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Category: Public policy

The delusions of the USA’s “national intelligence council” regarding India

Someone shared on Whatsapp:

“The likely emergence of China and India as new global powers – similar to the rise of Germany in the 19th century and America in the 20th century – will transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those of the previous two centuries.”
— 2005 report of the US National Intelligence Council on ‘Mapping the Global Future’


In 2005 people thought that India will actually reform its governance. Since then everyone has understood that India is a lost cause. It is only because of that belated realisation, perhaps (just like Indians will taken another 5 years to realise how wrong they are in supporting any of the existing socialist parties/ leaders) that people like the Horasis think tank – who had ignored my public work in this area over the past decade – are beginning to ask what it will take to fix India.

India cannot possibly come close to China with its current governance system. The incentives are all wrong.

The day Indians understand what I’ve been saying for the past 20 years, India will transform into a genuine super power.

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Why Chanakya was far superior to Birbal and (of course) Akbar – a lesson from history

From Whatsapp:

Once Badshah Akbar’ s army was engaged in a prolonged war. As a result his royal wealth (“shahi khazana”) was nearly exhausted.

He asked Birbal, “How to replenish my wealth.”

Birbal: You can get it from Dhanna Seth.(merchant).

Akbar was amazed as to how a trader/ merchant could have so much money. Still he went to Dhanna Seth.

Dhanna Seth offered: Badshah Akbar, I have huge wealth, take as much as you want.”

Akbar: Dhanna Seth, How did you accumulate so much wealth. Tell me without any fear of punishment.

Dhanna: I earned it by adultrating grains & spices.

Akbar got angry, he took all of Dhanna’s wealth and ordered him that from then on he would collect the horse dung in his royal stable. Dhanna agreed.

Years passed by. Again Akbar had to fight a long drawn battle. Again his royal wealth exhausted & again Birbal advised Akbar to go to Dhanna
Seth for help.

Akbar wondered : Birbal, I had ordered him to work in royal stable to collect horse dung, How on earth he can have such a wealth.”

Birbal: Badshah, you can ask him but only he can help you.

Akbar went to Dhanna. Dhanna gave Akbar huge wealth.

Akbar: Dhanna Seth, I had earlier taken all your wealth, How did you accumulate it again?

Dhanna: From the stable – incharge & horse attendants. They used to underfeed the horses. I threatened them that I will complain to Badshah that they did not feed horses enough, hence the horse dung quantity was less. So they bribed me to keep silent.

Akbar got very angry again & ordered Dhanna to start counting the waves at sea & returned to his Palace with Dhanna’s wealth.
As luck would have it, Akbar fought another war, royal wealth emptied out and once again Birbal advised Akbar to go to Dhanna Seth for help.

Akbar could not believe as to how Dhanna could earn so much by counting waves at sea.
Akbar asked Dhanna for the help.

Dhanna: Badshah, Take as much as you want but this time around I will not change my profession.

Akbar: Ok, but tell me how did you earn money by counting Water waves at sea.

Dhanna: Very simple, I used to stop merchant’s ships & boats far away from sea shore. I showed them your orders that I was counting waves & their ships & boats would disturb or break the waves hence their ships or boats should stay away. Badshah, these merchants then used to bribe me to let them reach the shore & unload their merchandise.

So Badshah understood that Dhanna Seth can earn by engaging in manipulations & bribery from any profession.


This is similar to what my DM told me in my first posting as SDM of Guwahati. He basically said that being harsh on the corrupt bureaucracy will backfire since they will use creative ways to make money.

Through roundabout ways and many years of study I learnt the wisdom of Chanakya who had figured out the meaning of incentive-compatible contracts thousands of year before anyone in the West did so.

Everything that India needs to succeed is written in Arthashastra.

The solution is not harsh measures (e.g. Jan Lokpal) but incentive-compatible contracts. This involves a level of capability of thought that is entirely missing from modern India. So it suffers, again and yet again.

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The need to significantly upgrade the quality of policy making in India

A short video I recorded yesterday during my walk in the park (my first long walk in many days, after I was brought down by Melbourne’s thunderstorm asthama).

Most policy in India is made on the run. This 2015 Law Commission report is an example of bogus policy analysis:

While I worked in India (for many years) I did not come across ONE example of good policy (and to date India doesn’t have the most basic policy making capability).

