Tag Archives | government

Giving encryption keys and back-door access to government is paving way to an authoritarian regime

Considering the current state of unaccountability with our government, government’s access to encryption keys and backdoor access inevitably leads to abuse.

You’re probably going “that’s too far fetched”, is it really?

Last year, the government caused a huge ruckus by releasing a draft National Encryption Policy (NEP), with people calling it draconian. It was in fact draconian in nature. The policy expected businesses to hand over the encryption keys and access to communication logs in plain text for 90 days, raising concerns over privacy and free speech.

While the government withdrew it immediately, it opened up a dialogue among the different stakeholders about the necessities for an NEP and the issues facing it. On one hand, some claim that having a encryption policy sets a standard, which will strengthen our cyber-infrastructure and increase foreign investments. On the other had, some think there shouldn’t be any encryption policy, we should just let the market figure that out by itself.

Either way, why does the government want it? The government remains vague as to why it really needs access to encryption keys or backdoors. The general narrative is likely along the lines of the need for real time surveillance for preventing terrorism and cyber crime, and enhancing our national security.

But, whats really at stake here? Enhancing policing tactics in exchange for what? eavesdroppingWe live in an opportunistic society, where breaking laws and cutting corners saying ‘chalta hai’ is the norm. If you don’t follow this norm, a few glaring eyes and smirks abound. It would be naive to think that this doesn’t reflect within our government system, especially within the police system. More troubling is that we not only lack the “right to privacy” in our constitution, but also lack proper oversight architecture that holds the government and its employees accountable when it comes to abuse and corruption. The bad apples are most likely to abuse the access and get away with it scotch free. Hence, given the access and easy surveillance, it is inevitable that this government or the next will abuse it to get rid of opposition and enhance its power, eventually moving towards an authoritarian regime. There is no guarantee against it.

Where is the balance? How can the government investigate and prevent crime without the use encryption keys or backdoor access?

Few things it can do is improve other strategies in preventing terrorism and crime. Stronger Human Intelligence network for instance is a great tactic and provides real time access. Other approach can be to request live monitoring access, via a special court, on terrorist groups or crime syndicates that pose a real threat. Sure, this may not be as good as having instant access, but that’s a trade-off the government has to make to maintain society’s trust with its governance.

Image Source: Flickr user pyride

Puru Naidu (@Brocolli88) is a Research Analyst at the Takshashila Institution.

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The reform train

The previous post explained the idea of Overton window. This post aims to understand the concept through the example of a push-pull locomotive. A Push-Pull train is one where locomotives at both ends of a train are used at the same time to move the train in one direction — both the locomotives are controlled by one pilot.

Push-pull train[1]

push pull

push-pull locomotive

 

Government reforms operate like the Pull- Pull model ie., locomotives on both sides are pulling the train apart in opposite directions. Both the directions are pulled by separate pilots, and the reform train stands still.  The train can be thought of as the Overton window whose motion is dependent on which side the force is stronger. The force required to pull the train on either side depends on what the societal majority prefers. Needless to say, like social change, reforms are slow and deliberate that take enormous effort and conviction.

pull pull

This analysis might lead us to make fatalistic conclusions. It is here that newspapers, opinion makers, social media et al play an important role in the moulding public opinion and thus help move the Overton Window. Which side the window moves depends on how public opinion is moulded, but it for certain that these elements are unconstrained by electoral calculations and therefore are critical; a politicians motto might be to win the elections, but a common man’s motto is to lead a happy and a prosperous life and this is only possible through an efficient government.

PS – The famous “push-pull” night train between Mysore and Bangalore takes 5.5hours to travel 140km.

PPS- The original Overton window was presented with a vertical alignment to avoid the “right”/”left” connotation. Although horizontally aligned, the author does not assume right/left connotations in the locomotive example.

[1] The image is taken from wikipedia

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The reality of political opposition

A politician’s first goal is to stay in power and staying in power requires winning consecutive elections – Varun Ramachandra (_quale)

Policy analysis through models and frameworks is useful because it holds the potential to distill complex ideas in a simple manner without stripping the essentials. Therefore, it makes sense to analyse why governmental level reforms are hard to achieve through these very models.  Usually, we trivialise the process of reforms at the governmental level, but reforms are complex processes  involving multiple stakeholders (including politicians and policy makers). Political realities, parties’ own political future, and a multiverse of public opinions are considered before taking a decision.

