Recalibrate: Changing Paradigms – 15th Finance Committee Chairman NK Singh’s new book with “Selected Insights” from PK Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister – features progress and unfinished business of immediate development goals that are essential in life of India, these are contextualized in landmark international agreements, namely the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.
Singh and Mishra have spent their lives as administrators, but in certain areas. In-depth domain knowledge and thought-provoking experience are evident with each single-authored essay, so accountability for opinions expressed is unambiguous. The book, with its scaffolding around concepts and practice, is highly readable, informative and thought provoking. Seemingly obscure topics central to our national well-being, such as crop insurance and disaster management, are covered in language devoid of unnecessary jargon so that non-specialists can understand them.
As it is written by practitioners, there are some inevitable autobiographical anecdotes. But it is not a hagiography. Long stints in specific areas have meant that expertise comes through straightforward explanation of assumptions, balanced assessments and personal candor. It’s not a book like “I did this” when the result is positive, and “someone did this” when the result is undesirable.
Rather, Recalibrate is fundamentally about how various stakeholders have come together to achieve success in particular areas. The evolution of the sophistication of governance, empowerment and coordination between the Centre, the States and the third level is described in detail in the field of disaster management – a truly multidisciplinary subject encompassing science, technology, engineering, mathematics (for, inter alia, prediction, and building codes and reconstruction inducing resilience) and social sciences (for financing and rapid reconstruction of livelihood networks).
The people-centered approach to early warning and self-help advice, for example, connects science to society, and a granular multi-level task management protocol backed by dedicated legislation helps clear, effective and efficient execution of the instruments intended. As a result, overall public confidence in the ability of governments to deal with natural disasters with foresight has increased.
Better infra grip
The Kutch earthquake in January 2001 and the establishment of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority ushered in a paradigm shift, including homeowners rebuilding homes, community involvement to rebuild public goods such as schools, transparency in decision-making and equitable outcomes. The chapter on Covid-19 and the future of disaster risk management provides a clear agenda for more dynamic risk assessment tools as the country (and the world) faces more frequent instances of coincidence of several disasters. The author does not hesitate to admit the current limits and that there is still a lot of work to be done.
The wide-ranging, interrelated discussion in the chapters on budget issues concludes that this glass has been decidedly half empty for much of the last three decades, and needs to be addressed if the progressive goals (SDGs and climate-related) are to be achieved. over time. a reasonable time.
The author breaks down the future agenda in this critical area under two broad headings:
- Achieve formal commitments after the Fiscal Accountability and Fiscal Management (FRBM) Act 2003 and FRBM Review Committee Report 2017, and institutional adjustments.
- Quantitatively, the central challenge is a credible path from “fiscal forbearance to fiscal rectitude” in the interest of macroeconomic stability. In other words, economic growth cannot be bought by higher spending.
In the 75th year of Independence, Mahatma Gandhi is invoked, “The economy which harms the moral well-being of an individual or a nation is immoral and therefore sinful.” The author adds: “Increased spending financed by unsustainable borrowing and high public indebtedness harms the moral well-being of a nation”. It follows that free money and inflation are the other side of the same coin. The author is a practical macroeconomist who is not ideological. We must heed his call.
Apart from the fiscal responsibility laws, India has two constitutional bodies for operational matters of fiscal federalism: the Finance Commission and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Board. The latter’s mandate, on a permanent basis, covers GST rates, while the former recommends, once every five years, the distribution of revenue between the central government and the state governments, as well as between the states. and the third level. A coordination mechanism between the Center and the States, the author argues convincingly, is now a necessity for more effective fiscal federalism.
Look back to look ahead
The chapter on the Finance Committee will be a boon for students of the subject. It provides a lucid historical account of the evolution of the institution since the Government of India Act 1919 and a very coherent summary of the main recommendations of all the finance commissions since 1951. It should be noted that the the last two commissions have given explicit weight to the forestry issue. hedging in revenue decentralization – giving credit rather than mere platitudes to climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation.
An additional chapter, which the authors could have written jointly to explain why we end up with an “avalanche” of legislation, particularly in the social sector, would have been useful. The recalibration of governance must surely respond to this national predilection.