7 solutions to hack the gender gap emerge at ISPP Policy Hackathon

The morning of June 11 felt different. The ISPP campus was abuzz with young policy enthusiasts descending from 18 different colleges, some online, others in person. The ISPP Policy Hackathon began on a high note. All 28 finalists exchanged notes as Dhruva Mathur, ISPP’s Academic Coordinator took the dais to explain the rules and rubric of the hackathon. For Team ISPP, it wasn’t the first time organising a hackathon.

Every year, ISPP scholars get to participate in policy hackathons during their one-year PGP in Policy Design & Management. We still remember the last hackathon when the campus stayed open for 24 hours as scholars worked in groups on various case studies. The ebullient discussions were punctuated with incessant cups of tea, and snacks from scholars’ favourite dhaba close to Sanjay Van. A truly unforgettable experience at ISPP.

This year we decided to take the Policy Hackathon to the world beyond the ISPP campus and invited bright young minds to work together on solutions to hack the gender gap. We invited entries in the form of video submissions for the preliminary round. The response was encouraging as 28 finalists were shortlisted to compete in the grand finale. The finalists were grouped into seven teams and each team was assigned a unique problem statement in the gender domain. Unlike our in-house hackathons, these teams had just three hours to analyse, research, deliberate, and put together, not just their thoughts, but also presentations. What would have Gabbar’s response to that ticking timer? Bahut na-insafi hai. But then life is a race against time, so why not a hackathon? And then there was pizza for company!

The eminent jury members joined us as teams gave final touches to their presentations. While Dr. Sekhar Bonu, Director General, DMEO, NITI Aayog joined in person, other jury members – Dr. Alice Evans, Senior Lecturer, Department of International Development, King’s College London, and Ms. Aparna Mittal, Founder, Samāna Centre for Gender, Policy & Law joined us online.

As each team presented their solutions, the jury members asked tough questions and gave them invaluable feedback. Their suggestions nudged the teams to not just think of the plausibility of their solutions but also of gender inclusivity. Dr. Evans, who joined us from London, kept everyone in good humour with her spirited personality and quirky remarks. The day came to an end with the announcement of winners and Jury’s Choice awards. Each participant got a certificate of participation and a surprise reward, a token of appreciation from Team ISPP.

Two teams jointly won the first prize, a cash prize of Rs. 2.5 Lakh. They worked on two problem statements: ‘What kind of policy interventions will help in reducing the dropout rate of a girl child?’ and ‘How can we design policies to create better access to housing and health for women?’ The winning team members were Aditya Sinha (University of Lucknow), Ajey Karthik J (NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad), Rajvansh Singh (Singhania University), Vidhi Narang (National Law School of India University), Paavi Kulshreshth (Delhi University), Rahul Bajaj (University of Oxford), Rahul Gupta (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India), and Sonia Singh (School of Economics, Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya). The Jury’s Choice award winners were Rahul Bajaj and Vidhi Narang.

As we bid adieu to the participants, we promised ourselves to announce the next season of ISPP Policy Hackathon soon.

We leave you with some memories from the event. Until next time!

Can India achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2070?

India is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of CO2, standing right after China, the US, and the EU. During the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) in 2021, India pledged that it will achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2070. Is India poised to fulfill its promise?

A meme went viral in March. It took a dig at how India seems to have skipped spring and plunged straight into summer, right after February. The memes may be hilarious but the situation isn’t.

NASA Earth Observatory published images using GEOS-5 data on heatwaves giving an alarming situation in India. Heatwaves are one of the earliest and most obvious impacts of climate change. How ready is India to tackle the situation?

India reported record temperatures in March and April this year, making it the hottest summer in 122 years since the records began. The mercury touched 49.2 degrees Celsius in Delhi. The scientific community has attributed it to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

What’s promising is that the emission intensity has been on a decline. Thanks to the use of more renewable energy, improved energy efficiency, and structural shift toward the services sector. At COP26, PM Modi pledged that India will increase its non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. “India plans to plant enough trees by 2030 to absorb an additional 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. Green hydrogen could contribute 19 percent of the total energy needs of the industrial sector. Additionally, major automobile manufacturers have launched electric vehicles in both commercial and passenger segments. I feel we are almost on track to reach net-zero by 2070,” says Jagmohan Gaarg, Co-founder, Dhruva, a SAAS platform that measures, tracks, analyses and allows asset owners and investors to optimise carbon emission levels.

