This blog was published by Politics and Ideas
Research organisations and think tanks often find a barrier when justifying the relevance and utility of a research project to other stakeholders. Stakeholders (be them Government/funder/corporate/partner/community) often look forward to solutions to address specific problems. Hence a Proof of Concept become an important instrument while managing/designing a research project.
A Proof of Concept (PoC), simply put, tries to demonstrate a method or idea to prove the potential practicality of an issue/concern in research areas/topics. It is developed to demonstrate the functionality of a concept or theory that can be achieved. The benefits of having a PoC is to:
- Engage with stakeholders to show the importance of a research idea/concept
- Inform stakeholders the details of how or where a research project can be implemented
- Clarify roles and responsibilities
- Use it as a proven idea to take it forward
In short, a PoC is a design which tests an idea or an assumption. The difference between a PoC and a prototype is that a PoC depicts how an idea can be developed while a prototype tries to demonstrate/simulate a project and a pilot study tests an idea/concept. In a research project a PoC provides insights, data, and ways to develop and improve it. It could typically include qualitative and quantitative research, provide solutions and propose a strategy.
Key factors to keep in mind while seeking to establish a PoC
Writing a PoC involves a systematic approach to ensure its validity. To start with one needs to ideally identify the uniqueness of one’s idea. It should elicit the wow factor to enable a reader/audience to immediately accept the same. A PoC should also provide a realistic budget which should match the periodicity and list of activities. A focussed target group identified enables an intensive programme and ends up being purposeful. One of the most important aspect is to have a timeline, as often a stakeholder audience want to see results and hence a well thought out log frame which includes all of the above helps a stakeholder to not only see the whole picture.
By factoring all these elements, a well-presented and designed PoC reflects the capabilities and credibility of an organisation. It also helps a stakeholder in making decisions about the project in question – either take it forward or reject it.
5 Steps to Follow for Writing a Winning PoC
It is important to understand that the main objective of creating a PoC is to present the practicality of what is being addressed. Based on several tested approaches the following steps can be adopted to create a successful PoC
Step 1: Statement of the problem/issue
In this stage it is important to understand the requirement of a stakeholder/audience and their interest in a specific policy issue. One this is clear, the research organisation/think tank can step in to address this problem/issue. This stage includes:
- Establish a basis to understand the evidence around the problem
- Describe the concept/project and its intended impact
- Describe the uniqueness of the methodology to be followed
- Compare and demonstrate your experience
Step 2: Stakeholders
It is a well-known fact that any research project is, in most cases, catered to an audience. Most organisations work for and in communities. For instance, at the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) we adapt the bottom-top approach in our research areas. Also one should bear in mind that there are different types/levels of audience in any research project. They broadly include communities, policy makers, media, partner organisations to name a few. Hence ensure that you:
- Establish the target audience
- Identify potential partners
Step 3: PoC as a “solution” document
A PoC should serve are as “solution” providers to specific policy problems. Hence always ensure to:
- Include information on earlier studies
- Describe and introduce intervention strategies
- Describe the desired outcomes and how they will be measured
- Provide an outline of the pilot study
Step 4: Key details to include
To make a PoC more robust and clearer ensure that:
- Concepts are clearly defined to garner interest
- Required resources are explained
- Funding Sources are presented
Step 5: Measuring Success
An integral part of a PoC is to ensure that indicators to measure the success of a project is defined and included. It is important to:
- Identify the expected outcomes (realistic)
- Introduced the indicators that will measure these outcomes
- Acknowledge potential unintended outcomes
- Ensure that appropriate procedures and processes are in place to evaluate and assess the project
Scaling up a PoC to support the government in India
Public Affairs Centre has been successful in establishing and scaling up a Proof of Concept in the monitoring of Fair Price Shops (FPS) which are part of the Public Distribution System (PDS). While the government has established vigilance committees which were to be chosen out of the beneficiaries in the PDS to resolve the issues, it was not effective nor functional.
With support from the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, PAC aimed to develop a standardised Citizen Monitoring Process for Fair Price Shops. The process involved monitoring the functioning of a Fair Price Shop by a team of 4 trained citizen volunteers called Citizen Monitoring Teams (CMTs). These CMTs shall identify the problems and inefficiencies prevailing in the day to day functioning of the selected FPS. The members of the CMTs are chosen by a special Gram Sabha. PAC also tested a second iteration of the Citizen Monitoring Process, where all members of the CMTs are women members of Self-Help Groups (SHGs).
Two years into the project covering 180 FPS, PAC has found that CMTs whose members come from Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are the most effective model for citizen monitoring. This model is currently being scaled up across 60 FPS in 30 districts of Karnataka state to further strengthen the proof of concept
– Dr Annapoorna Ravichander
Head, Policy Engagement and Communication.
This blog was published by On Think Tanks
For many think tanks, conducting research is a core activity. A well-thought out research project, if planned and designed well, often produces the expected results. So, what would the key elements that a robust research proposal should include be?
A clearly defined problem statement, one or two precise research questions, identified data sources, a rigorous methodology, and specific outputs. To make it special, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and capacity building activities from a sustainability point of view can be added.
A research programme should be telling a story to hold the attention of the audience.
Ingredient 1: Problem statement
Provides a brief overview of an existing concern, a concise description of an issue to be addressed, or a situation that can be improved. Ideally, a problem statement should fill the gap between the existing problem and what is planned to be achieved through literature review, evidence analysis, desk research and observation. The main purpose of the problem statement is to emphasise the importance of the research topic or issue presented, position it within a specific context, and stipulate the pathway on how this problem will be addressed.
Ingredient 2: Research question
Typically, this should indicate the direction of inquiry that your research proposes to take in the context of the problem being researched. A research question helps to determine the type of research and also identifies the key objectives that will be addressed. The research question also becomes the beacon that guides the methodology and data sources. In short, your research question should underline what it is you want to evaluate, why you think this is important, and if it is measurable.
Broadly, there are 3 types of research questions:
Descriptive: used to help a study that describes something. It includes various public opinions which are mainly descriptive. For example: what percentage of the Indian population believes in being healthy/exercising?
- Variables: being healthy/exercising
- Group: Indian population
Comparative: includes and analyses the differences between groups. For example: what is the attitudinal difference between a rural boy and rural girl towards education?
- Dependent variable: Attitude towards education
- Group: Rural boys and rural girls
Casual: aims to establish cause and effect. For example: what is the relationship between age and attitudes towards fitness amongst teenagers.
- Dependent Variable: Attitudes towards keeping fit
- Independent Variable: Age and attitude
- Group: Teenagers
Ingredient 3: Data analytics
Typically, data forms the backbone of any research programme. Both quantitative and qualitative data are important. Quantitative data will help understand the incidence of particular phenomena and the rate at which it might occur. It also helps establish co-relationships. Qualitative data helps understand why this the phenomena is occurring. Data analysis is required to structure findings from research, is useful in breaking macro problems into micro units, clarifies useful insights from huge data sets and, most importantly, helps to eliminate subjectivity.
Ingredient 4: Ideation
Any research proposal in its initial phase should undergo an ideation session. Ideation is usually associated with design thinking, and forms an important transitional step: it clearly defines the purpose, problem and solutions. If adapted well, an ideation session will help understand and ask the right questions, go beyond a typical solution, emphasise on innovation, and collate great ideas from different team members. Ideation challenges assumptions and breaks conventional approaches to research design by allowing new ideas to be formulated.
Ingredient 5: Outputs and timeline
Best practice includes documenting every aspect of a research to include challenges, research findings, etc. The narrative should tell a story. A realistic time line is important for two key reasons: (i) if the research is too long-winded the data could become redundant; (ii) a realistic timeline with clear objectives, outcomes and schedule (hours and months) helps to keep track of major activities and, most importantly, allows the research to be relevant.
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) typically includes policies, standards and procedures, and helps in systematising all processes and in documenting them. This is important for consistency. After all, each think tank must aspire to produce high quality research.
-Dr Annapoorna Ravichander,
Head, Policy Engagement and Communication
This blog was published by On Think Tanks
Gender analysis, gender mainstreaming, gender budgeting, intersectionality among many other concepts are bandied about often in larger discussion spaces. However, how often do institutions like think tanks look within to understand where they stand as far as gender is concerned, be it transformative change at the community level or internally? As a think tank, it would be interesting to question our own institutions and look at how gender manifests or is integrated within the research, governance, management and communication processes.
The United Nations refers to gender equality as equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women and men and girls and boys. They further state that equality does not mean that women and men are the same, but rather that human rights, responsibilities and opportunities should exist irrespective of whether they are born male or female. In an interesting research paper on women’s rights, titled The Concept of Substantive Equality and Gender Justice in South Asia, author and academic Prof Savitri Goonesekere describes the concept of substantive equality that has evolved from the formal and narrow concept of equality. Substantive equality, according to Prof Goonesekere, looks at eliminating both discrimination and disadvantage by stressing the need to change attitudes and institutions which perpetuate discrimination faced by women. Using her concept of substantive equality, I thought it would be interesting to analyse gender within a think tank.
I decided to look inwards first and look at how I, in my position as a Programme Manager, could gauge my organisation as far as gender equality is concerned. This decision helped create a framework which could provide a score. While a score may help raise important questions internally and put in perspective where the thinking lies on the issue of gender, true change and movement towards this can happen only if there are dedicated strategies that are implemented backed by the core members of the organisation. But, the score would at least promote a discussion on important issues.
I created a set of questions which could be used to draw answers from senior management and others to compel them to ponder on aspects which may have been ignored earlier. This short internal checklist of questions can help organisations, like mine, realise quickly where they lie along the gender spectrum – if they are not a gender equal organisation, if they are moving towards change or if they already are a full-fledged gender-equal organisation. A few questions may be difficult to answer since it may demand certain pre-set work culture and practices. Be that as it may, it is very important for think tanks to ask these difficult questions if they wish to evolve and remain relevant. I termed this as the Essential Checklist on Gender (ECG) since these questions should prompt institutions (in this case, think tanks) to be gender-equal organisations.
A gender-equal workplace ideally needs to be the norm and not the standout- it is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but rather a ‘should be’ situation. Typically, such a checklist will work only if the respondents answer and apply the test in all honesty without any bias nor compulsion. When I began working on this, I received full support from the senior management at my organisation, the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), to test where the organisation stood as far as being gender-equal is concerned.
The questions were answered by the Admin & HR Head, since the questions were primarily on policies in the institution. The questions were developed to check process, policy and their inclusion, representation and its actual practice within the think tanks. The questions were formulated after studying good practice around diversity within institutions, and framed to cater to aspects of representation, internal policies, hiring processes, communication and even infrastructure. I came up with 11 questions in total:
- Is the think tank representative in terms of male vs female ratio representation at all levels including junior, mid-level, and senior?
- What is the male/ female ratio amongst the Board?
(Questions 1 and 2 are all about equal representation, which is an important and integral aspect of being a gender equal organisation (both within the organisation as well as among the board of directors).
- Does the think tank include gender as an integral aspect of its research?
(Question 3 essentially delves into the manner in which the organisation includes gender within its research framework and whether the organisation’s theory of change is inclusive of gender concerns and if there are any research outcomes on gender.)
- Is the think tank an equal opportunities employer?
(Question 4 aims to ask organisations to look inwardly to check if the organisation is free from any kind of discrimination against any employee or potential employee on the basis of caste, religion, sex, physical/ mental disability or age.)
- Does the think tank have a formal gender policy that has been implemented in its entirety?
(Question 5 tries to question if the think tank has formally implemented its stated gender policy in its true spirit, because policies are often drafted and left on paper and rarely implemented.)
- Does the think tank also have a written mandate on wage equality that ably addresses the gender pay gap (if any)?
- Does the think tank include/ acknowledge the LGBTQ communities either in hiring and/ research?
(Question 7 tries to understand if the internal processes of hiring and research work is inclusive.)
- Has the think tank integrated gender equality into its overall guidelines and strategic goals?
(Question 8 aims to understand if the organisation has ensured that gender equality is part of its overall organisational strategy.)
- Does the think tank have ways in which it communicates aspects on gender equality?
(Question 9 seeks to find out if the organisation has a dedicated process to share its commitment towards gender equality – this could be verbally during meetings or by regular emails, on its website, etc. Questions 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 enquire into the internal processes and policies the organisation has committed towards, while questions 8 and 9 are about the actual integration of the stated aspect of gender equality and communication within the organisation, respectively.)
- Has the think tank engaged in incorporating gender at the workplace? For instance, has it taken any measure towards redesigning the workplace towards gender inclusion?
(Question 10 actually focuses on understanding the extent and the kind of gender commitment that the organisation has taken towards the goal of gender equality. For example, does it ensure on-site child development/dependant care assistance plans, including workplace flexibility and formal reintegration post-maternity policy.)
- Has the think tank formally adopted the zero-tolerance to sexual harassment policy?
(Question 10 is specifically about the infrastructural redesigning of the workplace to cater to gender inclusion, this ranges from having separate toilets for men and women, designated space for nursing mothers, etc. Question 11 pertains to the policies that the organisation has adopted to ensure safety and security of its female workforce.)
The questions will be scored (every Yes =+1 and every No= 0). The higher the score, the better the institution’s result on the gender scorecard.
What do these scores mean?
Score between 10-11: An organisation that has done a lot of work on improving gender inclusion.
Score between 7-9: An organisation that has attempted, albeit in a non-structured manner, to build a gender-equal organisation.
Score below 6: An organisation that needs to start working towards creating a gender equal organisation immediately to stay relevant.
As per the ECG test, currently PAC stands at 8 points on a scale of 11: an organisation that has attempted, albeit in a non-structured manner, to build a gender-equal organisation. Even with PAC’s decent score of 8, absence of a formal policy of reintegration after maternity, and lack of representation of women at the Board level means that PAC needs to work more towards gender equality. The scoring of issues has nonetheless started an important conversation (and changed the nature of others), which we hope will inform changes in thinking and practice.
In its silver jubilee year PAC has the opportunity as a reputed think tank to build a structured approach towards becoming a good practice gender-equal organisation. Policies, standards and processes and abiding by them will help sustain a progressive work environment. The PAC senior team were receptive to the questionnaire, and were eager to know where the institution stood as far as the ECG is concerned. Any change is difficult: PAC’s journey towards building a gender equal organisation has just begun and while this is just the start, it is certainly not the end.
This blog was published by On Think Tanks
I recently had the opportunity to attend a course titled Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders at the Stanford Business Graduate School of Executive Education. There were 58 participants from 15 countries. Here are five key learnings that could be useful to think tanks:
Think tanks should have strategies that are not only applicable but also doable. Typically, strategy is like an agenda for an organisation which helps in guiding activities and decisions to be made. For example, some think tanks often identify and opt for a project when it directly fits into their strategy. Ideally, a strategy is different from a mission and vision statement and should be based on the theory of change. For example, strategies can be dealt as a hypothesis and built over a set of arguments and made internally valid and logical.
Think tanks should know and accept that an organisational challenge is understanding team dynamism. However, there are simple ways to attempt to overcome this. A well-defined project plan with clearly defined roles for members and a common understanding of the aims, objectives and a roadmap is essential. Begin by understanding your audience. Based on this, organise and prioritise activities to include roles defined for team members. In the project design, internal communication should be considered as important as external communication with stakeholders. Most importantly, a periodic review (depending on the span of the project) not only helps to recognise and address challenges, but also to recognise what is going well. Some think tanks can use these opportunities to delegate tasks and build a strong mentorship plan.
Organisational culture can often hamper the work of an organisation. However, one should understand that changing the culture of an organisation is often not an easy solution. Sometimes one has to attempt to address this by putting people first: measure programmes and values and let the staff now how successful the organisation is and how this was achieved. For example, a best practice adopted by some think tanks is a common understanding of strategy implementation. Looking at the big picture with a common understanding of the strategy and then focusing on specifics helps to work in tandem. Reducing barriers can help in a two-way communication and, most importantly, ensure that all employees see the big picture and know the overall goals and functions.
Importance of fostering networking
Networking outside an organisation plays a significant role in not only widening the scope of activities but also brings visibility to a think tank. Think tanks may find themselves working in similar areas of research, although they may vary in depth, geographical and cultural areas. Networking can help think tanks look at research problems and then try and learn from existing best practice at a micro level. One way to do this is to conduct a straw poll to identify what we want, what we know and what we do.
Scaling up excellence
According to Prof. Cameron Neylon, “excellence is primarily a rhetorical signalling device used to claim value across heterogeneous institutions, researchers, disciplines, and projects rather than a measure of intrinsic and objective worth”. He also adds that using the word excellence is a way of using words that are neither true nor false. In other words, excellence is doing the right thing with no watch dogs. Also, scaling is not replication but reinvention. For example, one must remember that improving does not only mean more of something, but can mean less of something.
-Dr, Annapoorna Ravichander,
Head, Policy Engagement and Communication.
This blog was published by On Think Tanks
How deeply should think tanks engage with the larger ‘public’ in policy matters? This was a recent topic of a discussion amongst South Asian Comms Platform members, an informal group of communicators who come together every two months to share experiences in an effort to learn from one another.
Broadly, we defined the public to include citizens who are affected by policy and agreed that it could be anyone and everyone. It also includes citizens who are not only aware but who also actively participate in the policymaking process. In this case, the public fall out of the immediate stakeholder group (communities and policymakers think tanks directly work with). The discussion focused on whether communicating to the ‘public’ should be on the agenda of think tanks, and the merits and demerits of some of the approaches think tanks currently use. These questions were considered in the perspective of the two countries (India and Bangladesh, where the communicators are currently from), where the information trickle-down is slower compared to developed countries due to numerous developmental challenges. Participants at the discussion agreed that the ‘public’ was still too large a group to target communication at, and it needed to be further segregated according to ‘interest’.
To put the discussion in perspective: communicating to influence policy on building integrated photovoltaics should not only include research reports, policy briefs and journal articles, but also op-eds, blogs, videos, podcasts, events and discussions. Think tanks should strive to initiate conversations on this topic on social media. The target audience should not only be policymakers, funders of projects, industries, but also communities of people that the policy is likely to affect. The idea is that by making information on policy issues easily available, the public can not only make behavioural changes (eg. using solar, findings tools to make decisions on solar) but also effect policy dialogues within communities. Can we empower the public to influence policy, as any fully functioning democracy aspires to? Is this a role that think tanks would want to take on?
The conversation then led to a very interesting discussion on the merits and demerits of approaches of engaging with the public. The consensus at the discussion was that communication should be targeted at interested/relevant persons within the larger ‘public’, but think tanks, depending on the scope of each project, would take a call on how broad the engagement should be.
A few tips that think tanks can incorporate to increase their reach to the public include:
At the onset of the project, target some communication towards the public. Encourage researchers to write opinion articles in newspapers and discuss policy issues on blogs that are open to the public. Don’t just announce events or publication of reports on social media, but also encourage readers to respond to the issues discussed. You can organise a twitter chat with the researchers! Think tanks will gain from communicating to the public considering the wider reach of their communication outputs. Due to the active dialogues on social media platforms and open debate platforms and public hearings, the public can be both the stick and the carrot in terms of ensuring policy decisions are evidence-based and in a way, hold policymakers accountable for the decisions they are making.
Diversity of communication, simplicity of language
Simplicity and brevity are key to ensuring that your research is understood: this is true for both policymakers (who have lesser time and are not always experts in the subject) as well as the public. Ensure that the methodology used is clearly written/communicated so that the research is not misunderstood. At CSTEP, for instance, researchers are encouraged to reduce jargon, use adequate visuals to support descriptions, write in active voice and use simple, direct and short sentences to improve readability of documents. We have also made a conscious effort to reduce the size of documents and ensure executive summaries effectively communicate the research idea.
