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#3 from 2016: Delhi’s odd-even plan as a public policy experiment

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on February 2, 2016.  

Late last year, Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, announced a measure to tackle the severe air pollution crisis in the city. The proposal was to implement an odd-even plan for private cars on Delhi roads: cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even numbered registration plates allowed on the other days. There was an exemption list that included single women (or with children), public vehicles, medical emergencies, etc. This was to be piloted for a period of fifteen days, starting on 1st January 2016.

For a detailed account of how the city dealt with this rule, see here.  An excerpt:
During the odd-even period, the use of cars fells by 30 per cent while those car-pooling went up by a whopping 387.7 per cent, indicating the success of the government’s push towards that option. Delhiites using private auto-rickshaws went up by 156.3 per cent compared to the period before odd-even, while Metro use went up by 58.4 per cent.

On average, the respondents’ took 12 minutes less to commute from home to work during the odd-even period. Car and bus users reached their workplaces 13 and 14 minutes faster during the 15-day period
 

Beyond rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

In August this year, the Government of India approved the recommendations made by the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS). The rationalisation plan would first prune the existing 66 CSSs to 28, and then further divide them into three categories – six ‘core of the core’ schemes, 20 core schemes, and two optional schemes. The ‘core of the core’ schemes include the pension schemes, MNREGA, and four umbrella schemes targeting “vulnerable sections” of the population. Further, the flexi-funds component of the CSSs would be increased to 25% for the state governments to programme. Another set of recommendations were made around the modalities of release of funds. For instance, the release of a tranche of funds would no longer be dependent on producing an Utilisation Certificate of the previous instalment; and instead, it would be based on the submission of the instalment preceding the last one.

This is another step in the process of improving the governance of CSS in India, with the specific rationalisation exercise being prompted by the ongoing fiscal reorganisation between the centre and state governments. Starting last year, transfers from the centre to state governments went up by approximately INR 1.8 lakh crores. This was a result of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations which increased the devolution of the centre’s tax receipts to state governments from the prevailing 32% up to 42%. This reduced the ability of the central government to continue funding CSSs at their previous levels, and at the same time, provided state governments a greater measure of flexibility in financing its own priority development schemes.

Campaign Art: Idols that protect their worshipers, and the ocean

Davinia Levy's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

During the Ganesh Festival in India, tons of idols representing the elephant-headed god are immersed in the ocean. The paint and other elements used for the making of these idols get blended in the water and pollute and kill the marine life of the bay.

SPROUTS Environment Trust, an environmental NGO in India came up with a very original solution to this problem and their initiative took off:
 
#GodSaveTheOcean

Delhi’s odd-even plan as a public policy experiment

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Traffic in DelhiLate last year, Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, announced a measure to tackle the severe air pollution crisis in the city. The proposal was to implement an odd-even plan for private cars on Delhi roads: cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even numbered registration plates allowed on the other days. There was an exemption list that included single women (or with children), public vehicles, medical emergencies, etc. This was to be piloted for a period of fifteen days, starting on 1st January 2016.

For a detailed account of how the city dealt with this rule, see here.  An excerpt:
During the odd-even period, the use of cars fells by 30 per cent while those car-pooling went up by a whopping 387.7 per cent, indicating the success of the government’s push towards that option. Delhiites using private auto-rickshaws went up by 156.3 per cent compared to the period before odd-even, while Metro use went up by 58.4 per cent.

On average, the respondents’ took 12 minutes less to commute from home to work during the odd-even period. Car and bus users reached their workplaces 13 and 14 minutes faster during the 15-day period


I will come to the outcomes of this pilot in just a moment. Outcomes aside, the Delhi government’s Odd-Even plan has yielded a rich bounty. It sets the template for citizen engagement with a public policy reform experiment: heightened awareness regarding the core issue, mass participation, intense public scrutiny, and a data-driven discourse. Let’s take these one-by-one.

