Category Archives: Public Sector

Top 12 Challenges Facing India in the Decades Ahead – 02 – Media

A Free Media is critical to a healthy first world economy. It is a Free Media that

  • reports on the true state affairs,
  • holds the public (and private) sector accountable for their actions,
  • presents ideas for improving the situation, and
  • ensures that the freedoms granted to the people are maintained.

A truly Free Press

  • paints a bleak picture when the picture is bleak, and doesn’t ignore the fact that at least a third of the country is in poverty,
  • exposes corruption on a daily basis when it continues to occur on a daily basis,
  • tackles the tough issues of health care and education and presents different options for improving the situation, and
  • fights for the poor as well as the middle (and higher) classes that can afford to support them in their efforts.

However, in India

  • the plight of the poor who live in slums without access to running water or even a sanitary toilet is almost completely ignored by the daily publications;
  • even the media is corrupt; as per this article over on Realpolitik, during the fifteenth general elections to the Lok Sabha took place in April-May 2009 a disturbing trend was highlighted by sections of the media, that is, payment of money by candidates to representatives of media companies for favourable coverage, or the phenomenon popularly known as “paid news”;
  • As per Dreze & Sen’s An Uncertain Glory, among more than five thousand articles published on the editorial pages of India’s leading English-medium dailies during the last six months of 2012, less than 1% of the total editorial space was dedicated to health-related matters; and
  • the rights of the poor to be treated fairly are almost never tackled; take the plight of the Dom community for example, as outlined by Dreze & Sen and referenced in our last post — twenty five years living next to the power plant that they work for without even a single electricity connection!

The media in India is failing. The plight(s) of the poor, and even the (lower) middle class, go unchallenged, the accountability of the public sector goes relatively unchallenged, and the media itself is often corrupt. Unless the media stands up and insists on what’s right, what’s wrong will continue to flourish and all of the problems plaguing India will continue unabated.

Top 12 Challenges Facing India in the Decades Ahead – 03 – Accountability & Corruption

According to Transparency International, in 2013, India ranks 94th out of 177 countries, with a score of 36, on the Corruption Perceptions Index which measures the perceived corruption in the public sector. In other words, while there are 83 countries that are perceived as more corrupt, there are 93 countries that are less corrupt. In comparison, the US is 19th with a score of 73, Canada and Australia tie for 9th with a score of 81, and New Zealand is seen as the least corrupt country with a score of 91. In other words, corruption is still quite bad. In comparison, China is 80th with a score of 40 and Brazil is 72nd with a score of 42. Corruption has become such an endemic feature of Indian administration and commercial life that in some parts of the country nothing moves in the intended direction until the palm of the deliverer is greased. (Dreze and Sen, An Uncertain Glory)

In addition, Bribery is a huge problem. In back to back studies in 2005 and 2008, Transparency International found that, despite efforts to curb the practice and corruption, the number of people who had first-hand experience with (and had to pay) bribes only dropped from 62% to 40%. In other words, 2 out of every 5 Indians had to fork over bribes to get a basic service that they were entitled to (such as getting a birth certificate or a passport) from a public official. Corruption is so bad that a NGO (non-governmental organization) by the name of 5th Pillar distributed over 1.3 Million zero rupee notes (modelled after the 50 rupee notes) between 2007 and 2011 in an effort to fight corruption.

Zero Rupees

As clearly stated by the Accountability Initiative, spawned by the Center for Policy Research, Dharam, Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, there is surprisingly little regular, reliable and most importantly, accessible information on the implementation of service delivery programs in India today. And that’s being politically correct to the nth degree. Dreze and Sen are more accurate when they state that, in An Uncertain Glory, particular to India is the combination of insistence — for entirely plausible reasons — on having a large public sector, combined with a fairly comprehensive neglect of accountability in operating this large sector.

The issue of accountability is particularly important when discussing the many infrastructure issues in India. The neglect of both physical infrastructure (such as power, roads, water, sanitation, etc.) and social infrastructure (education, health care, opportunity for employment, etc.) is extremely widespread. One of the biggest examples failure of public accountability is the crippling power blackout of July, 2012 which plunged half of the country into darkness and earned India the reputation of the blackout nation. This is a prime example of the lack of accountability as even the central guardians of the Indian power strategy at the highest level face little pressure to get things right and are not tasked to take responsibility for the terrible state of power planning in India (where double digit percentages of the power generated is stolen and where significant amounts of generated power is wasted). Consider the story of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Govind Ballabh Pant Sagar power plant in Uttar Pradesh as recounted by Dreze and Sen. When one of the authors visited the NTPC headquarters on a campus near the plant, he found that a large number of air conditioners were switched on full blas throughout the day, even in the deserted lobby of the guest house. Just outside the boundary walls of the campus, people from the Dom community, working as ‘sweepers’ for the NTPC for twenty five years, live in shacks without any electricity. When asked why they tolerate the situation, they said they feared they would lose their jobs if they complained about their predicament.

It is the lack of accountability that allows corruption, and bribery, to continue to flourish. Corruption flourishes in informational darkness. Until there is more transparency, information accessibility, and accountability in India, it will continue to flourish. This lack of accountability combined with a general belief that certain kinds of bribery and corruption are standard behaviour that is to be expected is posing huge problems for India and limiting its progress. If there was less corruption, there would not only be more accountability, but more money available to address some of the serious physical and social infrastructure problems that we addressed in previous posts.

The USIS was Established 80 Years Ago Today

On November 17, 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6433-A and created the National Emergency Council (NEC), sing an appropriation authorized by Section 220 of the National Industrial Recovery Act of June 16, 1933, in response to the declaration by the Congress of the United States of the existence of an acute national economic emergency which affects the national public interest and welfare.

The NEC was deemed created for the purpose of coordinating and making more efficient and productive the work of the numerous field agencies of the Government established under, and for the purpose of carrying into, effect, the provisions of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Federal Emergency Relief Act that were all signed into law in 1933 in response to the Great Depression.

Six months later, Clara M. Edmunds, head librarian of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s public information service, opened the U.S. Information Services library, which was designed to be the comprehensive collection of relevant government documents, updated regularly to record every development in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government. This library, which centralized information about federal rules, regulations, and administrative orders for the public, was the first one-stop-shop for government information until 1948. In 1945, Truman, who had no interest in funding it, took office. In 1946, the USIS was put under the state department and had its funding reduced. And in 1948, the Smith-Mundt Act, which focussed on the creation of an information service to disseminate information abroad about the United States (instead of to its own citizens) put the final nail in the USIS coffin. (One account of the United States Information Service Libraries can be found in the online archive of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science. Information can also be found in A Timeline of Events in the History of Libraries.)

It may have only lasted 15 years, but it was a revolution in government information management and deserves to be remembered.

Top 12 Challenges Facing India in the Decades Ahead – 04 – Behavioural and Social Norms & Castes

As we have demonstrated in the last 9 posts, India has some serious challenges ahead of it. And despite the severity of the challenges like education, health care, and even sanitation, it has even bigger challenges still. The first of these, that we will address in this post, is the social norms.

The first challenge is with the general populace. For example, as Dreze & Sen chronicled in An Uncertain Glory, if asked, due to the fact that there is a model (if not an effective one) for bringing public health care to the rural areas and a growing private industry where you can presumably get what you need when you need it (if you can pay for it), most Indians believe they have reasonable access to health care. Given the considerable number of deaths from infection, the very high citizen to physician ratio, and the average number of people each health care center needs to serve, this is not the case. Secondly, due to the lack of progress on education, and the fact that 10 years after the first PROBE study there is still a significant lack of teaching days, there is obviously an opinion that the education being received by the average Indian child is adequate, which is a perception that is far from reality. There should not only be an uproar about the lack of teachers in some districts (as one per school clearly is not enough given the size of India’s population), but also an uproar that these highly paid individuals are absent 20%+ of the time!

The second challenge is with the government. The government doesn’t want to tackle tough issues, and certainly doesn’t want to take any steps that might cause a considerable backlash from any group of a significant size. Plus, if you look at the relative spending on health care and education in India versus other BRIC countries (Source: World Bank), total spending in India on health care (including the private sector) is a mere 3.9% versus 5.2% in China and 8.9% in Brazil, largely due to the fact that the public sector spend on health care is 1.2% of GDP compared to China’s 2.7% of GDP. If you look at Education, India spends a mere 3.1% (Source: Wikipedia) compared to China’s 3.9% (Source: Xinhuanet) and Brazil’s 5.1%. India is not adequately spending to address it’s most fundamental problems.

