Thursday, August 21, 2014

3 Simple Features that can create an impactful ‘Planning Commission’

Scrapping of the Planning Commission is an opportunity to make governance totally result-orientedThe Planning Commission of India was notified on 15 March 1950 with the belief that the function of the government was to simply utilise resources, identified through a periodic assessment, as decided in a periodic plan produced by the Commission. The notification expected that its work will “affect decisively the future welfare of the people in every sphere of national life”. It did not specify the mission of the Planning Commission, or the missions of the government that it will support, or even any mechanism to identify the impact of its actions.

By declaring the end of the Planning Commission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a huge step forward to ensure that that the government’s objective would not be just to implement five year plans. How can Mr Modi shape the body that replaces the Planning Commission? By adding what has been missing right from the beginning: result-orientation.

The Planning Commission era had independent subject divisions: Agriculture, Environment and Forests, Water Resources, Power and Energy, Industry and Minerals, Transport, Communication and Information, Village and Small Industries, Rural Development, Education, Health, Nutrition and Family Welfare, Housing & Urban Development, Social Development and Women's Programme, and Backward Classes.

These divisions worked with concerned Central Ministries, State Governments, and various non-official agencies, to study and examine various problems and issues in relation to the formulation as well as the implementation of the relevant Five Year Plan, Programmes and Policies in their respective fields. They also organised research studies, deemed necessary either on their own or through competent external institutions/organisations. Each Principal Advisor or Advisor (State Plans) helped in liaising between the Central Government and a few States/UTs. The Advisor was expected to bring out the difficulties and problems of the states to the notice of the Planning Commission and Ministries/Departments at the Centre.

While the Planning Commission moved from addressing problem-to-problem there have been no missions. The country has therefore lacked a direction for integrated development ever since the creation of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission also lacked an integrated model of assessing the cross-impact of the activities of one Ministry on another or on the Nation and its environment. In fact, there has been no model to assess the impact of policies besides the utilisation of funds. The Government had little clarity on what it was attempting to accomplish and for whom.

If a Planning Commission-like body were to truly fill the governance deficit in India and ensure that there is minimum government, the new body should take on the mission to empower missions for each ministry. Here are the three responsibilities this would entail.

1. Develop timeless missions for the government

A mission says what we do and for whom. Without a mission, all activity is ad hoc and its beneficiaries are arbitrary. Missions focused on a current challenge remain relevant till the challenge is overcome. For example: placing a man on the moon. Missions that identify what needs to be done over multiple generations are timeless missions. In the absence of a mission, the government departments become mere procedure pushers or ad hoc problem solvers.

Without a mission, the HRD Ministry, for example, would push procedures for licensing educational institutions, push for educational institutions in one or more streams, open new or close old programs, or move into problems and issues that catch the attention of the media or various interest-groups of the time. Changes in the government would alter what the ministry does and for whom.

On the other hand, No child left behind, is a an example of a mission addressing a problem of drop-outs and exclusion but not a need of education or learning.

Peter Drucker was once called to develop a mission statement for a hospital. After spending a lot of time listening to the stakeholders and observing the hospital he helped them to articulate their mission: to provide assurance to the afflicted. Everyone from the janitor to the surgeon can identify whatever they do everyday with this timeless mission. Generation to generation the afflicted will always need to find assurance in the acts of the receptionist, janitor, nurse and doctor.

The HRD Ministry could, for example, work with the new body to develop its missions.

Here a few examples of what the HRD Ministry’s missions may look like.

Provide education to each district: This would focus the efforts of the HRD ministry to people in each district. It would seek to provide a means of education to all in the district.

Now everyone in the Ministry would ask if their proposals, projects, policies or acts will serve to provide education to each district. This may not alter the model of education but will certainly alter the access and reach of education. It will shift the focus from national education to a balance of different streams of education based on the demography of each district.