In addition, think tanks should aim to produce and publish diverse communication outputs on multiple platforms for it to reach more people. It is definitely worthwhile to consider writing in local languages and engaging with the vernacular media as well. Many communication outputs can be re-purposed; larger research reports can be repurposed into multiple, smaller policy-briefs or media articles. It is now essential that communication include audio and visual content and many think tanks are engaging with production houses to create this content.
Engage with an emerging public
An interesting idea that emerged during the discussion was to engage with the ‘emerging public’: students and youngsters who may influence policy in the near future. While providing internships is one common and popular way to go, think tanks should explore other avenues, such as conferences and events, interactive workshops targeting youngsters, etc. to engage with this emerging public.
Engaging more proactively with the public can have benefits for think tanks. An informed public can help ensure accountability and keep the policy discussion moving even when policymakers are transferred or when governments change. It can contribute towards building a culture of evidence and research backed policymaking process.
This article was published by Southern Voice
India has a severe economic problem: its female labour force participation is declining. To stop this, the country must shift its social expectations of women. New policies are not enough. Sustainable solutions for the world’s fastest-growing economy are not viable without a shift in mindset regarding the role of half of its population.
India’s declining female labour force participation is a fact that cannot be ignored any longer. The most obvious reasons are that women are not provided opportunities, nor the right environment to be a part of the workforce. While these are essential factors, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Primary data from the Public Affairs Centre’s (PAC) study on the causes of this decline show that social norms and attitudes are the biggest obstacles for women wishing to enter the workforce.
Before facing the challenges of unequal pay and discrimination at the workplace, women are unable to decide independently to pursue work. Nearly 72% of more than 2500 women surveyed for Southern Voice’s “State of the SDGs” India Country Case Study agreed to this statement.
While women in Mandi were open to sharing their experiences on working and family support, in Saharanpur, the research team did not even see women around the city! Saharanpur has the lowest participation of women which is why women are not visible. The only women seen were those the team interviewed in the confines of their homes. The situation was marginally better in Coimbatore. Women from this region noted that while the idea that boys get a job and have a career was normal, this was not the same for girls. Radha, a woman in the housekeeping staff of a hotel in Coimbatore, said, “As children, girls are never told that they need to get a job and be independent. That’s only for boys”. Our data support this claim: More than two-thirds (68%) of the women interviewed admitted that family approval was vital in pursuing education. Not all families encourage the education of their daughters, which can lead to financial independence. An unexpected finding, however, was that some interviewees in Coimbatore said that education became a tool for securing good marriage prospects. Several of them had never had a job. But they had Bachelor and even Master degrees. It shows that encouraging education without changing attitudes and perceptions about women actually pursuing work is hurting the economy. It is at the core of the problem of low female labour force participation.
So where does this obstacle stem from? Only one-third of women interviewed were told when they were young, that they should get jobs when they grow up. Radha also revealed that the choice to work and have a professional life is not viewed as the norm. “Talk as much as you want about the progress of the country. But even today the attitude of society is that women are caregivers who must manage the home. My family allows me to work because we are struggling to sustain, not because they want me to be independent.” When a family’s income rises, women are discouraged from working. This is because society sees women’s work as supporting the family, not herself. Such attitudes are the root cause of the issue. Family dynamics are a key structural barrier to a woman’s decision to seek work. Before being able to think about their own safety, social security and proper working conditions, women must be able to navigate household and societal barriers.
Changing the game
New policies that provide better opportunities and an improved work environment for women are vital. But they must be complemented with changing perceptions about women in the workforce. Only then can women fully begin to harness the potential of various labour and skill development initiatives, like the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme by the Indian Government.
Some Indian women are already taking steps to make their future easier. Their determination to ensure that their daughters harness the plethora of opportunities available to them is a sure sign of change. “Looking back, I know how many opportunities I lost because my family never encouraged me to have a career. I realise that for my daughter to be independent, attitudes need to change. Housework and caregiving can become shared responsibilities. Let us start from there”, Radha suggested.
There is a long and challenging way to go. Unlearning patriarchal notions is key to ensuring that women have access to sustainable and decent jobs. This needs to start at home. Awareness must be created about the need and benefits of women joining the workforce. Parents must be encouraged to send girls to school, allow them to pursue their careers and make them independent. The government too can take an active role in reversing gender stereotypes. This can be done through awareness programmes and gender sensitisation at schools, offices and community spaces. Without acknowledging society’s norms, we are falling into a vicious cycle that is leaving women behind.
About the Project:
Southern Voice’s “State of the Sustainable Development Goals” (SVSS) initiative provides evidence-based analysis and recommendations to improve the delivery of the SDGs. It wants to revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development. One of the main outputs of the SVSS initiative explores the national and global causes of exclusion concerning access to energy (SDG 7), to quality education (SDG 4), and to decent and productive work (SDG 8).
This article was published by Governance Now
“The 21st century is the century of human mobility and migration. We can no longer think about our economies, societies or cultures without thinking about human mobility.”
This blog was published by On Think Tanks
The Think Tank Initiative (TTI) introduced the Policy Engagement and Communication Programme (PEC) to primarily support think tanks to produce, synthesise and communicate research to strengthen impact. The PEC programme emphasised that think tanks:
- Become more knowledgeable in the policy-making processes by understanding policy processes in specific contexts
- Bring credibility to their research work by engaging and networking with stakeholders
- Improve channels to communicate effectively with stakeholders and contribute to public debates
- Create outputs by unpacking key information for the right audience at the right time, and to include the media.
As a result of the above, policy engagement and communication were identified as key forerunners to change, helping think tanks strengthen their position within public policy debates.
This initiative was kick started at an inception meeting held in Bangkok in September 2013, where directors and heads of policy engagement and communication teams participated. This was an eye-opening to me, as I had just joined a think tank in Bengaluru, India as Head Communication and Policy Engagement (CPE). The two-day meeting included: keynotes by experts on different aspects of policy engagement and research communications, an introduction to the PEC program and IDS-PAC implementation model, and introduction to the technical teams, and discussions with facilitators to understand, identify and plan key areas where support was required. The meeting also allowed space for small group discussions and sharing information.
Another workshop was held in Nepal in February 2014, where primarily team members from the PEC team participated. The primary objectives of the workshop included:
- Understanding types of policy engagement and communication outcomes
- Planning processes and key components for a strategy
- Building individual and institutional capacity to deliver strategic policy engagement and communication activities
- Creating an action plan to address gaps in resources, institutional strategy and institutional structure
- Knowing your target audience and understanding how to engage with them using the most appropriate research uptake methods and communication pathways
The most interesting thing was learning concepts by applying them practically. By the end of this workshop my team and I were able to create the PEC goals for our organisation and also develop a PEC strategic plan.
As head of Policy Engagement and Communication, at the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) I continue to use my learnings and make an effort to share and implement the same. Some of these learning include:
- Build a brand to understand your unique selling point. What is it that you are unique at? Are you bringing something new to the table? What did you learn? How and why is it important to brand an organisation, especially in the space of communication and policy engagement?
- Build a team with diverse backgrounds and experiences. For us, visibility is an important element in all our outputs, so we use social media platforms effectively and we also engage with the media.
- Manage data for references. Using and referencing documents is important, so a data management system should be in place. I found the above very useful and engaged with these team members.
- Have a clear communications strategy to help focus on activities, both long and short-term. I always make it a point to discuss with my team ideas that are relevant and build a plan of action to achieve goals. We positioned PEC in all projects and ensured that key elements were identified, understood and disseminated appropriately.
- Build processes to ensure consistent, error-free content with no readability issue and a logical flow. A simple but effective editorial process is essential.
- Identify strengths and build on them. Know the areas you are strongest in – research areas, organisational level, individual achievement- and build on them. Share these through appropriate communication channels.
- Identify areas for improvement. For example, build the capacity of researchers and improve the quality of research by introducing standards and guidelines, templates to ease writing, and put a robust editorial process in place.
- Know your audience to be able to unpack information at the right place and time. For example, ensuring that a policy brief reaches a policy-maker, op-eds are shared with newspapers, and blog articles shared on specific platforms.
- Produce powerful and meaningful outputs, like annual reports, to use as communication tools. Your website, newsletter and other publications also play a key role in disseminating information.
– Dr Annapoorna Ravichander
This blog was published by On Think Tanks
On January 27 2019, participants from 23 countries congregated at the Impact Hub in Geneva to kick-off the 2019 WinterSchool for Thinktankers, during which they would deep dive into the actual workings of a think tank. As the only 2019 OTT-TTI Fellow from India at the WinterSchool 2019 (WISCH2019), I had the unique opportunity to learn from diverse perspectives on thinktanking in minute detail. As an OTT-TTI Fellow, the WISCH 2019 turned into a veritable breeding ground for ideas that think tanks need to ponder over and possibly work to change from within if they truly aim to be research change catalysts. I list down my top six lessons from the WISCH2019, which encapsulates why such inputs act as a refresher course and puts back the “think” into think tanks.
Think tanks need to know: Who they are? Why are they needed? Where do they come from?
Not merely existentialist questions, these are actual relevant queries that need to compel think tanks to ponder about their identity, their goals, their history and where is it they want to go and how. At WISCH2019, ‘context’ became an important aspect to define where think tanks function and exist. That is why it is important for think tankers to understand organisation’s economic, social, political, and legal dimensions
Is your think tank transparent? How involved are its board members? Are they representative of all the stakeholders with whom you want to work with?
Within the safety of regular work routines, think tanks can, sometimes, operate in ways which can bring some discomfort within the organisational workplace. It is therefore important to question if the think tank is transparent. Furthermore, it is crucial that the role and involvement of the board members is understood clearly by all the members of the organisation. Even the nomenclature of the type of board is often not known by think tanks. Even lesser known are the actual pros and cons of different types of boards. All think tanks need to ensure they have a solid governance structure to deliver sustainable funding strategies and to produce high quality research.
The ideal thinktanker is a storyteller, a networker, an engineer, and a fixer.
The days of stoic and pedantically worded reports are long gone and what remains is ensuring that a think tank has the ability to weave its research inputs to tell a good story. This story should demonstrate the solution and not just extrapolate on the problem. Having a networker will hold a think tank in good stead, especially when it comes to enabling collaborations and creating networks for funding. A think tank will also benefit if it has thinkers who act like engineers and who look at real world problems with a practical solution frame of mind. A fixer with a Rasputinesque bent of mind in a think tank can help ensure the focus is not on the problem, but rather on fixing the problem.
Is the monitoring and evaluation system at your think tank geared towards actionable learning?
In most organisations (and think tanks are no exception) monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are often performed often as an afterthought, as a good to know rather than as a must know. M&E should ideally be conducted for knowledge creation to help expand an organisation’s knowledge of the actual effectiveness of strategies. It can also be a tool for empowerment to boost the strategic planning skills of participants and help foster acceptance of shared objectives and commitment to these objectives.
Does your think tank have a communications strategy? How is it implemented and designed?
Think tanks don’t function in silos far away from the real world, therefore to remain relevant and to ensure their work is heard, seen and read, think tanks need a definitive communication strategy that emphasises on maximising impact and influence. Think tanks would do well to have a communication strategy that focuses on enhancing their brand, has clear target audiences, chooses relevant communications channels, and has a way to measure the impact and effectiveness of its activities. Designing communications for think tanks is all about understanding who your audiences are and what they want. Therefore, it would be a good idea to identify information needs, preferred channels for communication and preferred frequency of communication.
Why think tanks need to ponder over funding models for financial sustainability?
In a largely fragmented and polarised climate, funding sources are not aplenty. A pragmatic think tank will invest in ensuring the development of organisational capacity for sound financial management and accountability. This also means think tanks need to contemplate and work on finding the correct mix: on that fits the organisation’s mission helps the organisation grow and focus on its core research work. This also means think tanks need to develop a fundraising culture, where they know that they have something unique to offer and can proudly state who they are and are unafraid to ask for support. In a think tank everyone is a potential fundraiser!
Thanks WISCH2019 for helping me look at both the macro and micro level think tank issues. This has allowed me to question aspects that I did not delve into earlier and look at other important domains, like fundraising, in a new light.
– Varsha Pillai
This blog was published by Governance Now.
Safer Internet Day celebrated on February 5th is a global initiative to make the Internet a better and safer place for everyone. This year’s slogan is “together for a better internet”- a call to action for people to join together and play their part in creating a better internet for everyone, and especially for younger users. With over 446 million internet users, India is the second largest online market, ranked only behind China. It is estimated that by 2021, there will be about 635.8 million internet users in India, yet despite the large base of internet users in India, only 26 percent of the Indian population accessed the internet in 2015. The potential of the internet is well acknowledged in driving development and is considered absolutely essential to expand the knowledge economy and to empower the socially and economically weaker sections of people. It is estimated that every 10 percent increase in access to broadband (and internet) in developing countries translates to a 1.38 per cent growth in GDP. Studies have shown that the rate of internet diffusion is correlated to the general level of socio-economic development by advancing economic growth and reducing poverty.
In 2000, Public Affairs Centre (PAC) conducted a Citizen Report Card (CRC) study of maternal health services offered by Maternity Homes (MH) and found that the quality of service delivery was far from satisfactory. Together with other NGOs in the city, certain reform measures were recommended. A decade later, a repeat CRC exercise in these MHs in the city was carried out to understand if there were any changes in service delivery. The quality of service still remained poor. Corruption was still rampant and entitlements like Madilu Kits were not reaching the beneficiaries. There were lots of hurdles in availing the benefits of the maternal health schemes like Janani Suraksha Yojane. Basic facilities like drinking water, clean toilets, and ambulance facilities were missing in many of these Maternity Homes.
Table : Details of Expenses by patients at the maternity homes
% of Users who Paid for service
Stipulated User Fee(Rs.)
Paid stipulated amount (%)
Received receipt %) (for stipulated amount)
Paid more than stipulated amount (%)
Received receipt % (for more than stipulated amount)***
Iron and folic acid tab
For Baby seeing
* Blood test amount includes HB, cholesterol, Sugar and VDRL charges **N- Normal, C – Ceasarian; NA – Not Applicable *** what Users reported as receipts were not from the regular receipt book, instead it was mostly on blank white chits mostly used for prescriptions.
With financial and technical support from IBP, partnership with grassroots organisations and a tactical nod from the Health Department of the BBMP, PAC sought to implement a model called the Maternity Home Monitoring Committee (MHMC) that would help users to voice their demands and play a role in service delivery as well.
Complete Satisfaction with services of BBMP Maternity Homes
During informal interactions with the users it came out very clearly that often lack of resources was cited as reason for lack of service delivery. For example madilu kits were not given because there was no supply, milk was not given in stipulated quantities because additional quantity of milk could not be purchased if the patient load was more. Hence PAC decided to do a root cause analysis and find out if lack of funds was responsible for poor quality of services and took up detailed budget analysis of BBMP maternal health budgets. Some initial efforts on tracking some of the funds like User Fee, free food for inpatients were also made in selected MHs to understand the issues further. These exercises revealed that there were some gaps in supply of medicines, issue of receipt for User fee collected, procurement of sufficient quantities of milk for in-patients etc.
Community Score Card
Looking at the issues, it was felt that there was a need to bring the users and the service providers to a platform for a face-to-face discussion that could help resolve most of the issues. Community Score Card (CSC) approach was chosen where a set of indicators pertaining to the issues that came out of CRC and budget analysis were developed. User groups were asked to rank these indicators based on their recent experiences with reasons for scores. The same was done with the hospital staff in exclusive meetings. Both the set of scores were displayed along with reasons cited in a forum by bringing the staff and the users together. A well moderated discussion helped resolve many of these issues during the meeting. A joint action plan was also drafted for further follow-up with clear indication of responsibilities of users and service providers. During the interaction, it was realised that there is a potential for users and service providers to work together to improve the quality of service delivery, hence a users’ committee called the Maternity Home Monitoring Committee (MHMC) was set up.
User- Provider interface
MHMC consist of 8-10 members who are selected from the catchment areas of these maternity homes who have availed services from the maternity home in the past and are availing services currently as well. They visit the MH on a regular basis (once in fifteen days) and monitor the progress as per checklists provided to them. They share their observations on the implementation of the agreed action plan and also other changes related to quality of services taking place in the MH, on a fortnightly basis with the officials of the health department of BBMP. They also build awareness among users in the community on maternal health and entitlements from the MH, through smaller informal meetings between MHMC members and users in their own respective localities, mobilizing community members to participate and take advantage of the various awareness camps, health camps etc. organized by BBMP in these areas.
a. Users of health facilities monitoring the availability and quality of services at these facilities.
b. Creation of a space for regular interaction between service users and health providers
c. Increase in accountability of front line service providers to the community.
d. Capacity building of MHMC members to understand and engage with broader health system issues.
Key challenges and learnings
a. Since it is process intensive, upscaling of such an initiative is a challenge. Making this a systemic initiative with external facilitation by civil society could be a way forward.
b. While this project has shown that communities can monitor services upto the referral level, taking this to tertiary facilities, given the amount of technicalities involved in medical care at this level, is a challenge.
c. User- Provider interface platforms such as MHMC require external facilitation and support to function constructively.
MHMC members sharing observations with MH staff in regular follow-up meetings
“Citizen Committees serve as messengers within the user community and also help in building a good relationship between the users and the staff. These committees have to be set up in all the maternity homes in the city”- Medical Officer from a BBMP Maternity Home.
“PAC’s efforts of putting in place citizen monitoring committees have been very useful. We would pay huge amounts of money earlier to avail services from maternity homes but now, we pay only the stipulated user fee and also get official receipts for the amount we pay”- Users of BBMP Maternity Homes in Bangalore.
– Prarthana Rao, Programme Officer
This blog is a response to the comments made by Shri Bibek Debroy in the Economic Times on 5th January 2015, raising several important questions about the newly formed Niti Ayog. The link is at http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/policypuzzles/seven-questions-about-niti-aayog-that-modi-govt-should-answer/. It is a very perceptive piece and raises the very issues that should have been discussed threadbare before the announcement of the Aayog.
My quick response is here:
The setting up of the Planning Commission was at a time when the country was taking its first steps forward. Nearly every State was a congress-led State and the word of Pandit Nehru was final and unquestionable for the Chief Ministers, although there may have been some notable exceptions. In a way, the country was marching to a single drum-beat.
With the evolution of coalition and regional politics, that picture changed: the definition of a State’s aspirations changed; local desires and ambitions started gaining the upper hand over clearly identifiable national goals, in so far as development was concerned. Kerala and West Bengal were early examples, speaking a language very different from that of the Congress. And then, before the Emergency, and thereafter, there was a proliferation of political parties that knew the way in which they could take control of emotion and parochial feelings and, soon, lo and behold, there was a multiplicity of parties that sought to grasp the space of polity at the Central and state level.
It is in such a context that the Planning Commission soon became an irritant for many of the States led by the non-Congress parties, and soon enough – as disenchantment is contagious – by the Congress states as well.
The fact is, that in recent times, the Planning Commission had become merely an aggregator of facts and figures. In the annual Plan exercises, many of which I have attended, the concerned Secretaries to the State Government, used to attend meetings chaired by officials of the Planning Commission. In fact, much before such meetings, the State Government used to identify all its resources and allocate to each Department the maximum funds that it can provide. The kitty for each dept. includes the State funds, the GoI funds, other capital allocations etc. The Ministries in the Government of India have, also by this time, worked out the funds available to each of them for further allocation to the States, based on a number of criteria, including expenditures made, savings, performance, and achieving of some conditionalities, basically reform-based. So when the State level plan finalisation meetings are held at the Planning Commission, all the home work has been done. If there is any gap in the resources required for the annual plan and the availability of funds, then the State grandly announces that the gap will be made good by better tax administration and reduction of unnecessary expenditure. The role of the Planning Commission is virtually that of putting together all these facts and figures. There are hardly anything substantial or relevant that the Commission provides. The State provides its funds, the GoI its allocation and the Planning Commission its seal of approval!!
