Contours of the Public Policy in India in the Amrit Kaal

Event Report
Mansi Garg

Introduction

Welcome to a transformative educational journey through “Understanding Indian Public Policy in the Amrit Kaal.” This course is your gateway to unravelling the intricacies of public policy in India during the auspicious period of 2022 to 2047, coinciding with India’s 100 years of independence. In an era where comprehensive literacy in the complexities of domestic and international public policies is essential for informed participation, this program serves as a beacon of enlightenment for all stakeholders in India. Crafted with precision, our program features renowned resource persons who will guide you through a diverse range of topics, from public financial management to citizen-centric policy design, technology’s role in policy, urbanization, and environmental sustainability, among others. We delve into the impact of policies on stakeholders, their intended and unintended consequences, and the crucial analyses needed. This course goes beyond introductory levels, offering participants a unique understanding of contemporary governance from a multitude of perspectives. Whether you’re a student, a policymaker, an NGO professional, a business leader, a journalist, an international observer, or simply an interested citizen, this course equips you with the knowledge and insights to navigate India’s intricate public policy landscape.

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WEEK 1 | September 1, 2023

Day 1: Opening Keynote Address on Using Feedback Loops for Policy-making

Dr. Sanjeev Sanyal, Member of the Economic Advisory Council of the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) and Secretary to the Government of India, delivered a thought-provoking keynote speech on “Using Feedback Loops for Policy-Making.” Dr. Sanyal initiated the session by shedding light on the concept of Decision Theory and the critical role of Feedback Loops in shaping policy decisions. He began by distinguishing between risk and uncertainty in policy-making, emphasizing that uncertainty often involves events for which outcomes cannot be precisely calculated or assigned probabilities. To illustrate this, he cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a prime example, wherein different countries adopted varied strategies due to the substantial uncertainty surrounding the virus’s impact. India, in particular, implemented a unique approach that combined iterative decision-making and the establishment of safety nets to address the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic. Dr. Sanyal also highlighted the importance of feedback loops, drawing parallels with agile software development in the IT sector and the implementation of policies like the Goods and Services Tax (GST). This iterative approach, he noted, allows policies to adapt to complex, evolving systems, ultimately emphasizing the dynamic nature of policymaking in today’s world. In Dr. Sanyal’s words, policies should not just work; they should be adaptable to “fit” and “be made to work” in ever-changing environments.

WEEK 2 | September 8 & 9, 2023

Day 2: Knowing-Doing Gap in Public Policies

In the enlightening session led by Mr. V Ramakrishnan, Managing Director of Organisation Development in Singapore, the critical issue of the Knowing-Doing Gap in public policy was extensively explored. The key concept of understanding the divergence between knowing what should be done and effectively executing policies was a central theme. Drawing on a powerful compass vs. GPS analogy, the session highlighted the importance of transitioning from knowledge to action in the realm of public policy. Key takeaways emphasized the need for policies to be outcomes-oriented, with a focus on capacity development, strategic thinking, and innovative approaches. Furthermore, the session underlined the significance of acknowledging inherent uncertainties in policy formulation and the role of market forces in decision-making. In conclusion, the session advocated a comprehensive and proactive approach to bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap, aligning knowledge, planning, and execution to deliver tangible benefits for society and address the needs of citizens.

Key Concepts in Fiscal Diagnostics

The session titled “Key Concepts in Fiscal Diagnostics,” led by Prof. Mukul Asher, a Visiting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI, provided a comprehensive exploration of fiscal management in India, drawing parallels between fiscal diagnosis and medical diagnoses. Prof. Asher emphasized the critical role of effective fiscal management at various levels of government, offering an integrated framework for generating fiscal space. The session delved into key components, such as economic growth, tax base broadening, non-conventional revenue sources, and efficient expenditure management, showcasing their practical application through real-life examples. The importance of reliable data and evidence-based decision-making was highlighted, alongside key fiscal indicators, fiscal transparency, government debt levels, and the significance of local fiscal health. Prof. Asher’s insights and the subsequent question and answer session enriched the discussion, underscoring the crucial role of data in informed fiscal management and providing attendees with a deeper understanding of India’s intricate fiscal landscape.