We need a policy framework in India. We should use this framework:

I provide feedback to Victorian departments on a wide range of policies as these are developed; then as these are ready to be agreed by Cabinet, I provide advice to the Treasurer, and finally, after Cabinet has approved the policy, its gets converted into legislation. Where possible, policy is analysed through a regulatory or legislative impact assessment. In any event, such analysis is conducted for all significant regulation.

Policy consideration in Victoria is therefore often preceded by more than a year’s work on the analysis of the problem. A detailed document is produced (inquiry report), based also on extensive consultation involved with hundreds of people, including subject matter experts.

(I look after a few areas; but our department’s economic division as a whole looks after all policies in the state: no policy is allowed to be developed without extremely thorough analysis; else we know for sure that we’ll arrive at a bad outcome for society through oversight of essential details and costs/benefits.)

In India, however, public policy is never prepared through such analysis; which is why it is always of a poor quality and the country then suffers a lot.

The recent demonetisation is an example of India’s third world public policy making process. There is no cost-benefit analysis; no logistics plan. Policy making on the run.

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Another 1992 draft article: On why Indians are often penny wise pound foolish

Another one, this one is dated 6 September 1992.


      Do appearances count? This question can be seen from many angles. I will look at it from the angle of the documentation done by government and its impact on the persons for whom it is meant.

I remember an occasion some time ago, where the Project Directors of all DRDAs were called. An average Project Director spent, on the average a couple of thousand rupees, if we take the depreciation of the car, its wear and tear, the petrol and oil, the driver’s and the Project Director’s salaries and TA for that period. The meeting was a high level one and in that meeting the officers were to be distributed some basic papers about their duties in the coming year. On this matter there was one officer who wanted to make the few papers which were presented of the best quality, using proper computer printing and photocopying, so that the Project Directors read the stuff and went back with a good image of the organisation for which they worked. But at the same time there were a few other people, up the ladder, who felt that any paper would do, including a shoddy cyclostyled paper, where the printing often comes so badly that one cannot read the entire contents. The officer/s did not realise that the issue on this kind of an occasion is not of saving a little amount but of ensuring that the right kind of impression goes through to the people.

There is a phrase in the English language for this kind of behaviour: “Penny wise and pound foolish”. I feel that many of us in India are exactly that.

The fundamental issue here is how do I, a common man, know that you are trying for perfection? Surely I do not trust what you say you are. I would rather like to judge you from what you have done, or preferably, what you write and present yourself to be. Accordingly, presentation is of vital importance – and I find that people in Australia understand that very well. They take great care to present everything well – including their city, the streets, the malls, and so also their documents.

The fundamental advantage of making a good presentation is that you get a halo effect. The person who receives the presentation draws a generally favourable conclusion about you if the presentation is good.

As described elsewhere, the education system focuses on presentation – a lot of presentations is done in class, and students get a good idea of what kind of presentations are acceptable.

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My 1992 draft article on TECHNOLOGY AND INDIA

A further write up, this is dated 26 October 1992. I had a quick squiz at this  and don’t agree with some of my 1992 thoughts. But I can see how I was steadily evolving into a policy thinker. Remember, this is how India’s “great” IAS officers are – ill-educated, incompetent thinkers. It takes many years to develop into a serious policy thinker. It took me a very long time to start understanding the dynamics of this world. Still learning. 


      One of the major things  which comes to mind when looking at the prospects of India versus a developed country is the huge technological gap between the two. Ranging from agriculture to industry, from bureaucracy to retain stores, the difference in the use of technology between the developed world and India has become so vast that it appears to be a difficult matter for India to ever catch up with the developing world.

This concept needs no great elaboration, but one can illustrate it by considering the output of two different farmers, one using a bullock-driven plough and the other, a tractor. The man who sitting on the tractor ploughs a greater area, produces more and even if he sells at a lower rate per unit than the farmer who uses a plough bullock, he makes more money in a year’s work than the former. The possibility of the farmer who uses the tractor becoming the owner of two tractors increases very fast, whereas the possibility of the farmer who uses a bullock cart, being able to afford a tractor, remains as remote as ever before. This is the difference between an average person in India and an average person in the developed world. The latter produces more, becomes richer, and continues to become richer at an ever-increasing rate compared to an Indian. The disparities thus increase and ever-widen. This phenomenon is visible to some extent in India itself, between people living in different parts of the country.