Next comes the big photo opportunity when the Chief Minister goes to the Planning Commission for the formal meeting with the Dy Chairman. Be assured, that everything has been worked out well in advance. The size of the annual Plan is well known to the officials before this final high level meeting. Certainly, the Chief Minister makes a presentation about the State’s aspirations and lists out various issues they face with the Central Government. Often representatives of the Ministries are present in these meetings. The concerned Member of the Commission, who has been given charge of the State for overall purposes, does make some perceptive comments. The Dy. Chairman also addresses the meeting. And then the formal announcement of the size of the State’s Annual Plan is made. The only discretionary funds available with the Planning Commission is about 80-100 crores for each State, which can be allocated by the Planning Commission directly to the State as a largesse, on the request of the Chief Minister. So in a plan size of, say for a State like Rajasthan for 2013-1014, of Rs 40,500 crores, the sum of Rs 80-100 crores is but a pittance. But the size of the Plan is politically important for the party in power in the State, as it can score brownie points as to how the Plan of the State has increased in their tenure and, by how many percentage points, and how the State has been able to argue and defend its position regarding the need for additional funding to the Planning Commission.
This is not to demean the status and role of the Planning Commission. In fact, some powerful Dy. Chairmen of the Commission are able to influence the decision making in Ministries by urging them to allocate more funds for a particular State or for a particular Scheme. Sometimes, in the framing of new schemes, the Planning Commission can give some special inputs. It is also essential to point out that the Central Ministries are very reluctant to hand over any authority or say in the allocation of funds for States or schemes to another body outside the Ministry. I would say, rightly so, since the Ministries are directly responsible to the Parliament (and not the Planning Commission). More importantly, some powerful Chief Ministers, (especially those who are responsible for holding together a coalition government at the Centre: Shri Chandrababu Naidu being the best example!!) have been able to get funds for their respective States far in excess of what they would have otherwise got, had the Planning process as specified by the Planning Commission had been explicitly followed.
Indeed, in the sense that the Planning Commission is a national body to advice the Government of India and the States on long term vision for the country, this role has been sadly missing over these past many years. It had perhaps served its purpose in its early days when the nation was establishing national infrastructure and setting up the sweeping policy framework to take the nation forward. But those days are over now.
The moot question is whether Shri. Bibek Debroy, whose article mentioning the seven questions he raised about the Niti ayog appeared in the newspaper with dateline 5 January 2015, and who was appointed a full time member of the Niti Commission by orders of the Government of India on the same day, could have embarrassed himself, or caused embarrassment to the Government of India, because of the said article!! Perhaps he now has the time and the opportunity to answer the same seven points himself.
As to whether I can attempt some answers, I shall try.
1. Was the Planning Commission able to protect Plan Expenditure in the past? Who will do that role in the future? I do not believe that the Commission had that kind of clout to protect Plan expenditure to the extent envisaged in the article. In these matters, the Finance Minister is God himself! The lobbying by the Commission with the Ministries was limited, and to the extent of personal intervention of the Chairman and Members of the Commission with the Ministers or even the Secretaries to the Government of India. As I said, the Chief Minister concerned was more effective in garnering funds for the State by his own clout and influence.
2.The role of the Finance Commission? This will continue to be what it currently is: to recommend the sharing of revenues of the Government of India with the State Government as per the provisions of Article 280 the Constitution. It remains for non-plan expenditure and shall continue to do so. The GoI cannot contemplate that Plan Expenditure shall also be the domain of the Finance Commission, simply because none of the Union Minsters will contemplate any arrangement that dilutes their authority and power, discretionary though they may at many times.
3.As regards Centrally Sponsored Schemes, they were, and are, majorly in the domain of the Ministries: and the role of the Planning Commission was at best advisory. Allocations to the Special category States will continue to be with the GoI though the Planning Commission could advice the Ministries on the same.
4.The Chaturvedi Committee (chaired by Shri Chaturvedi, former Cabinet Secretary and until recently full time member of the Planning Commission) had suggested merger and rationalization of the various CSS-s. Even this report could not be implemented because the Ministries had their own opinions in the matter and they were unwilling to be persuaded otherwise, even though we all knew that there were important discrepancies in the Schemes, overlaps and need for rationalization.
5.My views above at pt no 4 cover this fifth issue also. I do not see any CSS-s being decentralized or ‘modi’fied as per the new Niti’s guidelines. I do not see any CSS-s being scrapped. At least not for the time being. Yes, the breath of fresh air that Shri Pangariya could bring, may make profound changes, but this is likely to take time. Again I do not see any major change, because the Ministries, led by politicians, are very wary of giving away their powers to any outside bodies.
6.The new Niti Commission, like its predecessor the Planning Commission, is not a statutory body, but has been set up by administrative orders. If it were a constitutionally created body, or if it were set up by a statute, then things could have ben different. Perhaps that may come soon: yes, then indeed, there will be changes! As Bibek Debroy indicates, this is a moot question to be considered by the Government of India, if it wishes to give the new Commission clout and teeth.
7.I think that the merger of certain long-standing outdated monolithic structures such as the Inter-State Council, the National Development Council is quite salutary. I have attended several meetings of the NDC as representative of the State Government of Rajasthan, where each Chief Minister, depending on the colour of the party he belongs to, either applauds or condemns the Government of India. Sometimes the language employed can be quite offensive. Yet, the resolutions of the NDC are passed and nobody was either happy or disconcerted. Published proceedings of the NDC are filed away and forgotten until the notice for the next meeting is received!
I am writing these comments above in the sanguine hope that the new Commission will bring a difference in the manner we see this country, giving national priorities it’s rightful and predominant place while at the same time, respecting the aspirations of the individual States. The task is huge and in a multi-cultural, plural, diverse country, with its ‘million mutinies’, it is fraught with danger and pitfalls.
Certainly, I am not expecting any body to respond to this note: but, I thought it fit to record my comments since I have long been associated with the process of Planning at the State level. If the purposes and functions of the new Niti Commission had been thought through, and set up after a national debate, it would have had more solid foundations and greater chance of success. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in the human heart. And as a concerned individual citizen of the country, I wish it all the best.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
We all talk about the moral crisis that is engulfing us now, while we still are not able to define what it all means. That there is a decline in values, is accepted; that the moral standards we had once upheld at great cost to ourselves, has now diminished is a given; that we have become men of straw is common talk at parties and social gatherings. But what do all these words mean: are they but a few high sounding phrases and idle words strung together or do they signify the crisis at the very heart of human conduct and action.
To answer this question is well nigh impossible. We will have to make a detailed historical analysis of how the rigour and discipline of a moral and ethical frame work surrounding our lives has, over the years deteriorated, and all code of conduct and social mores, and even religious diktats, are no longer important or even relevant. There was a time when holy books such as the Talmud or the Gita or the Bible or the Koran stipulated a certain kind of behaviour and conduct, in all things: from the dress we have to wear and how we are to behave with others, how our money dealings should be and how we interact with our neighbours. But not so now. All the commandants of life, by which we regulated our behaviour and conduct, have become diluted; their iron-cast characteristics have become flaccid and weak. The threat of social censure or divine punishment no longer threatens those who may casually or flagrantly violate them. Everything goes; sab chalta hai; there are no self-imposed boundaries or rules. All things are now acceptable.
I now ask you to consider the question of who is responsible for this state of affairs. How is that that over the last century, perhaps, all things considered sacred and holy, have turned common place and inconsequential, not worth a second glance from us. Who has been responsible for the slow rusting of the iron? When someone commits a prohibited act, why is no action taken, and why does the criminal go scot-free. Why is law a slow and dilatory process that blurs and diminishes, rather than clarifying and deciding? From small things such as violation of traffic rules to unpardonable crimes of murder and rape, we have grown thick rough skins that prevent us from feeling the pain and the horror of the transgression, and then, after a disgusted groan, we are back to business as usual. At best, it may generate some aggrieved street protests for a few days and then we are in our insulated lives where we are immersed in a cocoon of I, me and myself. We do not lead purposeful and ethical lives, nor are we governed by a strict code that can punish the transgressor and set the boundaries between right and wrong, good and evil, black and white.
And that is why I offer the answer to the question I asked. I say that it is you and I who are responsible for this decline, that all of us together have jointly and severally colluded and contributed to the crime of casual negligence of the mainstay of our lives, the moral underpinnings that should hold up our values and stiffen our spines. Let me add that I am not pleading for a world without compassion. Forgiveness is the very essence of a superior and civilised life; and we must have it in our hearts to recognise the contrition of a sinner and forgive him knowing that his remorse is genuine. But the rule of law must be upheld or else we face the destruction of civilisation as we have once known it.
And thus I come to the main burden of my essay today. I quote Dante Alighieri from the Inferno: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” These words are damning and deserve our quiet and deep consideration. It is an indictment of those amongst us who, faced with a moral crisis, push our hands into our pockets and say with a philosophical wave of their hand, “well, that is how life is, what can you do about it ?” There is no anger, there is no raised voice of protest, and there is no rage at the gravity of the crime committed. We but swallow it and move on as we have done all these days of our lives. As if it doesn’t matter to us a bit, that we, the superior and cynical individuals that we are, are separate from the throng of humanity and that we care not for the direction in which we are moving.
I say, sir and madam, that our reluctance to enter into a moral stance, into a committed position that states in unequivocal terms who and what we are, what our values and moral codes stand for, is the prime reason why we stand directionless today. Indeed this is the main cause for the drift and slide in the foundations beneath our feet as we grope to find significance in our troubled lives. We have lost our true north, not because it has vanished from our sight, but because we have strolled into the opposite direction with our causal lack of vision in the real issues that surround us.
WB Yeats said it in his immortal poem ‘The Second Coming’: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” How tragic that the vociferous and the brawny should outshout the wise and the noble? We lack the steel to stand up and be counted, we do not have the resolve say enough is enough. And thus we dither: the world around us slides away into an unknown place where all is gray, where the difference between light and darkness, and indeed between good and evil, cannot be recognised.
I end with a brilliant quotation from Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Surely we owe it to ourselves and to all our forefathers who cast the die in which we were all once formed, to sit up and say with cold clarity: from now on we shall not be blurred in our vision, things shall not fall apart, and the centre shall hold.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
I relocated to Bengaluru after my retirement from the Indian Administrative Service in July last year after a lifetime of work in Rajasthan. Bengaluru is a wonderful place to live in: the climate is salubrious throughout the year, family and friends abound in plenty, my grand-daughter aged just about three-and-a-half provides me entertainment and joy too indescribable to define. We have help in the kitchen and the essential perquisites of life have all been arranged and put in place. I am happily engaged in some post-retirement work that keeps me happy, while also ensuring that the grey cells are kept ticking.The people of the city mind their own business and do not ever poke their noses into other people’s lives. There are a large number of yuppies around, young, with id badges slung around their necks, frantically busy during the day, relaxed and having a ball once office hours are over. The pubs and the restaurants are lively and bustling; they stay open all the odd hours of the night and the early morning. I could live with the bad traffic, I thought to myself: it is a small price to pay for the wonderful sense of a cosmopolitan culture buzzing like a wonderful bee hive wherever I look.
Yet, a series of horrendous crimes over the past few months which attracted headlines made me wonder about the seamier underbelly of the city. Young children raped in schools, migrant workers assaulted, religious bigotry demonstrated in churches and mosques, the presence of jihadist links, incidents of moral policing by the lumpen elements. How safe is Bengaluru, I asked myself. When the night turns dark and ominous, or when the watchful eyes of the police are not around, do the vermin come out and assault the helpless and the innocent? For those who are in their beds by 9 pm, like the retired couple that my wife and I are, it is good to know that we can sleep the sweet sleep of babes. But for others, when the joy of a night out is marred by hatred and violence, can we call ourselves civilized?
To know the facts, I had a peek at the National Crime Record Bureau web-site, which maintains impeccable records and statistics of crime in the country. Indeed, state wise and crime wise details are available here. I decided that comparing Bengaluru with the four mighty mega cities may give some indication of how safe we really are here in this city for pensioners. There are innumerable stories hidden in these bald figures, and I leave it to you to interpret the statistics and make sense of them. The first impression that one can elicit from them is not happy at all. These figures are for the year 2013 and, as I said, the only source for them is the website of NCRB which is simply http://ncrb.gov.in/. Data for all cities are separately aggregated here and makes for easy comparison.
The statement below is a summary of the relevant facts: We are only looking at crime data for the following crimes; namely murder under 302 IPC, rape under 376 IPC, and dowry deaths under 304 B IPC. Admittedly, they are the most heinous crimes that humankind perpetrates on itself.
|Name of city||Population (in lakhs)||IPC cases registered||% of crimes of all cities||Murder cases (302 IPC)||Rape cases (376 IPC)||Dowry deaths (304 B IPC)|
The first startling fact that stands out is in the matter of the number of IPC cases registered in the urban areas: Delhi stands tall and ashamed with 13% of all the IPC crimes registered in the cities of the country, with Mumbai at second rank (6.3%). But namma Bengaluru’s position with 5.5%, is higher than even Kolkata (4.7%) and Chennai (3.2%). And the number of murders? With 217 murder cases registered in Bengaluru in 2013, our record is higher than the figures of the three metropolitan cities, namely Mumbai, Kolkota and Chennai, and second only to Delhi, the crime capital of the country. The same is true with rape cases: Delhi leads the nation with a horrendous 1441 cases, Mumbai is at 391, but Bengaluru (80) stands about shoulder to shoulder with Chennai (83), leaving even Kolkota behind. And finally in the matter of dowry deaths, we stand condemned, just below Delhi again, with 52 brides having been burnt or bludgeoned or done away with, in some brutal and horrible manner.
There is perhaps a sound argument why figures are higher in Bengaluru; it could be the indication of a higher registration of crimes, unlike other places where such registration is often conservative and discouraged. Keep the numbers low, say the DGPs of some States,: that way, our State will not figure among the worst in the country! And Bengaluru, on the other hand, may be insisting that all crimes be registered accurately so that the actual situation on the ground is reflected. If that is so, then we may be comparing statistics that are not comparable.
Be that as it may, my nights have now turned a little uneasy, and I promise myself to be in bed before 10 pm each night. That may keep me and my wife safe, but what about my daughter and her husband, and the thousands of others like them, who come out in the evenings to enjoy the sights and sounds and tastes of this wonderful city. I am not writing this to be alarmist in anyway, but to generate some concern and positive worry and to hope that the City may discuss these matters in the many civil society groups that thrive here and create a citizens’ movement that will yell and shout at the authorities, and make them do what has to be done. Indeed, when that is accomplished, it will make all of us enjoy the city even better and let us all sleep easy at night. Good night, folks, and sweet dreams.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
July 12th, 1977. The date is etched in my memory: with a steel trunk and a hold-all, I had presented myself at the reception counter of the Lal BahadurShastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie to join as a probationer in the Indian Administrative Service. In many ways, the day was liberating, empowering and sobering: liberating, for it was freedom from the narrow confines of home and limited horizons; empowering, for I could see clearly the potential that the national civil service could provide; and sobering, for I could dimly sense the awesome responsibility that the three initials bestowed on those who had the privilege to earn it. But the idealism burning within swept away everything in its wake. As I handed in my joining report, I knew that the world was at my feet. I was thrilled to be alive.
July 12th 2014. I am in Jaipur in the last month of my official life. It is the same day, but in another millennium, and I suddenly realised that I had just then completed thirty seven years in the civil service. It was difficult to believe that the years had flown with such swiftness, that there was now much silver in my hair and that the idealism of those blissful glory days was replaced by a watchful wariness and a solemnity, a touch of caution that weighed things carefully before committing to anything. There was also some cynicism: of that too, I was sure. But with all that, I was celebrating thirty seven years in the service of the nation; I had some reason to be proud of it all.
But then I thought again: did I say ‘in the service of the nation’? Could I be sure of what that meant? Have I indeed been serving the nation? Or in the rush and tumble of the headlong drive of the days, have I also been serving my own cause? It made me pause to think; it sobered me and worried me needlessly for days on end.
Service of mankind has always been one of the major tenets of all religions. Hindu scriptures talk of selfless service as one’s dharma. It should not be done for name or fame or for any other returns. It has to be selfless. But more importantly Seva should restore the dignity and self-respect of its beneficiary.
In the same way the Quran too talks of kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and your employees.
In Christian scriptures, the lowliest of those amongst us are considered as our brothers and the Prophet said: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these bothers of mine, you did for me”, thus equating godliness with service for the lowliest.
It is in this context I wondered whether my thirty seven years ‘in the service of the nation’ has indeed been what it claims to be. In the Indian Administrative Service, right from the initial days in the employment of the government, young officers are entrusted with exacting and heavy duties in the management of the affairs of the State. As one grows, the duties become more onerous and complex. These duties may vary across the gamut of the activities we perform in government, from tax administration to law and order to infrastructure development and so on. Gigantic projects and programmes are executed, following due procedure and it is perhaps natural that errors are sometimes committed in the processes adopted for such execution. Be that as it may, even acknowledging that what we do is mind-boggling in its nature and its variety, I keep asking myself that at the bottom of it all, at the very heart of the concept of public administration, what does it mean when we say we are in ‘the service of the nation’.
Our land abounds with contradictions, of grinding poverty and obnoxious richness, of high and low castes, of discrimination between the sexes, of soaring achievements and pitiful failures. To me, in my clear and unequivocal opinion, at the bottom of it all, the true meaning of being ‘in the service of the nation’ is really to serve the poor, to serve those not as fortunate as ourselves. All other things we do are subservient to that irreducible truth.
So then, I ask myself the question again, have I been really in the service of the poor, in these last thirty seven years? Or have I been enjoying the tempting perks of power, forgetting the very purpose for which I have been placed in a position of responsibility and authority. Has the arrogance of power swept away the idealism with which I started out in my career? I ask these questions to myself now and it must surely ring a bell in the minds of all my colleagues as well who ‘served the nation’ in its premier civil service:
- When the peon at our residence attends the phone and invariably says that the sahib is in the bathroom or at puja, are we serving the nation?
- When we use our official car for all manner of private purposes, are we serving the nation?
- When we come to office chronically late, leave for a two-hour break for lunch and then come back only to depart for home before office winds up, are we serving the nation?
- When we make our visitors in office wait outside our rooms for hours on end while we have a chat with some crony or admirer, are we serving the nation?
- When our main concern is not to wipe away tears, but the expansion of our own comforts and perquisites, are we serving the nation?
- When we interrogate with contempt and disdain the poor and miserable people who come to us with their problems, of lands usurped, or daughters abused or money embezzled, when we dismiss them without soothing their brows, are we serving the nation?
- When we lose our temper on insignificant and petty matters, while at the same time refusing to address the major governance issues that weaken us every day, are we serving the nation?
- When we delegate all our work to others without providing leadership to those who look up to us, are we serving the nation?
- When we let the tides take us where they will, and we go through life with no thoughts for the ones whose welfare we are mandated to protect, are we serving the nation?
To sum it all up, in the enormous task of the governance of the nation, if we do not keep the poor at the centre of it all, at the core of the vast and intricate machinery that is the State, then we are in danger of committing unforgiveable crimes. Crimes which include the abdication of our duties for the pleasures and comfort that the three initials after our names bring. And the callousness that we display towards those for whose welfare we have been appointed in the service of the nation.