Day 3: Citizen-Centric Public Policy Formulation

In this thought-provoking session led by Mr. V. Ramakrishnan, the intricacies of citizen-centric public policy formation are explored, emphasizing the pivotal role of aligning policies with the diverse expectations and needs of a nation’s citizens. Ramakrishnan adeptly differentiates between wants and needs, drawing inspiration from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and underscores that the primary objective of public policy should be bridging the gap between performance and expectations to enhance citizen satisfaction. These insights shed light on the complex nature of public policy and the delicate balance required to meet the diverse needs and aspirations of citizens while simultaneously nurturing growth, development, and well-being within a nation. Effective policy formulation necessitates a comprehensive comprehension of citizens’ multifaceted needs and desires, an unwavering dedication to their satisfaction, and a continual commitment to improvement.

Goods and Services Tax in India: Rationale & Reform Directions

The session on ‘Goods and Services Tax in India: Rationale and Reform Directions’ led by Prof. Sachchidananda Mukherjee delves into the transformative impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on India’s taxation system. It addresses the significant issues that plagued the pre-GST era, such as input tax credit challenges, definitional inconsistencies, and cascading taxes, which had hampered the efficiency and uniformity of the tax landscape. The historical progression from Central Sales Tax (CST) to Value Added Tax (VAT) set the stage for the introduction of GST, streamlining tax rates, simplifying administrative processes, and expanding the tax base. GST’s comprehensive Value Added Tax system covering both goods and services represents a pivotal shift in India’s taxation approach, fostering a unified market by eliminating CST and entry tax, promoting a seamless flow of goods across state borders. Its introduction aimed to simplify taxation and enhance the competitiveness of Indian businesses on the global stage by eliminating embedded taxes. As India continues its economic growth trajectory, GST remains a cornerstone of tax reform, reflecting the country’s commitment to modernizing its tax structure to align with its rapidly developing economy.

Evolving Global Trade Architecture and Return of Industrial Policy

Dr. Aashish Chandorkar’s session on the evolving global trade architecture and the revival of industrial policy offers a comprehensive exploration of the complex dynamics that shape the world of trade and industry. Delving into the historical evolution of global trade, the session highlights the pivotal role of international institutions like the WTO and the influence of globalization on the trade landscape. It prompts a fundamental question regarding the relationship between trade and globalization, particularly in the context of contemporary debates about supply chain resilience versus efficiency. The session elucidates how the vulnerabilities exposed by recent global challenges, including the pandemic, have led to a re-evaluation of established trade norms and spurred a resurgence of industrial policy initiatives worldwide, with a particular focus on Western countries. India’s response to these evolving global dynamics, exemplified by initiatives like the Production Linked Incentives (PLI) scheme and quality control regulations, reflects its commitment to becoming a key player in global value chains and fostering innovation. Legislative developments further underscore India’s determination to strengthen its research and technology capabilities and enhance its defence-industrial complex. In essence, this session provides valuable insights into the intricate interplay between trade, industrial policy, and the changing global landscape.

WEEK 3 | September 15 & 16, 2023

Day 4: India’s Education & Skilling Initiatives

Dr. Shobha’s session on ” India’s Education & Skilling Initiatives” delves into the evolution of the education policy in India, highlighting key principles and reforms. The education policy emphasizes flexibility with a focus on critical thinking and multidisciplinary, allowing students to explore vocational subjects and choose subjects across different streams. It introduces the concept of multiple entry and exit in higher education, offering students a diverse range of academic paths. Emphasizing learning beyond the classroom, the policy encourages interdisciplinarity and alignment with the job market, fostering industry-specific, interest-based courses from an early age and incorporating internships and practitioners as instructors. The digitization of education through platforms like NAD, DIKSHA, SWAYAM, and AI tools is a central theme, aimed at expanding the reach and quality of education. Additionally, the policy emphasizes the globalized system, aiming to connect with the world and establish international campuses and offices, fostering knowledge exchange. The implementation phase for these ambitious policy goals spans the years 2030-2040 and involves addressing challenges such as supporting schools and higher education institutions, granting autonomy to leading universities, streamlining curricula, allocating resources, and promoting the use of technology in education delivery, assessment, planning, and administration.

A Case for Police & Judicial Reforms in India

In his session on “Police Reforms in India,” Mr. Prakash Singh provides a comprehensive overview of the state of policing in India and the urgent need for reforms. He highlights the challenges faced by Indian police, such as working with a significant shortage of personnel, gruelling work hours, lack of infrastructure, and the pressure exerted by politicians in criminal investigations. He underscores the historical context, dating back to the colonial structure of the police and the outdated Police Act of 1861, which has seen little change since independence. Various committees and commissions have recommended reforms, including insulating the police from political interference, internal autonomy for personnel decisions, the separation of investigative and law enforcement functions, and the establishment of State Security Commissions to enhance accountability. However, many states have been slow to implement these reforms, and there is a pressing need for adherence to Supreme Court directives and a commitment to upholding the rule of law, protecting human rights, and improving governance. Police reforms are not only crucial for democracy but also for sustaining economic progress, combating terrorism, insurgency, and organized crime, and transforming the police force from being rulers’ police to people’s police.

