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The desperate need for more people

My previous post highlighted the in-principle requirement for more, not less manpower in state departments. My research in the last month or so highlights the following points:

1. All through the 20th century, and for most of the period under British India, Indian administration has been starved of capacity. Post-independence, this has been starkly at odds with its interventionist ambitions to remove poverty, and increase social indicators. However, the consensus on such interventionist policy has not translated into a consensus on building state capacity. My next post will address this in detail.

2. Notable scholar, politicians are all commenting on the starvation of capacity at all levels. Prominently,

a. Shashi Tharoor, “In the Ministry of External Affairs

b. Devesh Kapur, “The Indian State and India’s future

c. Devesh Kapur and Arvind Subramaniam, “Rebuilding the Indian State

d. The Minister for Finance, P. Chidambaram, “Recapturing India’s Growth Momentum: A conversation with Finance Minister Chidambaram

There is therefore, no pressing need to have a first-principles debate on the need for improving state capacity.

3. The question is how, and at what levels. Obviously, all levels of government – central, state and local government require capacity addition. However, metrics for capacity addition are not transparent, consistent, or for that matter, easily available. This puts a huge transaction cost on existing administrators to invest resources in a scientific method of manpower assessment. The Ministry of Finance has a Special Inspection Unit whose job it is to assess manpower across departments. It is however unclear as to how effectively they function, and what their exact mandate is.

4. The next step then obviously is to get this information on the existing method of manpower assessment, before any analysis of their methods, and comparison with other jurisdictions can be made. Premature development of metrics may defeat the purpose of their exercise since it is advisable to realign and fix the existing system rather than propose drastic alternatives, given the inherent aversion to large-scale change within the government.

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