The saving grace is that India has started taking action to correct greenhouse gas emissions. One of the steps is rolling out a Heat Action Plan.

“National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and India Meteorological Department (IMD) have been working with 23 out of India’s 28 states that have been identified as heatwave prone to develop heat action plans. Subsequently, many Indian cities have implemented Heat Action Plan. The Ahmedabad HAP uses a simple, colour-coded, early warning heat alert system. It alerts residents and city offices of predicted high and extreme temperatures,” Gaarg adds.

The fact cannot be ignored that we are a country of over a billion and that we need to do enough to check carbon emissions, be it the government, corporate, or even the public. The Indian government has been tracking carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and energy sectors. The goal is to reduce overall carbon emissions from every sector in the coming decades.

Most companies have set net-zero targets and started monitoring emissions across their businesses. Many hotels in India have started using eco-friendly products, say reusable bottles instead of plastic bottles. Such small changes lead to emission reductions in the long run. Consumers, too, are asking questions like, how many trees were cut in making this product? How can we recycle once a product is at the end of its life cycle? This is a definite shift in consumers’ mindsets.

These efforts have also been given a fillip by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). It recently mandated the top 1,000 listed companies to report their Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) from the financial year 2022-23. Will the move positively affect climate change and sustainable development initiatives is the question? “Absolutely. It is a bold step by our government. The first step in carbon management is carbon emissions measurement. Governments across developed countries have made it compulsory for businesses to measure carbon emissions. The companies will be able to identify sources of carbon emissions and accordingly take corrective actions,” Gaarg says.

We cannot manage what we cannot measure! The tracking of carbon emissions needs to be more comprehensive and on a frequent basis. There should be set targets for each industry in line with the country’s emissions target. Additionally, we could have a Carbon rating for large businesses. It will create a sense of importance in the community to track and report carbon emissions.

Next in the series on climate change, we will analyse the policy solutions needed to tackle alarming climate changes. Watch this space.

By Indian School of Public Policy

Policy lessons from movies: NERO’S GUESTS

Nero’s Guests is a documentary film directed by Deepa Bhatia and features P. Sainath, a journalist, who is the Founder Editor of the People’s Archives of Rural India.

By the medium of the film, a parallel is drawn between the famous Roman Emperor Nero and his guests and the ruling class in India that is oblivious to the miserable conditions of farmers in the country. Nero threw a garden party and invited all the elites in Rome, however, the issue faced by him was of illumination. So, to provide for ‘nightly illumination’ for his party, prisoners, criminals, and local people were burnt at stake, while the guests at the party did not raise any objection to such an act. The documentary compares the happenings of the garden party with the current situation in India, where farmers are falling into debt traps and committing suicides at an increasing rate and the ruling class, the people of the country, and the mainstream media choose to ignore the reporting of these events. The growing and free democracy is caught in the shackles of profit-making.

India is an agrarian economy and about 70 percent of its rural population is still dependent on agriculture1 as their main source of income. Post-independence, the government tried to shift the economy’s focus towards self-reliance and introduced several policies that would allegedly benefit the farmers of the nation. However, these policies only acted as a tool for the oppression of the small and middle-income farmers. Even though various policies like Pradhan Mantri Krishi Vikas Yojana, Agricultural Debt waiver, PM Fasal Beema Yojana have been introduced, they have failed to provide a solution that benefits the farmers.

The government of India introduced the Green Revolution as a step towards self-reliance, however along with the glory that it brought, it brought with itself techniques like the use of HYV seeds, expensive inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. A farmer in the documentary says, “The cost of farming has increased yet the crop does not yield returns”, while the inputs are getting costlier, the yield, as well as the prices, stay low. The HYV seeds were founded by an American scientist, Norman Borlaug, who was funded by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations2. Thus, it can be said that a huge agricultural reform was brought about in India by scientists who did not understand the Indian economy and the agricultural system. As Sainath said, “learned people from prestigious Universities make the decision about farmers whose lives they know nothing about.” To get the desired results, the use of HYV seeds also required fertilizers and chemical pesticides. Such inputs lead to the degradation of the soil. The inputs were expensive and required high investment, which lead to farmers borrowing money from informal channels at high rates of interest, and due to low yield or crop failures, the farmers could not afford to repay such loans and fell into a debt trap and thus, commit suicide.

