source of NO2 pollution while industries account for the SO2 pollution which can be very dangerous as it has a tendency to form secondary pollutants. Both these gases are growing at an alarming rate in the atmosphere.
The Air Pollution and Control Act, 1981, remains poorly enforced. The main causes of high air pollution are increase in population, number of vehicles, industrial activities and power generation. Agriculture and mining also contribute to pollution levels, leading to the toxicity of the atmosphere. As rapid growth is negatively impacting the environment, it becomes imperative to strive towards sustainable growth.

In the near future, almost 50 per cent of the Indian population is going to live in cities. It is thus imperative to carry out Environmental Impact Assessment before implementing urban infrastructure development plans. We will have to ensure that all master and area development plans factor in the crucial aspects of ambient air quality. Municipal solid waste will need to be segregated at the source and then disposed of in a manner that does not cause air or groundwater pollution. Open burning of municipal solid waste should be banned completely and biodegradable wastes should be sent directly to waste converters and waste-to-energy plants. Slums will have to be redeveloped in a manner that those do not use wood, crop residue, cow dung and coal as fuels, as these are major contributors to PM 2.5 and PM 10. Hotels, restaurants and roadside eateries should shift from using coal to electric or gas-based appliances. Alternative clean fuel should be provided by the builders to labourers at construction sites for cooking. All urban households should be supplied with LPG or piped gas supply. Road dust and other emissions can be controlled by mechanical sweeping of roads and regular watering. Grass on the pavements would also help. In essence, we cannot stop urbanization, but each aspect of urban development would have to be done in a sustainable manner.

Vehicular emissions can be controlled by the implementation of BS-VI norms and moving towards electric (EV) and hybrid vehicles. The Government of India and state governments have already announced policy concessions for the EV industry, and NITI Aayog has declared a rather ambitious target of moving to EVs by 2025. However, many more concrete steps — including traffic planning and management, traffic restrictions during peak hours and making adequate parking mandatory — are required in a time-bound manner. Prioritizing public transport could also go a long way in controlling air pollution.

Industries should be consulted before enforcement of plans, and be advised to use cleaner fuels. Critical areas should be identified and online monitoring of emissions be ensured. Strict evaluation of norms is required at the time of setting up of new industries or their expansion. A major shift from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy is the need of the hour, and the government must meet its ambitious target in this regard. The month of November is approaching and soon the capital and the surrounding areas would be engulfed in smog resulting from stubble burning by farmers. I see no reason why a technical solution like happy seeder cannot be found for this. Farmers can be compensated for the additional cost through subsidies.

A 2019 study has found that the poor air quality in India could be responsible for a reduction in GDP to the extent of three per cent in a year, causing a loss of nearly seven lakh crores. Most of the loss was due to employees not turning up for work, reduction in tourist traffic or fewer people going out to buy goods.

The government has come up with a National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) which proposes to reduce air pollution by 20 per cent by 2024 in 102 chosen cities. However, the implementation of this plan still appears to be a little hazy. As a first step, the government should revise its air quality standards to make them more stringent. This should be followed by measurement of ambient air quality at various locations in these cities. This has to be supplemented by a major awareness programme. People have to become conscious of air pollution and its deleterious impact on public health. They must know that in India, on average, a person is losing 9.6 years of his life due to air pollution. With awareness, people will demand action from the government and serious measures would only be taken once this becomes an issue with political ramifications.

Air pollution is an emergency and needs to be tackled on a war footing.

Click to read original article.

Required underpinning

To ensure ample employment generation and smooth economic recovery, the ailments of the MSME sector has to be addressed

I recently read in newspapers that a Parliamentary committee on micro, medium and small industries (MSME) has found that the sector is not in good health and needs special measures to come out of the negative impact of the pandemic. The committee observed that enough is not being done to support the sector. It strongly recommended making finance available to the sector at a concessional rate of interest of three to four per cent and also a longer repayment period. I agree with this. Worldwide, the MSME sector is known for its potential for job creation. The sector contributes to 90 per cent of the businesses and provides 50 per cent of employment worldwide. A World Bank estimate has projected that by 2030, 600 million jobs would be required globally and the MSME sector will play a crucial role in this.

The MSME sector is second only to agriculture in terms of employment generation in India. There are close to 6.5 crore industries in the sector that provide employment to about 11 crore people and contribute 29 per cent of GDP and 31.89 per cent of gross value added (GVA). It is one of the major pillars of the economy and accounts for 48.9 per cent of Indian exports. The sector lays out the foundation for flagship government policies like Make in India, Atmanirbhar Bharat and startup/standup India. One district one product (ODOP) scheme of the UP government is also based on the MSME sector.

The Union Government recently changed the definition of MSME on the demands of various industry associations and with the idea of benefitting a large number of industries with various facilities offered by the government. According to the new definition, all industries having investment in plant, machinery and equipment of not more than Rs one crore and an annual turnover of up to Rs three crore are categorised as micro. Similarly, the corresponding norms for the small sector are Rs 10 crore and Rs 50 crore and, for the medium sector, Rs 50 crore and Rs 250 crore. This was hailed as a major achievement in the interest of the MSME sector. However, my interaction with members of the industry gives a different picture. The micro sector feels that this new definition works counter to their interests, as it is now the industries belonging to the medium and the small sector that have a greater capacity to access the benefits of government schemes allowing them to corner disproportionate gains. A little-known reality is that the micro sector is 99 per cent of the MSME sector. There are 6.30 crore micro units whereas; the corresponding figure for the small enterprises is 3.31 lakh and, for the medium, 0.05 lakh. Clearly, the major contribution to the national economy and employment comes from the micro sector which is largely unorganised. This sector plays a major role in bringing people above the poverty line and provides goods and services to the maximum number of people. This sector is often run by people who are not aware of government policies. They are reluctant to register themselves as they want to avoid the numerous regulatory norms. The sector also suffers from a deficiency in financial literacy, leading to a lack of financial inclusion.

The biggest need of this sector is finance. However, people in this sector resort to informal sources of finance — often at a higher rate of interest. Many don’t even go for loans and generate funds as equity from their friends and relatives. They work on thin margins and often have high input costs. It is thus imperative that credit at a low cost is made available at the right time to the micro firms without any collateral.

The micro sector has to be handled differently. The new definition of MSME may not be easy to change as there is a lobby that wants it that way. There should be a separate cell in both the Union and state governments to deal with the problems of the micro sectors. In every government scheme for the MSME sector, a fixed amount should be designated for the micro sector. The government has prescribed a 45-day limit for the payments to be made to the MSME sector and has also devised a mechanism where grievances relating to nonpayment can be addressed. Unfortunately, the reality is that the payments are still not forthcoming despite the assurances at the highest level. This payment clause needs to be enforced in the wake of the precarious financial position of the sector. There is also a definite requirement to set up a payment recovery tribunal to handle such issues in the MSME sector.

The MSME sector, especially the micro sector, is unable to market its products as the units do not have the knowledge and expertise to do so. The portal designed by National Skill Development Corporation could be a big help. It needs to be further activated. The state governments should also design similar portals. Further, the micro-units cannot afford to pay earnest money (EMD) against all tenders. At least in public sector undertakings, the government should waive the EMD requirements. There is also a case for mandating 25 per cent procurement by the government or public sector enterprises from the MSME sector. In the past, these kinds of orders have been issued, but not fully complied with because the issues of quality have been raised. This sector has to certainly introspect and become quality conscious. The sector requires better access to modern technology and the government must come up with innovative schemes to make this possible.

There are a plethora of schemes for the MSME sector. The real problem is that of awareness regarding these schemes. The government agencies must conduct regular awareness programmes to make sure that even the micro units can avail the benefits. The district industry centres should do the required handholding for this purpose. Many MSME units do not know how to avail the benefits of government schemes. A single window system is required, as often the entrepreneur is made to wait for months and run from pillar to post to get the benefits. There should be a prescribed nodal authority to monitor this process.

Covid has led to the closure of more than 33 per cent of MSME units, and a large number are somehow surviving. They require immediate relief which could be in the form of direct cash support or indirect exemptions from fixed charges for utilities like power. Relief in taxes would also help. The government should concentrate on developing this sector by using the cluster approach where they can provide common facilities. Also, a specific intervention for rehabilitation of the sick units is called for.

The MSME sector is vital to employment generation and bringing about economic recovery. Special focus is required for the micro sector. Post-Covid, the governments should focus on supporting the existing units rather than try and get new investment. The government has the right intentions but it needs to understand the ground realities and address them at the earliest.

Click to read original article.