Day 5: Role of Niti Aayog in the Amrit Kaal

In her session on “The Role of Niti Aayog in the Amrit Kaal,” Ms. Urvashi Prasad highlighted the significance of the 25 years leading up to India’s 100th year of Independence in 2047, referred to as the Amrit Kaal. She emphasized the Indian government’s vision to make these years as transformative as the period leading to India’s independence in 1947, aiming to develop India comprehensively, not just economically but also socially, environmentally, and in terms of human development. Ms. Prasad elucidated Niti Aayog’s crucial role in facilitating this transformation by working closely with states, helping them develop their own growth trajectories through initiatives like the State Support Mission and Aspirational Districts Programme. She stressed the importance of channelling resources efficiently and promoting inclusive development during the Amrit Kaal, aligning with the government’s goal of creating a “Viksit Bharat” or a developed India by 2047. The session concluded with an interactive Q&A session, encouraging audience engagement and interaction.

India’s Recent Policies Towards Financial Inclusion

Professor Aman Agarwal’s session on “India’s Recent Policies Towards Financial Inclusion” provided a comprehensive overview of India’s growth journey and the government’s commitment to sustainable development. He highlighted the importance of a connected, interdependent approach encompassing technology, environment, and human capital development, which has been a focus since the early 2000s. Prof. Agarwal discussed the Union Budget 2023-24, emphasizing its continuation of promoting transparency, accountability, and sustainability. He underscored the significance of inclusive growth and the allocation of budget resources to address critical areas like national security, healthcare, social welfare, and agriculture. In the realm of financial inclusion, he noted the transformative role of FinTech and the digitization of financial services, from demonetization to widespread adoption of digital payment methods. He recognized India’s progress in the FinTech sector while acknowledging the need for supervision and regulation. Prof. Agarwal concluded by stressing the potential for India’s GDP growth, emphasizing trust, confidence, and the importance of fostering a human-centric and inclusive development approach for the nation’s prosperous future.

Reforming India’s Personal and Corporate Income Tax

During his session on “Reforming India’s Personal and Corporate Income Tax,” Professor M. Govinda Rao delved into the crucial components of a well-designed tax system, the historical evolution of India’s tax system, revenue trends, and recent reforms. He emphasized the need for a simplified, multi-objective-free tax system, as the current tax structure is overloaded with various objectives, which has led to revenue losses due to evasion and avoidance. Prof. Rao advocated for a three-rate structure instead of the existing seven, suggesting the removal of exemptions and preferences. He discussed significant changes in personal and corporate income tax over the years and outlined the recent tax reforms. He expressed concerns about challenges posed by multinational and digital taxation and underscored the importance of using technology and effective taxpayer services for improving India’s taxation system. Prof. Rao concluded by highlighting the necessity of enacting a new tax code to address the complexities and challenges inherent in the current system.

WEEK 4 | September 22 & 23, 2023

Day 6: India’s Demographic Challenges, with Implications for Livelihoods, Pension and Health Sectors

Professor Mukul Asher conducted a comprehensive session discussing India’s demographic challenges and their wide-ranging implications for livelihoods, pensions, and the healthcare sector. He highlighted key demographic trends, including India’s youthful population and the need to factor in regional variations in addressing these challenges. Notably, he discussed the declining Total Fertility Rate, population density distribution, and the importance of effective governance in specific regions for holistic development. In terms of healthcare, the decrease in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses was addressed, along with the significance of public health insurance initiatives. Professor Asher emphasized the need for India to prioritize total factor productivity, technology-driven development, and holistic healthcare strategies to accommodate the rapidly growing elderly population. He also stressed the importance of addressing multidimensional poverty and fostering life skills in education to prepare the workforce for evolving job demands. In conclusion, he underscored the significance of systematically managing contingent liabilities of government schemes, promoting social enterprises in aged care, and investing in gerontology studies and long-term healthcare infrastructure.