Empower teachers in every village: This would focus the audience of the HRD Ministry to teachers in every village, focusing every action of all those parts of this Ministry in empowering these teachers. Every one in the Ministry would ask if each of their proposal, policy or act will empower the teachers in every village. This will not only alter the access and reach of education but also allow alternate models of education, pedagogy and institutionalisation to emerge.

2. Help Assess the impact of different options

There are many different actions one can choose, to pursue a mission. Which one would have the maximum impact? In the absence of a means to asses the impact of the policies, projects, procedures and actions of each Ministry in furthering its mission, no Ministry will be able to course-correct its activities. Without a compass, the ship cannot be navigated. Without a thermostat the temperature in a room cannot be regulated.

Feedback information systems, or information systems where action is driven by information about the impact of the action, are absolutely essential for ensuring that actions are furthering the mission.

Take for example the conversion of natural streams in urban or rural areas into storm-water drains or gutters. Does this impact the risk of flood and drought more than letting green corridors and biodiversity to protect the community? Which one will impact in the most desirable way?

The new body can work with each ministry to develop a means to assess the impact of their actions in furthering their missions. Such models would also help the ministries to share the scenarios of alternative actions with various stakeholders and align them to actions that result in desired impact.

The HRD Ministry, for example, could use the model to assess the impact of a policy to provide each person in a district a lifetime scholarship of three months education per year on the outreach, quality or other indicators of education.

The new body would also work with each ministry to develop a means to monitor the indicators of impact resulting from the acts of the ministry in real time. This would not only allow early course correction but also an effective way to accomplish results.

3. Help evaluate the cross-impacts of different interventions

No ministry can claim to be independent of the other. If, for example, surface transportation is promoted, urbanisation and industrialisation is altered. The power requirements, the resource needs and utilisation, the environmental impact, the employment generation, the fuel imports and the foreign exchange requirements, all follow the changes made in transportation corridors.

Similarly, the promotion of a few educational institutions of national importance alters the streams students choose, the cities that concentrate educational facilities, the attractors for industry, the distribution of wealth, the infrastructure and resource requirements of the country, the environmental degradation of the country, the migratory patterns of people, and even their travel habits.

Take also, for example, the impact of building new cities or industrial corridors. How will these impact mobility, transportation, fuel imports, pollution? How will these impact the resource requirements, particularly water, food, clean air? How will this impact land use and the environment? How does this affect the resilience, stability or sustainability of the critical functions necessary for the country?

In the absence of a means to examine the impacts of the actions of a ministry on the challenges before another ministry or the country, we will only experience cancerous growth of pointless infrastructure, unnecessary projects and purposeless legislation.

The new body would need to provide the Prime Minister and his Cabinet a model that would allow them to explore scenarios for simultaneous implementation of the different policies of different ministries, on indicators they propose to track. Such an exploration would not only ensure that policies work for the better of the country and impact various sectors in ways that further the missions they undertake, and also that the Cabinet works as a team to develop the country.

The new body would ideally have two main divisions: one for mission division and one for impact. The mission division would support the ministries in developing and executing their missions. The impact division would support the government in assessing the impact of programmes and the cross impacts of programmes. A 5-member board chaired by the Prime Minister would oversee the mission formulation and their impact.

The scrapping of the Planning Commission is the first step in the right direction, to ushering in good governance. It is an opportunity to bring a focus to what is done and for whom, by each government ministry and its departments. It is an opportunity to assess the impact of alternative actions of each ministry before listing desirable actions. It is an opportunity to ensure that the actions of one ministry do not compromise India’s potential for change, resilience, stability and sustainability.

It is an opportunity to undertake best practices and not merely emulate a current good practice that comes from a part of the world with a different context, different culture or a government with a different mission. It is an opportunity to put in place a mechanism that will transform the way the government works, to not only ensure minimum government but also ensure enduring good governance.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

10 Digital Solutions to Make India the Best-Governed Nation

A 10-point digital roadmap for Mr Narendra Modi, that protects our assets, ensures that the right projects are undertaken, and delivers justice, equality, and liberty for all

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inherited an India with major challenges: an economy that fails to distribute the needs but pushes the wants; an environment that is being irreversibly stripped off; a hassle-filled life where red tape, fraud, corruption and indifference are ever increasing; failed land-use management is destroying India’s forests, mountains, rivers, streams, and farms, and at the same time flooding its courts with disputes. Over and above all this, it is almost impossible to make the right projects happen in the right place at the right time wasting thousands of crores of tax-payers’ money
To remove all these ills, Mr Modi has to redesign the way governance works. What should he do to redesign governance quickly? Here is a roadmap that focuses on the need to protect the assets of the country, and to ensure that the right projects are being undertaken, where no one is denied benefits, where justice, equality, and liberty are within reach, the future scenarios are shared, and democracy is not a distant dream.
1. Change the way money is spent
Every budget item on the central, state and local government is for some project, activity or event, at a specified location. By introducing the requirement to geotag, or display the location on the map, each item, in addition to its purpose, details, status and citizen comments, could be uploaded on a single website,, a process that will change the way money gets spent.
Such a budget map would not only display where every rupee is going or has gone, but also show if the transfers from one agency to another, or from the central to state to local governments actually got spent on purposes for which it was intended. Such budget maps would ensure that the projects are not over budget, and run under different heads, or by different agencies. It would show how evenly funds are distributed for the governance of different regions and also identify purposes or budgets that are not equitable and fair.
All the PM needs to do is to implement a policy whereby no budget items will be included, nor disbursals be made without the location of the budget head being uploaded on
2. Protect the country from land mafia
Today, the Survey of India protects the maps of the country, not its land. There is no public directory or map of all the survey numbers of the 32.87 lakh square km across the 595 districts in the country. There is no account of the changes happening in land use across the country. Land records and property records are not standardised across the country.
Requiring that all survey maps be geo-tagged, or their exact location on the district map be shown based on latitude and longitude, and display the survey land-use, ownership details, and any legal issues on a single website will change the way land use happens across the country. Requiring that the North East point of every property have an official GPS device on it will alert a land use information system of any movement of this point.
Such a change will also allow Development Plans to be monitored and implemented. It will make land acquisition easier as well as partitioning property without violating land use. It can help find land for the landless, provide benefits to single property owners and prevent the speculation of land at the cost of the country’s land-use requirement.
Such a system could possibly allow authenticated account holders to search and view land-use, proposed use as per DP, encroachments, ownership, tenancy, and other claims by logging in to their account. The information they seek on individual properties will leave a trail for purposes of security.
All that the PM needs to do to initiate this is to require geotagging of every survey number by the Survey of India before any new land use activity is permitted on it.
3. Protect assets of the country
While our national anthem boasts of our rivers, forests, and mountains, they are fast being lost to encroachment, mining and indiscriminate changes in land use. The indiscriminate felling of trees to make way for roads, real-estate or to use them as timber is wiping out India’s carbon absorption capacity, monsoon attracting potential, soil retention ability and even the flood buffering and ground-water recharge potential.
Requiring that every stream, river, lake, mountain and forest area boundaries are geotagged with physical markers at their boundaries will ensure a public alert on any alteration. Requiring each tree with a width bigger than 2 inches to be tagged with a RFID (Radio frequency ID, or a small chip that stores information that can be read from a distance by a RFID reader and can be used to do a periodic tree census) along with its geolocation will protect the trees and ensure the country’s valuable assets are not stolen or destroyed. This will also ensure that the forests, rivers, wetlands, fields and wastelands are better conserved as also the built-up environment across India.
A policy requiring all government assets be geotagged will enable identification of all the offices, land, equipment, and vehicles owned by various government agencies and the process of auditing them will be much simpler.
In this regard, PM needs to direct the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Survey of India to work together to tag all the natural heritage of the country within a fixed time. He needs to ensure that the Finance Ministry does not release any budget for capital expenditure to any government agency that has not geotagged their movable and immovable assets.
4. Hassle free rights
An ID cannot be the enabler of an entitlement or a right; it can be a basis to audit the delivery. To ensure that no one is denied any service, entitlement or right for want of ID the government may require that each agency delivering any entitlement or right will capture the ID of the person benefiting from their service, entitlement or right. Such a record should be maintained to identify the beneficiary for future transactions for the delivery of rights without any hassles while permitting any audit of the delivery of entitlements and rights. All those having taken benefits would be listed on for public audit.
Although the government has information on every citizen it has no mechanism to identify beneficiaries proactively without requiring a single form from those who wish to benefit from a scheme. This is both a waste of resources as also a way to exclude those who may really qualify.
The government would overcome this by internally connecting the birth, marriage, address registration and death records without requiring any form, id numbers or id from citizens to create a National Population Register. This would then be used to proactively identify the benefits each person is entitled to. This would also ensure that no citizen would need to submit to government any document issued by the government itself. While automatic entitlements and benefits could be provided to beneficiaries identified by the NPR, manual benefits should continue to those not automatically included in NPR.
To enable this the PM ought to create a separate beneficiaries department within the Registrar General of India’s office to proactively create and display the beneficiaries lists on maps.
5. User managed shared ID
The UID is not a proof of identity. It is not even a proof of address. Nor is it is even a proof of existence: it does not prove that the person with a UID is a real person.
The UID is merely a random number assigned to unverified and unaudited data submitted by third parties paid per record. It provides no way to verify if the 12-digit number is one issued by the UIDAI, or even who submitted the biometric and demographic data. Worse, there is no way to tell if this number belongs to a real individual, or to the individual who submits the number, or is even a number generated through a diligent process, or by an authentic enroller, registrar, or the UIDAI. What is unbelievable is the identity solution cannot authenticate its own genuineness, the genuineness of its enrollers, registrars or of the UIDAI itself.
The use of such unauditable, unverifiable and 'unauthenticate-able' number to authenticate identity, to serve as the basis for governance, to be used to deliver benefits, rights and entitlements, to be used to open bank accounts and transfer money, and to create citizen registers or electoral rolls will seriously compromise governance, national security and the rule of law.
Just as the UK PM, David Cameroon’s, government kept their election promise and scrapped their National ID project PM Modi should ensure the UID and its database are completely purged in the interest of the governance, national security, the rule of law and justice.
In place of the UID a the government can enable a Shared ID at as was designed in Pune to allow citizens to create, own and share their own ID with complete control on who can see or use the ID and logs of access by third parties to their information. The citizens can access information on incentives, schemes, and programs they automatically qualified for or availed based on their profile. They can also access information on demography, energy use, water use, land use, mobility and other details in their neighbourhood after logging in to their account on
The PM will need to declare the scrapping of the UID. He will need to create with the Registrar General of India a department to allow anyone to create and maintain their own Shared ID.
6. Audit of digital assets
Although the government creates, maintains and uses many digital assets there is no audit of the digital records or the processes that create the digital record. To ensure the authenticity of the digital assets the government would need to establish an audit cell with Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) to audit all digital records, processes to create the digital records and undertake annual audits of delivery of service, entitlement or right and seek the creation of a register of the excluded to ensure no one will be excluded from rights.
The PM would need to ask the CAG to create a special cell to audit the digital assets. The audit reports and a list of those excluded from rights would be displayed at
7. Monitor the impact of governance
The projects and budgets allocated as a result of the policies and legislation result in impacting the lives and environment of people in each of the 595 districts. Providing information that enables monitoring and correction of the budget expended and projects executed in each district at would ensure that departments and ministries work to accomplish missions, not procedures. Various missions to ensure resource conservation, access, inclusion, peace, harmony, health, sufficiency, public interest, justice, liberty, equality, dignity would be monitored on this website.