Cash as a response to humanitarian distress

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Men thrashing grain in IndiaIn the context of the subsidies regime in India, there is an ongoing debate on the suitability of cash transfers. With the much talked about JAM trinity – the Jan Dhan zero-balance bank accounts, Aadhar and mobile phones, it certainly appears that the state-sponsored welfare system is set to see a significant shift. While this shift may well fall short of being transformative, we could still expect an improvement in how benefits are delivered with reduced leakages to recipients. The use of the JAM model to extend the welfare net and to improve its efficiency implies a decisive move towards cash transfers, and therefore, one may be closer to settling the debate, at least in terms of favoured government policy.

But the argument in favour of cash is not new. I recently came across a 1986 United Nations University WIDER paper by Amartya Sen where he elegantly outlines five arguments in favour of direct distribution of cash in times of food crises. In this paper Food, Economics and Entitlements, Sen tackles this question in the context of a famine. First, Sen demonstrates how even in contexts where aggregate food output is plentiful, the ability of the poor to acquire this food is a whole different matter. Localised food shortages and famine-like situations can arise due to various reasons – at times when the prices of staples rise sharply, or when the prices of products the poor sell fall sharply. However, this isn’t obvious to policymakers as long as they view food sufficiency through the lens of per-capita food production alone.

When famines manifest themselves, there could be multiple policy response options. Sen talks of direct food distribution as the favoured method in those times. Three decades down the line, food relief continues to be popular in times of distress, even as direct cash transfers (as described above) are gaining ground as a favoured instrument of social welfare policy. Policy responses in these times is meant to enhance the ability of those affected, to ‘acquire’ more food. Both market-based solutions that begin with greater availability of cash, and direct distribution are potential paths to this end.
 

The political economy of welfare schemes

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Medical checkups for children in India.Social welfare schemes the world over are going through interesting times. Egged on by fiscal management targets, welfare cuts are routinely passed off as “reforms”. Subsequently, there is usually pressure on governments to target welfare to the most deserving. Determining who the deserving beneficiaries are and the appropriate value of these transfers is critical.
 
In a recent edition of the Pathways’ Perspectives, social policy specialist Stephen Kidd bats for universal social security schemes. His central argument is built around the political economy of targeting, suggesting that “inclusive social security schemes build political alliances between those living in poverty, those on middle incomes and the affluent”. Governments that are interested in scaling up social security schemes prefer universal coverage. The argument goes that this way, they build a wide coalition of interests that support their scheme and hope that this support translates into electoral endorsement. On the other hand, governments that are interested in scaling back social security schemes do so by first withdrawing from universal schemes and then introduce an element of targeting. Soon, those that do not benefit from the scheme are more likely to see it as wasteful public spending and therefore, support a move to cut back.
 

Campaign art: Fighting neglected tropical diseases one step at a time

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Filariasis, also known as elephantiasis or filaria, leaves a giant footprint in India. A shocking 500 million people in India – one half of the country’s population— are at risk of infection!  It is one of seven neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that attacks nearly one in six people globally.

Filaria occurs when an individual is infected with filarial worms, which are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The worms later mature in the lymphatic vessels, causing painful, disfiguring swelling of the legs and genital organs.  

While Filaria can be fatal, especially for children, it also has a greater public health impact because it interferes with physical fitness and cognition. Moreover, those with severe symptoms of the disease are often unable to work and may suffer significant social stigma as a result of their disfigurement. In this way, Filaria can trap people in a perpetual cycle of poverty.

In response, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, was created to raise awareness about the seven most common NTDs (through its END7 campaign) and to work with governments to deliver low-cost treatment for NTDs. In December 2014, the Indian Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW) launched a national campaign called “Hathipaon Mukt Bharat” (Fliaria Free India) to rid the country of filaria within the next few years. It is one of the largest public health campaigns in India’s history and aims to provide more than 400 million people with free medication that could protect them from the disease.
  
