Govt is in consolidation mode, trying to make the old policies work | Business Standard Column

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Making new policies work is 100 times harder in India than making new policies

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan

If you have been a journalist in Delhi, even a long retired one like me, people think you know what’s happening in the government and the ruling party. They keep asking what’s happening?

Nearly 99.9 per cent of journalists pretend they know. So they invent things quickly. After all there is no news editor to ask them to substantiate.

But every now and then they get the chance to be totally honest and say “I have no idea”. Or more simply “absolutely nothing is happening”. I think this is exactly correct now.

After the BJP’s humiliating defeat in West Bengal and before the big UP election next March, not to mention the 14 other assembly and one general election in 2022, 2023 ans 2024, the government appears to have gone into a consolidation mode.

That is, it has stopped trying to do new things and has instead started trying to make the old policies work.

And as various government agencies keep reminding us, the list of things already done by the Modi government is impressively long. It is huge, in fact.

Implementation, the old problem

Making new policies work is altogether different. That’s 100 times harder in India than making new policies.

The dismaying fact is that, try as it will, the government just can’t get very much done. Indeed, things are so bad that it can’t even prepare a proper list of things it has successfully done or achieved!

So just like all other governments since the mid-1990s, this one too, is stuck and a sitting duck for the Opposition. In fact, it’s more badly stuck than its predecessors because the ‘system’, as Mr Modi prefers to call it, has swallowed itself.

Or, as the Americans so colourfully put it, it’s got it’s head up it’s bum. What’s worse, there is no succour in sight.

Equity considerations have filled the government with thoroughly incompetent people. Not all, but around 80 per cent. As a result, efficiency has died.

Opportunity wasted

Mr Modi had a chance to fix this problem and, to his credit, he even tried. But his solution was to hire outside help rather than to make his employees better at their assigned tasks.

So now the work is done by expert temps (temporary employees) while the veto is in the hands of incompetent perms (permanent employees). It’s beyond absurd.

In any case, how many temps can the government employ and deploy effectively when the perms keep blocking them? As one temp who left the government wrote in his recent book: “The current system of governance is mired under the weight of processes, procedures and precedence with little or no responsibility for outcomes.”

He also says that punishment is rare, let alone removal from service. A government employee is thus more-or-less completely invulnerable.

The same writer says: “Coming from the private sector the first thing that will strike you is that there is no one thing anyone is trying to optimise on…there are no uni-dimensional perspectives to government.”

Way out

There are two ways out of this bog. One is for the government to simply sack half its employees. But that’s impossible under our liberal democracy, which means we are stuck with these drones.

The other is to do what a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did in 2000 when foreign exchange regulations were so hugely liberalised that much of the foreign exchange department was no longer needed.

He told the employees to stay at home with full salary and perks. It worked like a charm.

This too will not happen with government employees. Instead governments will continue to pamper these people.

Which means we are well and truly stuck. So get used to it

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