“Overton window” is one such model that helps us achieve the said objective. This concept was first developed by Joe Overton of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Overton Window describes the realm of political acceptability within which politicians and policymakers operate. This realm (window) is determined by what politicians believe will win them their next election. As described by this introductory essay in Mackinac Center, “Policies inside the window are politically acceptable, meaning officeholders believe they can support the policies and survive the next election. Policies outside the window, either higher or lower, are politically unacceptable at the moment”

overton

(Figure shows the Overton Window– more freedom refers to less government intervention, less freedom refers to higher government intervention)

A politician’s first goal is to stay in power and staying in power requires winning consecutive elections. Therefore, policy changes occur only within this window of reality. The window moves if and only if the move has the potential to lead towards another electoral victory. It is often thought that politicians with enough credentials can move the window either side, however that is very rarely the case. History has shown us very few leaders who have expanded this window, but these leaders are exceptions that validate the general rule (of course, the analysis holds true only in case of democracies and not in an authoritarian setup).

The word reform in the modern context refers to improving existing conditions or practices, and therefore it surprises many of us when we see opposition parties opposing reforms that an existing government tries to bring about. It is also true that depending on a person’s political ideology, certain reforms may not be thought of as reforms at all. This conundrum leads us to conclude that opposition to reforms might stem from 2 sources

  • From those who assess that the “proposed” change is outside their own Overton Window, thereby not opposing it might lead to electoral failure.
  • From those who assess that the proposed change is well within the “Overton window” of the ruling party, thereby ensuring the continuity of the existing ruling party.

It is not unusual to hear the term “opposition for the sake opposition sake”, while this is true in the larger context, from a political party’s viewpoint the quote transforms itself into “opposition for the sake of winning the next election”.

Varun Ramachandra is a policy analyst at the Takshashila Institution, he tweets @_quale 

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A primer on Atal Pension Yojana

Atal Pension Yojana is the latest example of schemes by the government of India to solve for the problem of old age pension in an increasingly ageing society — Devika Kher and Varun Ramachandra

Atal Pension Yojana (APY), a voluntary co-contributory pension initiative aimed at providing access to pension for individuals from across the income groups, was announced in the Union Budget 2015.

The scheme comes at an opportune time because the need for an economically viable and inclusive system to support an ageing population is rising. As per the UNFPA and Help Age India report, the elderly population (above 60 years) was 10 crore in 2012, which was 8% of India’s total population. The report claimed that the elderly population would increase by around 11% by 2050. The UN’s World Population Ageing 2013 report shows that India will have the second largest population of people above the age group of 80 with 37 million people by 2050.

In 2004, The National Pension Scheme(NPS) was introduced with the express intention of providing retirement benefits to all citizens. The initial launch was limited to new government employees (except armed forces), but this changed in 2009 when citizens on a voluntary basis could enroll in the scheme.  In 2010, “The Swavalamban Yojana” was set up with the objective of providing retirement benefits for the informal sector. Under this scheme, the government provided matching contribution worth ₹1000 for an NPS member making contributions between  ₹1,000 and ₹1,200 p.a. The payout, consisting of a lump sum payment and annuities, was scheduled to happen after the subscriber reached the age of 60.

In the recent budget, the NDA government has subsumed the Swavalamban Yojana under Atal Pension Yojana. All contributors under Swavalamban would automatically be transferred to APY unless they chose to opt out.

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APY Characteristics:

Unlike Swavalamban, benefits under APY is guaranteed by the government in terms of fixed pension. The monthly contribution needed for the APY is pre-defined along with the monthly pension and the corpus amount that would be received at the end of 60 years. As per the scheme, to get a corpus between ₹1.7 Lakh and ₹8.5 Lakhs, the subscriber has to contribute between ₹42 and ₹210 on a monthly basis, that is if (s)he joins at the age of 18 years. For the same range of monthly contribution and the year of joining, the scheme ensures a monthly pension varying between ₹1000 to ₹5000. For instance, an individual would have to contribute ₹210 from the age of 18 years to 60 years in order to receive a corpus of ₹8.5 Lakhs and a monthly pension of ₹5000.