The income disparity in India is growing at a faster rate than its development, even during the pandemic, the poor have become even poorer while its billionaire count reached 142 in 2021. The debate that arises here is that of efficiency v. equity. However, it is very important to understand that efficiency cannot be reached without working towards equity. The cotton clothes sold in the market and worn at Fashion Weeks are sold at high prices while the farmers who grow such cotton are taking away their lives. Even today the mainstream media turns a blind eye to reporting farmer suicides in the country, but a huge team runs to capture Fashion Weeks and Actor’s birthday parties.

Towards the end of the documentary, Sainath answers a student’s question by saying, “In deciding policy measures, as Mahatma said, recall the face of the poorest and weakest person and ask yourself, how the action you contemplate, puts them in a better place.”

He asks the important question of who Nero’s guests were who did not bat an eyelid when the people of their own country were being burnt alive and asks us not to become Nero’s guests.

1 Fao.org. India at a glance | FAO in India | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (n.d.).

2 Philipp, J. (2019, October 29). HYV seeds. The Borgen Project. Retrieved February 6, 2022, from https://borgenproject.org/tag/hyv-seeds/

Student Bio

Drishti

Drishti is a law graduate from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat with a keen interest in Intellectual property laws. Throughout her law school, topics such as labour laws, education reforms, human rights laws stayed in her main areas of interest. To explore the legal field further she interned at various places including an NGO, independent lawyers, law firms and with Hon’ble Justice Sunita Agarwal at the Allahbad High Court. Her interests include research, reading fan fiction and baking.

Things to know before applying to ISPP!

The Indian School of Public Policy is the first design thinking focused school of public policy in India, founded with a vision to develop policy professionals with the knowledge, skills, wisdom and ethics to understand, design and implement local solutions to India’s enduring policy and governance challenges.

Filling an application can be an overwhelming process. Here’s what you need to know if you wish to study public policy and aim to join the ISPP community of policy leaders of tomorrow.

1. Yes, Indian School of Public Policy is in Delhi. The campus is located at the heart of the nation’s capital overlooking the picturesque urban forest of ‘Sanjay Van’ and the Qutub Minar.

2. There is no Application Fee! The application form to ISPP for the one-year programme is free of cost. Register now to apply for 2021-2022 admissions!

3. It is a One Year-Full Time Programme. ISPP’s postgraduate programme in Public Policy, Design & Management is a full-time, immersive and rigorous programme with an interdisciplinary curriculum divided into 8 terms of 6 weeks each across one-year. To know more about our curriculum, visit https://www.ispp.org.in/academics/.

4. Admission criteria at ISPP is background agnostic. You can apply to study public policy at ISPP with any educational and professional background. Applicants are encouraged to apply from across the spectrum, regardless of number of years or past work-experiences, present career or choice of discipline at the Bachelors’ or Masters’ level. ISPP is looking for a diverse, intellectually curious and socially conscious student body, open to a wide variety of career options within public policy, be it in the government, corporate or civil society organisations. As far as you’re an Indian national, you’re eligible to apply to ISPP.

5. There is an Admission Test. After registering on https://www.ispp.org.in/admissions-2021/, you have to fill the application form with necessary information. The quantitative and English proficiency test + a 300-word essay test will be conducted only after successful submission of the application form. This will be followed by a Group Discussion (GD) and Personal Interview (PI) round after which the final admissions offer will be made to successful candidates.

6. There are scholarships and financial aid available. ISPP’s financial grants and bursaries support outstanding candidates with demonstrated excellence both inside and outside the classroom. Candidates would need to apply for a scholarship during the application process itself. The financial-aid decision is made on the basis of applicants’ adjusted household income that takes into account the income of all the members of their households, fixed assets, financial assets, financial liabilities and any other significant expense currently incurred by their households. Applicants should ensure that the information provided by them for financial-aid is true and accurate and is backed up by supporting documents. To know more, check out the financial aid section of the admissions page or write [email protected], or phone – +91 7303200363.