Surely we have enough good men and women amongst us who can dedicate ourselves to the cause of serving the poor, and truly being ‘in the service of the nation’. Or have they all flown away to some cloud and cuckoo land where nothing really matters?
As a retired civil servant now musing over the years of his official life, I am shocked by the insistence with which these questions ring in my mind.
– Dr C.K. Mathew IAS (Retd)
John Maynard Keynes, when bidding farewell from the post of editor of the Economic Journal in 1945, eloquently stated that the great economic thinkers of the world were all searching for the intellectual tools that could help solve what he called the political problem of mankind: how to combine three things, namely economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty. His argument was that these tools could be found only in the then rapidly growing science of economics.
While we may or may not contest that point, it has to be conceded that it is a perceptive statement: all governance, it would seem, is a mix and interplay of these three things. The ratio and proportion of the three makes all the difference in the quality, content and tenor of the government in position.
Economic efficiency, insofar as the country is concerned, entails the best utilization of human and natural resources, the organisation of the financial underpinnings of the system, the freedom to individuals, as themselves or as groups, to utilize their talent to further their legitimate interests, the setting in place the rules that shall govern the market place and allowing enterprise and commerce to prosper so that it can touch the lives of the ordinary people for their betterment. It involves the creation of infrastructure, including roads and ports and airports and essential requirements such as drinking water systems and medical facilities and a host of other activities that adds to the well being of the country. Commerce and business thrives, not only for the entrepreneurs themselves but for the citizens of the country that benefit from them directly or indirectly. The freeing of the spirit of enterprise of the nation is inherent in the concept.
But that alone cannot do for a nation, when there is much disparity and discrimination, despite the best that economic efficiency can bring about. Always there will be people on the margins, who fall through the cracks and face the cold of the winter. The factors that produce inequality, and its elder brother, inequity, may arise from religion or caste or class or even physical disability. Merely being a child or a woman may be enough to deny you access to what should rightfully be yours. It is here that the State has to step in and ensure that ‘social justice’ is maintained. Many nations have experimented with the modalities to do so; whether it is the affirmative action for the blacks in the US or the policy of reservation of jobs for certain castes and tribes in India; whether it is subsidies or scholarships or financial incentives for certain vulnerable categories of beneficiaries.
It is further argued that the government of the majority, as prescribed in the book of democracy, has to look out for those who are not in the mainstream too. Not only those who were their opponents in the elections, but also those who may not even have participated in the process of election for the government in power. Social justice thus becomes a gigantic conceptual ideal that must be fulfilled, or attempted to be fulfilled, if the real intent of governance is to be achieved.
There is much debate on the manner in which ‘social justice’ is to be implemented and put into place. Is it possible to overdo it? This has been a subject of some debate after the UPA government received a drubbing in the last national elections. The argument is that that political party placed too much emphasis on welfare measures for the poor and the downtrodden, even to the exclusion, and finally alienation, of the middle class, the youth and the not-so-poor. It was argued, how can all the resources of the State be diverted only towards the poor and the minorities and the oppressed? What about the legitimate aspirations of the common man who does not belong to these categories. On the other hand, the BJP focused attention on the hopes and dreams of the largest group of the Indian citizenry, the middle class, and portrayed a picture of a bright future that would ensure economic progress for the country and their own economic advancement. And thus a battle for the reins of the government was won decisively and conclusively.
And finally, the third principle that Keynes articulated, namely individual liberty. This is the very key stone of democracy. Of course there is no need to define it. Voices must be heard and paid heed to, even the voices of those who are voiceless. But, one could argue, can we have too much of individual liberty. If all the voices are heard and given heed to, will there not be cacophony? In the mighty task of the governance of the nation, when we are confident that the broad direction we are moving in is the right one, can we allow disparate and strident expression of fringe views to distract us? Such a sensitive issue, this individual liberty is. If we are to take leaps and bounds, perhaps we cannot heed those who distract us from our true path. Or perhaps, we have to pay heed to those voices, take them into the realm of discussion and then convince them that the ‘greater good’ does not permit any diversion.
I know, I know: there is much debate on the ‘greater good’. Who decides what is good and for whom and at what cost. But at this moment we are talking in generalities and I do feel, that the nation recognizes what is the greater good and whether decisions we take are in that direction or not.
So then, the interplay of these three concepts determines the broad foundations of good governance. There is again no need to explain that. If the government is focused only on economic issues, you may have greater inequities; but then if the emphasis is only on social justice, the real economic progress of the country may be adversely affected. On the other hand, individual liberty is vital and has to have the right of place in a democratic system; but those fundamental rights of the citizen cannot be absolute so as to hamper the nation’s march forward.
Political and economic theorists have pondered much and long on these issues; so have philosophical thinkers. And while the world is moving in a direction where these broad principles have been accepted and adopted, there is still much differences of opinions and heated debate on many an issue; but, perhaps that is the way it should be.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
Should states worry about pending cases?
Yes, because that affects their public image and, therefore, investment.
Thirty million cases are pending in Indian courts, some for as long as 20 years. In 2000, the Eleventh Finance Commission set up fast track courts for a five-year period. But there were 3.89 million cases pending in these fast track courts even at the end of 2005. To dispose of these cases, an extension was given until March 2011. The central government did not transfer any funds to these courts after that date. The courts disposed of 3.23 million cases; the rest are still pending. This is the story of pending cases and the judiciary in India. But the performance of the judiciary differs between regions; for example, one million cases were pending in the Allahabad High Court in 2012 but 470,000 in the Madras High Court. One reason for the case load at the Allahabad High Court is that many judiciary positions are vacant there; fewer judges lead to slower delivery of services.
Why should states care about the functioning of their judiciary? A rise in the number of pending cases is a sign of a growth in the number of disputes (which includes industrial disputes) and of the inefficiency of the state judiciary; and reduces public confidence in the governance system. The authors of the book The Paradox of the North-South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions feel that attracting investors and other development actors to invest in development becomes difficult. Cases in point are Tamil Nadu, which received only 3.9% of the total FDI into the country in 2011-12, and Uttar Pradesh, which received even less (0.4%). As a result, the per capita income was INR 17,129 in Uttar Pradesh, much less than that in Tamil Nadu (INR 53507; net state domestic product at constant prices for 2010-11).
Devika Kannan, Programme Officer
The authors of the book The Paradox of India’s North South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions make an eloquent case for progress being equally the consequence of intelligent and meaningful policy craft as well as of a strong demand for growth and betterment from the population within the state.
It is no surprise that some states have better starting points, attributable largely to historical factors (or even accidents), ecological munificence, or just enlightened leadership. The book explores why and how some states utilized or squandered these initial conditions, and arrived at the stages of growth that they currently experience. The authors opine that, on the whole, the south, blessed with a combination of these factors, and spurred by several campaigns and movements that empowered populations to develop pulls on the state apparatus, used their natural and social endowments to pull ahead of northern India on several key aspects.
Even so, the real paradox as I see it, is this: the development indices of a Raichur or a Koppal (both in southern states) are comparable to those in the nethermost outreaches of the BIMARU regions. In other words, it is not always that a southern state, with all its natural blessings and human resources, demonstrates the capacity to optimally utilize its limited resources to advance the prospects and quality of life of its citizens. How does this happen? Does the state apparatus willfully ignore the needs of its own district while gloating over its progress, fueled by the numbers of a Bangalore or a Chennai? What explains the fact that administrators in these districts of a ’good’ southern state lapse into sloth and torpid apathy, but awaken magically when transferred to a high growth area within the same state? This is the real paradox, and irony.
Talking of divides, it often strikes me that progress is defined and expressed in numbers and stories to assert that ‘we’ are ‘ahead’ of ‘them’ in some respect. And, when statistics are used to mask the cracks within the structures and systems of the governance monolith, the consequent warm glow often translates into smugness and nonchalance.This play of numbers and interpretations in the book might sit very well with those in power in the southern states. Or it might provoke jejune arguments for or against a proposition or two in the book. Or (dare we hope?) the book might stimulate creative conversation in the corridors of power—on the several measures necessary to nudge a state up the index so that it will attract further investment and, potentially, kick start growth processes.
Political instability leads to instability in public decisions and policies, because a new chief minister (CM) usually changes ministers and officials. Unpredictable governance does not provide business or any economic activity the environment it needs to grow, reduces the flow of resources, and affects economic performance and social progress.
From the early 1980s, political instability was evident in the northern states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh (BIMARU). On average, CMs in northern India during the 1960s governed longer (1268 days) than CMs in the South (831 days). But, by 2000-01, a reversal had taken place: CMs in BIMARU states governed for only 663 days whereas CMs in southern states (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala) governed for 914 days.
The book The Paradox of India’s North-South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions provides a personal account of T S R Subramaniam (Chief Secretary, Uttar Pradesh: ‘ … In the 1990s in UP, the average tenure of a collector in a district was nine months … all over India it was thirteen months. How can one expect meaningful results? … In the current state of affairs, few officers have thought of contributing anything. An officer merely wishes to extract as much as he can for himself and his family in every successive assignment…”
Government formation affects governance quality indirectly, through political stability. Tamil Nadu was governed mostly by political parties that won elections by a majority, while Uttar Pradesh (UP) had seen major fallouts of coalition governments. Majority rule leads to swift decision making and policy implementation. Also, in UP, the population is represented by various political parties that are strongly divided on the basis of caste and other socio-cultural factors. Paradoxically, these political parties had come to power but failed to empower the lower strata of population that they represent. The fight for power between the political parties in UP had led to incidents of social unrest, the most infamous being the Babri Masjid case.
Therefore, we can see that policy making, programme implementation, and governance quality suffers from political instability.
– Devika Kannan, Programme Officer
During the 1990s, the ruling political parties in Uttar Pradesh (UP) were dominated by the upper castes, who made little effort to develop the backward classes. Unrest among backward classes caused law and order problems, including demonstrations. On several such incidents, the police fired on the assemblage. Even in 2004-05, there were as many as 1.40 police firing incidents per million population in UP; in contrast, there were only 0.14 such incidents in the southern state of Tamil Nadu (TN). Open police firing represents the intensity and extent of inter-group conflicts and, hence, is a strong representation of the absence of peace and affects society negatively. Often, people are reluctant to shift to a city perceived to be unsafe. So, law and order is a necessity for development.
More murders are committed per million population (110) in the northern states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (BIMARU) than in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu; 93 murders per million population. Also, crimes related to women are worse in northern states (rape: 133 per million population; dowry deaths: 40 per million population) than in southern states (rape: 85 per million population; dowry deaths: 12 per million population).
This brings us to the number of police personnel required to maintain law and order in a state. Higher the number of police personnel, safer the state. Southern states have a total of 529 police personnel per 100,000 population; there are only 382 police personnel in the north.
According to the authors of The Paradox of India’s North-South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions, ‘Despite improvements in law and order, if the public image of a place is that it is disorderly, it can negatively impact investment decisions and retention of a skilled workforce.’
– Devika Kannan, Programme Officer
So, what do you think of law and order in the north and south
Urbanization is the process of a society’s transformation from a predominantly rural society to a predominantly urban one. Primarily, industrial growth contributes to urban expansion. Industrialization leads people to migrate towards industrial areas in search of employment and, consequently, helps towns and cities grow. Populations migrate, and cause urbanization, also for better standard of living, educational and health facilities, infrastructure, and communication.
The book The Paradox of India’s North-South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions explores the two-way relationship between urbanization and economic growth. It is assumed that urbanization positively affects per capita income as it embraces agglomeration of economies, scale economies, access to knowledge, and increased productivity of firms. On the other hand, increased per capita income also leads to a higher rate of urbanization as it increases urban peoples’ aspirations for a better standard of life.
In this regard, Tamil Nadu (TN) has always remained ahead of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Even as per Census 2011, TN is one of the most urbanized states in the country with 48% of urbanized area, while UP’s rate of urbanization is only 22%. There are several reasons, related predominantly to climate, natural phenomena, and historical phenomena and events. During the colonial era, the establishment of a railway line in TN certainly stimulated the rate of per capita income and, hence, urbanization. In addition, as it rains little in TN, the scope for irrigation is limited. As a result, the state’s economy became non-agrarian and trade- dependent. This led to the emergence of several trade centres that became cities in due course. In contrast, the land in UP is fertile and it has water aplenty; so, most towns are primarily agrarian. Hence, a large number of people in UP are engaged in agricultural work whereas most of the population in TN are engaged mostly in non-agricultural work. The Census defines urbanization on the basis of the number of non-agrarian population; by this definition, urbanization is much higher in TN than in UP.
In ending, a caveat: it is important to remember that India is primarily an agrarian country; only 32% of its area is urbanized. So, urbanization is only one of several development indicators. Agricultural and rural development over time will portray another aspect of development. Hence, well-integrated holistic development of a country like India means development in both agrarian and urban sectors.
All views expressed here are of the author and not necessarily of the Public Affairs Centre
-Dr. Keya Chakraborty, Programme Officer
Are you empowered to demand your rights?
The government provides basic infrastructure like roads, hospitals, and schools and delivers welfare benefits. These are ‘supply side’ activities, and are expected to satisfy citizens’ needs. But what can citizens do if government services do not satisfy their needs? They need to demand their rights to improve governance.
According to the authors of The Paradox of India’s North-South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions, citizens can exert pressure on the government in three ways:
- by becoming aware of their rights and fighting governance failure;
- by building organizations that enable people and communities to demand and monitor supply-side interventions; and
- by providing organizational support that helps counteract or prevent government abuse.
Citizens’ awareness and empowerment is key.
In Tamil Nadu (TN) this demand factor has helped in development through education, awareness of rights and motivation to take advantage of public opportunities. The Dravidian movement that started in TN aimed at providing opportunities to all people without bias. It worked on educating the masses and on eradicating superstition. Movements for social mobilization have existed in TN since the early 20th century, but took place in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the late 1980s, when the Dalits under the leadership of the Bahujan Samaj Party decided to give up their traditional livelihood of performing ‘unclean’ jobs.
In South India, social and community-based associations helped lower caste people start their own ventures and enterprises. The Nadars, Gounders and Naidus of Southern and South-western India are examples of lower caste entrepreneurs. In UP, Baniyas and Vaishyas have a monopoly on trade, industry, and money-lending activities; the lower castes have remained backward.
Historically and currently, then, more citizens in South India than North India are aware of their rights and empowered to demand these from the government.
– Devika Kannan, Programme Officer
How empowered do you feel in your state?
Only He shakes the heavens and from its treasures takes out the winds. He joins the waters and the clouds and produces the rain. He does all those things. – Michael Servetus (1511-1553) (Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer)
The monsoons are just about upon us. In Bengaluru there is no particular sense of expectation: no excitement at its impending bursting upon the scene, nor anxiety should it fail. Here where the weather is salubrious and rains splatter over the city every now and then, there is no suspense as there is no real uncertainty.
But for one like me, who has spent a life time in Rajasthan, there has always been a special sense of trepidation blended with suppressed exhilaration as the event approaches. There, under the desert sky, the monsoons drizzle down love and life and prosperity and bliss. The cows would bellow in excitement and the grass would, enticed by the wetness in the air, suddenly green a barren hillside in a matter of days. Very literally it could mean the difference between penury and plentitude, between the long, slow chafing of drought and the sudden burst of joyous wetness and fecundity. But what would Michael Servetus know about the Indian monsoon? The manicured lawns in government houses turn jade green, wet and luscious under the evening sun. The clamour amongst the leaves, the susurration in the grass, the explosion of insects and birds, the screaming of wild parrots and the baboons slinking by with gleaming eyes: could the Spanish theologian know the magic and untellable enchantment of the arrival of rains in a dry land?
After relocating to Bengaluru, I find that my special worried upward glance when June approaches, the dull anxiety of scanning cloudless bright skies, no longer means what it has all these years. For the farmer in western Rajasthan, it is a matter of the security of his family, the presence of precious grain in the home granary. One good year is enough to feed themselves for a couple of years; if the rains fail, and sometimes they do three-four years continuously, then there is the long haul of impoverishment, the grasping clutches of the money lender and the long walk to faraway places as a migrant labourer. I recall the many years, when as an SDO or a District Collector, or even as Secretary to the Government, we all used to scramble to faraway districts, to arrange for drinking water and health coverage and fodder for the animals and work for able-bodied men and women to earn a decent working wage. How hard their lives, how the summer sun beat down on their bare bodies and how desperate the fear in their eyes.
Lives could be lost, there was the spectre of hunger deaths, (especially amongst the impoverished Sahariya community of Baran district) and then there would be hell to pay. The credibility of the Government would take a dip and there would be long political arguments on the State’s incompetence and failure. The Vidhan Sabha would resound with abuses and counter claims and the poor family would be photographed and displayed on TV, with strangers claiming to befriend the hapless victims. How cheap the deaths and the how cheaper the points scored in these acrimonious public debates.
So there, all that is behind me now: what is out of sight is out of mind, right? Here in this yuppie city, with the best of restaurants and fine dining eateries, with a certain style of je ne sais quoi, where the young live life with style and panache, where the old have a genteel life of books and gin and tonic, where there are exquisite gated communities with its obvious money, why should I harken back to the three and a half decades of my life gone by. Who cares if the Sahariya child is malnourished? Or there is no water to sustain a whole village as the sun glares down mercilessly?
Let’s enjoy the coming monsoon: very shortly it will be upon us. I might go out to the verandah with my face upturned to the slate-grey sky and feel the coolness wash upon my cheeks, so very like cold tears, and know how lucky I am to be where I am.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
In determining the nature and intensity of economic growth, several factors play different roles—individually and by interaction—at the macro and micro level; so, understanding the exact nuances behind phenomena is tricky. The causal relationship between women’s literacy and overall economic growth at state or district level is explained in different ways. One explanation is that the effect of women’s literacy leads to better education of children and, thereby, ensures an economically productive population. Another is that women’s literacy has a direct correlation with improved human capital, expressed in the increased proportion of women receiving technical education and finding employment in technical sectors. These causal relationships may then explain economic growth at micro level (household) as well as at macro level (province or district). Therefore, the web of relationships between economic growth and human resource capabilities is complex.
Let us now try to disentangle this web in terms of women’s literacy and technical education taking the case of the North–South divide in India. When economic growth is measured by certain variables (like per capita net state domestic product and proportion of rural poverty), the test of causality follows a specific line of inquiry. The role of women’s literacy and participation in technical education in creating human capital and, thereby, economic growth can be tested by differentials between states. The authors of The Paradox of India’s North–South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions compare the data on women’s literacy and proportion of technical graduates mainly between TN and UP. An observation of 15% lower level of female literacy in UP than TN, and as high as five times lower proportion of technical graduates, seems to have had a major impact on human capital. This might have led UP to achieve lower economic growth than TN.
However, this logic may not necessarily be that linear when certain demographic differentials between these two states and other states of India are examined. The denominator—that is, population—of UP (190 million) is almost three times that of TN (7 crore). The population density is 828 persons per sq km in UP but 555 persons per sq km in TN. Also, UP has a much larger geographic area (2,410,411 sq km) than TN (130,058 sq km) with hilly topography of UP compared to TN might accrue a disadvantaged situation for governance options.
Hence it leaves questions for further disaggregate and multivariate analysis to determine the sole or interactive effect of female literacy and technical education of TN and other south Indian states in explaining the economic growth than UP and other northern states of India.
– S.J. Nanda, Programme Officer
I suppose there are many brilliant quotations on leadership; for it is indeed a fascinating subject. How is it that some men or women have the consummate ability to demonstrate leadership that enthrals or captivates those who follow them, and make the followers perform even better than their own capacity? A true leader, because he leads with the best of his abilities, is able to bring out the best in others.
