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VIEW: Why is it difficult to make things happen in the government?

VIEW: Why is it difficult to make-things-happen in the government?

VIEW: Why is it difficult to make-things-happen in the government?
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By Anil Swarup  Oct 3, 2020 12:07:13 AM IST (Published)

The agitation against the Farm Bills has set me thinking. I had so far been of the view that for anything to happen and sustain in the Government it had to be politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable, administratively doable and judicially tenable. This in itself was quite a handful. However, the unexpected agitation against the Farm Bills has compelled me to add another dimension: “emotionally relatable”.

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Almost everyone outside the Government feels that not much happens in the Government. Not only that, each one of them will have an idea on how to make-things-happen. However, if the seven aforementioned aspects are not taken into consideration, the idea will perhaps not travel much distance on the ground. Let us consider each one of them.
No matter how good an idea is, it will get converted into policy only if the ultimate decision-making authority, a politician or a group of politicians, puts its stamp on it. For example, many would argue that reservation in government jobs is adversely impacting governance. If there is a referendum, perhaps the majority will vote against it. But can we dispense with it now or at any time in the future?  Perhaps not, because it will never be politically acceptable. That is why decision making in democracies takes much longer than in countries like China. A lot of time gets spent in consensus building. This is not to say that democracies are worse than autocracies because political acceptability, as an underlying principle of democracy, has its own merits.
The social desirability of an idea is equally important even if it may not appear to be so. It is important in the context of the implementation of an idea that maybe politically acceptable. A number of schemes announced by the Government, hence politically acceptable, fail on the ground because while formulating the scheme, the social context is not taken into consideration. Thus, the infamous Family Planning effort of the Government during the dark days of emergency not only met with failure but led to the fall of the Government. This may be an extreme example but many schemes and ideas face enormous problems if they are not socially desirable. Understanding the needs of the stakeholders is critical for the success of any scheme.
Technology is changing by the day. Hence, the feasibility of technology becomes an important determinant in the implementation of an idea and sustaining it. Many of those that have not travelled to various parts of the country advocate the use of the internet to reach out to children during COVID times for schooling. They are perhaps unaware of the fact that the internet has not reached out as yet to a large part of the country. The situation may change over a period of time but as of now, it may not be possible to reach out to all the children through the net.
The most critical part in the implementation of an idea is the availability of funds to back such an idea. Till a couple of years ago, a number of Railway lines were announced by successive Railway Ministers in their speech (fortunately this has ceased now) without the funds to back them. These railway lines were socially desirable and technologically feasible. They were obviously politically acceptable as well. But they never happened on the ground. Similar apprehensions are raised about the recently announced National Education Policy (NEP). The Policy recommends the allocation of 6% of GDP to the Education Sector. This is nothing new. It was recommended long ago by Dr Kothari in his Report as well. But the money never came despite a cess levied by the government to raise resources. In fact, during the period from 2014 to 2018, the budgetary allocation to School Education actually came down in real terms. Without requisite money to back ideas, such ideas will not travel a long distance.
Even if we have the requisite money, if the desired human resources are not available, the idea will not work on the ground. One of the reasons for failure in the delivery of health care in rural areas is the shortage of doctors. Health care is politically acceptable and socially desirable. There is a reasonable amount of money available. But a shortage of human resource is a major constraint.  School Education in the country is another example where there is an acute shortage of human resources. There is an additional problem relating to their management as well. This management of the teachers who are the pivot of school education has left a lot to be desired. The biggest mafia in School Education is the one that provides pre-service training, the B.Ed and D.El.Ed Colleges. A large number of them exist only on paper but they can give you a degree. The selection of teachers to Government Schools is another racket. One former Chief Minister is behind the bars for manipulating selection. What can be expected of teachers that have come through such a process? Human resource management is the key to the success of any programme.
Finally, no matter what the government does, the final arbiter is the judiciary. It can undo all that may have been attempted. The over-indulgent judiciary can make matters worse.
The Farm Bills appear to be fine on all these dimensions mentioned above. Even those that are opposing it on account of political considerations were themselves pushing for such reforms when they were in power. Most of them would privately agree that the Bills would benefit the farmers and will free them from the clutches of “middle-men”. However, opposition to the Bills is still so huge. It reflects the inability of the proponents to make this idea “emotionally relatable” to the farming community. The Bills are indeed socially desirable but the government which has otherwise demonstrated to be so skilful in communicating messages has apparently been unable to do so in the present instance. Hence, the Bills that are so beneficial to the farmers are not perceived as such. There is, therefore, this problem of perception and a large number of farmers are not able to relate emotionally with the Bills.
The listing of these limitations does not mean that things don’t happen in the government. The success of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Coal Block auctions and unprecedented increase in coal production during 2014-16, Ayushman Bharat and the like prove that it-can-happen. These programmes/schemes/efforts understood these limitations and worked around them. There is indeed a lot to learn from how they made-it-happen for others to make-it-happen.
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