7. Connect with us! At ISPP, we’re constantly organising webinars, virtual info sessions and open houses that invite prospective scholars and applicants to get a sneak peek into the admissions process, the unique curriculum and other opportunities that are available to the ISPP scholars. In the past, these sessions have been extremely helpful to those who are interested in ISPP and look to get their queries addressed in a live session. Keep a look out for more of such events on our social media platforms.

Author– Indian School of Public Policy
Application to last and final round of admissions to ISPP commence on 1st May 2021. 

Doubling of Farmers’ Income by 2025: “New” Policy Reforms

The agricultural sector is considered to be the driving force of almost all economies across the world. It plays a prominent role in fulfilling the needs of mankind in terms of food supply and providing raw materials for industries. In the Indian context, it is the primary source of livelihood for rural people engaging 60% of its labour force. Although agriculture plays an instrumental role in the life of Indian citizens, its contribution to the economy is continuously declining and currently lingering around 15% of the GDP impacting both the farmers and the country. There are several reasons attributed to this paradox such as inadequate credit availability, inaccessible agri-inputs, lack of remunerative markets, low infrastructures, inadequate services and unintended consequences of government interventions in labour and land markets. Hence, reforming the agricultural sector is the only pathway to radically improve the lives of the citizens along with economic development.

The monthly expenditure of rural Indians on food has declined from Rs. 643 in 2011-12 to Rs. 580 in 2017-18. Similarly, rural spending on non-food items fell by 7.6 per cent between July 2017 and June 2018. These appalling figures display the gloomy side of the farmer’s situation, who are consuming less due to low farm income. Hence, the government in collaboration with different states have decided to work in a mission to double the farm income by 2025. But after reviewing the existing policy reforms along with literature and best practices across the world it is imperative to deconstruct the existing policy elements in a way that leads to a route of positive development in the favour of farmers. Following are some of the key policy recommendations that can ensure inclusivity and effectiveness in achieving the above-mentioned mission:

  1. Despite having several farmer welfare schemes and world-class institutions (ICAR, SFAC, NABARD, etc.) working in the interest of the farmers, it has failed to allay their problems. There is a mirage of safety nets created for the farmers to protect them from capitalists and money lenders. However, this safety net has increased the farmer’s problem instead of alleviating them via weak governance mechanisms and stringent regulations. Very little has been done to strengthen the systems, processes and models leading to effective governance. Hence, the development of a concrete governance structure is required to expedite the decision-making processes involving approvals for new technologies and effective farm practices which otherwise takes years to reach the grassroots making it obsolete.
  2. As per the World Census of Agriculture (WCA), the average landholding in India is around 1.1 hectare and that in China is 0.6 hectare. But still, the farmers in China have better income that is attributed to their liberal land reforms. On the contrary, the farmers in India face numerous challenges in selling or leasing their land, that further varies from state to state. Such regulations act as a barrier for farmers to exit from agriculture leading to the indefinite poverty trap. Thus, there is a need for India to liberalize land restriction laws. Furthermore, the exit from agriculture would not decline the GDP contribution. This is visible from China’s rapid growth with only 25.1 per cent of the workforce engaged in agriculture. The additional unproductive labour force could be engaged in secondary and tertiary activities leading to greater economic development. 
  3. When it comes to the credit market, it is heavily regulated and a ceiling on interest rates further reduces credit availability in the market. Thus, opening the farm credit market for digital wallets like Mobikwik, Phonepe, Paytm, etc. will increase the credit availability options for the farmers. Additionally, the credit cost will be reduced due to digital transactions leading to a win-win situation.
  4. The government has issued Minimum Support Price (MSP) to a large basket of commodities. However, it ensures guaranteed procurement of only rice and wheat at MSP thereby neglecting procurement of other commodities such as pulses leading to its uncertainty due to price cap. Hence, MSP should be applied only to crops that are procured by the government and letting the market decide upon the prices of other commodities leading to price equilibrium and better income to farmers.
  5. Whenever there is a price rise in any commodity, say onions, its export is banned thereby leaving the farmer to lose on extra income. This ban can be attributed to stocking, crop damage, rising oil prices, etc. Thus, the rising demand with dwindling supply prioritizes domestic demand over export which is less remunerative. Hence, the import/export trade barriers should be minimized to increase farm income.
  6. The farmers should be provided with a price discovery mechanism so that based on the future prices of commodities, they can make effective decisions leading to higher farm income.
  7. Several subsidies, cash transfer, input supply and credits are made available to the farmers every year. If all of the schemes are clubbed together and converted to cash that is directly transferred to the farmer’s account would yield a better result. But there are arguments that direct money transfer would lead farmers to use it in alcohol consumption. However, as per UNICEF’s working paper on cash transfers, this argument is flawed because the farmers, being a rational person, would utilize the money for education, health, agriculture & livelihood, etc.
  8. Countries like Israel have made a significant investment in R&D for highly advanced agricultural techniques leading them to outrank many of the developed and developing nations in quality farm production. A similar approach should be adopted by India to focus on agriculture R&D and mechanization that would provide higher benefits to the marginal farmers in the long-run thereby increasing their productivity and income.
  9. The farmers should be considered as a businessman who can start farmer-operated social enterprises contributing heavily to warehousing facilities that will increase the profit margin for everyone. Additionally, a measure on ease of doing business for farmers should be developed to record the growth in creating such an ecosystem.

