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Strategic planning the missing link

The list of new missions and yojanas, announced by the Narendra Modi government at regular intervals, is indeed very impressive at first glance. But a closer look reveals that, with a few exceptions, most amount to old wine in new bottles.

The names have been changed but they  are repackaged versions of programmes implemented with varying degree of success by the UPA.

 It was in the mid-1980s that the ‘mission’ approach was first adopted. It involved several new initiatives to solve the burning problems of the country at that time. Under Rajiv Gandhi, his advisor Sam Pitroda led six technology missions:  telecommunications, water, literacy, milk production, edible oils and immunisations. Though none of them met the intended goals fully, all of them contributed significantly to India’s development.


Missions galore...

The mission approach can be an effective management tool for governments once a problem was identified. So one should admire the Modi government for adopting this approach with missionary zeal. The government has identified several priority areas like Health (Swachh Bharat mission), Urban Development (Smart Cities, AMRUT), Rural Development (Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana), Promoting Industry (Make In India, Digital India, Skill India), Reducing Subsidy (Direct Benefit Transfer using Aadhar), Literacy (Malaviya Mission for Training Teachers) and Inclusive Development (Jan Dhan Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana, Awas Yojana). It has also continued to implement eight core missions developed by UPA as part of its Climate Change Action Plan in 2008.  

Every mission of the NDA can contribute to India’s development if implemented on a war footing with high efficiency. But given our many limitations (the lack of well-trained professional managers with the right ethical values, limited financial resources and an all powerful, slow-moving corrupt bureaucracy) even the most competent leader supported by honest and dedicated followers will be unable to take up the task of implementing so many missions simultaneously. No one doubts the competency, honesty and dedication of PM Modi. But, how about his followers?

So far, except for Jan Dhan Yojana and LPG subsidy through DBT, these missions are yet to show significant progress.

Likewise, if one were to assess the progress of Swachh Bharath based on the list of cities ranked on cleanliness, which was widely publicised in the media recently, we have a long way to go. I am from Mysore and I know that it cannot be claimed a clean city. (But it has got the wrongly deserved title of the ‘Cleanest city in India’). This shows that the government machinery is not capable of handling several priorities on a mission mode in a limited time.

Spreading resources thin...

There is another significant problem of launching so many missions simultaneously  though every one of them may be critical. When the government tries to spread its limited resources on several fronts, it may end up diverting its attention from those factors that are critical for the successful implementation of these projects. It is like missing the forest for the trees.

 For this reason, it would be prudent for the government to carry out a formal Strategic Planning process to identify three or four success factors. These factors will automatically lead to improving the productivity of our efforts in solving problems in areas that are critical for the development.

This can be illustrated by discussing how India was able or not able to solve problems in telecom, automobile, power and aviation sectors. For long one had to wait for years to get a telephone connection. However, once the telecom industry was opened up for private capital and competition , even the poorest Indian was able to get a telephone connection without any delay. All different strategies to improve telecom sector under the public sector had failed. It was no different in the automotive and aviation sectors. It was privatisation and total decontrol of pricing that led to the success of these three sectors.

In the power sector, government has allowed private capital. Still India is facing a power crisis that is only worsening. Several reforms like having independent regulatory commissions to approve pricing decisions, incentives to state governments to improve finances of state electricity boards... have been attempted. What is lacking is an attempt to prevent state governments from using power sector as a competitive tool  by political parties to win elections. It is this lack of strategic vision that has not only nullified all the efforts of solving India’s power crisis, but also put roadblocks for renewable energy.


Back up strategy with competent professionals...

Here, it should be stressed that even after one has developed a sound Strategic Plan, it is never easy to implement it. One of the critical inputs for successful implementation is well-trained, competent, dedicated and honest professionals. It is here that the Modi government should attempt to tap the enormous human capital that India has been exporting since 1970s.

The Prime Minister has been successful in tapping the talents of NRIs like Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian, Arvind Panagariya... He should develop and implement a mission to attract highly successful NRIs (both retired as well as working) like the three mentioned earlier to return to India on a massive scale to take up the challenge of implementing these missions.

To win election Modi was able to develop a grand strategy. Now he needs to use a similar strategic planning approach to achieve faster development.

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