I have only recently come across some admirable quotes on the subject: let me entertain you with some of them:
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” [Nelson Mandela]
“To lead people, walk beside them …As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’” [Lao-Tsu]
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” [John Quincy Adams]
While leadership may be a subject on which much has been written, what I would like to touch upon in this article is what, at senior levels of the bureaucracy, the concept of leadership should mean. And how we can demonstrate leadership to those whom we lead in real and practicable matters.
I do know that there have been flamboyant and dashing heroes who have flouted convention and practice and charted a course of their own. But for those of us who are mere mortals and working in positions where we have to, by virtue of the jobs we hold, display traits of leadership, surely, there must be a book we can follow. Or, could we all get together and write the book?
Let us start with what may appear to be inconsequential matters. Let us start with the small traits of behaviour, which along with the major attributes of character, contribute to the overall image and perquisites of a leader. For example, even coming to the office in time, thereby establishing good example for others to follow, is a leadership trait. So is being punctual for appointments and not making people wait for you. If you adhere to the rigours of the clock, so will those who work with you. It is an essential characteristic of leadership.
There is no need to reiterate the obvious: integrity and character, straight talking and no hint of devious behaviour, the truth of your own self shining in the face, all these are sine qua non for leadership. The manner in which one conducts one’s personal life is also important. Of course, there have been great charismatic leaders whose personal morality may have been suspect though they have been the greatest of motivators and heroes for ordinary men and women. Perhaps none of us ordinary bureaucrats can hope to achieve those heights of universal leadership. What we can hope for at best is to be optimal leaders in the sphere in which we are working. And it cannot be doubted that high morality in our personal life is an additive that can make us better leaders in our official capacities.
The manner in which you talk to and deal with people is also a sign of leadership. If you are courteous, polite and respectful to them, then they will also be courteous, polite and respectful to you. And word will soon spread that the boss is a man of high quality and that you can expect a fair deal from him. There is a word in Latin that reflects that quality of character, earnestness, sobriety and seriousness that will come through like 24 carat gold in all that you do and say. They call it gravitas.
Promising only what you can deliver: this too is a sign of leadership. If you give your word and commit to a certain course of action, then it is of paramount importance that you fulfil what you have assured. Make no false promises; but ensure that what you have said is done. There is no greater sense of credibility in the minds of those around you than your adhering to the letter and spirit of your assurances.
When an issue is brought to you by your perplexed staff, who are uncertain of the course to follow ahead, then do you confound them further? or do you sit with them, understand the issue at hand and advise them in no uncertain words of how to go ahead? If your discussions result in further obfuscation, then you are no leader of men. However, if you are able to grasp the essentials of the problem at hand and provide a reasonable and satisfactory way ahead, then you have the makings of a leader.
This necessarily means that we need to be knowledgeable about the sphere of work that we are in. We need to upgrade our knowledge about the theoretical framework of our jobs and be the master of details that will help us to meet any situation that arises in the course of our work. The intellectual acumen of the boss has to be substantial if his workers are to accord him recognition and respect. However, bear in mind that the theoretical knowledge must be backed by sound practical wisdom so that one is not bogged down in trivialities that may threaten to derail the programmes of the department you head.
Again, are you able to alter the official life habits of those who work with you? Can you change a staff member from a cynical bystander to a committed and impassioned employee with ideals and ethics? Can you galvanise an indolent and lazy subordinate and transform him into an ardent and unswerving worker? True leaders can make their associates see things differently and nudge them into a higher trajectory. Not only that, if you are later gone from the scene, the values imbibed by those who have worked with you, must remain indelible in their minds; they should not vanish the moment you are no longer on the scene.
Are these difficult characteristics for ordinary bureaucrats to follow? In the first flush of enthusiasm when we join the service, we are filled with an idealism and a higher purpose that suffuses us in whatever we do. As time passes, that flush fades, and we start to live life in the light of common day. But I am sure we can do much more to our own lives. We need to remind ourselves why we are here and take our lives into that higher orbit: not only for ourselves but for those whom we lead. We are privileged in the jobs that we have and let us not take that responsibility lightly. Our primary role is to serve those not as fortunate as ourselves. Let us not be found wanting in this noble task.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
After a lag of 3 years the second generation of urban reforms seems to be finally coming along in India. After the much talked about ‘100 Smart Cities’ initiative launched in September 2014, the government launched Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) last month. This program will be a 10 year initiative in 500 cities with a total budget of Rs 2 lakh crore. In lines with Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) the funds will be directed towards growth of physical infrastructure in cities i.e. augmentation of water supply, collection and treatment of sewage and garbage, building roads and flyovers etc. Keeping in line with the ‘Smart Cities’ initiative this program will include digitization and creation of wi-fi zones within cities.
Though the ministry still hasn’t released the guidelines for AMRUT, it is important that they keep in mind the learning from the past programs. The risk of this new program turning into a mere infrastructure funding mechanism like JNNURM looms large. The intended urban renewal under JNNURM through governance reforms (property tax coverage, double entry accounting, rationalizing stamp duty etc.) was only partially successful, with most cities achieving only around 50% of the recommended reforms . The capacity building initiatives were marred by the poor demand and low absorptive capability of the local bodies. The overall experience of JNNURM highlights that governance and capacity building interventions should precede infrastructure development to ensure its long term sustainability.
Taking off from some of these the Ministry of Urban Development has decided that Monitoring and Evaluation will be given major emphasis under AMRUT. Projects will be given approval only after the preparatory work has been completed, as under JNNURM most projects got delayed due to bad take off and poor implementation leading to cost overruns. To ensure urban reforms comprise a major part of this new program it is important to keep a proportion of funding performance based. It must be commended that under AMRUT an announcement has been made for earmarking Rs7000- 8000 crores separately for incomplete projects that could not be completed under JNNURM.
Another remarkable step is the inclusion of smaller cities under the ambit of AMRUT, as policy makers have now acknowledged that future of urban growth is going to occur in smaller cities. The program will come as breath of fresh air for those cities that are stagnated by their poor service delivery and crumbling infrastructure. Today, when the bigger cities of India are charging up to compete to be selected for the 100 smart cities initiative that smaller cities can see a ray of hope in AMRUT and can aspire to become ‘smart cities’ of the future.
It is expected that 40% of India’s population will be living in urban areas by 2030 and an investment of $2.2 trillion (100 trillion rupees) over the next 20 years will be required to meet its infrastructure needs (Mc Kinsey Report 2010). There is no denial that India is in the most crucial stage of its urban development process and the Rs 2 lakh crore or Rs 2 trillion investments pledged under AMRUT is just a small drop in the ocean. However, every such drop needs to be optimized to give the habitants of these cities the life they aspire. Though it is too early to make any further comments on AMRUT now, it seems the government has a clear vision in mind and we can hope for a bright future in urban rejuvenation.
How often we talk about achieving excellence in all that we do. Whether it is in our official work or our social duties, in the manner in which we conduct our lives or even in the superiority of our mental reflection, excellence is a much desired quality. The conundrum, however, is how does one define excellence? The much sought after, but elusive, excellence defies our powers of definition. But in the end, our search leads us to some comprehension of this mystery.
Profound men have deliberated on the matter and their thoughts lead to one conclusion: you cannot acquire excellence overnight, or over weeks, or even months. You cannot get up in the morning of a good day and announce to the world that from henceforth you shall practice excellence. Excellence grows and thrives over the consistently excellent way we live out our lives, over the decades of our consciously thoughtful and productive presence on this planet, in the manner in which we tread this Earth with responsibility and compassion. It is seeded by our true understanding of the place we occupy in the grand scheme of Life all around us; it grows as we learn to live in peace and understanding with each other; it thrives when we see all of us as children of God, fortunate and blessed at this moment of our conjoined lives.
In other words, right conduct generates excellence. We must act right in everything we do, but with the compassion to forgive the wrongness in the actions of others. In every breath we take, we must see the truth or the untruth that lies in others and act with the sure-handed rightness that we owe each other. In a world that may seem rudderless, and heading in no particular direction, we must find meaning within ourselves and in others. We must do it right in big things and small, not as an exception, but as the prevailing habit of our lives. And when we do things right repeatedly, in all our actions and reactions and interactions, and over and over again until it becomes as simple as breathing, then we will have achieved excellence.
None but Aristotle could have put it better:
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
So what does this mean? It means that only those who have strived for excellence over the days of their lives can make a claim on it. Others who have lived as they saw fit, cannot. The world is made of only two kinds then; those who search for excellence every day of their lives by their right conduct in all things they do; and those who do not act right and hence are not excellent.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
Is poverty and inequality in society a result of poor economic planning? Is it a result of inefficient implementation? Or is it that economics has no role in it, and it is just the word which we attribute anything out of our control to? –KARMA? CIA fact book estimates that around 255 babies are born every minute around the world. Simple mathematics would give us the result that 4.3 babies are born every second in the world. Now let us construct a though experiment on this. For simplicity let us assume that 4 babies are born in this world every second. With a 50:50 chance let us assume that 2 babies are born to super rich families, who will not become a popper even if their father’s business suffers continuous loss for a decade. On the other hand the other two babies are sent by GOD to a not so rich part of this beautiful world. They are born to extremely poor, landless, jobless parents. Now let us see how their life unfolds.
While the rich babies go to a pre KG play school, play around with the costliest of toys and eat the healthiest of foods, the poor babies spend their early years in the slum, susceptible to diseases and eating whatever their parents can afford. 5 years down the line the rich babies go to a state of the art international school and after their school timings they go for cricket or tennis coaching. They end the day watching cartoon network and a glass of cold milkshake. On the other side of the world the poor kids go to a government school where the teachers are absent half the days, skip a meal a day and playing games with stones with the slum children. We foresee further, at the age of 15 the rich kids enter high school, play with their video games and contemplate which country to go for their higher education. Here meanwhile the poor kids are not sure if they should continue their schooling because of extreme poverty, though the Government gives them free education. They feel they could contribute to the families cause by working as a daily wage earner instead. So where does policy come in here? Does it even come in actually? Even free education is a disincentive for these 2 kids born in to downtrodden family, because they feel they can earn something by working as a child labourer. The subsidies and freebies go waste until the two children are given equal opportunity to see, learn and experience life. In the above example unless equal schooling opportunity at a good school at atleast half the level of what the 2 rich kids are exposed to is needed to push these 2 kids up the ladder in the society. Education is just one example out of “n” number of sectors.
Now, do not the policymakers all around the world know this? Doesn’t a planner at a top position in the Government know this? Then why do these 2 poor kids often never come up in life? How much of it is attributed to initial level of income & wealth, how much is attributed to the effort they put in, how much is attributed to external factors? Do we even have a concrete answer to all these questions?
A recent PEW report suggests that 70% of the lower income citizens remain in the same bracket, while 26% rose to middle income earners and a mere 4% become high income earners by the end of their lifetime. Adding fuel to fire the report goes into state that wealth and income feed into each other. Those who have a high wealth are normally tipped to earn high.
There is another side to this argument as well put forward by policymakers and economists. They would shout out loud “YES! Policy obviously works”. Till date millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. They would give a number of statistics which say that people all around the globe have become better off than they were. Even the poorest of poor’s life has improved from what is was and so on. Well, statistics are deceptive you see. People might have climbed out of poverty, but has the overall development been equal? Has the speed of development commendable? Does the society provide equal opportunities for at least 50% of the population to grow at the same speed? Do at least 3 of the 4 kids born every second have an equal chance of progressing up the ladder, with the same pace?
After centuries of economic policy in action the world stands at a situation with deepening inequality.
Source: Credit Suisse Global wealth datebook 2014
Adding to this a forecast by OXFAM predicts that by next year the top 1% will hold 50% of the global wealth! Now, there is a group of economists who argue that money will accumulate on the top and slowly trickle down to the poor. The famous inverted “U” shape curve which argues that inequality will rise initially when development occurs and then fall down eventually. The eventually part is the mystery. Can I go and convince the two kids, who were born poor, grow up poor, live poor that eventually things will change? That maybe their grandchildren would live a far better off life?
The underlying question from all the above is that can economic policy change the fate of the two kids, who are born in poor conditions. At least can their next generation become half of what the lucky 2 kids had in the previous generation? Can policies ensure that all sections of the society are provided equal opportunities to grow? I repeat, can analysis and policy beat the law of karma? Is there something that humans cannot control? Why is it that while I munch away to glory at McDonald’s or KFC, there are those 2 poor kids, now grown up and as tall as me standing outside staring at me like they would do anything for a bite? Why am I here and they there, behind the glass? As an economic thinker these questions are burning thoughts inside my head. And the fire has only intensified. The quest within has gained momentum.
– Athreya Mukunthan
The world is filled with famous men and women. There is a surfeit of them, you can see them on Page 3, in bold headlines, on the glossy pages of fashion magazines, under the bright lights of the entertainment world. But as to the really great men and women; how does one recognise them? It struck me recently how easy it is to be confused between greatness and fame.
When Roman emperors marched back after victorious battles, acknowledging the admiring chants of their people, bound slaves in tow, cartloads of treasure dragged in by their marching cohorts, they demanded, and got, a wizened old man to whisper in their ears, “all fame is fleeting.” The old man merely repeated what they already knew, but required reminder of, that the applause would be as short-lived as the momentary light of a glow-worm.
So what distinguishes greatness from fame? As all thoughtful and wise men should know, there is a simple measure to weigh greatness. And that is service. The truly great are those who expend time, energy, blood, sweat and tears in the service of others not as fortunate as they. Fame feeds only the famous; all the rest must take succour from the great. Too much of the one can choke in the throat, there is no excess in the other but helps the poor and unfortunate.
Emily Dickinson, in her own inimitable way, wrote:
Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate….
Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the Farmer’s Corn –
Men eat of it and die.
Even the crows show disdain for it. Men eat of fame and die. Short-lived starry lives that fade in a minute. But the great do not die. They live forever in the hearts and minds of those whose lives have been touched by them. Now here’s the rub of what I want to write. How many of us, given the choice between fame and greatness, would choose the latter. How many of us would choose the sack cloth and the spare food, the anguish and the awesome responsibility of greatness. Some saints, as we can attest, can be tiresome and make the lives of their votaries miserable by their unbearable idiosyncrasies. But they are forgiven for their achievement is judged by what they achieve for their unfortunate brethren.
Not only this, but one has to be consistent in greatness. It is not a garb worn once and thrown away; it is more like a goad stinging against the body for as long as one lives, an indelible mark in the heart and the mind. One cannot be great one day and crass the next. It is a coherent, holistic philosophy that rules over every minute of one’s life. Worse, there is no money it.
As for fame, why, you can be famous one day and a nobody the next. And almost certainly, you can have more money than you could possibly spend in a life time. Look at the IPL stars, for example, what they earn must be almost the GDP of a sub-Saharan country. And what of our Bollywood actors. But will humanity remember them when the season is over?
So let me ask myself the question I have posed. How many of us would choose greatness over fame?
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
It is heartening to know that in 1558, when Queen Elizabeth I appointed Sir William Cecil as her Secretary, she understood perfectly the role of the senior civil servant better than most do now. She exhorted him thus:
“This judgment I have of you, that you will not be corrupted by any manner of gifts, that you will be faithful to the State and that without respect to my private will, you will give me that counsel that you think best.”
This is as accurate a summation of the role of a senior bureaucrat as any. It made me sit up and think a little more of the roles played today by senior bureaucrats. I remember, in the summer of 1979, with my brand new wife in tow, I landed up at Udaipur in Rajasthan to join as Sub-Divisional Officer there. Coming from Kerala as I did, I found that Hindi stuck in my throat and just wouldn’t come out. I promised myself that I’d rather be silent than look stupid. It took a good dictionary and almost six months of painful effort for the babel of voices around me to start making sense. SDO, Additional Collector, District Collector, Head of Department; these were the signboards on the journey I undertook.
It was work, work and more work. It was tough and exhilarating and back-breaking and wonderful. There was no time to think, cogitate, even observe. And then finally, I slipped into the Secretariate. Clearly, as one grows old, and gracefully I hope, we must allow the youngsters to do the doing, while one observes, and advices. But by then, you have mostly lost touch with the dust and grime of the field. Now with more than three and a half decades of experience under the belt, I can see I have become a wise elder who knows how to preach, but, I shudder to think, can barely act in a crisis. Certainly, I am no longer a doer. It is a little disconcerting to think that one may have lost that sharp edge in the rough and tumble of the passing years.
For, surely, when a crisis looms, and emergency meetings are held in the Secretariate, there is much satisfaction amongst the elders to know that there are tireless, energetic younger officers in the field, most notably the District Collectors and the Superintendents of Police, who do the running around and maintain civil law and order. And perform the million and one things that keep the machinery ticking. While they of the grey hair smile, and enjoy the luxury to look on, or shake one’s head, or nod in agreement.
I used to think until recently -but not now- that all this nodding and smiling could be but an elaborate camouflage to hide incompetence; to pretend that a civil servant is performing the functions of the wise elder, when all that they really have become are bureaucrats who have outlived their utility. Not merely that, they also have the capacity to gently insert the spokes into the wheel and make the huge rumbling edifice come to a halt. After all, policy is in the hands of the elders, in the Secretariate, and policy formulated with no reference to the field conditions is not policy, but well-disguised obstacles, hidden speed-breakers.
But now I know better. Reading Queen Bess’s advice cleared my vision. Advice that senior civil servants can render, is the very essence of good governance. Let no one devalue that. One cannot possibly say it better than the Queen did. Indeed, the articulation of sound counsel is the essence of the role of senior elders in the civil service. To give that counsel that they think best. If they can render sound advice without fear or favour, affection of malice, without respect to what may be expected of them, then they are indeed doing the work they were meant to do.
The real question is, therefore, have they been doing it as conscientiously as they should? Do they truly have the strength to follow that advice, now just a little over four hundred and fifty years old? Or do personal interest and the greed of money slip in like a dark shadow when they speak? It is for each one of the senior civil servants to examine themselves: do they pass the test? It requires enormous courage, fearless vision and impeccable integrity to do just that. Once they have rendered that advice, the job is mostly done. It is now for others, especially their political masters, to accept, reject or modify that advice. But the rendering of that advice, “that counsel that you think best” and “without respect to private will”, that is the key to administration at the highest levels.
And only when they have done just that, can they, like Sir Galahad, Knight par excellence of Arthur’s Round Table, speak these words: “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.”
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
The rule of law: a simple enough premise, for established law is only a confirmation of common sense and decency as the guiding principles of an enlightened social life. It has come down to us over the centuries, a crystallisation of all the good things learnt through experience and wisdom. It determines boundaries to be imposed upon ourselves by ourselves, behind the lines of which we may with freedom exercise the privilege of critical examination of the others around us. It establishes well thought-out and accepted precedents which act as touchstones for the questions arising everyday around us. It finds acceptability in the hearts and minds of the average man with normal standards of decency and intelligence.
The rule of law begins, like all good principles of life, at home and in the family. It finds strength and sustenance when the father and the mother instill and nourish everlasting values in the child as it grows up in a world of love and care. However, it is enfeebled when the child steals a coin, and its parents laugh it off, or when he grabs a toy from the neighbour’s delicate daughter and is not reprimanded. It is further weakened when the father returns home from a drunken binge, or in the course of a domestic dispute, assaults the mother in the terrified presence of the cowering children. It is imperiled when the family bond is broken and every member is free to go his own way and the devil take the hindmost.
