Saturday, December 17, 2016

Book Review and Extract on state capacity

Karthik has a review of our book here in his excellent blog. And I agree with most of his observations and critiques. 

Swarajya has an extract from our book on policy prescriptions to improve state capacity. This is a pet theme for me and I am convinced that it significantly diminishes the effectiveness of every other reform. Governance or reform in a weak state setting is almost like running a sprint while carrying a very heavy backpack. Heck, even Swachh Bharat requires state capacity!

5 comments:

prabhat singh said...

"Unfortunately, while there have been numerous stand-alone, individual-driven, and locally designed e-governance applications for a range of public interventions across districts, there has been little effort to refine, standardize, and scale up these applications across the state."

My father, as District Magistrate of a certain district in UP, set up a 24*7 call centre that was super effective in bringing together various parts of the district administration for quick responses to emergency situations, as well as for grievance redressal (I suspect this term is strictly Indian). Unfortunately, it has not been scaled up.

I have been working for a state government for the past year. In my experience, a major hindrance to building state capacity is lack of separation of power. The functional independence of state officials (not just IAS, but others such as university VCs too) exists only on paper, which means nearly all of them are busy pleasing the political executive. This is common even for the otherwise non-corrupt officials, which severely hampers their quality of work. In the West, the system of electing officials at different levels works brilliantly because it insulates them from the higher ups. I am not entirely sure whether this would be a boon to India, but something on these lines must be thought of.

prabhat singh said...

"Unfortunately, while there have been numerous stand-alone, individual-driven, and locally designed e-governance applications for a range of public interventions across districts, there has been little effort to refine, standardize, and scale up these applications across the state."

My father, as District Magistrate of a certain district in UP, set up a 24*7 call centre that was super effective in bringing together various parts of the district administration for quick responses to emergency situations, as well as for grievance redressal (I suspect this term is strictly Indian). Unfortunately, it has not been scaled up.

I have been working for a state government for the past year. In my experience, a major hindrance to building state capacity is lack of separation of power. The functional independence of state officials (not just IAS, but others such as university VCs too) exists only on paper, which means nearly all of them are busy pleasing the political executive. This is common even for the otherwise non-corrupt officials, which severely hampers their quality of work. In the West, the system of electing officials at different levels works brilliantly because it insulates them from the higher ups. I am not entirely sure whether this would be a boon to India, but something on these lines must be thought of.

prabhat singh said...

You have rightly pointed out the need for better procurement policies - UPSC exam is such a laughable relic (talking only of higher bureaucracy here).

However, one wonders whether the policy of hiring from the private sector, as is the norm in US, would create a revolving door between the private sector and government. Officials and politicians in US are regularly accused of pandering to some private company or the other, so some balance must be struck. I am not aware of any favours made to Infosys during the UIDAI project, so hopefully this is a silver lining.

Gulzar Natarajan said...

Prabaht, thanks for the comments. I agree that the disease to please political masters afflicts even the non-corrupt. But it may be futile to look for structural and incentive compatible solutions...

I will be surprised if India is immune to such exploitations. The UIDAI may be an exception because of an exceptional individual...

prabhat singh said...

Another thing I've experienced during my work - inter-departmental coordination is almost completely absent. Almost every GO issued, quite a few of them by the Chief Secretary's office, are ignored. The lack of coordination is most starkly visible in getting approvals from the forest department. It's all the more surprising given that the same set of officers head different departments at different times. This severely hampers state capacity.