The range for the monthly contribution has been set in a manner that allows the subscriber to opt for the scheme based on income. For instance, a subscriber from a lower income group unable to spend ₹1,454 for 20 years to get the monthly returns of ₹5,000 can opt for the scheme which is compatible to his or her income. However, the ones who can afford a higher monthly contribution can opt for a scheme that guarantees a higher monthly pension.

An additional feature of APY is that the contributions can be made by individuals only between ages 18-40 years. The cost of exit is high as exit before 60 is allowed only in the case of exceptional circumstances such as death of the beneficiary or if (s)he suffers from a terminal disease. This allows for accumulation of funds for longer periods, resulting in higher returns thanks to compounding. The returns are further augmented by the government, which will contribute ₹1,000 or 50% of the contribution (whichever is less) for 5 years annually.

The organisational structure for APY will be regulated by the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA). The PFRDA consists of a three tier management system for all its pension schemes. It includes

  • The Point of Presence (PoPs) –  referring to banks that act as subscriber interface
  • The Pension Fund Managers (PFMs) – The asset managers responsible for offering investment options and making optimal decisions on behalf of the subscribers wherever  necessary
  • The Central Record Keeping Agencies (CRA) – Are communication channels that maintain the links between the PoP and PFM. The CRA is also tasked with maintaining the contribution records

The Pension fund managers are SBI pension funds, UTI retirement solutions and LIC pension fund, each managing a specific proportion of contributions. The Central government employees’ fund is invested in the proportion of up to 55% in Government Securities, up to 40% in Debt Securities and up to 5% in Money Market Instruments.

Scheme’s reach

NPS uses the existing network of banks and post offices to penetrate the rural areas. The postal and bank savings accounts provide the necessary platform for the government to transact with its subscribers.

A bank account is therefore a necessary prerequisite to join APY. The problem of identity proof that existed for long in rural India has been assuaged by the introduction of Aadhar – the unique identification project instituted by the Government of India to identify citizens.  SMS alerts are used to communicate the necessary details with the subscribers.

The challenge with most pension schemes is the continuity of contributions and in order to incentivise the subscribers to contribute regularly, a nominal ‘fine’(ranging from ₹1 to ₹10) is charged for any delay in contribution—interestingly, the amount collected as a ‘fine’ is added into the final accumulated balance of the subscriber.

The two key aspects that can potentially help reach a wide subscriber base for APY are the use of well infiltrated existing structure of NPS and the guarantee provided by government. It remains to be seen how efficiently the government can link the scheme with the Pradhan Mantri Jan-DhanYojana(a scheme to improve financial inclusion) to attain higher levels of efficiency

Conclusion

APY is the latest example of schemes by the government of India to solve for the problem of old age pension in an increasingly ageing society. That said, it will be interesting to see how the government will address the challenges of implementation of the scheme and inclusion of citizens with irregular streams of income.

Devika Kher is a research associate and the head of admin at The Takshashila Institution. She tweets @devikakher.

Varun Ramachandra is a policy analyst at The Takshashila Institution and tweets @_quale.

Image credits: Simon Cunningham

 

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Words in budget speech

Budget speech usually proposes multiple ideas and it is essential for analysts to followup on the actuals – Varun(@_quale)

As the current NDA government is about to finish first year in office, social media and traditional media is awash with analysis and comparisons with the previous government. The budget speech is usually a good barometer that indicates the priorities of the government and this post explores the text contained in budget speeches.

In order to undertake a rudimentary text analysis of the budget speech, the text of the first full-budget speech delivered by UPA  and NDA were used to obtain the following word clouds.

NDA year 1_17968

NDA budget speech for year 1 had 17,968 words

NDA interim budget_6595

The interim budget presented by NDA had 6,595 words

UPA year 1 budget_13148

UPA budget speech for year 1 had 13148 words

Word clouds are presented without any comment and it is left to the readers’ judgement to draw conclusions. It must however be noted that word clouds merely provide a pattern in the text and in a document like the budget speech  it is natural for the finance ministers to use terms like government, tax, per cent etc. One must also be cognisant of the fact that the budget speech is a combination of political and economic tools, with the scale tilted towards politics.