From the family to the society, it is only a garden wall away; the world outside can be seen from the drawing room window. Thus, when a grocer charges more or gives us adulterated foodstuff under our very nose, we only turn away our heads. Who has the time to make a complaint and follow it up? When an errant driver violates traffic rules and knocks down someone in front of our eyes and drives off, we shake our heads and go on our way. Who after all, has the energy to go after him and bring him to book? Thus, when some people commit crimes in the name of the very public who led them to their seat of office, or when public funds are siphoned away for private aggrandisement, we sit down and hurl imprecations at the state of our polity and the dismal levels of public values. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have through years of neglect and apathy allowed the framework that holds us together to be picked and prodded at. We have dug holes in it and picked at them to make them wider and bigger.
The rule of law must, in moments of extreme distress, be jealously guarded, by the public representatives whom we vote and elect to power for this very purpose, and by all of us. In a world where the rule of law is weak and tenuous, if the lawmaker himself wavers and find it difficult to walk the razor’s edge, then there is no hope left. He and his constituents, along with all of us, must slowly fall away into the darkness of the overwhelming anarchy that together we let loose upon the world.
There it is, the guilty have been identified: the guilty are indeed all of us. And the punishment we must bear is the terrible knowledge that it is we who have brought this state of affairs on to ourselves. Is it too late, or is there any hope left? Is there anybody out there who is listening? For all that it takes to keep the darkness away are a few good men and women, who will stand like a rock and let the assault fall on their mighty shoulders and not flinch. We can stand behind them and grow in strength and then, behold, what a mighty force we shall turn into! Can we have a few good people stand up and show us the way?
(This essay is an edited version of an article of the author which appeared in the Times of India on January 18, 1997)
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
How good men respond to the pressures placed on them in the discharge of their duties is a matter of much discussion and debate. We know examples of how some of them keep their heads afloat in times of acute stress by their sheer transparent honesty and their never say die habits. They are not negative, but they will block all methods that the dark forces will attempt to unleash on their heads by firmness, tact and undying resolve. They are not unsympathetic to those who need sympathy, but they can be cold and unyielding on those who make a bid for such treatment when they do not deserve it. They are like a stone wall, when devious and sinister designs are attempted to be brought into play by the ungodly.
But where the objective is sound and the proposals under study are in the larger interests of the people for whom it has been prepared, you will never find them wanting in the expeditious clearance of the proposal.
The real tragedy is that such persons are, more often than not, regarded as standing in the way of real progress and forward movement, obstacles in the march of the nation! This is indeed a dichotomy that the modern bureaucrat will have to address if he is to make a success of his career. And such issues do not normally find any solutions in the rule book or the financial manual.
What, for example, should he do when the lowest bidder is a crook and most liable to defraud the government by the ridiculously impractical bid he has quoted? Or when the most competent bidder, with the best chance of executing the project perfectly, has quoted a price that is realistic but is not the lowest? Can you err in favour of what should be the right course of action, even though the rule book does not permit it? What do you do when your attempts to oust a rogue of an officer from a particular job where he is looting the public, does not yield success. Or when the logic you presented on a file for a particular course of action is shot down because it does not suit somebody else’s grand designs? Or, if the motive for taking a particular decision, is not public interest but personal profit? How does a good man, or woman, stymie these malicious efforts? Should you too start to play games in such a manner that they are paid back in the same coin? In other words, do the ends justify the means?
These and a thousand other questions plague the virtuous man each day of his life. It is not necessary that he finds solutions on each occasion when he faces a moral crisis. Many a time there are no solutions: and yes, he may have to reluctantly agree to a particular decision though his heart tells him that it is not the right thing to do. But in the balance, the dominant prevailing directive within him is guided by good action and right conduct.
These few good men and women– and believe me, they are out there, perhaps not recognised, perhaps not in the lime light – are the ones who keep the earth turning on its axis. There is grudging respect for them even from their remorseless enemies, the forces of evil. It may sound inane and platitudinous, but these good people constitute the moral fabric of the stuff of governance. Remember, the struggle is not without, but within. For them the titanic wars of the soul, the raging battles in the heart. To them we owe our salutations.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
There are some titanic struggles afoot in the country. And we barely perceive what they are, nor do we see them clearly– except in stray incidents now and then- the signs of these clash of ideas raging around us.
Broadly they centre around some of the most important and explosive situations that we shall ever face as a nation. Undoubtedly, they have been going on for many years now and indeed, in some matters, for centuries. But before long, they shall come to a head and force us, as individuals and as a people, to take a stand, this way or that. The way we survive the battle and come out unscathed will determine the future of our country.
I am not saying that there are no redeeming features at all in this vast and wonderful country of ours. We have a robust democracy which has survived many a crisis and is the envy of the world. Our freedom of the press, another sterling characteristic of our country, is something we can all be proud of. The diversity of our peoples, and the manner in which we have sought to reconcile our differences should rightly make us lift our heads and say ‘I am proud to be an Indian’. The quality and depth of our technical work force, makes us a respected force internationally. There are too, undeniably, some deep and abiding virtues in the spiritual heritage of our country which is appealing and gratifying.
Nevertheless, we have a set of issues that have been bothering us for almost the entire span of our freedom these past sixty odd years. And if we are to move ahead and take the ascending trajectory of our all-round growth, then we had better tackle them immediately. I will try to list out these issues and see if they make some sense for us as a nation:
- The endless tensions on our western border: it is more than sixty eight years since we cut the umbilical cord between our two nations; but it seems we are still tied by our mutual animosity: at another level, it would also seem we are tied to each other by our mutual love and the many shared experiences we have, our common languages, cultures, food, family values. In short, we have to accept the reality of each other’s presence and learn to live with one another and give to the other the space to take forward our separate destinies on their rightful paths. Give peace a chance. And until we do so, we will never be able to live in peace or sleep without bad dreams.
- The great struggle for affirmative action: Constitutional safeguards in place give protection for certain categories of people in this country. The scheduled castes and the schedules tribes are clear examples. The contentious issue is of reservation in jobs and political appointments. With time, other categories of people have also jumped on the trundling wagon, trying to grab the available space. There is a real grouse that those who do not fall into the definition of these special categories are being denied what is rightfully theirs. Sooner or later, the country has to take a stand that will put at rest the contentious issue and allow us to go forward, granting protection to those who need it and enabling the others to gain what is rightfully theirs. The solution may be in keeping such reservations for the economically backward; and difficult as that decision may be for us to take, we have to ask ourselves the question, “but is that enough?” It requires some careful tightrope walking, but, with wisdom and sagacity, it can be done.
- The rule of law: We know this for a fact, but we do not implement it. We know that the law is the one and the same for all of us, whether it is the high and mighty or the low and miserable. But yet, we see the law broken or bent in favour of the strong and the influential. We recently saw a different dispensation for Salman Khan and for Jayalalithaa, when we know that there are lakhs of people, the under-trials, without even a conviction against them, spending their lives behind bars. When we are able to enforce equity in the dispensation of justice, with the same yardstick for one and for all, then we shall be on our way towards a bright land of justice.
- The questions of governance and the delivery of public service: As the largest democracy in the world, we have as yet, sadly, not yet got our act going. The gigantic issues facing our country are compounded by the sheer magnitude of the problems involved in delivery of services. Officials are never at their place of duty; ordinary functions requiring maintenance and repair do not have the necessary finances and hence systems in place start to crumble; accountability is becoming a forgotten virtue; government minions find postings of their choice by influencing political representatives to canvas on their behalf; the poor people run from pillar to post and ‘can’t get no satisfaction’ anywhere, and so on and so forth. Our public health and public education systems are crying for reform: there is no shortage of money; nor do we lack in manpower. Then why are we drifting rudderless, delivering half educated and malnourished children who cannot contribute to the wellbeing of our nation? The litany of woes is endless. When will we rise and start cracking the whip?
I would add here the tragedy of our non-functional school systems which churn out millions of young children ill-equipped to face the competition of the world. I have no hesitation in saying that our public instruction system, as far as the bulk of our young children are concerned, has collapsed under its own weight. And on the other hand, we also produce the best brains in the field of medicine and engineering and information technology that can hold its head high anywhere in the world. What contradictions we cope with in our daily lives?
- Corruption is the biggest bane of our public life. From high places to low, money exchanges hands for even the smallest work to be done. This is not to say that good people do not exist in the government machinery, in the political and administrative circles of governance. There are many of them, quietly and silently working according to highest values and principles. But they are few and far between. The malaise is reaching high proportions and we are doing precious little to correct the situation. India stands low down somewhere towards the bottom of the Transparency Index. When will be raise our heads and say, enough is enough?
- The war between environment and development: we have been reckless in the way we have depleted our natural resources with no care for the future of our children. Undoubtedly, we need to put in place a regimen that will protect the fragile nature of our environment so that the mistakes we committed in future are not repeated. But in the process of doing so, we cannot blind ourselves to the requirements of development that will empower our people, will bring economic benefit to those who require it, and raise the standard of living of the millions who reside in this country. The balanced and judicious path of development between our economic requirements and the imperative of environmental security will have to be achieved if we are to find our rightful place in the world.
These are just six persistent problems I feel we have to tackle as a nation of responsible citizens. Can we be justifiably proud until we have these under some measure of control? Can we hold our heads high until we have sorted them out? Can we as a country together address these issues now? Say yes, and let’s move ahead.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
Why are IAS officers perceived as Yes Men? A wit once said that IAS stands for I Agree, Sir. In fact, take a look around you: what is it that people say about IAS officers? Are we perceived as the steel frame? Are we men of vision and compassion, upholding the law and distinguishing ourselves by right conduct and good action?
On the other hand, the truth is, the harsh reality is, that there is a growing contempt amongst both knowledgeable people and the general citizenry about the bureaucrat. We are seen as naysayers, protectors of red tape, experts in the art of procrastination and obfuscation. This perception, expressed in many shades of invective language and diatribe can be summarised as below:
- that he is not performing the job he is bound to do,
- that he enjoys his perks with no commensurate responsibilities,
- that he is himself manipulating the system to get better and better facilities for himself,
- that he allows gross irregularities to happen under his nose,
- that he lets the political system get the better of him,
- that he is in league with the law breakers, if not directly, then by his reluctance to engage with the issues of governance,
- that he has stopped to care, and refuses to take a stand,
- that he is genetically unable to say ‘yes’, and would prefer to say ‘no’ or at best a ‘maybe’.
On introspection, we have to concede that some of these charges are correct. The role once envisaged for us when we broke away from the British yoke, is perhaps no different from what it is today. In fact, it has, with the passage of time, with the demands of a developing country and the rising aspirations of the people, and the complexity of public issues requiring our attention, become more onerous and intricate. What has really changed, and dramatically changed, is the manner in which, the passion with which, we fulfil, the requirements of that role.
We face moral situations every day: a discretionary decision, granting a favour to some crony, is sought to be issued through us. This very often catches us in a bind: should we concede and cave in; should we delay and dither, should we stand up and say ‘over my dead body’?
A slight deviation in the procurement rules, and the contract can be awarded to B instead of A. All that it will take is a nod from us; but should we or should we not do it? What is expected from us is not an illegal act, but a minor deviation, a single exception to the present procedure, a sly wink of the eye.
An minor official known to be corrupt is sought to be placed in a price posting, with adequate opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. Knowing this fact, should we agree or not? Should we say, ‘well, the boss wants it, who am I to stand in the way’? Or should we create a fuss, and say no?
We are not shy of using government facilities like vehicle or phone or attendants for our private and personal use. Somewhere we know it is not correct, or let us say, improper; but the fact that we can do this, and no one dares to ask why we do it, encourages us to take these things for granted in the feudal world we live in. Austerity is dead and buried. Flaunting our authority and power gives us hedonistic pleasure: so why should we not indulge in the perks?
A brush with an intemperate and powerful personage can leave our feathers ruffled. The matter may be of small consequence or a major policy issue. By rights, it should make us angry, but the question to ask is, why are unable to hold on to our stand with conviction, produce the law book and explain the position that we are taking. And all that with courage, patience and humility.
Yes, we can be strong and take a stand, if we know what that rule book says. But then, so many of us do not read, we do not understand, or take the trouble to understand, the position of law and rules. If the law was legislated upon, then it is our fundamental duty to uphold it, despite the interference, despite those who seek to prevent us from doing so. Knowledge is power and if that power is exercised with moral authority, then there is no way we can be taken for granted.
Yes, we can be strong and take a stand: if we have the moral fibre to face the inevitable consequences and be prepared to go where we are sent. To lose face and be sneered at by colleagues and peers. To face the humiliation of being thrown into the dump yard. And to not be terrified at the possibility of a change of job and headquarters with the attendant disruption to wife and children.
That dilemma we face everyday and we must learn to use our not inconsiderable skills to deal with it as we should. With heads held high and undaunted against all odds.
But then we are men of straw. And so, we say, “ I Agree, Sir”.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
I wrote this blog some two years before my superannuation: in retrospect, it probably reflects a sense of impatience with officious rules. But I repeat it here for your reading and consideration.
The power and authority that we possess, by the very nature of the jobs that we occupy in government, is immense, discretionary and wide ranging. Even within the schedule of powers or the rules of business which govern the activities that we perform in the course of our official duties, there are large, unquestioned and often unbridled powers. Not only regarding what we do to make things happen, but also in what we do to prevent them from happening.
However, even if we go beyond the ambit of our official work, the impact of our influence also is vast and all-pervading. Whether it is to put in a word to a selection board to help a particular candidate to get through the interview, or to nudge the Principal of an exclusive private school to grant admission to the ward of a colleague, or yet again the grant of an arms-license to the son of a friend….the instances are infinite in its number and variety. The fact that we do it, even without consciously thinking about it, just as a matter of rote is also significant, in a system where patronage and largesse is a part of life.
All this is especially ironic in a situation where transparency and objectivity are the key words on which the administration supposedly stands. Yes, there are several aspects of administration where our powers are closely supervised and carefully circumscribed. In such areas, more or less routine in nature, there is not much discretion. For example, the appointment of a person on a job through a process based on his performance in the written exams: this is where nothing much can be done to influence the decision or to unduly benefit anybody. The questions have multiple-choice answers, an impersonal scanning machine evaluates the answer sheet and the results are machine generated. What a marvel of technology, but how irksome for someone who is used to the power of one’s influence. How should he react to the all-pervading impact of the integrated chip! So also, allotment of plots in a new housing colony through a lottery: who can influence the God of Chance? Gone are the days when a friendly face was willing to accommodate the request of a colleague of a senior. Now a computer software pulls out numbers at random to give you your plot or flat number. In these and similar situations, the old days of ‘the wave of a benevolent hand’ are gone.
But there is another side to it. What do we do in situations demanding a humane response? When the strict adherence to rules will only prove what a hard heart we have. Should we, in the top bureaucracy, not demonstrate that we too have compassion? When we know that delay is taking place because some demands of petty officials in the hierarchy are not being met, are we bold enough to intervene and shake up the system. Or perhaps we would prefer to close one’s eyes and go back to sleep? When the cries of a supplicant, groaning under injustice, are not heard, then do we have the moral right to continue at the top of the ladder?
It is here, in such rare cases, that we must exercise our discretion, our solemn judgment, and reach out to correct an error, to set things right, to soothe the ruffled brow, to bring solace to the troubled mind. Rules have their place, and without them, we will not survive. Order demands that rules are framed or else we stare at anarchy. But then comes a point when rules serve only to hinder the delivery of justice. At senior levels of the bureaucracy we must recognize where we have to intervene and get obstructive rules out of the way, with ‘a wave of the benevolent hand’. We cannot let rules stand in the way of good and humane governance. We need to see the agony of the people who come to us. We need to temper justice with mercy. We need to know that what we deem to be the truth may not be true at all.
Robert Brault once said: “Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.”And that is why we have to go the extra mile, be extra good, be extra caring and compassionate while discharging the high duties of office. I quote again:”Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.˝
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
Google maps tell me that my residence at Koramangala at Bangalore is at 12.928586 latitude and 77.634240 longitude. Two numbers; two lines that intersect right over the home I live in. It struck me that the postal department, with the right technological aids, could send me a letter simply on the basis of these two numbers. There would be no need to describe the flat number or the street name or even the name of the city or the State. Imagine my home or for that matter any location being defined by two neutral numbers.
Let’s take it a step further. My UID aadhar number is 8453 9955 4028. If the postal department takes my biometrics when handing over the letter to me, it would ensure that the letter does not get into the wrong hands. So there, my new formal address is 8453 9955 4028 @12.928586 /77.634240 . There is no other place in the whole wide world with these coordinates. There is no other person in the whole wide world with that same set of biometric markers. Numbers instead of alphabets. In fact, I remember an ad of a mobile provider affirming that no one would henceforth be known by his caste but only by the 10 digit cell number. It makes one sit back and wonder: Is this the final answer to the question of identity?
Now, if I state that I am a living being, which I guess I am, I will be no different from the billions of living creatures this world abounds in. I will be counted amongst the seven billion human beings of whom I am one. If, however, I say I am an Indian, I will be one of the billion odd people of this country. The quantitative number of the set to which I belong shall reduce with each stage of the reduction: from Indian to South Indian, from South Indian to Keralite, to Trivandrum where I used to live, to the religion I profess, and so on to the home address and finally I, and I alone. At the last stage of reduction, the identity of the person cannot be in doubt any longer.
While in service, at my office in Jaipur in Rajasthan, I used to receive countless representations or petitions from people with all kinds of problems and grievances. They used to complain about the water supply or the electricity or the machinations of the local Tehsildar or the village sarpanch. But all of them carry their names and addresses, so that when their grievance is processed and finalised they will get a response on the action taken in their matter. The address is precise and unmistakeable. The name, the father’s name, age, religion, caste, ward number, village name, panchayat name, the tehsil, district, state and so on. The identity is established in description and explanation, portraying the precise person that you are.
Many actions that we perform in the society we live in, are those whereby we establish our own identity as distinct from those around us. And the special qualities that make us who we are; parentage, blood group, food, language, dress, customs; each of these characteristics aid us in establishing who we are. It appears to me that the tremors we see in the society around us, whether it is in the stridency of the disadvantaged members of society or the fevered response from those considered superior, all of these stem from the desire to project an identity unique and unambiguous. When my sense of who I am is threatened by another, whose space I intrude upon, then there is conflict. And the demand for the unique identification of that person or groups of persons gets more emphasised and insistent. Jobs reserved for a particular caste or community must be jealously guarded. Those outside the charmed circle of affirmative action wish to get in and edge out those whom they feel have wallowed in its benefits for too long. There are benefits and concessions in the membership of a particular club, there are none in another. The identity that you possess, by virtue of your birth in a particular set of circumstances, does much to determine who you are and the future which beckons to you. Each of us wishes to possess a unique identity that differentiates us, that sets us apart, that makes me who I am.
The question that we have to ask is whether in our determined search to establish and proclaim a particular identity, be it in the personal domain or in the social and political domain, do we lose the unique commonality that really binds us all together. Time and again we have heard of astronauts from out in space, revolving around the earth in their tiny space crafts, who have been astonished in the knowledge that we are all brethren sharing this third planet from the sun, bound together by a common destiny beyond our powers to describe. The need to define and underscore a unique identity for ourselves -whether as an individual or as a group- and, by the very nature of that need, to be at odds with others who also feel the burning desire to claim identity, who tread on the little space we have carved out for ourselves, shatters the common threads that bind us.
Am I saying something sacrilegious? Am I saying that personal or social identity should be given the go by and we should all seek a universality that will bring us all together? Well, yes and no! If by seeking to establish an identity that is unique to me or to the social group I belong to, I create an exclusive space that I shall guard with all the ferocity that I possess, expelling others who wish to encroach thereon, then I am constructing walls between me and my neighbour and disrupting the tranquility that is the natural order of the universe.
