| I think linking the bank account to the woman of the house is the right design because our experience and global research suggest they are better custodians of subsidy spending than men.
In an email interview, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje explains the underlying philosophy driving her reform measures
What are the biggest challenges facing Rajasthan right now?
Rajasthan is bigger than Germany and has more people than France. Being India’s biggest state without much water is a huge challenge. And having a young demographic profile (34 per cent of our population is between 18 and 39 years) means we need to create eight lakh new jobs every year. All this is complicated by the fact that for many decades after Independence, we lagged behind other states in investments and outcomes in most industrial, economic, education and social development indicators.
What is the overarching vision/ philosophy behind the reforms thrust and how do they address these challenges?
It is important for policy makers to recognize that we don’t live in an economy but in a society. However, it is also important for them to realize that delivering social outcomes requires economic progress and financial resources. The Rajasthan model of development aims for outcomes and balance in three objectives—social justice, effective governance and job creation. Given the complexity we faced, the first phase of the effort was spent in ideation, deciding objectives, putting together teams, gathering resources and formulating plans. We have now moved into the execution phase.
What made you zone in on legal reform? What is the main driver of this initiative?
Citizen feedback during elections and my sarkar-apke-dvaar (government at your doorstep) programme suggested that excessive legislation not only clogs our court system but is a breeding ground for discretion, harassment and corruption. It became clear to me that reviewing laws for relevance and effectiveness is crucial to improving the government-citizen interface. Rajasthan used three tests for repeal: if the law is not used, if there are other laws/rules that cover the same thing, and if there will be a reduction in needless discretion or public harassment. This project was particularly important because it one of the few interventions that contributes to all three of our objectives.
There is a feeling that your focus on social welfare in this stint is because you were perceived as overly pro-industry in the previous stint.
I am not sure that is a fair characterisation. A modern State is a welfare State because there are many people in any society who have been left behind, and there are many areas where private markets fail; hence the focus on social justice and subsidy reform. The focus on effective governance has been driven by a realization that the Indian State has not always been able to deliver on its own objectives or treat citizens with dignity. The focus on job creation comes from a realization that a job changes a life in ways that no subsidy can. India is not only changing rapidly, but people’s aspirations are rising rapidly; the most important thing for policy makers is to strike the right balance between various objectives.
The Bhamashah scheme is a revolutionary step, but will it work in a feudal and patriarchal society like Rajasthan? Is it enough to put money in women’s hands if they are not able to control decisions in the family?
Even if Rajasthan has a feudal and patriarchal reputation, it is also a society that understands what is good and embraces change readily. Bhamashah today has 90 lakh families enrolled. It will be a game changer in financial inclusion. I think linking the bank account to the woman of the house is the right design because our experience and global research suggest they are better custodians of subsidy spending than men.
Is the focus on PPPs driven mainly by revenue constraints or is it rooted in a certain view of the role of the State?
Our guiding principle is the central government philosophy of “minimum government and maximum governance”. PPPs need to be carefully structured to ensure that each party brings different strengths. Many private enterprises bring efficiencies, competencies and specialized knowledge that are not always available within government. So the primary motivation is efficiency but given our difficult fiscal situation the secondary objective surely is the resources partners bring.
There is criticism that the State is abdicating its role in providing public goods. Aren’t PPPs in education and health risky, especially in remote areas?
In most social infrastructure, the state government has three roles—policy maker, regulator and service provider. In the last few decades, the government role as a service provider has often distorted the view of the regulator and policy maker. We have not always provided health and education services at the quality that meets citizen expectations. Well-regulated competition in service delivery is one of the many tools to improve performance. We are very stretched for resources and need to innovate because the important question in social infrastructure is not private or public, but quality. We need both government and private delivery, and we need good quality. There are risks in any change, but I urge everybody to consider the status quo of outcomes on ground before defending it without qualifications.
Medium and small industry complains that your government is focussed on wooing only big companies and foreign investors.
I am not sure there is any difference between what big or small job creators need. Our programmes are about making Rajasthan a fertile habitat for job creation that is size-agnostic.
The logic for labour law reforms usually is that these will help generate newer and, perhaps, better jobs. By what time do you expect the gains in terms of new jobs exceeding the job losses that will become inevitable?
Labour law reforms are only one input for job creation. This is being backed up by changes to overall laws, infrastructure, skills, education, health and much else. Job creation is a complex phenomenon, but it is clear that we have created huge momentum in attracting job creators.
The political management of reforms has always been a neglected issue and a reason why reform initiatives run aground. Are you not worried about the political price you may pay for these?
One of my lifelong inspirations has been Mahatma Gandhi’s call to “become the change you seek”. I have presented the people of Rajasthan with a model of development with the three objectives I mentioned. I am not sure anybody can question our objectives. The 299 members of the Constituent Assembly that wrote our remarkable Constitution distinguished between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles. It is the Directive Principles, areas of social and economic justice, in which Rajasthan has lagged as a state, and it is in these areas that I am working hard to deliver. I believe all well-wishers of Rajasthan will join this dialogue and mission.