Drawing LessonsThis section focuses on successful innovations in service delivery across India. The overarching goal is to identify common factors across cases that explain why these innovations worked. In addition, the report draws lessons from these innovations that might help improve service delivery across sectors and facilitate the transplanting of success stories to other settings.
Systemic problems in service deliverySuccesses have occurred, despite poor overall outcomes in service delivery and systemic problems that have yet to be resolved.
Successes have occurred in individual services and states, despite an overall context characterized by poor service delivery outcomes. A national survey of major public services (elementary schools, public hospitals, public transport, drinking water facilities, and public food distribution) by the Public Affairs Center (PAC) concludes that India has done well in terms of providing basic access to such services, but far less well in terms of ensuring their quality, reliability, and effectiveness.1 A recent study by Transparency International found high levels of corruption in services as diverse as health care, education, power, land administration, and the police.2 Progress towards achieving the millennial development goals has been slow.3
There are systemic problems that might explain why service delivery outcomes remain poor on the whole. The civil service is burdening by an expanding salary bill that has crowded out non- salary spending. Short tenures caused by premature transfers of officials responsible for delivering public services have undermined continuity. Capacity gaps exist in some areas – India, for example, has the highest absolute number of maternal deaths in the world, but only three full- time officers at the central level dedicated to the task of supervising maternal health programs. The weakness of accountability mechanisms is a barrier to improving services across the board. Bureaucratic complexity and procedures make it difficult for the ordinary citizen to navigate the system for his or her benefit. The lack of transparency and secrecy that shrouds government.
Operations and programs provides fertile ground for corruption and exploitation. Nor is civic pressure for change robust: A national survey conducted in 2001/02 revealed that only eight percent of all respondents were members of a civic association, while only two percent could attest to the presence of an NGO in their area working on the provision of public goods.4 This finding is mirrored in another national survey conducted in 1996 by the Center for Developing Societies which found that only four percent of all respondents were involved with a civic association.5 When the citizenry fails to organize around improving public services, politicians lack the incentives to take the issue seriously.
The lack of accountability in turn provides opportunities for corruption. India ranked in ninetieth place in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2005. Nor is the country well organized to combat corruption: A multiplicity of overlapping anti-corruption agencies, and dilatory legal processes for tackling cases, has made it difficult to bring the corrupt to book. India’s campaign finance regime also has potentially negative effects on service delivery: The unregulated cost of elections – and the lack of legitimate funding sources, including a system of public funding – has created incentives to extract rents from administrative functions, including the delivery of services, to fund campaign expenses or pay back contributors. Despite, these systemic problems, many innovations in service delivery have taken place in different sectors and states with positive results for citizens, as this report shows.
Learning from success: key lessonsI. The Enabling Environment
(a) The Role of Political LeadershipThe vision of the political leadership influenced the kinds of reforms pursued.
The first lesson that emerges from the cases considered in this report is the centrality of the political leadership in triggering service delivery reforms. In Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka, reforms were frequently a product of the vision of leaders.6 In Andhra Pradesh, the fact that the state was led by a politician with fascination for technology played a role in propelling e-governance reforms.7 In Madhya Pradesh, the fact that the leader was committed to vision of governance based on community participation and decentralization clearly influenced the choice of reforms during his tenure in office. In Karnataka, the political leadership sought to transform Bangalore into a leader among cities, using Singapore as a model. At the national- level, telecommunications reform was pushed by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as part of a larger developmentalist vision aimed initially at promoting technological innovation and then at strengthening India’s overall competitiveness in the global economy.
Bipartisan consensus across party lines facilitated reform; electoral incentives for change.
In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian parties, which came to power in 1967, were deeply influenced by a common ideology, including the importance female emancipation, the eradication of caste distinction, reservations for backward groups, and family planning to promote development. Welfarist ideology emerged as a major ingredient of social policy in Tamil Nadu under both the DMK and the AIDMK in the post-1967 period. Electoral incentives also pushed both parties into supporting similar policies and programs. The defeat of the Congress Party in the 1967 state elections in Tamil Nadu over the issue of food scarcity convinced both the DMK and the AIDMK to create a social safety net through the adoption of a universal system of public food distribution and a noon midday meal programs for schoolchildren and other groups. In fact, the DMK and the AIDMK engaged in a process of active one-upmanship to extend the benefits of these programs to a wider set of beneficiaries. Opening up the marketing process for rural produce in Madhya Pradesh to private players was also an electoral winner because the move clearly benefited farmers at the expense of a small group of traders who controlled the official Mandi system. Programs designed to simplify citizen interaction with government, such as E-Seva and Bhoomi, were also supported partly with an eye to their popularity with voters.
Stable governments with a clear majority in the state assembly were better positioned to implement reforms.
If the ideas of leaders were important for service delivery reforms, political context mattered as well. The fact that Chief Ministers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh enjoyed stable majorities in their state assemblies made it much easier to carry out reforms. In Tamil Nadu, the tradition of a strong Chief Minister in both the DMK and the AIDMK, coupled with the fact that no government has failed to complete its full term (with one exception) since 1967, made it easier to implement reform effectively.
(b) Politicians and the Civil Service: Patterns of InteractionEmpowering the civil service through stability of tenure, managerial autonomy, and high-level access to political decision-makers was a crucial factor in the success of reforms.
Chief Ministers committed to reform acted to empower their civil servants to deliver results. The message from these cases is that civil servants when properly empowered by politicians can be transformed into an effective instrument for innovation in service delivery.
Stability of Tenure: Almost all the successful cases studied in this report involved initiatives spearheaded by IAS officers who remained in their posts for at least three years and, in some cases, much longer. Conversely, initiatives that ran into difficulty were marked by great instability of tenure at the top fueled by political pressures to transfer civil servants whose reforms interfered with rent-seeking by powerful interest groups.
Managerial Autonomy: Autonomy helped as well: While status as a corporation or a board conferred definite privileges (for example, the right to retain its own revenues rather than send them on to the treasury; recruit flexibly from the public or private sectors on better terms), effective autonomy stemmed less from a legal charter than a decision by the Chief Minister not to allow meddling in the affairs of a board or corporation.
Political Access: Political leaders granted key civil servants direct access, making it easier for civil servants to resolve issues that might have slowed the pace of reforms. Reporting directly to the top was clearly the best way to overcome resistance to reform in a range of services. Public signaling of support by political leaders helped protect civil servants implementing difficult reforms.