But that does not also mean that I cannot have a unique personality that enables me to express myself in a positive manner through creative expression, by word and song, by dance or colour. How wonderful to express my uniqueness in the manner in which I desire. But then, I should do so respecting those who are different to me, different in the colour of the skin, different in the ideology I profess, different in the manner I bow my head to my God. And that is why I say that we should search for the things that unite us, that bring to the forefront the threads that bind us together in our common destiny on this third planet from the sun.
And what are they, what are the things that will bring us together, irrespective of our many differences, ignoring the many worlds we differently reside in. We need to reach out and find those threads, the warp and the woof that knits the fabric together, provided we are wise enough to see that truth.
– C.K. Mathew IAS (Retd)
Here are some quotes from Madhav Godbole’s book on Nehru: “The God who Failed”.
Our own history gives so many examples of the ideal conduct for men in power. These quotes are so very relevant today:
Here is an extract on pg 174-175 on a subject so important today, quoting Nehru’s letter to Rajendra Prasad (7th August 1947):
“As you know there is a very strong Hindu revivalist feeling in the country at the present moment. I am greatly distressed by it because it represents the narrowest communalism. It is the exact replica of the narrow Muslim communalism which we have tried to combat for so long… I find myself in total disagreement with the revivialist feeling, and in view of this difference of opinion, I am a poor representative of many of our people today. I feel honestly that it might be better for a truer representative to take my place.”
Also from the same book, a quote from Ambedkar:
” In addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds, we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know, but this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. .. we must not be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well.” B.R. Ambedkar in his speech to the Constituent Assembly, November 25th, 1949.
Nehru’s letter to GB Pant when the latter was premier of the United Provinces ( now largely UP) in April 1950. Some deities were found in the Babri Masjid: this was the first seeds of the dispute planted in the now famous Ayodhya matter. .
“The recent occurrences in UP have greatly distressed me. Or perhaps this was a culmination of what I had been feeling for a long time… I have felt for a long time that the whole atmosphere of the UP have been changing for the worse from the communal point of view. Indeed the UP is becoming almost a foreign land for me. I do not fit in there. .. I have not been to the UP for a longtime. This is partly dues to the lack of time, but the real reason is that I hesitate to go there. I do not wish to come into conflict with my old colleagues and I feel terribly uncomfortable there., because I find that communalism has invaded the minds and spirits of those who were the pillars of Congress in the past. It is a creeping paralysis and the patient does not seem to even realise it. All that occurred in Ayodhya in regard to the mosque and temples and hotel in Faizabad was bad enough. But the worst feature of it was that such things should take place and be approved by some of our own people.
And finally, on the subject of secularism, on 6 September 1951, Nehru said in a public meeting in Delhi:
“It may sound very nice to some people to hear it said that we will create a Hindu rashtra etc. I cannot understand what it means. Hindus are in a majority in this country and whatever they wish will be done. But the moment you talk of a Hindu rashtra, you speak in a language which no other country except one can comprehend and that country is Pakistan, because they are familiar with this concept.They can immediately justify their creation of an Islamic nation by pointing out to the world that we are doing something. Hindu rashtra can only mean one thing and that is to leave the modern way and get into a narrow, old fashioned way of thinking, and fragment Indian into pieces. Those who are not Hindus will be reduced in status. You may say patronisingly that you will look after the Muslims and Christians or others, as in Pakistan they say that they will look after the Hindus. Do you think that any race or individual will accept for long the claim that that are looked after while we sit above them?
And they say Nehru is irrelevant today !!!
Henry Roberdeau, a young officer of the judicial service, who served the East India Company in the first part of the 19th century, as officer in Mymensingh, (now central Bangladesh), wrote in 1805 about life in the district. His narrative could pass off as the truth for any part of the vast British India in the sub-continent in those days. After describing his daily routine, the grind of the daily work, the sports and the expeditions, the food and the wine, he ends his sketch with a character of the Englishman in the east. Quoted extensively in Philip Mason’s classic ‘The Men who ruled India’, the summary goes as follows:
“…Generosity is a feature in the Character… bring distress before his eyes and he bestows with a liberality that is nowhere surpassed.. In the public Character, whatever Calumny and Detraction may say to the Contrary, he is minutely just, inflexibly upright and I believe no Public Service in the whole world can evince more integrity.
The striking words are “minutely just, inflexibly upright”. There is a ring to those words that brings a singular distinction to the role of the British civil servant, not only in the East India Company’s two centuries as master of the sub-continent, but also when the British government took over the reins of the administration in 1857. The British relationship with India had begun in 1608 when Roe and Hawkins landed at Surat and went on until divorce was pronounced in 1947. The marriage had been troubled at times and violent during the Mutiny or when the imperial power strived to exert rigid control in difficult circumstances. On the whole, however, it was one of mutual benefit. Their parting of ways was, at the end, cordial and blessed with many memories that linger still.
The question that Roberdeau’s poignant words raise is inevitable: what is the role of the civil servant, today at a time when the colonial past is gone and the country reigns over itself, when democracy has struck roots that can now never be threatened, when the future beckons with bright hope and optimism. And although the question has been asked many times in the recent and not-so-recent past, and answered too, in one manner or the other, and shall be asked again a million times more as we go along, could this blog-writer dare to try to answer it again in this essay?
Some years ago on an essay entitled ‘The Ideal Man,’ (please see my personal blog at https://mathewspeak.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/the-ideal-man/) I had quoted Aristotle writing about the perfect qualities desireable in a man. And I quote again:
“…He is of a disposition to do men service, though he is ashamed to have a service done to him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority, to receive one is a mark of subordination. He does not take part in public displays. He is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes. He cannot live in complaisance with others, except as a friend; complaisance is the characteristic of a slave. He never feels malice and always passes over injuries. He does not speak evil of others, even his enemies, unless it be to themselves.”
Any of these qualities, in these inimitable worlds could apply to the ideal public servant. So now we have some qualities of the British officer as Roberdeau put it and Aristotle’s words on the ideal man. Could these be a pointer as to what the ideal civil servant should be?
I shall try.
The ideal civil servant is, at the outset, completely disinterested in the matters presented to him. Note, I did not say he has no interest in the resolution of the matter placed before him; but he cares not a whit this way or that, for the claims and counter claims of the parties to the suit. But, he will make his decision on the facts of the case and in accordance with the rules. Again, this is not to say that he will not be human; where the rules may appear to be in favour of a contestant but justice clearly lies in the claims of the other, he will not hesitate to set things right the way it should be. The direction in which the case swings is not his concern, but that he should be fair and impartial in the delivery of justice, not only for his own conviction, but in the manner in which it is perceived by those around him, that is what he holds dear in the core of his heart.
The probity of his official life matches the personal ideals he practices in his private life too. One cannot be a saint in the public world and a sinner at home. One cannot be faithful to one’s public duties and a philanderer in one’s private life. It may be argued that what a man does with his own life is his own business, so long as it does not interfere with his official world. I do not subscribe to that philosophy. At home and in the work place, he is the same man with the same ideals and the same code of conduct. The coinciding of personal and public value system is important in the matter we are discussing.
Needless to say, he is incorruptible and cannot be persuaded to tilt the tangent of his pen to suit the interests of the one who makes the offer. He would rather die than give in to these inducements. There is no need to elaborate on the matter; he is inflexibly upright when temptation comes his way.
More, he will not shun responsibility when it comes his way. There are some who will pass on the buck: to some subordinate or to some senior, saying that the matter cannot be decided at his level. Such a one would evade and duck so that he can go home early for an evening out with the family. The true civil servant would never do that; he has been bestowed with enormous powers by virtue of the statutes and the fiat of the government, particularly for the purpose of resolving public issues and grievances. How dare he give those powers away! It is for him to take the matter in his hands and meet it head on and find the resolution of the problems he has been given to handle. And if that means late hours and endless hours of back-breaking work, then so be it !
Again, he is at his seat during all the hours of his work. Or he is out in the field personally hearing the problems of the commoner, so that complainant need not travel long distances to meet him. He does not mind the dust and the rain, the difficult journey across rural terrain, the flies and the mosquitoes, for it is his duty as public servant to reach out and establish the order and justice for which he has been appointed in that hallowed place. His cell phone is always in his hand and he answers all calls, even from strangers who call him with their myriad problems. He has not authorised his peon or clerk to answer the phone on his behalf and tell the caller that the sahib is in his morning puja or at his bath or out for his morning walk. In other words he is there for them.
He does not seek approbation and approval, the applause of the admiring crowd, the glory of an award by some thankful authority or body. He would rather that he remains unhonoured and unsung, a faceless officer, who does what he knows best to do and cares not for any rewards.
– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
The old fable is well-known: when Arjuna participated in the Swayamwar for the hand for Draupadi, he had to undertake a test of skill in archery. He, along with the others, was asked to shoot at a fish strung high up in the air, while looking at its reflection in a bowl of water. While aiming at the target reflected in the water, the others saw the skies, the birds, the trees, the ripples; but it was Arjuna alone who saw nothing but the eye of the fish: so powerful and focussed was his gaze and concentration.
In the art of public administration, we very often miss the objective and look at the surrounding foliage. For example, if our objective is to ensure the distribution of food grains to the poor persons living below the poverty line, we will look at issues related to the transportation of food grains, commission for agents involved, arrival of grains at the fair price shop etc. While all these aspects are important, the real question we have to focus all our attention on is whether the food grains are actually reaching the targeted poor. So we have countless examples of where the food grains were transported across large distances, where the handling agents got their commission, and where the food grains did indeed reach the fair price shop. But as to whether the food grains are actually consumed by the poor beneficiaries, we have very little confirmation. Are the grains being siphoned off from the shops and bogus entries made in the registers for distribution? Is the grain finding its way into the market through black marketers colluding with the shop owners?
If the purpose of the rural water supply scheme is to provide water to the thirsty villagers, should we be just satisfied with erection of the tube well or the hand pump? Or should we be monitoring whether the water distribution is actually delivering the requisite quantity of water for consumption by each of the persons for whom it is meant. If a road is constructed to provide access to a far-flung village, should we be content with the brouhaha of the inauguration of the road, or whether it is durable and can sustain traffic and doesn’t fall apart with the first rains? If a Primary Health Centre is announced and is established on paper with doctors, nurses and adequate funding, should we lie back in satisfaction or ensure that the doctors and the nurses reach the appointed place and start regularly dispending medical care to the local population?
The art of governance is not a T20 match, with fun and excitement and cheerleaders and soaring boundaries. It is a life-long Test, where long-enduring and stolid performances are constant needs to achieve our purpose. The players have to be mature and fully grounded in the realities and truths of everyday life. A civil servant’s is a life time profession, and rightly defined as a service. It is a vocation that should drive him like a goad in every action of his in every day of his life. It will not let him rest until he fulfils his purpose. It is an unending, and perhaps unfulfilling, life time vocation, for there is never a moment when he can say that his work is done. What he successfully does is but a fraction of the work that stands like a mountain before him. It is a continuously daunting job that he must perform and never let slack. The dangers that surround his slackness cannot be described: he feels that with every file left uncleared, each person left unheard, each paper not disposed off, the darkness of anarchy will swell around him and swallow him up and destroy the last vestiges of order and stability. For to leave the vulnerable and the poor to the mercy of the wolves is the worst thing that he abhors. He will give his life to stand for their defence. He stands like a colossus before the waters of the deluge.
I am sure I exaggerate; but the purpose of the civil servant is to bring order and shape to a system that can so easily fall into shapeless chaos. And this is possible only if we have the unblinking gaze of a hawk, the sharp and focussed glare of an Arjuna when he set his sights on the eye of the fish.
– C.K. Mathew IAS (Retd)
(ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN DECEMBER 2010)
We are living in the times where an individual’s belief seems to be of prime importance. We are made to choose between different ideologies and once a choice is made, it has to be defended vehemently. There seems to be a crisis of an individual’s assertiveness to objectivity. Is life only about taking stands and should be spent proclaiming it to be the best? Like the way our society has become all about opinions leading to different paths and even more diverse discourses, the models of development by Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati are also two important varied attempts suggesting us to choose our path for progress. These models are unlike media and political propagandas, which uses every opportunity to put forward their agendas. These models are not fundamental and are never presented as necessary but they have their own beliefs and stems from the philosophy of their authors backed by their understanding of economics. I intend to use the Public Affairs Index to present a case against the choice between Sen and Bhagwati Model. I firmly believe that these both models are very useful and are a guiding force for the governance of our nation but the idea shouldn’t be to choose one. The Indian political economy has a lot of space to encompass both these models.
The two themes of Public affairs Index which best represents Bhagwati’s model are Essential Infrastructure and Economic Freedom. While the other two themes which inclines to Sen’s model are Support to Human development and Women and Children. Power, Water, Roads and communication formulate the essential infrastructure theme. The Support to Human Development theme includes different factors which constitutes Education and Health like Learning levels, No. of education colleges per 1 lakh population, Infant Mortality rate, Average Population served per hospital bed etc.
It’s important to analyze few results of different themes in the case of Kerala and Gujarat which supposedly follow Sen and Bhagwati’s model respectively. The state of Kerala tops the support to Human development theme as well as the overall PAI aggregated ranking. It also tops the list in PAI ranking under the theme of Women and Children. But the performance of Kerala has been fairly below average in essential infrastructure where it gets 10th rank out of 17 states in large states category. In fact some of the previously labelled BIMARU states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan stand at 7th and 9th rank performing better. In case of the theme of economic freedom, the performance of Kerala deteriorates where it is ranked 15th just above Assam and Bihar. The impact of lack of essential infrastructure is seen in the economic freedom also.
On the other hand Gujarat which can be considered following Bhagwati model ranks 3rd in essential infrastructure, 1st in economic freedom. As soon as the attention shifts to Support to Human development, Gujarat is lagging behind at 10th rank, below states like Odisha and Rajasthan. In the theme of Women and children, the rank goes down till 13th which gives a clear message of paradox in the development initiatives taken or ignored in the state.
Development is often the most used and abused word in the Indian political scenario. The perception of a developed state can be propagated by the political class, media and few intellectuals. Their versions of development have always been presented as the ultimate one. Through such nexus public perception is formed. The same might have been the case with Kerala and Gujarat. Without doubt, both of these states have performed extremely in some areas but the reality is that a lot of work still needs to be accomplished. I believe we need to look at the larger picture of both the states.
The Economic growth and Human development intersects in States like Tamil Nadu and Punjab where a choice is not necessary between essential infrastructure and Human development. Both of these states are well paced in both the themes and their model of governance seems to be more feasible than Gujarat and Kerala. Because of this factor the overall ranking of Tamil Nadu and Punjab is also very good where they stand at 2nd and 6th rank respectively. We need to emphasise on the fact that in spite of Kerala performing better than Tamilnadu and Gujarat being placed better than Punjab in overall rankings, the governance is more balanced and the development initiatives have certainly touched more number of people in these states in comparison to Kerala and Gujarat.
The importance of basic infrastructure runs parallel in the social and the economic life of the citizens. It has its great political significance and is often considered as the best parameter for development in any state. With India, almost reaching seven decades of independence, the essential infrastructure seems to be most basic entitlement that citizens ought to receive. It is the backbone of any growing economy. With the force of liberalization, privatization and globalization creating a huge impact on developing Indian economy, states can no longer live in isolation and darkness .While on the other side, the Human development indicators are the most important one for an individuals and collectively a societies well being. Investing in people is one the best ways to invest for a progressive nation. These indicators also reflect the mindset of a society and provide an overall perspective of the cultural practices which are being nurtured by families.
The effort of the governments through governance should be that it touches upon the maximum number of lives and serves to all classes of the society. It seems that Kerala has congested itself with the common masses and Gujarat has only responded to the business and entrepreneur community. Governance should be more about giving weightage to varied facets of development and certainly Tamil Nadu and Punjab have shown the way to do so at least in respect to Essential Infrastructure and Support to Human to Human Development.
It seems very unrealistic to compare human development and Essential Infrastructure. The choice itself represents a case of undermining the importance of both. Therefore in our country, there is a need for governments to introspect their priorities and understand the fact that prioritizing can be harmful in a much disguised way and hence if prioritizing is done, it should also be done in a way where inclusiveness comes. But then, it’s not prioritizing, its going against its very basic nature. The question that we seek to ask here is prioritizing necessary the way Kerala and Gujarat have done? And if it is, then it would be interesting to know the Prioritizes of Tamil Nadu and Punjab.
– Pankil Goswami, Programme Officer
Hard was thy fate in all the scenes of life
As daughter, sister, mother, friend, and wife;
But harder still, thy fate in death we own,
Thus mourn’d by Godwin with a heart of stone.
These were the lines written by the 19th century British poets in response to memoirs by the English Philosopher Godwin Brown after the death of his famous wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of modern feminist movements. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), a 17th century British feminist was a first ever to write on the essence of equal rights for women in a most aristocratic and monarchic society of her times. In the year 1790, Mary wrote ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ which became a path breaking and a classic work in the domain of feminist writings. For the first time ever, it unravelled the essence of emancipation of women with the lenses of her own experiences as a growing child and as an adult woman. In her book, she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men but appear to be only because they lack education. In her childhood she protested against her father’s violence on her mother and often tried to protect her mother and her younger sisters from her father’s drunken rages. As a young woman, she suffered humiliation, misery and orthodox social norms that suppressed her till her death. Throughout her life, Mary championed liberation and education for women. In the year 1797, Mary gave birth to her second daughter and a few days after delivery she was diagnosed with septicaemia and died at the early age of 38 due to persistent agony. Today, Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding philosophers of feminist movements and feminists often cite her for advocating equal rights for women.
In 1929, a well-known British author, Virginia Woolf described Mary – her writings, arguments and ‘experiments in living’ – as immortal: she is alive and active, she argues and experiments, and we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living’.
Now, after more than two hundred years of Mary’s ‘rights of woman’, many feminist movements, world agencies and governments are fighting hard to provide the much desired pie to Mary’s fellow women. The recently published Public Affairs Index (PAI) report presents the position of each state in terms of ten selected themes and ranks them. In the wake of MDGs turning into SDGs and placing women’s empowerment and gender equality at the top among other goals, the PAI report, among its ten themes, places Women and Children in the fourth place with regard to essence of the theme. Considering the multidimensional nature of theme, the report delves in some important indicators of contemporary importance and ranks the states.
Consider the bigger states, Kerala, a better performing state in social indicators tops the list while Tamil Nadu stands at the 2nd rank. The North eastern state, Assam secures third rank and Karnataka, a medium developed state is placed at 6th rank. As usual the BIMARU states lag behind in ranking in women and children’s development. It is notable that an economically well off state such as Gujarat stands at the lowest and is among the BIMARU states. The newly created Jharkhand stands at the lowest.
As far as the smaller states are concerned, the north eastern states such as Manipur and Mizoram are respectively positioned at 1st and 2nd ranks while most modern and developed states like Delhi (the National Capital) and Goa at the bottom in terms of women’s and children’s wellbeing.
What these rankings speak? For instance, Kerala, a most progressive state on all the social indicators, has had a long tradition of land reforms, public participation and better delivery of public services. The living standard in Kerala is comparable with life in any other developed world. The egalitarian attitude towards women in society has rendered a high level of female literacy, among other indicators. A true human development perspective is being manifested over the decades and it still continues. The north eastern states such as Assam (Big state) and Manipur and Mizoram (small states) demonstrate much progressive attitude towards gender and long tradition of women’s activism in socio-cultural movements.