The following two images show the word clouds for all the budgets presented by UPA-I and UPA II between 2004-05 to 2013-14

UPA - I_72996

UPA I’s budget speeches had 72,996 words in total(inclusive of the interim budget in 2009-10)

UPA- II_65117

UPA II’s budget speeches had 65,117 words in total

The word “propose” features very highly in all the budgets, which signals the necessity to check the actual numbers that are published 2 years after the budget is presented.  Typically,  the budget estimates are presented for year n, along with the revised estimates for (n-1)th year and the actuals for (n-2)th year. Do read my colleague Pavan Srinath’s essay that outlines 5 broad ideas to read the budget commentary better.

Addendum:

The words “propose”, “government”, “tax”, “crore” ,”per cent”, “duty”,”lakh”, “year”, “http://indiabudget.nic”  were removed from the speech to obtain the following word clouds.

NDA budget 1 sans

NDA first full budget speech without the words “propose”, “government”, “tax”, “crore” ,”per cent”, “duty”,”lakh”, “year”, “http://indiabudget.nic”

UPA-I sans

UPA I speeches without the words “propose”, “government”, “tax”, “crore” ,”per cent”, “duty”,”lakh”, “year”, “http://indiabudget.nic”

UPA II sans

UPA II speeches without the words “propose”, “government”, “tax”, “crore” ,”per cent”, “duty”,”lakh”, “year”, “http://indiabudget.nic” .

 

Note:- The tool wordle was used to obtain word clouds. Hat-tip to @gkjohn for introducing this author to wordle.

Note 2- The complete text for UPA budgets can be found at UPA-I and UPA- II. NDA year 1 budget speech can be found here

Varun Ramachandra is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution and tweets @_quale

 

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FDI- A classic example of why policy reforms are difficult to implement in India

Ankit Agrawal

The government wishes to allow FDI in multi-brand retailing to the tune of 51 percent which is being vehemently opposed by opposition/coalition parties and various interest groups. According to the rational actor model, the state is a monolithic unitary actor, capable of making rational decisions based on preference ranking and value maximisation.

In reality, the organisational behaviour model and the government politics model supplement this model and the latter only provides guidance to the ideal scenario. India follows a parliamentary system of governance which has a collective executive in the form of a cabinet so policy-making is joint decision-making. Decision-makers refract every policy through the prism of ideology and interest. A policy emerges only if harmonisation of multiple policy preferences can be achieved. India has had coalition governments for almost two decades now which makes persuasion and bargaining central to all policy-making and often results in no outcomes. Various parties weigh the potential benefits and impact on their electoral base while adopting positions on issues.

The same is being observed in the case of this reform proposal. Parties dependent on farmers, traders or the economically backward for votes are vehemently opposing the proposal. FDI in multi-brand retail may be economically rational on grounds of efficiency. But relative weights assigned to equity and efficiency and the question of what constitutes equity are points of contention between those advocating a neo-liberal approach and those who advise a people-centred approach to economic reforms. Currently, advocates of the latter seem to be enjoying the upper hand, even though it could be a matter of debate whether the supporting narratives they promote are spurious and irrational.

One can’t treat the government, its operating environment and the external environment in which the government is embedded as black boxes. The “window of opportunity” for reform is open only when the three streams of problem, solution and politics come together. Electoral compulsions like upcoming elections in states, threat of withdrawal of support by recalcitrant coalition partners and refusal on their part to negotiate has stalled this reform at various stages.

Given the current dominance of the politics of transparency and stakeholder consultation, public interest groups have acquired considerable influence on decision-making in the government. This is being observed in the FDI case where lobbies of traders, middlemen and farmers have sought to pressurise the government through high-visibility tactics ranging from demonstrations to outright violence. Technically, the proposed reform is an executive decision which by definition doesn’t need ratification by the Parliament and is non-binding on individual states since retail is a state subject. Yet, sustained pressure exerted through media outlets and the potential sweep of the policy has forced the government to suspend the proposal.

Even so, strategic incrementalism in the form of allowing cash-and-carry format stores and upto 100 percent FDI in single-brand retail is being practised, aimed at bringing elements from the realm of context of appreciation to context of influence. In sum, divergent interests and electoral compulsions of coalition partners, public interest groups, the reigning paradigms of governance and a free but hyperactive and sometimes irresponsible media, form a potent mix and make implementing reforms difficult.

Ankit Agrawal is an Equity Research Analyst based in Delhi

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