With the aforementioned recommendations, it is essential to even understand the roadblocks in achieving them.

  1. Consumer activism is ruling the market and influencing the market decisions in their favour.
  2. Agriculture and farmer issues is a political agenda in India that acts as a hindrance to developing an efficient ecosystem.
  3. There are only 75 universities (four central universities, four deemed universities and 67 state universities) engaged in Agricultural R&D. This is not sufficient to cater to the needs of such a dominant sector in the Indian economy.
  4. The Indian skilling and entrepreneurial ecosystem prefer non-farm sector over the farm sector making it tough for farmers to operate as agri-entrepreneurs.

The views expressed in the post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Indian School of Public Policy. Images via open source.

About the Author

Abhishek Pandey is a policy scholar at the Indian School of Public Policy. He is a development professional with diverse grassroots experience and sound technical expertise. He has worked with corporates, NGOs and government administration on varied welfare schemes. As a dedicated professional, he has a deep interest in conducting research and has published a couple of papers on Entrepreneurship and Tribal Development (Journal of Adivasi and Indigenous Studies).

5 Books that you should read as a student of Public Policy

The importance of designing and implementing sustainable and feasible policy measures has never been more important than now, when the world grapples to survive a pandemic. The ability to circumnavigate the barriers to most viable and realistic policy measures is the key determinant which separates a good policymaker from a regular policymaker. While one would certainly learn about some of these barriers through practice, there is a vast amount of literature that forewarns about them and the erratic and fissile world of policymaking.

To broadly illustrate the main hurdles to optimum policy-making, I am sharing with you a list of 5 books which have greatly benefitted me by expanding the scope of my understanding of issues and making me aware of all the considerations required before even designing a policy.

Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

This ageless classic is the introductory text to policy-making that an aspiring policymaker must feast upon. Beyond introducing the idea that development can be defined in more ways than just in monetary terms, the book strongly backs the argument that development which empowers the individual economically, politically and socially is the wholesome and yet complex to achieve objective that policies should strive for. In a world with ever rising support for that oxymoron, ‘authoritarian development’, this book is a pertinent call to understanding that development is an exercise in expanding freedoms and any development that subjugates the people may be growth – but it certainly isn’t development.

Why Nations Fail by Darron Açemoglu and James Robinson

Why Nations Fail introduces policymakers to an obvious but easy to miss necessity of good policymaking: the quality of institutions. Açemoglu and Robinson build upon their existing scholarship to argue that the most fundamental building block of economic development, and by extension policymaking, is the quality of the institution under whose auspices that policymaking happens. Open and inclusive intuitions (democratic), that allow for many people to participate in them, tend to have better economic outcomes than closed and extractive institutions (authoritarian) where few people have access to decision-making and engage in the exploitation of those who are not part of the inner clique. In the process, the book tries to dismiss a few other theories of development i.e. culture, geography et al. Of course, this does not imply that the book is a self-sufficient explanation of economic development. Readers are cautioned against relying entirely on the it’s explanations as it fails to take into account factors like the role of the bureaucratic politics that may affect developmental outcomes. Nonetheless, it is an excellent read that all policymakers must be aware of.

The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson

The Anti-Politics Machine is an excellent complementary read to Why Nations Fail as it investigates the claim that technical solutions (such as policy-prescriptions and developmental projects) are, by themselves, a sufficient condition to improve developmental outcomes. Through a study of development projects of the 1970s and 1980s in Lesotho, the book presents a strong hypothesis of how experts often tend to look at developmental problems as technical problems while ignoring the cultural context and the vast gamut of socio-political and economic relations/issues within the local community that underlie the community’s development outcomes. In such cases, the implementation of apolitical solutions, which fail to account for these socio-political and economic realities, tends to not only fail but also have unintended consequences such as expanding the powers of the self-serving bureaucracy through vast resource allocations (read aid) which may never reach the concerned community.

Essence of Decision by Graham T. Allison and Philip Zelikow

Albeit written in the context of the Cuban missile crisis and the US response, this book offers key insights into the myriad ways that a bureaucracy operates and tends to shape government decision-making. Given recurring developmental proclamations for institution building and technical solutions, this book refocuses attention to the internal politics that occurs within the bureaucracy during the decision-making stage. It analyses how governments arrive at decisions either based on departmental positions and standard operating procedures or through internal negotiations and bargaining between different departments based on policy positions. Overall, the book removes the aura that surrounds policymaking as a technical subject and reduces it to its base element of politics within the bureaucracy.

What the Economy Needs Now edited by Abhijit Banerjee, Gita Gopinath, Raghuram Rajan, and Mihir S. Sharma

To conclude this set, it would be important to recall that experts can fill the knowledge gap that exists between a bureaucrat’s perception of reality and reality as it exists. In that respect, this book aims to fill the massive hole in the area of policy expertise on Indian contemporary issues of economic importance. It offers concise chapter-wise insights into key policy areas by experts including top academics and government advisors. A key strength and weakness of this book lies in the fact that it does not delve into the nitty-gritties of political and economic considerations required for the implementation of the policies that it prescribes. Thus, this is an excellent beginner’s guide to aspiring policymakers looking for a succinct study of India’s economic woes with an introduction into possible courses of action.

The views expressed in the post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Indian School of Public Policy. Images via open source.

Author: Dhruva Mathur

The Path to a 5 Trillion$ Economy

On 9th September, a few scholars from the ISPP attended an IGC panel discussion on ‘Financing Development in India.’ The panelists included Ms. Prachi Mishra from Goldman Sachs, Dr. Ananth Narayan, Faculty of Finance from SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, and Mr. Andy Mukherjee from Bloomberg. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Pronab Sen.

The discussions started with reflections from Minouche Shafik, Director LSE, on the presence of shadow banking (MFIs, IFCs, etc.) in India. In the context of the present economy, a way forward to deal with these was stated. It was advised that these institutions are kept away from depositors but closer to the central regulators. 

Given India’s aspirations to be a US$ 5 Trillion economy by 2025 as well as Citicorp’s estimates of India being the world’s largest economy ahead of US and China by 2050, the 2019 Economic survey emphasized the importance of investment for economic growth and suggests measures for the same. Investment in development is one of those measures. 

Ms. Mishra emphasized that the current economic slowdown has been the longest in the history of the Indian economy spanning over a period of 18 months. There are twin reasons for this slowdown: a consumption slowdown and a decline in investments. In fact, the current consumer sentiment as measured by the Current Activity Indicators (CAI) was also at its lowest. Since the 2008 global financial crisis. However, she did note that the slowdown in exports was not a significant concern since net trade (export-import) has remained the same.

Professor Narayan, slightly differed from Ms. Mishra’s stand and felt that the slowdown was an indicator of structural lacunae. The most significant reform, according to him, had to be land and labour reforms. These have been a major impediment in the implementation of PPP projects in the Infrastructure domain and has exacerbated the NPA situation in the Public Sector Banks. The absence of land and labour reforms complicates their entry of foreign firms in the economy which hinders the investment in manufacturing. Consequently, the investment cycle has come to a standstill. He attempted to highlight the need to change the discourse from a focus on stimulus measures such as repo rate and bank interest rate changes, and recapitalisation, to structural reforms as recommended by the PJ Nayak committee.

Professor Ananth also forewarned of a looming crisis that might find its genesis in the NPAs of NBFCs and the loans given under the MUDRA scheme. Despite all the good intentions of the government to dismiss the NPAs of the DISCOMs under the UDAY scheme, the DISCOM debt is back to pre-UDAY levels. Looking at the clouding crisis in the economy, he stressed on factor reforms. In his own words, he said, “Try to boil the ocean, do not look at short fixes.”

Author(s): Tushar Goel (ISPP Scholar, Class of 2020) and Himanshu Burad (ISPP Scholar, Class of 2020)

“On Freedom” – a public lecture by Dr. Cass R. Sunstein

On 8th August, 2019, ISPP Public Policy Scholars got the opportunity to listen and interact with renowned behaviour economist and Harvard Professor, Professor Cass Robert Sunstein. Professor Sunstein was on a trip to India to initiate the “Nudge‟ unit at NITI Aayog.

Put simply, a “nudge‟ is a subtle push for an individual to follow a certain set path. Such a concept is widely used in marketing and sales. For instance, the number of restaurants, coffee shops, cafes outside a theatre; the incentive of “cashback‟ used by digital payment companies such as Paytm and PhonePe; big cards announcing discounts on sales in shops – all edging the subject to buy in to something he/she doesn‟t necessarily require. The unit at the NITI Aayog is established with the motive of studying how behavioural economics can enhance the incentivization of government schemes/ programmes.

Such a specialised office was first set up by Britain (Behavioural Insights Team; estd. 2010), after which United States, Australia, Canada, Netherlands and Germany followed suit. Soon, global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF apart from Indonesia, Peru, India, Singapore started exploring the concept further.

Professor Sunstein enthralled the audience by commencing his talk with a famous quote by Mahatama Gandhi,

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

Nudge units facilitate change and when it comes to the topic of change, we can find a plethora of opinions, each no less important than the other. In the book “Nudge‟ co-authored by Professor Sunstein and Richard Thaler, the authors guide us through a distinct process to induce change in the society, using a
behaviour centric approach.

Something that always affects our actions is what Professor Sunstien called “present bias”. He engaged the audience with a thought experiment, in which he asked the audience to imagine themselves in their favorite place, a month from now. Once we had formed an image in our mind, he asked us to further clear our minds, and imagine ourselves a year from now. He identified that the people who could not imagine themselves after such a period of time tend to have a “present bias”, i.e. a disposition to be focused on the short-term pleasures, without paying heed to any long-term risks of the same.

Professor Sunstein claimed that people also tend to be “unrealistically optimistic”. Elaborating the same, he mentioned that 90% of drivers believe that they are safer than the average driver; smokers tend to have an accurate sense of statistical risks but they themselves believe that they are less likely to suffer from lung cancer than the average non-smoker – they know the statistics, but they think “that’s statistics, that’s not me!” Such ignorance germinates from individuals and infects the masses and the society at large. This ignorance can also be found not only in our vision of our future selves, but also in our perception of different classes of society.

As members of the privileged class of the society, we often hear the irritant rhetoric – why don‟t the poor do something to change their condition? Professor Sunstein brought this inequality to attention by echoing Esther Duflo from her book Poor Economics

If we do nothing, then we are on the right track and if they do nothing, they are on the wrong track.

It is no doubt that compared to the lower strata of the society, the upper and middle class need to put relatively much less efforts to reach a similar result. Keeping this in mind, people need to be guided towards certain pathways for their own benefit. This is the concept of “navigability“, as introduced by Professor Sunstein.

He claims that we can all agree with two statements, namely:
“1. It is not a lot of fun to be lost
2. It is really nice to be able to get where you need to go.”

Expanding on this, he emphasized on the need for “steering people in the right direction“. Navigability involves small interjections, which guides people towards their desired way, while still preserving their freedom of choice (On Freedom, Cass R. Sunstein).

The Robert Walmsley University Professor referred to the right and wrong tracks as being part of the human condition generally. The two paths culminate and tell us about what it means to be unfree. To explain this, he engaged the audience in yet another thought experiment inspired from Daniel Kahneman‟s book Thinking Fast and Slow. The purpose of this experiment was to illustrate to the audience the two very different systems of thought processing, namely – System 1 and System 2.