The website would also project the need for workers in different occupations like agriculture, manufacturing and various services within each district and the required school capacity in the district to deliver bridge the gap. It would track energy demand and the current energy mix of coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, nuclear, solar, wind and other renewables to deliver to the district and beyond. It would track the agricultural produce and the districts deficit or surplus, the water demand and the sources to deliver the water. It would track the public transportation corridors and mobility within and between neighbouring districts. It would monitor the land-use and implementation of development plans. It would monitor the spread of habitats.
The PM would need to ensure that each project has to have a clear mission and a way to provide real-time impact to further resource conservation, access, inclusion, peace, harmony, health, sufficiency, public interest, justice, liberty, equality, dignity to accomplish the mission before being approved.
8. Anytime, anywhere voting
Ensuring democracy is an expensive, unverifiable and unauditable process. There is no way to ensure that your vote was cast for the candidate of your choice or if it continues to be till it is counted. There is no way to audit the votes counted against a candidate and certify that all the votes polled by the candidate are from real and legitimate voters and not from illegitimate rigging of EVMs. The voting process currently imposes elaborate barriers to being able to cast votes.
By enabling an indigenous mobile and internet-based anytime-anywhere voting system that is publicly auditable without compromising the privacy of the voter the government will take democracy closer to being real. It will enable freer, easier and auditable elections across the country at a fraction of the current cost.
9. Exploring impact scenarios of policy and legislation
While the planning Commission of India has been making five year plans to match resource allocations to projected demands, there is no way to explore the impact of different policies or legislation on different sectors and over the long-term span of 50-100 years. This is particularly important as much of the critical nation building works over 20-30 year periods. For example it takes 20 years for a cohort born now to come into the working population. It takes about 20-30 years to build and commission power plants. It, therefore, stands to reason that the future scenarios over 50-100 years need to be studied.
By building and displaying such a long term projection computer model of India that allows to explore the consequences of various policies on the demography, economy, environment and resource challenges accessible to all on the government will create less policy resistance and greater alignment to shared goals.
Such a website would also allow the sharing of scenarios resulting from the implementation of various policies and acts that are in force and allow the stakeholders to comment and make suggestions for revisions of policies and legislation.
The PM will have to commission the development of such a model along the lines built by late Prof. Malcolm Slesser of Edinburgh and Strathclyde universities for various countries across the world, the World III model built by Prof. Donella and Dennis Meadows then of MIT, or the National Model being built by Prof. Jay Forrester of MIT. Such a computer model of India will allow us to explore the consequences of various policies on the demography, economy, environment, and resource challenges. The model will be accessible to all and provide standard scenarios of various policies and acts that are in force to allow stakeholders to comment and make suggestions for revisions of policy or acts.
10. Bringing justice to all
With over 3,000 plus central acts India is over-legislated. Even for those in the legal profession finding or knowing the applicable laws is non-trivial. By allowing search and discovery of applicable laws for a set of keywords on the government will do great service in bringing access to the legal framework to all.
While the court system may continue to battle its challenges to provide justice in time the government could well provide a repository of elders in each district who will support alternative dispute resolution. This can reduce the delay in seeking justice and restore the confidence in the rule of law and delivery of justice.
Much of the justice process is today beyond the access of the common man. By enabling for submission of cases of public interest violations as well as violations of justice, liberty, dignity and equality of which the courts take suo-moto cognisance. By enabling the issues submitted on this website and not taken up by the courts to be taken up by the elders of the district involved in alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, the government will ensure and entrench public interest, respect for justice, liberty, dignity and equality.
The PM needs to ensure that the Law Ministry takes up these projects on priority.
Henry David Thoreau believed “that government is best which governs least;” and “That government is best which governs not at all”. By implementing the roadmap, PM Modi can truly transform the government into the best government yet, not just in India but across the world.

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