Monday, June 17, 2024

Policy formulation and the Principle of Equity and Fairness


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By Phrangsngi Pyrtuh 

The annual budget 2014-15 of the Meghalaya Government provided little space for understanding the problems faced by certain sectors of the state such as health and education- both important social indicators. A “backward state” (Rangaraja Committee 2013) to become self reliant coupled with robust growth requires increasing focus on social spending. And most state governments around the country have done exactly this. For instance the Bihar Government allocated a massive 19% of its annual budget on Education alone for the year 2013-14. In Meghalaya out of Rs. 4545 crores (from the annual budget) the Mukul Sangma Government has allotted Rs 380 crore or (8.3 %) to health and Rs 413.6 crore (or 9.1%) for education (excluding technical education). These are significant allocations and displayed the Government’s sincerity towards the two sectors.
Education and heath are passive indicators of growth as compared to say manufacturing or the industrial sectors. They are complementary and each requires the other to reinforce a balance and holistic growth.  For social development, though, it is imperative to pursue a sound public policy (concomitant with increasing public spending) to mitigate profligacy in such policies. An ill-conceived policy may render the entire frame of development to intensive criticism such as the attacks on the Gujarat model  which many critics claims to be biased, where the State while performing well on the economic indicators has failed substantially on the social sector.  The debate on the Gujarat model is still alive (reiterated by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen while dismissing the Gujarat growth story as being oblivious to equity).
Public health spending in India (both education and health) is one of the lowest in the world (eg per capita public spending). The NDA government promises it would address the defective social policy of the UPA government. However the first annual budget of the Modi Government does not promise much as far as health and education is concerned. For instance central government health spending on the National Health Mission ( the new scheme combining the Rural and Urban Health Mission) has actually seen a drop of more than Rs 2500 crore compared to the interim budget of 2014-15. Public spending on Education is likely to remain below 4% of GDP.
We therefore must introspect if our own State Government has been fair to the health and education sectors upon which immeasurable stake lies. Recent turn of events show that we have given short shrift to both the sectors despite the increasing budgetary allocation. And there seems to be a lacuna between the intention of the government and the ground reality. I cite the doldrums faced by the Meghalaya bonded Auxiliary Nursing Midwifery (regarding service rules) where the Government’s lackadaisical attitude does not reflect the real concern of the sector.  Such ambiguity in policy making is discouraging for those who are ready to serve in the State’s fragile public health system. And yet we have the Government proclaiming that the Health sector is a priority sector. One is tempted to ask if there is fairness at all in policy making these days.
Education is another sector that has slipped the attention of the Government. The JACATAM a conglomerate of school and college teachers challenged the Government for the better part of last year on the issue of provincialisation of services. And the worst affected in this hyperbolic exercise are not just the student but teachers as well. And this I blame the Education department for its inability to keep up with the changing scenario. Is it not time to revamp the Education policy which nobody knows even existed? And here we are claiming that Shillong is the education hub of the North east. What a joke! It is time we bring the policy up front for public scrutiny.
However there is much to hope from the current political dispensation with the Chief head Dr. Mukul Sangma and the (reluctant) Education Minister being extremely qualified. Indeed some progress has taken place under Mukul Sangma on the education front. Mention must be made of the provincialisation of colleges in the state. There are so far at least 6 Colleges with provincialized services, the most recent ones to be included under this scheme are those in Garo Hills such as Williamnagar College. Rural based colleges definitely need all the help they can get especially public funding since their source (unlike the city based colleges) is virtually self generated  and extremely contained.
However, the manner in which colleges were provincialized have raised a few eyebrows. It may be mentioned that the Government pledged to have at least one Government college in every district. But some deserving Colleges were left out in the cold in the process. I must mention Nongstoin College which also happens to be one of the oldest colleges in the State established in 1978. The college became a deficit college in 1996 with only 7 sanctioned teaching posts including that of the Principal. While the college has grown the number of sanctioned posts have continued to remained the same leading to disproportionate numbers of staff and student ratio etc.
The college deserves to be one of the beneficiaries apart from being located in the district headquarters. Notably the districts of West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi district do not have a government college such as the one in Jaintia Hills. The Nongstoin college case may portend the manner by which provincialisation of our educational institutions would take place (now that the Government has agreed in principle to provincialize Deficit/Higher Secondary Schools). A threadbare examination of the issue is required and the Government must spell out a foolproof policy which is transparent and consensual and where politics does not take precedence over credibility.
This write up is a reminder of how policy formulation needs to go beyond the administrative challenge of meeting targets and goals to avoid fissures and failures in execution. The present emphasis on Education and Health should not just be a political rhetoric but should resonate with the ground reality of how things will have to change for all stakeholders. For this our policy makers must shed their prejudices and be forthcoming to issues that concern the social well being of the citizens of the state.


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