India’s many seemingly insurmountable problems are stranded between intent and implementation, allocations and outcomes, status quo and crises. As we enter the New Year, some disruptive ideas for the Modi Sarkar.
Bring PDS Under DBT: Kerosene will be brought under cash or direct benefit transfer from April in 26 districts in eight states. Why only kerosene? Expand the pilot project to include all the PDS products. Offer households the choice on how they want their subsidy. If the PDS network delivers access and availability, people will stay on, but those being denied goods will at least get their entitlement in their accounts. Success will trigger subscription and pave the way for national expansion. More to the point, theft/leakage will be curbed!
PPP for Primary Health: The idea of universal health insurance, following life and accident cover, is around the corner. But success demands creation of capacity on the ground. Already, the shortfall is 22 per cent in primary and 32 per cent in community health centres— Bihar, UP, AP, Telangana and Jharkhand being worst off. Add poor staffing. Capacity building needs a PPP model. Premium paid by the Centre can be securitised by insurance companies to be used as equity funding, the states can bring land/clearances as equity, dovetail MGNREGS to set up medical colleges and hospitals and management can be auctioned/outsourced for efficiency. Capacity can be deployed to serve villages via mobile clinics.
Expand Crop Insurance: Agriculture, India’s largest employer, is the riskiest sector. Sustainable growth demands a robust rural economy. Farmers need cover from the reality of climate change and its impact. Immediately, cost-intensive cash crop farmers—worst hit by unseasonal climate—must be brought under insurance cover. States can, like Tamil Nadu, choose to subsidise premium paid. Insurer risks can be mitigated by incentivising induction of technology in irrigation and supplements, and locally produced make-in-India protective covers. Using Jan Dhan, farmers can be linked back-to-back with banks and insurers.
Amul II for Agri Produce: Food price inflation is an outcome of poor farm-to-fork supply chain systems. Governments have long hid behind the phrase “seasonal” when dealing with price rise or crash. India desperately needs a national grid for agri produce—an online exchange that delivers real-time pricing and produce information, connects producers with procurers to enable a vertically integrated supply chain. Verghese Kurien showed how to achieve price stability, availability and better farmer incomes with Amul. India needs Amul II.
Free Power to Pre-paid Power: India loses around `275 crore a day to transmission and distribution losses—essentially theft. The farmer who gets free power is the scapegoat. This must end. Technology has a solution. It is estimated that farmers draw power worth under `10,000 per year. Assuming it’s `1,000 per month, cap it at X units or a higher denomination or KwH units. States transfer the subsidy by DBT to the farmer’s account, a prepaid coupon is issued or a recharge number transmitted to his mobile phone which the farmer can SMS to activate supply. This requires metering and SEBs writhing under debt should be willing. Next introduce pre-paid recharge coupons for households.
Solar Highway: Generating solar power requires space—more than other forms. Most highways in India have space between the two sides of traffic, usually occupied by ill-maintained greenery. The six-lane Mumbai-Pune Expressway that Nitin Gadkari made possible has roughly eight to 10 feet of space in between. Suppose the MSRDC were to e-auction this pace to GenCos to set up high mast solar banks, generate power and wheel it up to the grid. Do the math, on land availability, power generated, cross subsidy to cost of highways. Now expand it across states—wherever possible.
Fill Up the Posts: India currently has vacant posts of 5.6 lakh policemen and 4.4 lakh teachers across states. That is a million jobs in just two sectors. And there are more… there are also nearly a lakh posts vacant in banks. How can a political economy struggling to create jobs, where PhDs apply for a peon’s post, justify vacancies—that too given the state of law and order, education and focus on financial inclusion. If it is about efficiency, scrap the posts. If not, the Centre must devise a system, so that states (and institutions) fill them.
Quota in CSR for Humanity: Currently, companies can do what they want with CSR funds. India has two major problems that need immediate attention—drinking water and malnutrition. Census 2011 tells us 22 per cent of rural households travels more than half a kilometre to fetch drinking water. India also ranks poorly in curbing malnutrition. The twin crises need concerted action and funding. The government should specify, say, 10 per cent of CSR funds to be spent on drinking water projects—stand-alone, filtered water stations that deliver water (at a fee for covering maintenance). It should also splice another 10 per cent for corporates to pay and subscribe to NDDB’s idea—gift milk for poor school kids.
There is no disputing the challenges, but the incremental approach has only detained India. The ideas demand a leap of faith from the political establishment and commitment to not be waylaid into the ghetto of alibis.
The standard operating practice in government is to sustain status quo of momentum and detain disruptive change. It is for the political regime to move the system from the default option “this can’t be done” to “this must be done”. The opportunity beckons the Modi Sarkar to create an exemplar, trigger the demonstration effect through the 11 states it’s in power.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change Email: shankkar firstname.lastname@example.org