Government spending in India for 2013 is estimated at 302 Billion USD while revenues are projected to be 210 Billion USD. While that’s not a lot considering that India has over 1.2 Billion people, it’s still enough to do something. So where is the Indian Government spending its money? If you look at the Budget at a Glance as posted on the Government of India Site, over 1/3rd (37%) of the non-capital non-plan expenditures, which constitute almost 60% of projected expenditures, are going to interest payments and prepayment premium (370,684 crore of 992,908). The next biggest category (at 23%) is subsidies (231,084 crore of 992,908). The third biggest category (at 12%) is defence services (116,931 crore of 992,908). Grants make up 8%, pensions 7%, and the police make up 4%. The budget is rounded out by economic services at 2.4%, general services at 2.3%, and social services at a whopping 2.3%. (Taking us to 98.5% of the budget.) The remaining categories consisting of the postal deficit, the NDRF (National Disaster Relief Fund), union territory expenditures, and foreign government grants collectively amount to about 1.5%. Of the plan expenditures, all of the non-capital expenditures (27%) go towards the central plan and central assistance. In other-words, relatively speaking, India is spending too much on servicing its debt, paying its pensions, and defending its country and not nearly enough on education, health-care, and other economic assistance to lift the majority of its population out of near-poverty — a population it needs educated and healthy to take on China.

The third is with the media. As per Dreze & Sen’s An Uncertain Glory, among more than five thousand articles published on the editorial pages of India’s leading English-medium dailies during the last six months of 2012, less than 1% of the total editorial space was dedicated to health-related matters, and that was with a very broad definition of “health-related matter”. As we will discuss in more detail in a future post, the media really needs to spend more time on critical issues like health care, sanitation, and education.

Top 12 Challenges Facing India in the Decades Ahead – 05 – Sanitation

Sanitation in India is a major problem. The fact that India is 13th among a list of the 16 countries outside of sub-saharan Africa that are poorer than it in the rankings does not do the severity of the problem justice. As we noted in our post on Poverty, in India, 55% of households practice open defecation. In comparison, in Bangladesh, which has half of the GDP of India per capita, only 8.4% of the population practices open defecation.

Moreover, only 88% of the population has access to an improved (clean) water source (for drinking). In rural areas, the statistic is even worse — 84% (compared to 96% in urban areas). That’s 16% of the population without even access to clean water. For an emerging country, this is a disgrace. In China, a country with three times the land area, the statistics are 98% and 85% (and 91% overall). Why is it so bad? Well, for starters, as of 2010, only two cities in India — Thiruvananthapuram and Kota — get a continuous water supply (which is a situation that needs to change).

This is a huge problem. Even worse than the health care situation. When you get right down to it, if more people had access to sanitary conditions, communicable diseases and infections, which account for a percentage of deaths that is (at least) 20 times the percentage of deaths that communicable diseases and infections should account for, wouldn’t be so widespread. (People can’t die from a communicable disease or infection they don’t get, and the number one way to stop the spread of communicable diseases and infection is better sanitary conditions and sanitary practices.) With respect to diarrhoea, 88% of deaths occur because of unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

Sewerage, where available, is usually in a bad state. In Delhi, for example, the sewerage network has lacked maintenance over the years and overflow of raw sewage in open drains is common, due to blockage, settlements and inadequate pumping capacities. The capacity of the 17 existing wastewater treatment plants in Delhi is only enough to process about 50% of the waste water produced. Across India, the most recent estimate (in 2003) was that only 27% of India’s wastewater was being treated, with the remainder flowing into rivers, canals, groundwater or the sea. Abysmal!

Just how bad is the situation? Consider this passage from Wikipedia:

For example, the sacred Ganges river is infested with diseases and in some places the Ganges becomes black and septic. Corpses, of semi-cremated adults or enshrouded babies, drift slowly by. NewsWeek describes Delhi’s sacred Yamuna River as “a putrid ribbon of black sludge” where the concentration of fecal bacteria is 10,000 times the recommended safe maximum despite a 15-year program to address the problem. Cholera epidemics are not unknown.

Plus, the continuing depletion of ground water tables and the continuing deterioration of ground water quality are threatening the sustainability of both urban and rural water supply in many parts of India. India can’t afford to pollute any more of its water supply and needs to get waste water treatment under control rapidly. Otherwise, health care problems are just going to get worse, and the repercussions will be substantial.