System 1 thinking is usually instinctive and emotional whereas,
System 2 is slower, more deliberative and logical. Analysing these two systems of thought processes, he (and Thaler) have crafted the concept of “choice architecture”.

Choice architecture, a juxtaposition of words choice and architecture (as highlighted by Mrs. Malabika Sarkar), is a concept of designing different ways in which choices are presented to people. This in turn impacts how people make decisions. Choices made by humans, complex and dispersed as they are, govern almost all aspects of our life. And it is through these choices – Professor Sunstein completed the beautiful, consistent arch of his talk – by reiterating that we can actually, gently, shake the world.

Author(s): Arindam, Vagisha, and Shefali

The power of communication in bringing about change

David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees. Debra Hamilton asserted, in her article “Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money,” that miscommunication cost even smaller companies of 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year1

The basis for the art and science of communication lies in a ‘mantra’: communicate more in less – easier said than done. Almost all professions rely heavily on communication. A domain like public policy, where a professional is expected to serve as a bridge between domains and sectors, delves into the nuances of communication – verbal and on-verbal.

Policy makers have to bring with them a gamut of skills, one of the most important of which is communication. For public policy professionals, one of the biggest challenges lies in condensing and filtering huge amounts of information to make it easily understandable and comprehensible for decisions to be driven in the right direction. This also involves the delivery of concise summaries (with logical conclusions, drawn from reliable data) at the ‘right’ time to the ‘right’ person in the ‘right’ format, wherein ‘right’ can have innumerable connotations.

Another pre-requisite that also facilitates the above is the ability to navigate across vertical silos of disciplines. Public policy issues are like river water basins, lying across state boundaries, and therefore needing – just like water disputes do – a ‘smart’ way of engineering communication. It requires an amalgamated understanding of contexts, and the scientific understanding of evidence. This also encourages the creation of customized solutions to complex challenges, as after all policy making has to be pragmatic.

Besides the above, and with the world becoming a global family, intercultural intelligence is becoming an important subject – the ability to not only to understand cultures across the world, while doing business, but also to understand local cultures that form a diverse country like India. This intelligence hinges on communication too.

Many times, public policy decisions are rooted in certain value system that a society takes up, rather than evidence. This makes the need for an effective communication, all the more important. People do not share ethical standpoints. For them to be able to come across a table and agree to certain propositions relies crucially on how the proposition is made. It is not a battle. Words become important.

References: = https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/communication/pages/the-cost-of-poor-communications.aspx

Author(s): Sarah Berry

The emerging career – public policy

Democracy seeks active participation by the citizenry; this enables individuals, communities and societies to be a part of significant, forward moving and positive change. Policy is an important aspect of this journey.

It is also important to draw attention to a new found desire, especially amongst the youth, to create sustainable and effective policy impact on the world. This warrants future decision makers to be equipped with a strong understanding of public policy. At the same time, governments are becoming increasingly open to draw fresh talent, ideas and designs from outside the bureaucratic ranks. The need is urgent and agreed upon. And so, young minds nourishing policy space is an idea whose time has come.

From the career perspective too, this is an exciting time to be a public policy professional in India. The domain helps an individual embark on an unfathomable career, and make a resounding impact. A career in public policy opens doors for work in a plethora of organizations, across domains, at the national and international level, public and private sectors.

In India, the public policy domain has grown manifold over the past few years. Public policy and public administration used to be seen as courses taken up by mid-career bureaucrats. However, today more so than ever before, the Indian government has been hiring individuals from outside the civil services to help carry forward India’s governance through the challenges of the 21st century. Both the Central and State Governments are increasingly seeking professional assistance from consultancy firms, non-governmental organisations and individual experts. In recent years, private and non-profit organisations increasingly require greater engagement with government regulators and thus, there is a greater demand for professionals skilled in public policy to take up these roles. Political parties and even individual politicians seek professional assistance in policy matters as part of their larger strategy to build a brand image among the electorate. Besides, public policy opens up many options for students in the area of research and development, teaching, career in think tanks and independent research centres. Some of the many roles in which individuals can see themselves after completion of a course in public policy are as policy advisors, programme officers, policy analysts, political strategists, public policy consultants, et cetera.

Author(s): Yugank Goyal