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Public Policy in India

What is Public Policy?

Public Policy is a proposed course of action of a government within a given environment providing opportunities and obstacles which the policy aims to utilize and overcome to realize a given role.

The above definition clearly states that public policies are governmental decisions and resultant actions in pursuance of certain goals and objective. It requires a thoroughly close knit relation and interaction between the important governmental agencies – the political executive, legislature, bureaucracy and judiciary.

 Nature of Public Policies

  •  Goal Oriented
  •  Collective actions
  •  Decision are made.
  •  Positive/Negative: Public policy is positive in the sense that it depicts the concern of the
  • government and involves its action to a particular problem on which the policy is made. It has the sanction of law and authority behind it. Negatively, it involves decisions by the governmental officials regarding not taking any action on a particular issue.

 Characteristics of Public Policy Formulation

  •  Complex: Policy making involves many components which are interconnected by communication and feedback loops.
  •  Dynamic: It is a continuous process that requires regular input of resources and motivation.

It also changes with time.

  •  Comprises of various components
  •  Lays down guidelines: Public policy, in most cases, lays down general directive on the main lines of action to be followed.
  •  Results in action
  •  Futuristic
  •  Public Interest: A larger public interest guides the policy making strategy.
  •  Wide consultation

Types of Public Policy

• Substantive: These are policies related to general welfare and development of the society, the programmes like provision of education and employment opportunities, economic stabilization, law and order enforcement, anti-pollution legislation.

• Regulatory: These are concerned with regulation of trade, business, safety measures, public utilities. Organizations like LIC, RBI make these regulations on behalf of the government.

• Distributive: These are meant for specific segments of society and are related to area of grant of goods, public welfare or health services. Examples include adult education programme, food relief, social insurance, vaccination camp etc.

• Redistributive: The Redistributive policies are concerned with the rearrangement of policies which are concerned with bringing about basic social and economic changes. Certain good and services that are divided disproportionally are streamlined.

• Capitalization: Under this policy, financial subsidies are given to state and local governments by Union governments.


Public Policy in India after Independence

  •    Soon after the independence, India opted for planned economic development. It was believed that it is economic development that will usher social and political development culminating into human development.
  • In India, this role was primarily taken up by Planning Commission to formulate policies and develop perspectives that could define the direction which country would follow. For all policy directions, the Five Year Plans (FYP) became the major source.
  • The first major goal of public policy in India has been in the area of socio-economic development. Major policy formulation was done in the area of industrial and agricultural development.
  • In addition to socio-economic challenges, India also faced internal and external security threats. Regionalism, for example, have risen to fissiparous tendencies. This lead to formulation of defence policies to maintain national integration and create greater national cohesiveness.
  • The Five Year Plans (FYPs) focused on key elements for development in India. For instance, while 1st FYP focused primarily on agriculture, second one aimed for massive industrialization of the country. In subsequent plans, focus areas included – industrial growth, agricultural productivity, defence expenditure, exports, public development expenditures, poverty, rural development, infrastructure, market reforms and social infrastructure among other things.

Achievements of planned development

• Higher rate of growth: Post LPG reforms, the growth rate improved massively. In the period between 2002 – 2014, it also witnessed many years of double digit growth.

• Increase in national income and per capita income.

• Development of Economic Infrastructure

• Social Infrastructure: Average life expectancy for both male and female has improved Substantially

• Self-sustainability in agriculture

• Savings and Interest: The saving rates were paltry 8-9% of GDP in 1950-51. Currently it is more 30% of GDP.

Failures of planned development

• Economic Inequality and Social Injustice

• Unemployment: India has witnessed the phenomena of ‘Jobless growth’.

• Slow growth in production sector

• Inefficient administration

• No mechanism of feedback, monitoring and evaluation

• Standard of Living: The per capita income has not increased, while inflation has paralyzed the life of middle and lower class. Urban space has witnessed proliferation of slums with issues of sanitation, crime against women and child.

 Weaknesses in India’s Public Policy Making

• Fragmentation in Thinking and action: For example, the transport sector is dealt with by five departments/Ministries in the government of India whereas in the US and UK it is a part of one department.

• Overlap between policy making and implementation

• Over-centralization

• Lack of non-governmental inputs and informed debates

• Lack of systematic analysis and integration prior to policy making

• Lack of evidence based research

• Politically motivated policies: At times, electoral considerations dominate the aims and objectives of a policy. Frequent loan waiver by different states in India is one such example.

 Strengthening Public Policy in India

• Reduction in fragmentation: This can be achieved by appointing fewer Secretaries

• Separating policy-making from implementation and decentralizing implementation authority

• Improving integration and the flow of knowledge from outside the government

Role of Civil Society in Policy Formulation and Implementation

• Post-Independence till 1980s, the state had taken upon itself to formulate, implement and evaluate social sector policies.

• However, after of globalization and liberalization, two processes unfolded. One, the role of the State began to change and get more complex, and two, there began far greater scrutiny of public policy from the ground.

• However, a few institutions, such as the National Advisory Council (NAC), have surfaced, which facilitate government-civil society networking. The NAC has played a critical role in bringing in legislations such as Right to Information, Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), among others.

• Increasingly, there is a visible change in the government’s approach to formally involve civil society actors in policy networks. This trend is evident in all the flagship programmes of the government, be it the MNREGA, or as reflected in the National Voluntary Sector Policy 2011, which outlines an ambitious plan of the government to engage developmental civil society at multiple levels, from policy formulation to implementation and monitoring.

• In addition to this, implementation of the 73rd Amendment Act and the arrival of Panchayati Raj Institutions too drove the State to actively seek partnership with civil society actors.

 Policy Monitoring and Evaluation

• In the light of these imperatives, the Indian government has taken initiatives to improve the monitoring and evaluation environment. Few of them include

o National Productivity Council under Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Ministry of    Commerce and Industry

o Ministry of Finance has instituted outcome budgeting.

o Management Information System (MIS)

o Programme Evaluation Organization (under erstwhile Planning Commission)

o Niti Aayog

• In addition to these institutions, civil society and media has also played crucial role in evaluating governmental policies.

• In addition to the media and civil society, two more institutions, which are part of India’s constitutional governance system, are playing a key role in demand for accountability. One is the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the other is the Supreme Court.

• Similarly, the Supreme Court of India has been accepting many Public Interest Litigation petitions from civil society and monitoring executive actions.

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