Availability of resources need not constraint our understanding of linkages and our ability to come up with effective solutions.
India, like other countries, marked the World Biofuel Day on August 10, this year. From a development perspective, what is remarkable about biofuels is that their increasing use can help India alleviate many development challenges, all at the same time.
As PM Modi rightly noted in his address to mark the day, “Biofuels can help [India] reduce import dependency on crude oil. They can contribute to a cleaner environment, generate additional income for farmers and rural employment. Biofuels have synergies with various government initiatives, including enh-ancing farmers’ incomes, and Swachh Bharat.” Indeed, the government is aiming to blend 10 per cent of fuel with ethanol by 2022, and this may increase to 20 per cent by 2030.
The government needs to prioritise such interventions that are a win-win on multiple fronts. However, not all development interventions belong to this category. Often development interventions aimed at solving any specific development challenge also has unintended consequ-ence(s).
To give a recent example, the government has sought to restrict the manufacture and supply of Oxytocin that is being widely misused by the dairy and poultry industry. But Oxytocin also happens to be the key drug used by doctors to prevent death due to post-partum hemorrhage or heavy blood loss during childbirth. So, placing restrictions on Oxytocin also has the unintended effect on maternal healthcare that made the doctors jittery as they fear a shortage of Oxytocin. There are no easy solutions to this apparent trade-off betwe-en saving the lives of expectant mothers on one hand and shielding the general public from the harmful effects of chemicals in their food, on the other.
Sometimes one can find clever solutions. For example, Neem-coating of urea (fertiliser) has prevented subsidised urea meant to help farmers improve their crop yield, from getting diverted to alternate uses. But not all development problems are amenable to such clever solutions, for the development challenges can be quite varied.
Varied development challenges
Development challenges can be hugely diverse. And equally diverse are the responses needed to deal with those challenges, that can be simple or complex, require one-time effort or sustained efforts, require mostly a change in policy or can be heavy on implementation too and so forth.
To give a few examples, many infrastructure-related projects such as construction of a road or a bridge are pretty straightforward. Once a necessary land acquisition is in place, constructing a road or a bridge is a straightforward activity. But some development challenges can be quite difficult and complex such as tackling child malnutrition. Dealing with the nutrition challenge calls for a multi-sectoral intervention in every nook and corner of the country!
Sometimes a simple change in policy is all that is needed to deal with a problem. For example, advancing the Central annual budget process by a month is enough to enable the states to begin their activities for a new fiscal year on time. And many times, change in policy hardly means anything if it is not implemented well. For example, the real advantages of the Mate-rnity Benefit Amendment Act or the Corporate Social Responsibility Act lie in getting the new or changed provisions of these Acts implemented.
At times, getting a policy changed and implementing it can both be quite challenging. For example, getting the Parliament to pass the Goods & Services Tax (GST) Bill was a long-drawn battle, and once the bill was passed, rolling out the GST system was not easy either.
And sometimes, a narrow intervention can hardly make much difference unless it is accompanied by a set of complementary interventions working in a synergistic manner. For example, solving the problem facing the Indian agrarian sector today, meant that the government devised a series of interventions ranging from crop insurance to market support to crop protection against different risks to providing quality seeds to facilitating irrigation and so forth.
Regardless of the type of development challenge, an effective response mechanism ought to reflect and capture various interlinkages and interconnections involved in dealing with any challenge. For example, when a train accident kills several people or an illegal multi-storey building crumbles burying several of its occupants alive or when several school children fall sick after consuming mid-day meal served in school or when several infants die in a hospital within a short span of time, the administration has to deal with these emergencies for sure.
But they also need to fix the system so that such instances do not recur. Fixing the system means understanding the various linkages and interconnections and addressing the weak links in the system.
Availability of resources need not constraint our understanding of linkages and our ability to come up with effective solutions. Though such solutions can be implemented in a staggered manner as and when resources become available. What is true of man-made challenges is also true of challenges created by nature. Here too the planners and administrators need to understand and respect various linkages and interconnections that exists in nature. It is only when we fail to do so that we see repeated occurrences of floods, droughts, landslides and so forth — something we are witnessing at present too!
The writer is a development economist, formerly with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank