Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Are there any signs of evidence -based policy formulation in the states of India ? A Case of Uttar Pradesh

The article " Case for Evidence- based  policy formulation(June ,2015) "by Prof Geeta Gandhi Kingdon , in Education World magazine, set me thinking about   the  actual system  of policy making prevailing  in a state  like Uttar Pradesh in India.There is no doubt that  there is a case for  evidence-based policy formulation , both in the state governments  as well as in the  government of India.         As Prof Kingdon says :"In good education  systems defined by real learning outcomes,education policy is not made on hunches, ideology or political expediency,but on the basis of evidence of what works"
                        I worked in Uttar Pradesh as an IAS officer for 35 years,  spent about  14 years in different field postings and about 21 years in the  State Secretariat . In the Secretariat , I spent about 11 years in various departments  as Secretary to the State Government and about  10 years as Principal Secretary to the State government .I also served as Staff Officer and Special Secretary  to  three Chief secretaries of U.P. , for a total period of 3 years,where  I had the benefit of  having access to all the proposals of all the departments which were  put up before the State Cabinet from time to time .This , I believe, makes me eligible to write about this important subject , with a view to give it  a real- life  perspective.I do not intend to criticise any government in particular  , but to explain and shed light on the  system as it prevails.
                   Do the state governments make policies , based on the evidence?My answer is a big No.Do the  civil servants have the adequate training , competence and expertise  to look for the right kind of evidence  and to sift and analyse that evidence , so as to  put forward  the right kind of policy options? Do they have the capability to separate good evidence from the bad? My answer is again "Not really" , though some civil servants are exception to this  general observation.
               If our policies are not based on evidence , then  how are these  formulated and decided?  It is a bit tricky question , and I have no  evidence(except my experience)to answer it .But still , I can say that most policies are made on the impressions , ideology,political expediency or prompted by some interest groups. For example , if the government thinks that it is politically expedient to  make all para teachers into  regular teachers, it will take this decision in the cabinet .The role of the Secretary in the Education  Department will be merely  to draft a cabinet note(proposal) which "justifies" this policy  , rather than looking for evidence and data  whether  para teachers deliver better quality of teaching than the regular teachers.And whether the decision to make them into regular teachers  will impact the quality of education adversely .What does the published research say on this kind of issues  ? Are there similar instances  in other states or countries where different decisions were taken , with success and positive outcomes?
                  In the state governments in India ,there is  no scope for any civil servant (Education Secretary , Chief Secretary , Planning Secretary , Finance Secretary , Law Secretary) to offer a different opinion .There are many reasons for this.:
1.Political decision makers(Normally , the Chief Minister and other political leaders)  take a decision  beforehand on political grounds.No civil servant is given any space to differ.
2.Once the political decision has been taken , there is a pressure on the concerned civil servants  to issue the government order  containing the policy at the earliest.It could be yesterday(expostfacto approval of the Cabinet is taken) , today or tomorrow.In such a situation , there is hardly any time for any Head of the Department or the Secretary of the Department to look for the "evidence" to put across the alternative options .The expectation  and pressure is to  prepare a  note for the Cabinet , recommending the option already decided politically .
3.The mandatory inter departmental consultation  requires the opinion of the Law , Finance  , Personnel  and Planning Departments.Law department looks at the legality of the proposal .There is nothing illegal in making para teachers into regular teachers .So , the law department agrees.Finance Department may object (If Finance Secretary has the guts to say so), but he or she can be" persuaded "by the Chief Secretary or the Minister   , and I have seen that finally , the finance secretary gets persuaded, for he cannot go against the wishes of the political establishment .In any case , his opinion  can be over-ruled .Personnel polices are generally pro employees.So , the Personnel Department also   agrees.Planning Department hardly  differs .So normally  the planning department agrees.
4.The culture of making policies and decisions based on evidence , and not on whims and fancies of political establishment , simply does not exist in a state like Uttar Pradesh .This also suits all the powerful stakeholders  who have any say in the decision making .The interest of the common citizens  or public interest , generally  gets ignored in the process.
5.The civil servants  do not have the motivation  to  acquire needed skills or competence to search  for the evidence and to analyse the evidence, to distinguish good evidence from the bad,to appreciate the difference between co-relation and causation. .They  remain in their comfort zone of having  "contributed" to the policy without evidence , as per the process laid down in the Rules of Business.
      The above is the general pattern of policy making in a state like Uttar Pradesh, irrespective of the party in power.In many cases , powerful industrialists  "convince" the political leadership of the need for a policy decision, to enhance their business or financial interests, and we have chrony capitalism in its most obvious form.
               What is the way out?I  know that in other countries also, policy making is   controlled by the political leadership , but to some extent , it is evidence based.Perhaps , this is because there is a healthy culture,a  lively debate in the legislature, the civil society is vigilant and media is  impartial  and  alert.Perhaps , there is more space for the civil servants to advise.Perhaps , the civil servants there are better trained and equipped to source , locate and analyse the evidence.Perhaps , the political leadership is more receptive to ask for evidence.
 I hope,  a day will come when  our political leaders rise above their need to remain in power for ever, our civil servants will have the motivation  , courage, skills and competence to formulate  , present , get approved and implement  Evidence based policies in public interest.Into that heaven of freedom  , let my country awake
(I wait without hope)   .