VIDEO: Giant footprints!


If we don’t assess, how will we learn? Assessments are critical to learning, accountability and school improvement

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Young boys studying in IndiaAre assessments and standardized tests critical to measuring the effectiveness of educational systems?  How can communities demand accountability from local schools? Suvojit Chattopadhyay argues that assesments can serve as a lever to improving education.

This is a response to a recent livemint column by Azim Premji Foundation’s Anurag Behar in which he argues that assessments are not a primary systemic lever for improvement in education and that assessments should remain tools that provide feedback to teachers in the classroom. Interestingly, Behar does not make any reference to India’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). ASER has been around for a decade, riding on a simple and powerful idea: parents, communities, the wider civil society and policymakers just did not have sufficient information on the levels of learning our public schools deliver.
 
Unsurprisingly, in an age where social spending by governments is under tremendous scrutiny and aid flows are under pressure, testing and assessments have found currency in many countries across the developing world. It has also helped civil society put pressure on education systems (whether public or private) to focus on learning outcomes, moving beyond a highly limiting obsession with inputs— classrooms, teachers, textbooks, uniforms, etc. To be clear, the argument is not that one can ignore the need for high quality inputs. Indeed, that would be foolish. However, there is now substantial evidence that on its own, investing in inputs will not yield improved schooling outcomes.

Six steps to a successful sanitation campaign

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

new latrineInadequate sanitation costs India $54 billion a year. To that, add the challenge of juggling our nationalistic aspirations of superpowerdom with the ignominy of housing the largest share of human population that defecates in the open.  In light of this, here are six steps to a success sanitation campaign.

Amid many reports that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) is failing, we need a dose of optimism. While SBA might be failing, it certainly isn’t the first, nor will it be the last state-led sanitation programme to fail in India. Our large schemes to tackle this challenge have, more often than not, ended up as models of just what one should avoid doing if they are serious about bringing about total sanitation.
 
It is now widely acknowledged that conventional approaches are not working: those that set up a false dichotomy between construction and behaviour change; those that are content with pit latrines as opposed to functional toilets; those that use reductionist conceptions such as communities being open defecation free rather than focusing on personal and environmental sanitation and hygiene as a whole; and those that settle for incremental coverage instead of full coverage from the start.
 
However, it’s not that there are no success stories within India or in our immediate neighbourhood. For one, the experiences of locally-embedded NGOs that have taken their interventions to scale can be highly instructive. There have also been state-led successes in Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh that can offer valuable lessons. So what could some key design elements in a sanitation programme be?
 

Why do sanitation campaigns fail?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The study finds that the govt’s rural sanitation programme, implemented by NGOs, was unable to reduce exposure to faecal matter.

A recently published Lancet paper looks at the impact of the erstwhile Total Sanitation Campaign in the coastal Puri district in Odisha. The study finds that the government’s rural sanitation programme, implemented by NGOs and community-based organisations, was unable to reduce exposure to faecal matter. As a result, this sanitation programme had no impact on the incidence of diarrhoea and malnutrition. The authors of the paper conclude that in order to realise concrete and sustainable health benefits, sanitation programmes need to increase both the coverage and use of toilets, as well as improved hygienic practices.

No one denies the importance of good sanitation and the impact it has on human health. It must follow therefore that the lack of positive impact is down to poor implementation of the sanitation programme in the study area. In fact, a process evaluation of the programme concludes that the implementation was far from perfect, both in terms of the levels of coverage achieved and the levels of awareness. Over an implementation period of 13 months (January 2011—January 2012), the villages where the programme was implemented saw an increase in toilet coverage from 9% to 63%, but only 38% of the households had a functional toilet. It would have been interesting to learn more about the gap between toilet construction and usage (25 percentage points). In any case, the state of implementation, the authors point out, is typical of the prevalent Total Sanitation Campaign across the country.
 

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