Key Trends and Issues in India’s State Finances

In Radhika Pandey’s session on ‘Trends and Issues in State Finances,’ several critical aspects of India’s state finances were addressed. The discussion focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state deficits, with an emphasis on the need to bring deficits under control and adhere to fiscal responsibility guidelines despite pandemic-induced economic disruptions. The challenges and opportunities related to state bond markets, particularly State Development Loans (SDLs), were examined, with policy reforms suggested to enhance liquidity and promote greater state reliance on the bond market. Additionally, the session highlighted the importance of states gradually increasing their revenue-generating capacity to achieve financial self-reliance, as demonstrated by states like Haryana. This comprehensive exploration of state finances in India underscored the need for fiscal management, transparency, and financial autonomy to ensure resilient and sustainable fiscal systems at the state level.

Data and Public Policy: Municipal Finance Case Study

Dr. Soumyadip Chattopadhyay’s session underscored the pivotal role of data in shaping the future of development and governance in India. He emphasized the ongoing “Data Revolution,” which has ushered in a new era of data challenges and opportunities, necessitating the understanding of the five V’s of data: Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity, and Value. The discussion highlighted the economic aspects of data collection and the importance of aligning private firms’ incentives with societal benefits. Dr. Chattopadhyay also emphasized the government’s role in managing various types of data and the need for an integrated data system to enhance the quality and comprehensiveness of data analysis for effective public policies. Challenges faced by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in India regarding financial transparency and data standardization were addressed, and potential solutions for optimizing property tax revenue systems were discussed. In summary, the session stressed the imperative of harnessing data’s full potential through data-driven technologies and collaboration among stakeholders to improve governance, economic policies, and public services in India.

Day 7: A New Idea for India

In a captivating session led by Mr. Harsh Gupta Madhusudan, the author of “A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilizational State” and an investor, a profound exploration of India’s past, present, and future unfolded. His book, “A New Idea for India,” serves as an invitation to envision and shape the future of this diverse and dynamic nation. It traces India’s history from ancient civilizations to modernity, emphasizing the pivotal role of democracy, secularism, and diverse cultural heritage. The rich tapestry of Hinduism, referred to as the “Commonwealth of Religion,” and India’s commitment to secularism in its constitution were highlighted. The process of decolonization after independence from British rule, the transformative year of 1977 in Indian politics, and the current position of modern India were all examined, shedding light on India’s progress and the challenges it faces. Throughout the session, the resounding theme was India’s resilience and commitment to democratic values while adapting to the opportunities and complexities of the 21st century.

Key Challenges Facing India’s Foreign Policy
Ambassador Shashank’s session on “Key Challenges Facing India’s Foreign Policy” provided an insightful historical perspective and highlighted the contemporary challenges India faces in its foreign relations. Rooted in the principles of non-alignment, anti-colonialism, and global peace advocated by leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s foreign policy has navigated a complex world stage while maintaining sovereignty and neutrality. Challenges such as border disputes with neighbours, especially China and Pakistan, managing the rise of China, balancing regional relations, addressing economic inequality, and engaging effectively in multilateral diplomacy, all require adept diplomacy, adaptability, and a commitment to advancing India’s strategic interests. The session emphasized that India’s foreign policy continues to evolve, guided by its rich historical legacy and a pursuit of global stability and multipolar cooperation.

Marketization of Public Enterprises

In a comprehensive session conducted by Prof. Mukul Asher, the marketization of public enterprises took center stage, shedding light on India’s evolving approach to state-owned enterprises (SOEs). He emphasized that the historical trend of nationalization of businesses and public enterprises, prevalent from the 1940s to the 1970s, is undergoing a profound re-evaluation. Evidence suggests that many of India’s nationalized sectors, such as banks, insurance companies, and airlines, have incurred substantial long-term economic and social costs. The changing perspective globally advocates that the government’s role should shift towards social welfare and infrastructure development, while SOEs must adapt to market forces and improve their governance and transparency. Furthermore, the impact of COVID-19 on state-owned enterprises and the need for reforms were discussed. Prof. Asher outlined various methods of marketization, encompassing organizational, ownership, performance, and financial aspects. The session underscored India’s ongoing efforts to reform state enterprises, seeking to strike a balance between retaining strategic control in certain sectors and unleashing market forces to enhance efficiency and innovation, ultimately contributing to India’s economic growth, service delivery, and global competitiveness.