The difference between India and the developed world is now so much that whereas India as a whole is unable to produce aeroplanes on its own (it requires assistance from other countries to do so), in Australia, a high school has recently produced an air-worthy two-seater aeroplane on its own as part of a school project. Children in Australia know how to handle computers, microfiches, CD-ROMs, and have been exposed to practically all kinds of educational aids which are a now routine part of their education. In addition, by virtue of living in this society, the child has experienced extremely high technology and quality in the day-to-day part of his life. Little wonder then that the child is many strides ahead of his peer in India or a developing country, and is able to produce a much higher output from the day he becomes a worker.

The widespread use of technology in day-to-day life in Australia is best illustrated by some common examples. Coming from Indian, I have noticed these few as the more obvious examples, but surely, there are many more which are not easily noticeable to the common eye, but where technology is used for some other day-to-day purposes.

  1. Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are located at various places in the shopping centres and one can draw cash 24 hours a day on all days of the week (subject to a daily drawal limit).
  2. In every supermarket, except for vegetables, which one picks directly from the shelf, every item sold uses the barcode system. The checkout girl only has to pass each item above a bar-code reader or a digital weighing machine, which are connected to a central computer. The computer immediately picks up the bar-code or the weight of the item, locates its price, and inputs the item name and price into the cash memo. After all the items are inputed, one can either pay in cash, or by the plastic ATM card of any bank (since the supermarket computer is also attached to the banking network) and one can even draw some extra money from one’s bank accounts at the supermarket itself. Payments can also be made by the credit card system.
  1. Mobile car phones are a day-to-day part of life. One finds people carrying mobile phones in their briefcases and contacting people from any place in the city (even outside the cars).
  1. Most of the commercial buildings including ordinary shops, buildings of a university, etc., use automatic sliding doors, wherein an electronic eye detects an approaching person and slides open. These doors are electronically controlled and can be opened at night only by special electronic cards/ identification systems.
  1. Almost all buildings use the solar water heating system for domestic heating, and have 24 hour hot and cold running water in their bathrooms, kitchens, etc.
  1. Many shops and supermarkets use sophisticated security systems with cameras/ etc., which are monitored centrally to prevent shoplifting.
  1. Workers in the construction, carpentry, car repair, etc., businesses use the latest technology, mostly computerised, and the quality of their work is therefore as perfect as one can possibly expect. The finishing of a street, a wall, a table, or a traffic light is to be seen to be believed. Even manual workers use such high quality and latest machines that their work turns out to be almost perfect.
  1. The greatest miracle to a person coming from India is that power does not trip, nor fluctuate wildly as in India. Of course there could be sudden spikes due to line-failures on account of various mechanical reasons from time to time and one is advised to use a spike-guard in the more expensive electrical equipment, but certainly one does not have power cuts of any sort.
  1. There are many frequency modulation radio stations in Perth itself, which relay stereophonic music. If one has the proper receiving equipment, one cannot distinguish the quality of reception coming from a radio station with a good-quality compact disk being played in one’s music system.
  1. Compact disks are the common mode of music packaging. Audio cassettes and record players are also available, but these are on the way out.
  1. The standard size of computer disks is 3 1/2″. These disks contain more data and are also smaller in size than the 5 1/4″ standard mostly used in India.
  1. Computers are as common as manual typewriters are in India. Even primary schools use computers to manage the facility and the students.
  1. Each house has piped cooking gas.
  1. Milk is packaged in tetrapacks of one litre and the milk lasts for nearly three months.
  1. There is a system of “phonecard” which is a magnetic card and can be used in the telephone booths, to make local/ STD calls. The magnetic component of the card is “consumed” each time a call is made.
  1. Similarly, photocopiers in schools, libraries, and universities are fitted with a system which accepts coins/ magnetic card, etc., which measures the money paid for use of the photocopying service.
  1. Automatic vends are located at various points in public places, where one can put in a coin and punch the item number to get a snack/ coffee/ cold drink/ cigarette, etc. There is no pan-walla, of course, which is something one misses at times.
  1. Parking in most public places requires a parking ticket to be purchased from the nearby ticket machine. One inserts a coin and the ticket purchased is displayed inside the car, in order to prevent fines from being levied.
  1. The public lottery system, the horse-betting system, and most of the games in the local casino, are highly interactive and fully computerised.
  1. Federal government offices in Perth have remote terminals from their parent office in Canberra, but when working on these computers one does not feel that there is any delay caused due to the distance. Thus while sitting in Perth, …. kms from Canberra, one gets the feeling that one is working in Canberra. Communication with the head office is thus absolutely instantaneous.

But all this and more, does not imply that a place like Australia is anywhere near the cutting edge of technology. Even the USA has been edged out of that position. It is now Japan which possesses the best technology and uses it in its day-to-day life.

I happened to view a recent television programme which showed that in the USA, business is having nightmares about the Japanese. Japan has progressed so vastly in the technological field that the US industries are now years behind in certain major industries such as automobiles. Detroit and Chicago are losing their status as premier cities of automobile production as plants are closed down in quick succession. In fact in the USA Japan-bashing has started and posters have started appearing showing the apprehensions of the Americans that the USA is going to be a colony of Japan. Toyota has now enough money in the bank (20 billion US dollar equivalent: less than the size of the total export of all goods from India) to buy Chrysler three times over.

Technology, when fuelled by the right mix of governmental economic policies, is a most potent force not only for the eradication of poverty, but for gaining a superior competitive position in the world.

And yet, in India how many of us realise this? We tend to be fascinated by low level and preferably primitive technology. This could be either due to Gandhian influence on our thought, but I suspect this is largely due to our ignorance. How many of us make it a point to read about the great advances made by the common man in the developed world?

Without meaning to be critical of the sincere effort made by some people, in Assam we have still got a good number of people who hate the thought of the introduction of computers in government. Some others attribute great power to these little machines and put these up on a pedestal. Not many are there who are beginning to make use of these machines without any emotional sentiment. Even I have been a party to this, I feel. Having pushed for and ultimately got the post of the Director of Computer Applications, Assam, created in March this year, I felt that this is a right step for Assam in the field of improving its information technology use in government, but now I feel that we are so backward compared with the rest of the world that we have to work overtime in providing the right information base in government, and not to rest on the little work done, but to study harder and try to introduce the best systems of management in government.

It is high time that we all realised that only the best technology available must be used at any given point of time: there is no justification for the use of primitive technologies. Of course, if appropriate down-scaled, labour intensive technologies exist, there should be no objection to the use of such technologies, but even then the main criterion should be improved productivity above all.

Primary education is compulsory in Australia (that is the way it should be in India too), and the Government spends a considerable amount on the facilities provided to primary schools.

I feel that whereas it is as good policy to go out of India to exhibit Indian products in various fairs and exhibitions, it would be much more strategic if a marketing approach it taken to promote technology in India. Since it is felt that India may not have adequate buyers of technology at present (this is a myth to which I do not however, subscribe), then the best thing would be to purchase a thousand each of the various items of high technology and to display these in the form of a permanent Cutting Edge of Technology Exhibitions all over India, even upto the level of small towns (at least at the district headquarters), and about ten to twenty such exhibitions in the bigger cities, so that there is a rapid increase in the awareness of such products in the school children, the entrepreneur and the common man in general. Displayed here should be all the kinds of hand-tools which are sold commonly in the supermarkets of developed countries, and other products which have high sales volumes in the developed markets. These products would give an idea to the the entrepreneur about what sells abroad (including its retail price), and he would then be able to either set up production units which produce such items, or would be able to get hold of the appropriate technical collaboration to produce such items.

The fact that Indians can do this is obvious when we look at the example of Maruti. Till the Maruti car was put on the streets of India, the Indian entrepreneur had not been exposed to high technology cars and kept on producing shoddy quality goods required for the Ambassador and the Fiat. But suddenly, within a few years of his exposure to Maruti, the quality of goods produced has gone up and even the other cars have been forced to use better quality in their cars to be able to compete with rising consumer expectations.

I contend therefore that the government is totally unjustified in promoting outdated technology and must therefore take all steps to strategically promote high technology. The plea of heavy density of population does not cut much ice. When we examine the example of Samsung, the Korean giant, we find that he sold practically all of his microwaves to foreign countries, until, partially induced by the wealth brought into Korea by these sales, the people of Korea became rich enough to afford his products within the country itself. Therefore, just because markets do not exist for certain products at present in India, it does not mean that we should make this an excuse for promoting only the labour-intensive primitive or even appropriate technologies, but should definitely strike out in the direction of high technology, where we are now decades behind even our Asian neighbours.

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