29th July 2012
Anna, Arvind Kejriwal’s book, Swaraj, although interesting, is NOT the solution to India’s problems!
A few hours ago, in a speech, Anna Hazare promoted Kejriwal's book, Swaraj, thus:
Anna Hazare says that after reading Arvind Kejriwal's book 'Swaraj', one would realise that it is the government that has lost its focus and not the anti-corruption movement. [Source]
I discussed some of the key issues arising from this book/ worldview here. Do read it. In addition, I've gone through Kejriwal's book, and although it raises many problems, its solutions are based on a belief that every socialist policy should remain the same, merely become more decentralised in implementation.
I take this one example, Education. This is what Arvind says:
In a village government school, if a teacher does not teach properly or decides to come late to school or prefers not to come at all , no action can be taken against him, even if a complaint is filed to this effect.
In the same way all schools have shortage of teachers. One teacher teaches 200 to 300 children. Sometimes only one teacher teaches children of at least three or four classes at the same time. This type of education is ineffective and wasteful for children. In the name of education a mockery is going on.
Today the schools are in bad shape. Teaching is not proper; the children do not have desks to sit, water to drink, fans and urinals are not available. Whenever complaints are sent to the government then no action is taken on those complaints.
We visited Khijuri village in West Bengal, where the Sarpanch told us that though the village had received rupees six crore from the government, they could not construct a school which was badly needed and would have cost them only rupees twenty lakhs. This was because this money was tied up under various scheme of the government, for instance, the pension fund or construction of houses under the Indra Vikas Yojana or for some other scheme.
The teachers who are employed even today they do not teach properly. Some come only at the end of the month to collect their salaries and some who come, sit under trees and pass time gossiping with each other instead of teaching and the children then play.
Every aspect of life and living is controlled by a government department.
Contracts are awarded for, example, towards repair and maintenance of electrical work in all schools directly at the state level. The contractor carries out sub standard, shoddy work and sometimes not what was required. But the payment for this work is forced upon the sarpanch who is helpless.
Under RTI (Right to information) act it was found that in many a schools, up to class ten, of Jharkhand state have not a single teacher. In Vamani higher secondary school, Kanuga, Saraikela, Kharsawa has 310 children but not a single teacher. In a school of Siroom there are 435 children in ten classes but there is only one teacher, that too for Bangla language. Currently it is the duty of the state government to provide teachers in school. Many a times people in the above mentioned places wrote to the state governments but no answer ever came.
This is not news. I was Secretary of Assam Government's education department in 1993-94, before Arvind joined the civil service. The problems with the education system are well known to EVERYONE.
But now look at Arvind's solution:
What do you think who loves a child more, his mother or the secretary of education? It is evident that it is the mother. So how do you assume that the villagers would decide that they do not want education for their children, health services for sick and the aged? They would naturally want schools for education and hospitals for the sick and want all means of development of their village.
The gram sabha should have the power to stop the salary of a teacher who is not coming to the school or not teaching properly.
If power is given to people then they would look at the problem of shortage of teachers in gram sabhas meeting and employ more teachers that are needed. They would not be required to write to state government to create more posts, fill more vacancies and employ staff. They will decide this issue in the gram Sabha meetings and employ themselves as many teachers as may be needed.
If gram sabhas are empowered then the teachers would be accountable to them and the teachers would be subjected to questioning. If need arises then the gram Sabha could punish them, too. The gram sabhas will have the power to make teachers tow their line.
If government decides to send free fund then people can, in a gram Sabha, decide what essential things are to be provided to the children in school. They will be able to take direct decisions. They would not be obliged to seek some officer’s consent or from a politician or will not be obliged to seek permission from the state government.
A law should be enacted that transfers all works related to the village along with government agencies that provide services and wealth that falls under village jurisdiction. The fund required for maintaining the wealth, to carry out works and expenses of the agencies along with government employees should be transferred to the gram panchayat.
In 2002 an amendment was brought about in the law that governed panchayati raj. A provision was made that if a government employee did not perform his duty properly then by calling gram Sabha they could vote to stop his salary. This had some positive effects. Some examples are given below.
We went to many schools of villages in Amrawati Block of Chindwara District. Earlier the teachers did not come to school. They used to come on the last day of the month to collect their salaries. When this law came into effect, the villagers called the gram Sabha where they took a joint decision that the salaries of teachers should be stopped. For two months salaries were stopped but from third month the teachers started to come regularly. It was such a simple solution. If power is given to the people directly, they will take care of their own development.
What's the problem with this solution?
Arvind Kejriwal knows that engineering takes time to learn. It is a discipline. Similarly, public policy takes time to learn. It is a discipline.
Arvind Kejriwal's book, unfortunately, does NOT display necessary policy knowledge – of (a) the principal agent problem, (b) implications of public choice theory, and (c) the availability and use of local knowledge in society through the price system.
As a result of this, his solutions do not tap the market. They do not tap self-interest. They continue with existing socialist policies.
Arvind's work does not demonstrate a clear theory of state, either, which might help Arvind (and Anna) clarify whether a government needs to directly manage education or not.
So what's the solution?
Well, the solution is multi-facted, but involves the government getting out of the supply of education. Yes, the government must ensure that each child receives the highest quality education, but that means incentivising the MARKET to do it.
How this can be done has been detailed in BFN.
About an hour ago I spoke at some length with Justice D.S.Tewatia of Team Anna who advises Arvind. He is currently reading a copy of BFN that Ram Atri provided him, and believes the book is very persuasive. I've asked him to explain it to Arvind once he finishes reading it. I don't know whether (or when) that will happen, but it is something that Team Anna needs to get its head around, rather quickly.
I'm happy to explain these basic issues at great length over the phone to any member of Team Anna.
The key point, Mr Hazare, is that good intentions DO NOT mean much in the field of public policy. It is a deep understanding of how we can maximise the benefits from properly channeling human self-interest, that will make all the difference on the ground to MILLIONS of oppressed, unfree people.
It is time for young bright people like Arvind Kejriwal to do some serious reading on public policy and discuss with those who understand how GOOD GOVERNANCE works.
I've offered to help, but Arvind needs to open his mind to the fact that he may need to change MOST of his solution.
There are excellent people available in India to assist, including key members of the Freedom Team of India, but also Gurcharan Das, Parth Shah and Barun Mitra.
Somnath Bharti, key FTI member, has been representing Team Anna in its court cases. Ask him!
I'm thinking of making comments directly in a Word version of Swaraj. Here's some initial work.