Sunday, March 04, 2007

Allocations vs. Outcomes

It is really fashion to say that it is not increased budgetary allocations that matter but that there is should be desired outcomes. But everybody seems to be keeping count of allocations. Have you ever seen anybody keeping count of outcomes? I for one, have not been able to find anybody.

So, just because nobody anyway seems to be keeping count of the desired outcomes, should we give a go bye to increased allocations? And are increased allocations really the answer to many of India’s ills in development work?

In an excellent piece written today, Mythili Bhsunurmath, says emphatically NO. The reason she attributes for that is that increased allocations do not address the basic cuase of people’ anger: the feeling that the playing field is not level for all. Reforms and globalization have opened up huge opportunities; but only for those who already possess certain skills, not for the vast majority who live in the hinterland and do not have access to those skills. They lack the wherewithal to take advantage of the new opportunities – access to basic education and skills.

So the government should address this issue. Providing them with the wherewithal to enable them to put those skills to good use and enjoy the fruits of the ongoing globalization and liberalization. How do we go about educating and enhancing the employable skills of our people? Come up with more institutions by allocating more money for education?

She immediately says that, this is almost impossible to achieve the desired results through this route, given the huge leakages inherent in our existing institutional structure. Decentralized local government institutions would be far more accountable and deliver better results. But Panchayat Raj institutions are still to find their feet.

So what could be a possible solution? The voucher system, where people are given vouchers to access facilities provided by private sector players. But again with our experience in telecom sector, where even a good number of incentives have not been able to entice private sector players into rural areas, will the private sector players in education system venture into rural areas?

All these look like only questions but no answers. My suggestion is let us make a beginning with the voucher system. So far our telecom players might not have ventured into rural areas. They cannot ignore it either for long, if they want to stay for a longer play. One more thing that needs to be remembered by us is, how long should we hold ourselves hostage to the rural-urban divide question? Let us come with something, then it will find its own diffusion mechanism. In view of our inability to service a vast majority, saying that we should not try a new thing in itself sounds criminal to me. Retail offers a huge potential – both for education and employability. How long can retail concentrate only on the urban India? It will have to look rural sooner rather than later. That’s when synergies are bound to enter the system and make it viable for even private sector players of education to go rural.

In the ultimate analysis, still allocations do matter – as well as their method of usage. I vote for the education voucher system.