Are policies and schemes the same thing? What’s the process that the government follows to make new policies and schemes? What are the ways an individual can contribute to government policies? The government of India has introduced production linked incentive (PLI) schemes around electronics manufacturing worth more than ₹ 900 billion. Do you know how you can contribute to the making of such policies, or schemes? We got in touch with Amit Kumar Jha, a former advisor to the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), to understand the process and bring out the stages where individuals can contribute to the process of policy making.
Q. Can you explain the process of policy making followed by the government?
A. Policies are made by every organisation, be it government or industry. Policies are a set of rules that an organisation adopts to achieve a certain outcome or a goal. The key objective of government policies is public good.
Policy formulation is usually taken care of by the bureaucrats, the civil servants or IAS officers, as we call them. They are the backbone of public administration in India. The group of civil servants makes a policy, or a scheme, as diverse as it can be. This is because a group of bureaucrats usually consists of civil servants coming from different locations and parts of a society. You have engineers, doctors, and a lot more types of civil servants working on the same policy.
They think through each part of a policy and reach the final stages through hierarchical levels. They work through local stages, then move to a state before finally moving to the Centre.
Q. Do you think there are any weaknesses in the current policy process?
A. Yes, any system cannot be perfect. Please take whatever I am saying with a pinch of salt but there are times when the government is not able to segregate policy formation from policy implementation. However, things have started to improve. For example, the PLI schemes in question were formulated by the government, but the implementation is in the hands of some other agency.
Another problem that I see is the amount of fragmentation in the current system. It’s more like blindmen and elephant syndrome where we all perceive it in a different way. There are many times when subject matter experts are not there, and the policies end up missing wood for the trees.
The good part is that a lot of reforms are taking place. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced Mission KarmYogi where the civil servants will undergo training to think constructively using the best technology available today. The government has also started hiring lateral entries at joint director and secretary levels. The best part is that these people are hired directly from the industries. Then there are think tanks and media groups like EFY which are constantly helping the government of India in formulating new policies.
Q. Can you explain policy making in terms of the electronics sector?
A. The government starts with identifying a problem. For example, the absence of electronics manufacturing in India is a problem. Then come questions like why electronics goods are not getting manufactured in India; what are the issues vis-a-vis other countries? The government then analyses the choices it has in terms of helping the industry start electronics manufacturing in the country. These choices might be in the form of starting mobile assembling in the country before moving on to manufacturing. Then comes the question whether we should start with mobile assembling, or with component manufacturing and assembling?
The government usually checks a lot of alternative choices before finalising a scheme, or a policy. This is because the decision taken in one situation may or may not be true for other situations. All the alternatives are then discussed, and the final decision taken.
Q. Where does the trigger for a new policy come from?
A. There are various mediums that trigger the initial stages of a policy. The trigger could come from a media report, from a meeting with an industry association or an individual. It can come from an announcement made by a country like China in terms of electronics manufacturing. There could be a trigger from a think tank or an NGO as well. The trigger can be from an election manifesto as well.
You won’t hear about some public policies in the media because of their sensitive nature. Then a lot of policies are not highlighted as they cater to only niche areas. The journey of a policy starts with a wider consultation. For example, when we worked on the NPE 2019, we identified all types of electronics with the help of committees and subcommittees, and also through consultation with industry associations.
Once formulated, these policies become the Bible for ministries. The NPE 2019 is a Bible for MeitY. Further, to accomplish the objectives of the policy, various schemes and programmes are made and launched. PLI was formulated to help achieve objectives laid down by the NPE 2019.
Q. How can someone, not a part of any industry association, contribute to such policies and schemes?
A. It is important to understand that industry associations have a major role to play. They consolidate the views of a particular industry and present them to the government. Industry associations, many a times, co-create a lot of the things with the government of India.
It is usually not possible for a private organisation, because of the bandwidth, to reach out and try and help the government in policy making. This is where the associations have a bigger bandwidth. The associations are the eyes and ears of the government in many cases, and it makes sense for associations to play a bigger role in policy and scheme matters.
For an individual, it is important to channelise his voice and thoughts through an organisation or any other medium. It is not just about making your voice heard, it is also about making sure that your voice is genuine. Going to the government via an organisation, or an association, is the easy way for an individual, according to me.
Otherwise, one can directly write to the government. There are portals like MyGov where the government itself invites views from individuals. The MeitY startup hub is giving opportunities to students, entrepreneurs, and individuals in policy making.
Q. Your suggestion to individuals, SMEs, MSMEs would be to join industry associations?
A. Not necessarily. Associations might have their own objectives and understanding of the subject matter. Individuals can contribute to policy making as subject matter specialists also. The government also looks for such individuals in the policy making process.
The easier way is to be part of a like-minded group, work on something together, and then present it to the government.
Q. What if an organisation cannot afford to be a member of an association? What would help then?
A. It is all about relationship building. The government bodies operate around their structure and codes of conduct. Once you get into relationship building with the government, there will come a time when your voice will be heard. It might take some time, but you would have to prove your worth to the government in terms of what you can do and help the government achieve.
Even for an individual, if there is a strong business case, you will be heard. I, in my tenure with the government, have found that the government does take cognizance of the issues raised by an individual, provided the issues are genuine. It is not difficult for an individual to contribute to a policy. However, never go to the government with a problem, but with a solution as well.
Q. What is the best way for an individual to get heard, as different ministries must be receiving an infinite number of emails?
A. If you have good intent, you will never miss out is something I always say. Advocacy is with everyone. If the objective is good and the intent is strong enough, it will always get heard. Writing to ask is an art that you should master before reaching out to the government.
Your proposal should be backed by solid research. If you tick all the boxes, then it would not matter whether you are an association or an individual; all that would matter is your research and intent. If you have researched well, and you know exactly what you are presenting, and the kind of impact it can make, there is no way you will go unheard.
Q. Is there a stage where the government extends its arm and consults associations and individuals?
A. Consulting is done at almost all the stages of policy making. A policy never comes from the dream of a government officer. It is only from the industry that they get some hint, or some trigger. The first draft is prepared after rigorous consultation with the industry. The consultative process happens at the beginning, it happens at the mid-level, and also at the last stages of policy drafting.
The key word here is engage, and one has to engage with the government. Government does not run a “May I help you?” kind of a counter where you go and tell them about your research about a particular matter. There are several events hosted by the government where you can engage in a conversation with it. My two cents for individuals and associations include constant engagement with the government and developing a habit of co-creating with the same. All the policies have a tangible as well as a non-tangible aspect.
Q. What do you mean by relationship building?
A. One should always be in a consultative process with the government. Though companies cannot reveal everything about them to the government within the first meeting. There are a lot of portals now being used by the government to invite feedback. One should always keep an eye on these portals as the policies are uploaded on these for consultation. Relationship building, as per my understanding, is more of participation. It is not a government policy; it is your policy.
Some of the portals I remember are InvestIndia, PIB, and MyGov. One can also log into the websites of different ministries. However, there is no one-stop shop for getting what you need. What you need to do is a combination of hard and smart work.
Amit Kumar Jha, A former advisor to the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY)