Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pathways to link Communities with Governance at the Grassroots in India

National Planning takes effect and yield fruits at the grassroots. It is essential therefore to make assessment of the efficiency of the government programs at the lower level of administration. Factual and evidence based research will enable effective policy engagements with the district and state level political and bureaucratic institutions for corrective measures as well as making new demands that are needed for the communities and local stake holders.  Public policy approaches to development are generally limited to levels of India and States. Given the vast geographic expanse and high population concentrations across India a meaningful development strategy that address acute poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, ill-health must occur at the level of the districts. Further, hitherto development policy decisions were made using a combination of district level per capita averages and a small set of indicators such as average rainfall and agricultural productivity; little information on the quality of life and human development were available.

In the recent past, however, dependable data on a number of qualitative aspects of human lives have become available at the level of the district. Such data can be extracted from the decadal Census (most recent 2011), the annual national sample surveys (large sample size surveys are done at about five years interval) and district level household surveys. The ‘US-India Policy Institute’, Washington D. C and ‘Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy’, New Delhi have extracted a number of socio-economic and human development indicators from such multiple, nationally representative sample surveys, for all districts of India. They are reviewed to assess and compute the ‘levels of development’ and ‘equity of access’ to development for each district. The composite index consists of four dimensions - economic, enabling material-well being assets, education and health. The final results in the form of maps are scheduled to be released at New Delhi in January 2015, in the form of a composite development index and four indices highlighting components described above.

Continuing this district level analysis, in the second-stage the development indices are computed to each of the major socio-religious communities (SRCs) for each district of the state and all districts of India.  The differentials according to SRCs are presented in graphic format. This analysis is resonant of the Sachar Committee Report which was completed in 2006; current analysis can be termed as mini-Sachar report for each district of India. In this context there is scope to elaborate analysis of data on employment, financial allocations and measurable outcomes disaggregated by SRCs so as to operationalise policies for improving diversity in public programs. The district level mapping and analysis for operationalising diversity in public and private space cannot be over emphasised.

Generally the district-level reviews use service statistics drawn from district records which often are dated and qualitatively poor. The strength of the current research lies in the type and source of data as well as methodologies used in analysis. Information are extracted from unit (household) level records from well respected surveys, therefore estimates are robust and academically sound. These estimates provide the academics, watchful communities, civil society and people at large opportunities to find out the pathways to engage the district level bureaucrats and governance.

The most important issues confronting the communities at the district level are two: a) to begin with financial allocations are inadequate; yet huge proportions of the development funds earmarked for annual expenditures on essential programs such as mass primary/elementary education, women and child development services, public healthcare and employment guarantee scheme are never appropriated and spent. b) The inequity at the level of the district is a serious issue; there are many versions to it such as based on occupations, education levels and also social identities expressed in terms of religious and caste affiliation. The last dimension which important at local level in distribution of welfare benefits; they have become contentious at national-political level leading to promotion of discrimination at the grassroots.

The following is a short list of selected districts at about one hundredth interval. North Delhi is ranked 1 with an index of 0.69. Ideally first rank holder could have taken a value of 1.00 but even the first district has huge scope to develop for example in health parameters which has only a value of 0.51 although the enabling index is 0.91. 

Rank |Dist | State
Devpt. Index
1     - North Delhi (DL)
100 - Shimla (HP)
200 - Uttarkashi (UT)
301 - Saharanpur (UP)
308 - Varanasi (UP)
400 - Osmanabad (MH)
500 - Chandauli (UP)
599 - Araria (BI)

However, the contrast is comparing the first ranker and the last. Araira in Bihar has recorded a development index of only 0.16 compare this with North Delhi which has a value of 0.69. Note that Araira has no enabling economic environment which can push development any time near future unless critical policy strategy and investments are made soon. It is this kind of analysis both within the state and across the state which gives comprehensive information for upliftment of communities living in clearly identified districts of India.

It is in this context that the district level development and development index provide ‘essential empirical evidence that makes a case for setting up of National and State-level Equal Opportunity Commissions (EOCs)’. The state level aggregated district-reports will help the state government in many respects. Besides enabling assessing and monitoring the levels of development and equity, the indices will make it easy for the state government to articulate the need to establish 'State Level Equal Opportunity Commission'. Such EOCs can independently deal with differentiation in access to public services at the grassroots level, thereby enabling the elected government and associated institutions to focus their time and energy to the development of the state.  The EOC as an independent institution will facilitate communities and local stakeholders - civil society and private investors, to interact with each other as well as with the government bureaucracy to thrash out contentious issues and strengthen welfare policies. Further establishing State-EOCs will severe as examples for setting up a national EOC as well.  

To articulate these relationships better it is essential that development practitioners, government officials, political leaders and civil society groups come together to discuss and debate strategies to address district level development and diversity of development. Such data will also give a comprehensive visual picture of the development of the nation in a comparative perspective promoting strong sense of nationalism and patriotism. DDDIx makes a good case for district level monitoring of development strategy considering the aspects of equity and social justice.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Will the ‘Ordinance-2014’ passage to the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill-2008 yield Business?

The federal NDA government, based on a cabinet decision passed an Ordinance clearing the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill (ILAB) with an enhanced FDI share of 49% heralding the beginning of second and third generation reforms India. This bill originally drafted by the UPA in 2008 and cabinet approved with 49 % FDI in 2011 itself; yet  UPA could not get its passage through the bi-cameral chambers of Indian Parliament. The bill was also opposed vehemently by Communist leaning parties, the BJP and NDA partners.

The Politics of Insurance Bill
Passing Ordinances strategically is not new; the UPA got the ‘food security bill’ through this process in 2012. The NDA’s current move of strategically getting ILAB through Ordinance announces a pro-business and pro-FDI stance; while UPA and other opposition parties made the normal passage difficult due to political logjam.

The NDA could not place this bill for a vote and process in the Rajya Sabha because of a lack of ‘quid-pro-quo’ that is common during political engagements. The opposition was united in blocking the passage of Insurance bill because the Prime Minster during the recent weeks did not recognize the hotly contentious issue of religious conversions which is hurting the very foundation of the Constitution and secular ethos of India. Whether such a quid-pro-quo and role reversal is fair in political decision-making is a moot point; but what was real was the inability of the passage of a landmark and path breaking piece of legislation. For Mr. Modi, it was essential that a positive investment friendly gesture was made before the visit of President Obama to New Delhi in late January 2015.

The Modi government, a day after Rajya Sabha went to recess, passed an ‘Ordinance’ to bring to life the ILAB. The Ordinance is a temporary arrangement as contained in article-123 of the constitution. “If at any time, except when both Houses of Parliament are in session,  the President is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it  necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such  Ordinance as the circumstances appear to him to require". The Ordinance thus promulgated carries the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament. However, the Ordinance has to be laid before both House of Parliament and it will cease to operate at the expiration of six weeks from the reassemble of Parliament. Once the ordinance is laid in Parliament, the government introduces a Bill addressing the same issue. This Bill is supposed to highlight the reasons that necessitated the issue of the Ordinance. Thereafter, the Bill follows the regular law making process.

Will the ILAB pass through the regular law making processes?  The Finance Minister of India Sri. Arun Jetli stated that “the country cannot wait even if one of the Houses of Parliament waits indefinitely" (Economic Times 24th December 2015).  This is a statement of power and statesmanship, yet it generated strong sense of uncertainty. There is an indication that the Modi government will be ready should that becomes essential to summon a ‘joint parliamentary session’ to press for the passage of the ILAB along with a few other bills.  

The BJP along with its NDA partners is placed well with assured support of 49.7 per cent of the MPs. It would not be difficult to win over the support of 3-4 more MPs from other parties to get the bill passed during the joint session. There could be a possibility, however, of opposition to this bill from within the NDA and also many from within the BJP itself. That is a real and serious danger in summoning the joint parliamentary session to pass the ILAB. Note also that so far in the history of Independent India only three bills namely, the Dowry Prohibition Act - 1961, the Banking Commission Repeal Bill - 1978 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act - 2002 have in passed at the joint sessions. 

The Economics of Insurance Bill:
The insurance sector could become an assured source of capital for development projects that have long gestation such as building road and rail networks, irrigation projects and so on. In the industrialized economies practically all workers maintain documented payment and savings plans including insurance schemes, but insurance penetration is merger in India.

 The penetration of both life and non-life insurance is low. The latter has many components such as crop insurance, health insurance, insuring small and micro-businesses and so on. Data base on the current status of insurance is also week, although Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority maintain rudimentary information and not in public domain. The total insurance sector business was about $64.5 billion during 2011, covering just about 10 percent (200 million insured persons) of total workforce mostly employed in government and organised private sectors. According to Indian Brand Equity Foundation, the government claims that 25 million farmers (out 120 million) are insured, but this amounts to only 4.5% of the total non-life insurance market. Further only 124 million policies were in operation under the health insurance in 2013.

The ILAB-2008 with enhanced share of upto 49 percent for the international investors will attract higher FDI and FIIs. This would also facilitate the re-insurance companies located in the UK and other European nations. The ILAB will also attract attention of new investors especially from the USA. The bill will provide a formidable competition to the hitherto monopolistic government controlled companies and will force them to reform. A direct result of this bill would be fresh investments in health insurance; the consumers will be exposed to a range of innovative products and services hitherto not know to them.

Although there is still uncertainty whether theILB-2008 will be passed by Rajya Sabha during the budget session in early 2015; what is important is to appreciate NDA government for bringing this Ordinance. Will this policy reform generate international investments is difficult to answer since most of the international investors have already announced their desire to wait until the Bill is passed through the regular parliamentary procedures.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

What Should Mr. Obama know before taking a Republic Day Salute at New Delhi on January 26th 2015?

The global outreach heralding the ‘might and right’ of India by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi seems to have halted momentarily, although the grand finale event is Mr. Barak Obama’s salute at the Delhi Republic Day celebrations of  26th January, 2015.  In the scheme of power equations USA still holds the prime position in India.  Although symbolic this is a welcome event and a lot of behind-the-scene operations are heating up.

The US-India bilateral activities have increased - not only that the executive-jets are shuttling but also that the first and business class tickets are getting filled up fast. Those gearing up are the bureaucrats and the business house representatives to kick-up the bilateral trade, business and investments many folds. There is meek state level focus, a new and cut-to-size Andhra Pradesh making all the noise while the Bengaluru-Scare still continues, remember Mr. Obama shunned a visit as it was cited as the city that snatched the American jobs through the migration of back-office and IT enabled employment. West Bengal is in the news for wrong reasons as the investment climate especially with respect to property rights have not settled in that state. 

The following essay has two distinct focuses – firstly the economic/trade related issues relevant for the President Obama’s visit and the other social policy perspectives which are essential background for defining the quality of democracy and rule of law within India.

Economic/Trade Related
Under a continued diversification and strategic alignment policy of the previous government – remember the ‘nuclear deal-123’, the USA hopes to build a massive market for its defence equipments to India. Although ongoing crossover helicopter deals between ‘India and US’ and ‘Pakistan and Russia’ are indications of winds of change; there are other impediments to overcome. India’s current inventory is dominantly Russian while Pakistan’s is dominantly American; a good example is the fighter jet brands they both own. US will continue to face difficulty in pushing its defence inventory so long as it continues to supply same or similar inventory to Pakistan. After all no country would like to face a possibility that enemy country reuses the war-booty against itself.  Further, India’s longstanding policy that mega defence deals always comes with technology transfers continues; the French multi-role fighter jets and Israel’s air-defence and anti-tank guided missiles systems deals are the most recent examples. Although previous technological transfer deals have yielded little for India, for example the British-Jaguar and French-Mirages etc, yet the policy is expected to continue in future. The US has so far shown little interest in such riders.

Another caveat; it is difficult for India to entirely come out of the erstwhile, now defunct ‘non-aligned’ policy even when US intends to support India’s stake of permanent member at the UN- Security Council. It is also in India’s interest that a ‘triple-bhai’ or ‘three-brothers’- policy of ‘India-USA-China’ is pursued, given new geo-political scenario and a rising Eastern Star namely China.  After all China is the biggest business and investment partner of the USA as well (imported about $440 billion worth from China during 2013, compare this to only $42 billion from India. India imported about $50 billion worth from China in 2013).

There are issues with respect to intellectual property rights (IPRs) especially in pharmaceuticals that is another contentious issues between the US and India. To be realistic, this issue is not likely to be settled any time soon. A compromise on IPRs can only be reached with a comprehensive understanding of the health care market in India. This sector has been the worst and most abused in India; one cannot expect a breakthrough especially when the international negotiations are geared towards pricing and cost of medicines with little or no concern to morbidity and sickness profile and affordability issues.

Agriculture is in the domain of tripartite negotiations - the world trade organization being the intermediary. A recent announcement by foreign minister that India-favourable agreement has been worked out is not convincing. There are 90 million farming and another 28 million agricultural labor households in India. The average farm-holding is less than one hectare, most with meagre cultivable lands barely yielding food sufficient for survival. Given this state of agriculture, prudent policy has to ensure safety and sustenance of farming households across India. The US-India partnership in agriculture must therefore focus on mechanism to mitigate rampant and high incidence of malnutrition amongst the children and reproductive aged women. Investments in food processing, packaging and trade in food products will benefit both the businesses and people within India. Technological breakthrough of ‘no till farming’ as well as policy agreements to improve agricultural productivity through the use of genetically modified process are niche areas the need of the hour.

The Principles of Social Engagement:
The President’s visit to India has multiple dimensions to it. It is not entirely business, defence, money and national pride. There are a number of other issues to be confronted during such occasions. Right now, US is reeling under the accusations of police excesses and indiscriminate killings of black men and men across many states. As a champion of human rights, Mr. Obama comes out in public expressing grief and anguish and even pledging federal policy response to contain such events.

On the other hand while Mr. Modi carries a baggage of extreme human rights violations of the past; he seems to procrastinate when a prompt policy protection is needed to protect millions of minorities especially the Muslims and Christians of India. In India one do not come across engagement of the PM on situations and events which are crudest form of human rights violations - undertaken by a set of well organized groups against other groups of people who are historically identified as the minority religions of India. The fringe groups often receive tactical support from the police and security agencies on the one hand and political system itself on the other. Such events occur so very frequently and often in proximity to the watchful Delhi administration – the nations capital. A number of communal riot like situation have happened right in Delhi and immediate surroundings and the PM is quite as if nothing is happening. Or is it a way to communicate the characteristics of the newly elected NDA government policy that such events will continue to happen in times to come.

No one can accurately gauge the limits of tolerance and perseverance of the minority communities especially the Muslims and Christens of India. It would be in the interest of India and also the larger world - the US and neighbouring countries that the NDA regime over come the historical baggage of misunderstood history and shun the proxy-cultural revolution that is being unleashed. Note that similar cultural revolutions in Russia and more recently in China have not shown positive and people friendly impacts.

Mr. Modi’s expression of solidarity with Pakistan is gesture to be appreciated; but this does not compensate for the pain, agony and psychological submission of over 200 million strong minorities of India. Two main processes through which the subjugation of minorities who have their ideological origins from out of India namely the Muslims and Christians are: a) The extreme rightwing groups such as the BHP, Bhajrang Dal and many others initiate hate crimes such as abuse, physical threat including denying residential spaces and more recently inter-mixing of youth through the concept of ‘love jihad’ and so on; which get tactical support from the Hindu cultural bodies such as the RSS.  At the political level the BJP the ruling party and its associates in the NDA besides providing tactical support to the right wing extremism, they also initiate rudimentary policy changes which can at best be described as mixing politics with religion in such as way that the religious minorities gets marginalized and over a period excludes them from many mainstream public programs including public education system. b) While such complex group specific strategies take effect often situation turns violent including extra judicial executions of members of minority communities. The local police and the security apparatus either ignores completely or extends nominal support in a manner not to displease and often support the cause of the extreme right-wingers as well the cultural hegemony of the RSS not to speak of the ruling class. The behaviour of the police only differs marginally when the political party orientation or the government changes at the national level and when the rulings parties differ at the national and state level administration. One of the largest fallout of such a partial and partisan behaviour of the policy has been illegal arrests of a large number of Muslim youth all over the country who are languishing in police stations, remand homes, judicial confinements and prisons with no bails and even rudimentary enquiries. Practically all those overnight arrests termed as ‘protective detentions’ are innocent men who are incapable of arranging huge funds needed to get bails and judicial redress.  

The most recent contentious issue has been the one of religious conversions. While both the Muslim and Christian faiths have been based on the principle of conversions, there are technical reasons as to why it is difficult for someone to become a Hindu as there is no such thing as a Hindu unless one also chooses a caste. Should the Hindu conversions happen, choice must be given to for example to either become a Brahmin or a Dalit with appropriate legal certifications and documentation.

However, a number of socially contentious issues must be left to the people at large to discuss debate and articulate appropriate legally supported solutions. In doing so the government of the day and especially the police and security system must be non-partisan and out of the picture. A durable institutional solution to such problems is to establish an independent ‘equal opportunity commission’ at the national as well at the state levels across India. The EOC would release the elected government and its large policy and security apparatus the trouble of dealing with situations which can be effectively handled by the EOC itself. Note that two of the highly matured and respected democracies of the world – the USA and the UK have established these institutions and with fair amount of successes.

This is an opportunity when Mr. Modi can turn a leaf in history book of Independent India to begin a new chapter in which he delegates the power to build cohesive, diverse and peaceful society. The minorities are not seeking handouts; all they wish is equal access to education, employment, housing, healthcare, development finance and entrepreneurial opportunities. Institutional facilitation by establishing the national level Equal Opportunity Commission and a series of EOCs at the State levels is the need of the hour.