Although, the developed state such as Gujarat has witnessed much progress in terms of GDP but lags in transforming the fruits of development into human progress. This is fairly true with regard women’s development too. Similarly, Delhi, being the national capital and political hotspot, is concentrating much on the physical infrastructure than on the progressive policies towards women’s safety and human development. The similar situations can also be found in most modern state Goa, yet performing low on women’s welfare.
A gross thinking is that the Public Affairs Centre’s initiative of PAI, in this theme, directly or indirectly tries to dig for the respective pies that ought to be given to the other half of the citizens as envisioned by Mary Wollstonecraft. It also suggests that gone are the days, when a lift in GDP would have shown a hint of nation’s progress, but the new era of development puts its citizens first at the development agenda and hence their rights. The least progressed states lag much in this regard. The governments need to be more sensitive towards gendered norms and children’s deprivations to provide their due pie at the fullest.
I hope somewhere Mary is present and watching us. Somewhere much saddened…somewhere smiling happily… and perhaps somewhere asking for more…!
-Dr. Sanjeev D Kenchaigol, Programme Officer
As a youngster who has been (How do I put it?) let’s say on the healthier side as far back as I can remember and one who has been fighting a losing battle against calories ever since I struck puberty, I understand the struggle of my fellow fighters and I must, at the outset provide this clarification. If you were misled by the title and are looking for a motivational piece on staying fit, read no further because this will suck out any remnant motivation from your faltering fitness regime. You have been warned……
Homo Sapiens or humans are the species with the highest intellect, which has helped it gain supremacy over all beings many of which are physically a lot superior to humans. Evolution is an unfair mother who is never kind to a fault and promotes her stronger progeny. Naturally, human intellect has increased over centuries and society has evolved in a way to reward mental fitness better than physical fitness. Even with increased health awareness among the educated urban Indian, the dominance of the brain over brawn has only increased. These opening remarks are a compilation of the lame excuses I usually put forward when someone reminds me of my increasing weight. Nevertheless, it helps me establish the premise that for humans, matters of the brain are what matter most. But this is not an article on why you should worry less about the numbers on a weighing scale and more about the numbers on the last logical reasoning/IQ test you attempted. This is about a question that I have answered to my satisfaction, and must have come up in the minds of many more youngsters wanting to make a career for themselves. Should one aspire for well-rounded knowledge or specialized knowledge? Should one be a generalist or a specialist? Not just for those in their nascent careers, this is food for thought for many and most have our own answers to it.
Higher demand for specialized knowledge
The 90’s and 00’s were the time when parents in the frenzy to provide their kids the best possible careers pushed their children off to attain knowledge in areas they thought rewarded best with little thought on what their interests are or what they may excel at. A case in point is the large number of engineering graduates employed in jobs which no stretch of imagination can relate to engineering. This supremacy of engineering courses is slowly waning and educational institutes are offering degrees in varied fields. Newer courses emerge today with increased specializations. This increase in specialized courses can be seen as a response to a higher demand for specialists in industry today.
Do specialists have a better career?
Martin Luther King Jr., whose dreams inspired a generation to fight non-violently for civil rights, may have dreamed up a little too much when he said, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Education to be a better man is romantic. But the real reason students burn the midnight lamp to earn their degrees is to add more zeros to their bank balance. I wouldn’t be the only one to have wondered whether to gain further expertise in my area of study or to go for a degree in a different field and have wider and more rounded knowledge.
A generalist with rounded knowledge can do well in a variety of situations and may be better adept with uncertainty. His better ‘world knowledge’ and wider exposure can ensure that he can shoulder the responsibilities of life. As one climbs higher up the career ladder, one needs to be a good leader and a leader needs a lot of generalized skills like good communication, better people management etc. It is no wonder that more entrepreneurs are generalists than specialists, with well rounded skills to steer the business through rain and shine. Specialists with a narrow scope tend to look at everything through the blinds forced on by their specialization. This may be why as specializing becomes a common trend, what was earlier common sense is no longer so common. But as Nanette Ripmeester, founder of Expertise in Labour Mobility says, “Specific skills are valued more because they are more difficult to teach”. A lot of generalized skills can be picked up on the job. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is a coveted career that owing to its selection process is more accessible to one with a wide generalized knowledge. But, a study of IAS recruits found that, those with specialized knowledge moved up the ranks faster. A diverse work history in various sectors also hurts one’s chances of promotion.
In the rat race of career building, there is immense pressure to succeed. In an increasingly capitalistic world, success is increasingly defined by the money you take home end of the month. But to me, success would be to do what you love and be paid for it. If you become an expert in the area you love, be it an area of generalized knowledge or specialized knowledge, success will follow. As Aamir Khan in ‘3 Idiots’ says, “Kabil bano, kabil. Kamyaabi toh saali jhak maarke peeche bhagegi”.
To answer the question posed initially, I would rather specialize and build a niche for myself and generalize later on as I establish myself in a career. That said, learning is a never ending process and the day you stop learning is the day you become obsolete.
-Sebin B Nidhiri, Programme Officer
As an American college student studying Urban Studies and Sustainability, I am fascinated by the “Smart Cities” initiative in India. Improving walk-ability, multipurpose land use, Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), protecting historical identity and integrity, and promoting a clean environment for people and the planet through technological advancements is undoubtedly a noble and beneficial cause.
Yet I believe it could be argued that cities in India and around the world must do more than “get smarter.” They need to get smarter faster than they are. They need to become greener faster because the planet’s getting warmer and climate change disasters are intensifying. Urban economies need to grow faster and more equitably to compete in the global economy. Finally, they need to get better. Better is perception based, and though city officials may boast that they’re in charge of the “Emerald City,” the only relevant opinion is that of the city’s residents. How livable is their city? And if a city lacks basic services, what are the qualities of the world’s most livable cities that we should strive to achieve?
Throughout history, urban planners have come up with utopian visions of the perfect city. Master plans for cities have promised solutions to poverty, automobile dependence, food insecurity, and population growth. Yet, the hard truth is that most cities don’t have a blank canvas to paint their ideal picture. Many cities already consume resources unsustainably; face problems with social and economic inequity, and questionable infrastructure. Especially cities in BRICS nations, urban residents face greater day-to-day challenges with sanitary water, proper garbage disposal, clean air, reliable income sources and affordable housing.
Characteristics of Smart Cities. (From http://smartcities.gov.in/)
Organizations like the World Bank and United Nations have established excellent development goals for nations and cities. But we need to reach them in a smarter, greener, faster and better way than we are currently.
One fault I see in the Smart Cities initiative is its reliance on technology as a solution to contemporary urban challenges. Technology has a huge potential to help us design cities by providing us with data and information to base decisions on. However, techno-centric development forgets the power of citizen participation. In most sustainable cities of the world, a common theme amongst them is an inclusionary government that takes into account their residents’ views.
Neeladri Road, Bangalore
Compared to my hometown of Minneapolis—ranked by one report as one of the most sustainable cities in the US—I see a number of actions Bangalore could take towards economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
Bangalore’s traffic is a source of frustration amongst nearly everyone I talk to. While the new metro line diversifies transportation modes and increases public transportation ridership, it is far from adequate for a city of Bangalore’s size. Compared to Minneapolis, the second most biker friendly city in the US, I see few (if any) bicycle lanes that protect riders from vehicles. Bicycling is not only healthy for the cyclists, but also reduces emissions.
Pollution—especially dust and exhaust, is another issue I’ve noticed since staying in Bangalore. Cities around the world have combatted this issue through encouraging tree plantings and enforcing strict automobile emission standards. Waste is also a huge issue in Bangalore. Municipal recycling programs are an excellent way for cities to promote a “green economy” providing jobs and generating a profit from recycled material. Aside from trash dumping, garbage burning is another problem in Bangalore (and other cities in India) that pollutes the air with extremely toxic chemicals and emits foul odor.
The rate at which tree are being cut in Bangalore is another concern that I have for the City. I’ve heard from many locals that Bangalore’s infamously pleasant climate is rising as the sun bakes the once-shaded surfaces. Additionally, “The Garden City” is rapidly over trimming its greenery, transforming it into another urban, concrete jungle. As a foreigner, the older trees of Bangalore have literally taken my breath away with their beauty and magnitude. Aside from the natural services provided by trees (shade, animal habitat, air purification), they also improve real-estate values and resident’s perception of the city.
Street in Koramangala, Bangalore
One project at the Public Affairs Centre, the Better Cities Index, is hoping to come up with a standardized metric for assessing urban development. The index will evaluate the resilience of cities based on environmental, governance, and socio-economic aspects. Once published, the index has the potential for cities to quantifiably measure their current resilience and livability as a benchmark for future development.
Yes, I’m glad Indian cities want to be smarter. But I think the smartest choice cities around the world can make is to get smarter about getting greener, faster, and better.
Brady Steigauf, a University of Minnesota undergraduate student studying Urban Studies, Public Health and Sustainability currently interning at the Public Affairs Centre to work on the Better Cities Index.
The year is 1949. Tensions had mounted between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. The US economy was shifting from a war economy to a peace time economy, battling high inflation. The war time had seen increased government intervention in prices, wages and production and the increased government role was sustained in the years following the war. This was strongly criticized by the opposition. It was a tough time for the government implementing economic policies. A frustrated US president Harry Truman remarked, “Give me one handed economist! All my economists say, ‘On the one hand.., on the other’.”
Cut to 2013.JagdishBhagwati and Arvind Panagariya release their book ‘Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in Indiareduced poverty and the lessons for Other Developing Countries’. As the title suggests, it praises India’s liberalization policies of 1991 and how it reduced poverty. The book advocates economic growth or increased output to be the thrust of governance. This came just before the release of Amartya Sen’s and Jean Dreze’s book ‘An Uncertain Glory: India and its contradictions’ where the authors advocate state-led redistributive efforts with a thrust on human development to be the focus of India’s governance. These were followed by a bitter public battle between two of India’s most famous economists, one a Gujarati born in Mumbai and an ardent supporter of the Gujarat model of development and the other a Bengali and the champion of the Kerala model of Development and both non-resident Indians offering guidance on how India should develop. For a change, academic discourse and debates grabbed headlines, thanks in part to the then upcoming elections being seen as a contest between two divergent economic theories too. It also drew attention to a larger conundrum.
The elusive dream that is Development
Development is a holy grail everyone wants a part of, but nobody knows precisely how to get there. You put two economists in a room to devise a solution to a problem and you are sure to end up with at least three solutions.There is no disagreement that a nation needs to develop and development will bring about the greater good of the people. But seldom is there agreement on how to develop.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that in a study called the ‘Public Affairs Index (PAI)’ released by Public Affairs Centre, a study that provided a comparative score to all states based on indicators of good governance, Kerala ranked first.The study takes 10 themes and 68 indicators therein. Mathew, Mukunthan and Divekar (2016), in the study argue that ‘different dimensions of good governance will impact economic growth in different ways.’ Also, the variablesused are equally good indicators of development in a state. Support to human development is one of the themes which looks at indicators of education and health. Kerala ranks first in this particular theme. The study is a good medium to analyse the effectiveness of the ‘Kerala model of development’. To understand whether states that do well in human development fare better in development.
Insights from PAI
The scores given to states in the theme ‘Support to Human Development (SHD)’ can act as a good proxy to identify states that focus on human development. Similarly, the scores of the themes ‘Economic Freedom’ and ‘Essential Infrastructure’ can be used to identify states that focus on economic growth and infrastructure development first. The correlation between PAI scores and SHD scores is very high at 0.83, whereas the correlation between score for economic freedom and PAI is 0.48. Scores of essential infrastructure had a better relation with PAI with a correlation of 0.66, but still not as good as Human Development scores. This proved that states that fared better in the theme ‘Suppor to Human Development’ did better in the overall PAI rankings than states which did well in economic freedom or essential infrastructure.
A further comparison with poverty rates and per capita income(PCI) shows that poverty is lower and per capita income higher in the states that fared better in human development, compared to states that did better in economic freedom. The correlation between SHD scores and poverty rates is -0.84 and with PCI is 0.77. This shows that there is strong negative relation between poverty rates and SHD scores and a strong positive correlation with PCI, implying that states with higher human development have low poverty levels and high income. States that did well in economic freedom or essential infrastructure did not fare as well in poverty or per capita income levels. The correlation of economic freedom with poverty rates is -0.29 and with PCI is 0.53. States that did well in economic freedom had high poverty levels and not much relation to PCI levels.
Essential infrastructure has a better correlation with poverty rate at -0.83 and PCI at 0.75, but not as good as the correlation between SHD scores and poverty rates and PCI levels.
The findings based on PAI seem to validate what Amartya Sen said in an interview that there is no nation that has developed with an unhealthy and uneducated workforce. The above analysis is definitely not conclusive evidence to say that focusing on human development will reduce poverty and increase income. But, the strong correlation between them cannot be dismissed. Like many theories in economics that need to be contextualised before application, the focus of governance should be decided by the policy makers considering a state’s individual requirements. But there can never be a case to ignore human development.
Every day on my shuttle to the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), I tuck my nose under the collar of my shirt a dozen or more times to escape the foul smell of rotting garbage. Even worse, I almost always see someone openly burning a pile of plastic and other household waste. As an environmentalist and public health student, I find this appalling. Burning plastic and organic material (such as wood) together reacts to emit dioxins and furans—some of the most toxic and carcinogenic compounds known. They have been proven to cause cancer, reproductive and neurological damage, impair the human immune system, and disrupt hormones. If that isn’t convincing enough, dioxins are readily stored in our bodies and can take 5-13 years for our bodies to eliminate half of the original amount ingested. For mothers, dioxin can easily transfer from the mother to the vulnerable fetus or newborn and into the baby’s breast milk, impairing critical development.
A gutter on Neeladri Road, Electronic City
But aside from the obvious environmental and health concerns, dumping and burning trash is a waste. Organic material, such as food scraps, tea-leaves, coffee grounds, soiled paper towels, and yard waste can be composted into a rich, natural plant fertilizer for sale. Alternatively, organic waste can be fermented into biogas and sold as a clean, renewable fuel and cooking source. PET plastic bottles, polyethylene bags, and metals can be collected and recycled, reducing waste while generating income. I repeat: Trash is a waste of resources and the waste of an economic opportunity.
At my college, I am a student recycling coordinator. As part of that responsibility, I ensure that my campus (the 6th largest in the United States) has a set of segregated waste bins for every 15 people in an office. Our recycling program funds itself with the profits made from recycling materials and it provides employment for two dozen people. From my stay in India, I have learned that urban India produces over 188,500 metric tonnes of garbage every day. If recycled, that waste could be turned into a lot of money and jobs. But with a lack of proper infrastructure, only about a quarter of urban garbage is officially collected in Bangalore. The remaining waste is often dumped or burned, contaminating surrounding air, soil, and water. I cringe every time I see a gutter clogged with plastic or a stray dog drinking from unnaturally coloured, polluted water.
A stream filled in with trash during my visit to India a year ago
A portion of India’s waste stream is labouriously sorted by “rag pickers.” Rag pickers are people and children who sort through mounds of trash looking for recyclable material to sell at the end of the day for a small profit. The innate resourcefulness of Indians never ceases to amaze me. One of my favorite Hindi words I’ve learned is “jugaad,” an innovative, makeshift solution using whatever resources are available. Yet for waste pickers, their resourceful, entrepreneurial spirit puts them at jeopardy for a variety of health hazards. Waste may be contaminated with pathogens, sharp medical needles, heavy metals, and toxic industrial waste. As part of the informal economy, one injury could prove devastating given their vulnerable financial situation. Perhaps the culturally ingrained concept of “jugaad” could be applied at city-levels instead to effectively address the lack of adequate waste recovery while generating a profit.
A wandering cow grazing on a heap of trash
One of the challenges that Indian cities face when attempting to provide universal waste disposal is their burgeoning growth rate. In other words, cities are growing faster than services can be provided. Over the last 15 years, Bangalore’s per capita waste doubled and its population increased by more than 2.5 times. The city’s urban growth rate is a shocking 4.6%. Bangalore also spends more on its waste disposal compared to other nearby cities, yet Bangaloreans still have to live with heaps of smelly garbage. Bangalore produces 4,000 tonnes of waste per day and spends Rs 450 crore (crore is ten million) to dispose it, comparatively Hyderabad spends Rs 100 crore to remove its 3,800 daily tonnes of waste, while Chennai spends Rs 4,000 crore to dispose of 6,000 tonnes of the city’s waste.
Many Bangaloreans have expressed frustration with BBMP’s waste recovery service. Even if citizens segregate their waste, it is not always collected when it should be, leading to an unpleasant smell. Another problem with the current waste recovery system is that garbage contractors are paid by the weight of the waste they transport, which makes customer segregation against the Corporations’ interest. With so much money spent on waste removal, Bangalore Metropolitan Corporation (BBMP) has the opportunity to reduce its expenditure on waste removal, provide better waste removal, provide jobs, and include waste segregation and recycling for the environment.
The City of Pune is one case study of a positive waste recovery system. Pune recently incorporated some of the city’s poorest into the formal economy as trash collectors. The waste pickers are nearly all women from India’s lowest caste—the Dalits. The 9,000+ women go door-to-door to collect waste, making it far easier to sort than if it had been dumped. The women are part of a cooperative that provides them with uniforms and personal protective gear to minimize health risks. They make far more money doing the same work they did previously, and also safer. They gain more financial independence from their husbands—giving them a sense of empowerment.
Similar to Pune’s model, Hasiru Dala is a social enterprise that enables rag or waste pickers to have a reliable source of income in the formal economy. Located in Bangalore, Hasiru Dala collects home and office waste and sorts it, diverting 90% of it from landfills. They also coordinate with office spaces and apartment landlords to design a waste recovery system that is convenient for users and ensures maximum recovery. They even design and maintain urban gardens. Though Hasiru Dala is relatively small, it is a model that could be replicated and expanded throughout Bangalore to recover more of the City’s waste-stream.
Another Bangalore example is Citizengage, a waste management firm that collects recyclables and organic material. The organic waste is fermented to create Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), which is turned into electricity to illuminate Domlur Park, Bangalore. In doing so, the company claims to have diverted over 780 tons of waste from landfills. BBMP could sign contracts with more companies like Citizengage to reduce its expenditure, more effectively manage waste, and save the environment.
Another local solution is BioUrgja, a Bangalore-based start-up with an anaerobic digester that turns organic waste into clean energy. Though the initial cost of the biogas plants range from 10 to 60 lakh, the plant will yield a return on investment within three to four years—a pretty good deal considering that cities are guaranteed to generate organic material. One study estimated that if BBMP constructed a 600 tonne per day waste-to-energy plant, up to 12MW of power could be generated an hour. This would be enough to support the City’s electricity demand from a renewable source.
In Minneapolis, where I’m from, there is a city ordinance that requires all commercial and business property owners to recycle, and apartment dwellings must provide recycling options for their tenants. Based on my hometown’s approach a public-private partnership between the Municipal Corporation and contracted waste management companies could solve waste issues in Bangalore and other Indian cities. Such a partnership has the potential of increasing employment across cities, reducing unsightly and foul smelling garbage dumps (which would improve tourism), and minimizing our impact on the planet. Aside from my interest in environmental sustainability, my interest in waste recovery has increased since working on the Better Cities Index project at PAC. A “better” city is ultimately a beautiful one, free of garbage dumps and one that mimics nature’s cyclical pattern of resource consumption. I’ve only mentioned a few examples of local waste solutions, but the possibilities are endless. With technology advancements, there is even an app that pays residents to collect their waste for recycling.
So as the old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” If BBMP comes up with a “jugaad” strategy for waste management, it could strike gold.
Brady Steigauf, a University of Minnesota undergraduate student studying Urban Studies, Public Health and Sustainability currently interning at the Public Affairs Centre to work on the Better Cities Index.