For the New Year

  • Blog Post Date 12 December, 2012
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Ashok Kotwal

Editor-in-Chief, I4I; University of British Columbia

Five months ago we launched this portal to start new conversations on issues of vital importance for Indian growth and development. We had hoped that by making serious research accessible to lay people we could help elevate the level of public debate. The time has come to assess our progress – where have we succeeded, where are we lacking and should we alter our course to achieve our goals.

We have certainly been fortunate in getting a large number (75 and counting) of reputable scholars, practitioners and policymakers to render their work and experience into portal articles. They have contributed ideas on a wide variety of topics spanning macro issues such as monetary and fiscal policies on the one hand to micro issues such as education, health and labour markets on the other. There have been articles reflecting on grand issues such as the persistence of ‘caste’ structures, and also some narrowly focused but in depth analyses of specific policies. Recently proposed pieces of parliamentary legislations such as MNREGA, Right to Education and Land Acquisition Bill have received their legitimate dues including an e-debate on MNREGA with some of the most knowledgeable people on the subject as participants. Though most of the articles have been based on research studies carried out in India we have also published a few about neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and China that had important lessons for India. We have tried to live up to our name and gathered as many Ideas for India as we could.

We were delighted that the ‘Economist Banyan Blog’ and also ‘Forbes India’ published articles about our portal at an early stage that helped to bring us to the notice of a wider audience. We have had over 50,000 visitors so far, 40% of whom have become regular visitors. The composition of the 600 registered users is as follows: Government 8%, International organisations 6%, Media 3%, NGOs 5%, Private sector 38%, Research 15%, Student 23%, and Other 2%. The editorial team has been approached by several major publications who are interested in reprinting the content, and one of the largest daily financial papers, Mint (WSJ India), posts most of our articles on its website simultaneously, thereby expanding the readership.

Yet, we do not feel fully satisfied. We strongly believe it is possible to make our portal more interesting to a wider audience while retaining our standards on evidence-based arguments. In order to achieve this, we have already embarked on two new initiatives that will be further strengthened in the coming months. First, we are in the process of organising more e-debates following the format we used in our first e-debate on MNREGA. These will be on: the Direct Cash Transfer Scheme based on a UID platform just announced by the Government of India, the Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill, and the Right to Education Bill. Second, there will be a greater attempt to get more writers from the civil society community in the recently introduced section called ‘Notes from the Field’. Indeed, the civil society organisations play an important role in public debates because they have their ears to the ground. They have a voice in policy making too as able representatives of the voiceless. On many issues, the civil society or the NGO community has played the role of the opposition party. We recognise that if ‘Ideas for India’ has to start new conversations it must actively seek and include the voices of these important players in Indian polity, and that is what we have resolved to do.

The Indian economy is at an interesting juncture. Growth has slowed down over the last couple of years while inflation is at a steady but high level of 7-8 percent. The basic pattern of growth has not changed with skill intensive sectors still acting as the main drivers. The trickle down process is weak, and consequently the Central Government is laying heavy emphasis on revamping its poverty alleviation schemes most of which are stigmatised by the associated leakages. While many of these poverty schemes have come to represent the colossal waste of government resources as a large proportion of the intended beneficiaries are simply bypassed making corruption the prevailing norm., there is awareness that the crushing burden of poverty is dehumanising life and precluding the development of capabilities of a large segment of our population.

The central government has recently announced the transformation of 29 direct cash transfers in poverty schemes in 51 districts into direct cash transfer schemes based on Aadhar (UID number). More importantly, the associated timeline is rather ambitious and it has raised a lot of eyebrows. If the rush leads to a failed experiment, it will set back genuine efforts to curb corruption and inefficiencies through the use of information technology. If it succeeds, it will be a big step forward. We need to view this experiment critically and understand what succeeds and what fails so that we know how to improve the process. For this we need evidence, feedback and informed comments. We need a healthy debate. We believe that Ideas for India is ideally suited for this important task and we look forward to carrying it out.

The I4I team hopes that our readers as well as contributors will be able to charge their batteries during the Holidays so that they can greet the New Year with a renewed enthusiasm to think about the challenges ahead. As always, we welcome your views on how we could better serve our readers and work towards our vision of more informed policy discussions that lead to more evidence-based policy decisions On behalf of the team, I wish you all a happy New Year.

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