WEEK 5 | September 29 & 30, 2023

Day 8: India’s Initiatives for Balancing Sustainable Environment with Other Goals

In the second session on India’s initiatives for balancing a sustainable environment with other goals, Professor Anil K Gupta shed light on the multifaceted challenges posed by disasters. He highlighted that disasters, beyond causing infrastructure damage and economic setbacks, exact a profound human and environmental toll. The session underscored the importance of recognizing sector-specific contexts in disaster management and the interplay of climate change with land use alterations and natural resource degradation. Urbanization and the complications it brings during disasters were addressed, along with the significance of multi-hazard risk management in the context of a pandemic. The session also discussed the promising concept of business continuity management and the critical role of scientific frameworks in disaster forecasting and response. It commended India’s resilience initiatives, including the National Disaster Response Force and district-level adaptation plans, and emphasized the necessity of international collaboration in tackling a wide array of environmental challenges, from forest fires to food security. Professor Gupta’s session provided a holistic view of the evolving disaster landscape, emphasizing the need for comprehensive scientific approaches and global cooperation to mitigate these intricate issues.

A Discussion on Careers in Public Policy

The session on careers in public policy, led by Mr. Yash Agarwal, provided participants with a comprehensive overview of the intricate field of public policy in India. The session began with a discussion on the IDIME framework, encompassing Ideation, Design, Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation, which serves as a crucial guide for policymakers and researchers in policy development. It emphasized the pivotal roles of academia, think tanks, and research institutions in shaping public policies, particularly during the ideation and design phases, and underscored the essential contribution of the development sector, including NGOs, in policy implementation and real-world impact. Mr. Agarwal also delved into various spaces, functions, and verticals within public policy, guiding early career professionals in setting clear goals and exploring roles that align with their skills and interests. The session concluded with an emphasis on the significance of gaining diverse work experiences, effective communication, and the pursuit of high-quality contributions to make a meaningful impact on policy formulation and implementation.

Science, Technology, and Public Policy

In the session on Science, Technology, and Public Policy, led by Dr. Bhaskar Balakrishna and facilitated by Professor Mukul Asher, the fundamental role of science and technology (S&T) in modern society was highlighted. S&T provides a critical understanding of the natural world, and technology applies this knowledge to drive innovation and progress. The session underscored the dual objectives of governance: national security and improving citizens’ quality of life, with S&T playing a pivotal role in conferring economic and military power. It discussed the government’s role in monitoring and controlling technological advancements and the challenges society faces in areas like climate change, AI, and cybersecurity. International engagement, interdisciplinary collaboration, and support for the development dimension of S&T were stressed, along with India’s S&T ecosystem’s status and performance across various sectors. In summary, the session provided a comprehensive perspective on the intricate interplay between science, technology, and public policy and the need for a robust S&T ecosystem to address contemporary challenges and opportunities effectively.

Day 9: Managing India’s Urbanization

Professor Chetan Vaidya’s session on “Managing India’s Urbanization” during Day 9 of the event was divided into three parts, providing a comprehensive exploration of the complex urbanization landscape in India. He began by addressing the challenges associated with defining urban areas in India and highlighted the need for adaptable approaches due to the country’s vast diversity. The session delved into the issues faced by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and the evolution of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992, which aimed to resolve these challenges but with some lingering discrepancies. Prof. Vaidya discussed the government’s response to promoting and fostering urbanization through various missions and initiatives, including Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities. Furthermore, he emphasized the critical link between climate change and urban development, shedding light on India’s vulnerability to climate change impacts and its commitment to combat climate change at international conferences like COP26. The session concluded by addressing key issues in planning for urban development and highlighted successful case studies and government schemes, ultimately conveying that persistent efforts and best practices can lead to improved urbanization.

A Discussion on Key Messages and Insights from the Course

During Day 9 of the event, Professor Mukul Asher delivered a session focusing on key messages and insights from the course. He commenced by emphasizing the remarkable technological advancements that have shaped contemporary society, highlighting the necessity for companies to embrace technology to remain competitive. His first mega message addressed the issue of oikophobia, emphasizing the importance of preserving cultural values and traditions. The second message emphasized the need for India to adopt a strategic stance, staying neutral in global geopolitics to focus on policy issues. Professor Asher urged for a flexible approach to reforming both public and private organizations, illustrating that profit-making entities exist in both sectors. He emphasized the importance of transformative change over incremental adjustments, citing examples like the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam Bill and India’s progress in space exploration and transportation. The final message underscored the significance of upgrading statistical agencies to enhance data-driven decision-making and bridge gaps in the transformation process, aligning with India’s ambitious development goals.

Acknowledgement: Mansi Garg is a Research Intern at IMPRI

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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