Friday, 4 April 2014

The Idea of Process of Public Policy Making in India

Three years after independence India became a Republic in 1950 by adopting a Constitution which emphasise worldly principles for civilised society. According to economists Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen “India was the first non-Western country – and also the first poor country in the world – to commit itself to a resolutely democratic way of governance.”

It has been over 66 years after Independence yet the core structure of ways and means which attributes to the process of public policy making has not been fixed despite the fact that the Constitution of India lays-down broad framework for such processes. This is true both at Union government level as well as State/UT government level. In India, the key decision makers involved directly in the process of public policy making are: (i) political representatives/elected representatives; (ii) bureaucrats and technocrats; and (iii) the constitutional bodies/agencies. At functional level, all these three are at silos as far as the public policy decision making is concerned! But constitutionally they are not.

Unlike the factor of Time which dynamically unfolds almost constantly among the forces, the process to make public policy have not been changed in the last six decades at least,  for two reasons: the understanding and commitment of the political and elected representatives about the constitutional process of public policy making has been by and large unmoved from the time of colonial rule. Secondly, the chaotic structure of the  executives/bureaucratic set ups for administrative power to engage with the core business of public policy making has been moved away from what is emphasized in the Indian Constitution and continues to practice the wild of its own course to make policies which produce outcomes that are neither here nor there.

In other words, the voices of people have been suppressed by these two groups and thus, the twin objective of true democratic governance system embedded in transparency and accountability has been undermined in the process of public policy decision making. However, it has been rightly seen that the performance of the constitutional bodies/agencies performed relatively better than the two other functionaries of the governance system. However, the supply side problems in the constitutional bodies/agencies are yet to be fixed to further its constitutional commitments for effectiveness.

What constitutes the present structure of process of public policy making in India at Union government level? The idea of change proposal comes from top leadership. Typically two types of people are engaged in it. The first one is the bureaucrats who along with few technocrats devise the broad framework for public policy making in a given area. Though, there are Official Guidelines (prepared and approved by bureaucrats themselves with the help of elected representatives!) issued by the Cabinet Secretariat for preparing a public policy in the Union government. Once the bureaucrats do their role as administrative process in terms of conceptualising the idea for policy change proposed and prepare the material in a particular format and share it with other line government agencies which include the Union/State government Ministries/Departments for their comments/views, if any, and once received modify them into a structure which suits both or find middle path! Thereafter, the draft policy is send to the elected representatives for consideration, debate and approval. The matter ends there, and often the draft policy goes back and forth between the bureaucrats and the elected representatives for all kinds of reasons which are unknown to the people of the country because it’s “Secret”.

Any country which has adopted strong committed liberal democratic form of governance unlikely to follow these shoddy systems for public policy making. Moreover, why liberal democracy like India not embarrassing the democratisation of public policy decision making? Being a vibrant liberal democracy why only it relies on consensus building method alone? Why not take the process of public policy making to the people at large? These are the vital questions which need to be emphasised for improving the quality of public policy making. Given the massive policy paralysis that took badly on the functions of Parliament in recent years, some perceptive foundation is being made in India to think-through seriously about the democratisation of process of public policy decision making. There are two interesting analyses which are pertinent and noteworthy:

·         Quite interestingly, Shishir Priyadarshi had studied the Indian agriculture sector in view of WTO negotiations on various aspects of trade policies. Her main tool for analysis was how far the Democratization of Decision-Making Process involved in the negotiations. She examined the manner in which the negotiating proposal was finalized, the consultations that were undertaken and the actual decision-making process that led to the submission of the proposal. In her study she carefully studied the key stakeholders involved/not involved in the process: (farmer, civil society, academic institutions & think tanks, state governments, industry, etc. This would be a classic case for taking the idea of public policy process of decision making further in India.

·         According to Arun Maira “Obtaining consensus is a big challenge in all democracies, as the US's recent experience attests. It is even more difficult in India. However, the challenge cannot be avoided. Therefore, participants in policymaking in India must learn and apply techniques of faster, consultative decision-making.” He further, argues rightly so that in the case of India, “Policy reform… requires more attention to the building of the process by which the ongoing involvement of stakeholders, mobilisation of resources and actions, and monitoring of process is done, than to the content of a single policy announcement.”
These are all very insightful debate and needs to be carried forward with more constructive focus as far as the democratization of public policy decision making is concerned.


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