Frequently Asked Questions

What is public policy?

Public policy is the guiding principle for state decisions. It dictates what will be the expected outcomes of the laws enacted on the basis of the policies.

What are the elements of public policy?

Elements of public policy include political and economic theories, political expediency (the ‘doability’ of a particular policy change), availability of resources etc.

Why do we need policy?

So that there is consistency and direction in decision making and a rationale to our legislations.

What is a think tank?

A think tank is an organisation that conducts research and generates ideas aimed to influence public policy. These ideas are for bringing about a policy change in areas like economy, education, environment etc. Think tanks are non-profit organizations, usually independent of the government.

What does a think tank do?

One could say that think-tanks build and market ideas like businesses build and market products and services. However, the difference is that ideas are not for monetary profit but for bringing about constructive change in public policy.

To this end, think tanks conduct research, come out with reports and some even undertake advocacy so that their ideas reach policymakers.

Why do we need think tanks in a democracy?

In the rule of the people, every citizen has the right to engage in the policies and decisions that affect his or her life. Policy-making is not the sole prerogative of the state and the interest of different stakeholders should also find a place. Think tanks provide a perspective on policy different from that of the government.

Policy making within the government may not take a holistic look at issues because it could be blinkered by the rule makers’ priorities. Innovative thinking and independent research are not something state machineries are usually known for. In recent history think tanks have been instrumental in bringing about change in policy making in countries like the US and UK.

Although think tanks are not an entirely new concept in India, their number has been low compared to NGOs. However, in the recent past their credibility has risen. A recent study shows that foreign funding to think tanks has gone from 6crore rupees to more than 150 crore in recent years. It points to the growing importance of think tanks in the country and their contributions to research and policy making.

Where does India Institute come in?

The institute aims to facilitate accountability and efficiency in governance and stands for the principles of individual liberty, individual rights, free market and limited governance. It does this by conducting ethical, empirical research and taking up advocacy for policy changes that evidence suggests would be best suited for all.

We aim to achieve our goals through:

• Evidence based research

• Publishing project reports based on empirical research

• Communicating our research findings to government stakeholders, professionals, academicians, scholars, subject experts and students

• Initiating public debates and deliberation to influence framers of public policy

• Advocating possible and progressive solutions to problematic policies

FAQS on privatization of schools and the RTE

Would privatization of education not commercialize education? And would that not be bad for the country?

The word ‘commercialization’ is used to mean exploiting for profit, even at the cost of quality. That is most certainly bad for the country. But not everything that is commerce is commercialization. Commerce is give and take, and that is how anything in this world has survived. In give and take there is consent (and hence fairness), choice, and dignity. These are aspects absent in state handouts where the beneficiaries are generally treated as unequal, inferior and unworthy of personal opinion on what is good for them. So, in a spectrum, on one end is unfair commercialization and on the other end dole dispensed with disdain. We need neither extreme. We need the choice to avail the kind of education we prefer from a provider we trust. And that is not possible when the government is a monopoly service provider. That is why deregulation and privatization is not just good but the need of the hour.

Is it not the duty of the government to control and regulate private schools so that they do not exploit poor people by passing off poor quality education as good quality education?

Concern for the poor and the need to ensure that no service provider cheats any subscriber are valid. Some might say that compassion and a sense of fairness is what differentiates us from other animals. So the question really is two fold: whether poor people do not know what is good quality education for them and, if that is the case, whether the best way to prevent their exploitation is by controlling private schools.

Answer to the first part of the question involves ascertaining one kind of ‘good quality education’. Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of what is good quality education. However, there are three basic reasonably measurable features that no definition can afford to miss: (i) equips students with age and grade appropriate ability to read, write and perform arithmetic operations (learning/subject knowledge) (ii) prepares students to grow into responsible members of the society (values) (iii) equips students with skills and knowledge that would help them financially independent (employability). Then there are several other difficult to measure desirable aspects such as personality development, self-defense sports, second language, hobbies, extracurricular activities etc. Just which combination is most valuable to anyone is not a decision that others can take.

Morally too it is abhorrent to assume that poor people are not intelligent enough to know what is good or bad for them. Poor people do not outsource their living. They make their own choices on food, health related matters, companions, livelihood, life goals, wealth, god and government. There is no reason to believe they do not know what is good quality education for them. Especially in a country like India, where purpose of education is different for different people because we have several sets of languages, cultures, values, definitions of success and definitions of happiness, choice is a fundamental need. Historically, we have respected diverse opinion on everything, from who is a more loving god to what is good and bad.

But it is also true that none of this precludes the possibility that some schools will be trying to exploit the cultural premium that people attach to private school/ English medium education to swindle parents who cannot check what they are getting is what they are being told that they are getting. Like in any other sector, there will be some players who lie about facts and follow unfair trade practices. How to stop them is the second part of the question.

It cannot be done by restricting private players. That will have the adverse effect of creating a supply crunch. Besides, regulation also leads to increased opportunities for corruption and cronyism. In fact regulation favours dishonest players over honest players, thereby defeating the alleged purpose of regulation, which is to prevent exploitation of poor/uneducated people at the hands of unscrupulous private schools.

A better solution will be for the government to facilitate and encourage transparency in the market. Let it come up with a policy to publish all the data about all the schools regularly. It could also encourage independent agencies to rate or grade the schools so that schools cannot lie to parents about facts. Then parents will be able to make a better, more informed school choice decision.

How will allowing parents to decide quality of schools help further quality education in a poor country like India?

As an idea, giving parents the power to pick a school of their choice is not new. It is the Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman who came up with the idea. In the Indian context, it is meant to empower poor people and allow them to choose the school of their liking.

Government schools are known for teacher absenteeism, poor learning levels, lack of basic amenities and discrimination between students belonging to different backgrounds. It is thus only fair that parents want their children to go to better schools. However, unfortunately, poor parents cannot afford elite private schools. So they send their children to small, easy to afford private schools. These schools don’t have fancy infrastructure or teachers who are paid a lot, but they cater to the basic needs in terms of amenities and fare better than government schools in teacher accountability and hence learning levels.

By exercising school choice, parents foster competition even amongst these affordable or budget private schools thus acting as a trigger for the market forces to benefit them in the end.
But wouldn’t this be a stopgap measure?

On the contrary, this is the long-term method because the children are regarded as consumers who have paid for the service and schools do not take parents’ regard for them as granted. That makes the arrangement a sustainable system in which schools constantly strive to compete with other schools for students and parents have the choice to put their children in a school that offers the kind of education they aspire for their children at an affordable price.

Government schools on the other hand, despite the romantic notion on paper that the state is catering to the needs of the poor, have no incentive to either treat the poor parents, who take their children there, with respect nor be accountable to anyone despite poor performance. It should also be not forgotten that the government spends about 3% of the GDP to sustain such a system. They want to double this expenditure with utter disregard for the inefficient use to which such thousands of crores are put.

Should the government then not enact invasive laws like the RTE?

The government’s assistance for the poor is not the issue. But how it goes about it is. After all it is the taxpayers’ money that it is spending on its schools and teachers. The issue is, there is no accountability to how well the money is utilized because the focus of the government is on retaining its monopoly, appeasing the teacher unions and demonizing the private schools. This has to change. The government should focus on creating a fair and transparent market rather than playing the role of the referee and the player. Because then it has all the incentive to lie and misrepresent.

Here is an example. When we conducted a census and survey of private schools in Patna, Bihar, we found 1224 private unaided school where the government had estimated only 14. In Patna Urban alone, our study team visited 1,224 private unaided schools – and even this is a lower bound on the true number, as of course we cannot be sure that we visited all of the schools. Despite the apparently insignificant official number of such schools, in fact, private unaided schools make up the vast majority of schools in Patna – 78%, compared to only 21% of government schools and 1% of private aided.

Classifying private unaided schools into three categories, based on their monthly fee levels, our analysis shows that 69% of private unaided schools are low cost, 22% affordable, and only 9% higher cost. That is, the vast majority of private unaided schools found in Urban Patna were low cost, charging fees less than Rs. 300/- per month. These schools were not found to be operating in secluded pockets of the city or in the fringes alone.

Concerning enrolment, using the figures we found in the private schools and trusting those supplied by government, we suggest fully 65% of schoolchildren in Patna attend private unaided schools, with just 34% attending government schools. Moreover, classifying private school attendance by fee bands reveal that there are roughly as many children in low cost private schools as there are in government schools, (32% compared to 34%).

What is the biggest challenge to the vision of a fully educated India?

The biggest challenge is that there is no political will to honestly identify the problems the school education sector faces and to come up with a rational response to those problems. Instead, the government’s solution has been to blame lack of resources and squander away taxpayers’ wealth by putting more money into a dysfunctional system.

Whenever any good has come to this country at a reasonable cost, it has come when the state partnered with the private. Mobile telephony, Internet penetration, metro rails and road construction are examples. We have enough case studies in front of us to take the idea of competition very seriously. Why not allow the private to enter the education sector properly and do more? To this idea, the biggest challenge is that they need to amend certain provisions of the RTE. For instance, section, 18 which mandates that unrecognized schools be closed even though they are hundreds of thousands in number and catering to the aspirations of the poor who have been let down by the government, has to be repealed.

But the government does not recognize this problem by choosing to misrepresent numbers regarding the prevalence of private schools as well as the performance of its own schools. As a country, we do not take data and numbers seriously in policy making; we go by ideology. That needs to change; the government has to be honest, or we will continue to remain backward.

Is the RTE a good policy?

The RTE is the right step in the right direction and a great improvement. What is needed now is to see why the RTE hasn’t been working even after four years of coming into force and not be afraid of opening up our minds and adopting new ideas. If something has not worked for years, it’s time to evaluate it and change it if need be.

It’s time to involve the private sector in the nation building. Whenever the government has tried to do anything as a monopoly, it has failed. Because monopoly means there is no risk of loss, no incentive for performance. We need to bring this through competition- bring it through vouchers and school choice. It’s time to stop categorizing people as good and evil; it’s time to look at facts for what they are. Competition and efficient use of public funds are the key here. More than anything else, we need checks and balances in every direction, in every place, at all times. That’s what the market does. And that cannot come without empowering the poor parents with the powers of a fee-paying parent. Whichever way we do it.

FAQS on Centre for Justice

What is the mission of Centre for Justice?

The mission of Centre for Justice is to defend rule of law, promote competition and secure personal freedom through research, advocacy and litigation. The Centre’s research initiatives, which will supplement the advocacy and litigation efforts, will generally be in the nature of data based studies that highlight the harmful consequences of laws, judgments and policies that undermine liberty and rule of law.

What are the causes that the Centre champions?

Rule of law, Competition and Personal freedom.

Rule of law – Rule of law is the bedrock of a democratic society. Without it, there is no real freedom. Even though guaranteed as a fundamental right by the Constitution of India, rule of law in the country has been subverted by excessive regulation, cronyism and unimaginative public policies.

Competition – Competition forces innovation and continuous improvement. It assures choice to consumers and rewards the businessman. It is the only fair means of giving opportunity to those who are skilled, knowledgeable and hardworking to benefit the society while benefiting themselves in the form of profit.

Personal freedom – Essential for survival, freedom to think and act as one pleases without encroaching on the same freedom of others is the birthright of every human being. Without personal freedom, any other freedom is meaningless. For citizens of a democratic nation, it is guaranteed by law. But mostly not fully. Often, the common man’s personal freedom is subdued by those who hold political power, corrupt authorities and sometimes by law itself.

Why have you chosen these three causes?

These three causes are the pillars of a just society. Without them, neither peace nor prosperity can be achieved by any society.

What if a law itself is unjust? Would it still make sense to fight for rule of law?

While it is important that the law prevails over conceit that would hurt other’s freedom, an unjust law is anathema to the concept of rule of law. Rule of law is based on principles of natural justice. Principles of natural justice are for fairness and against arbitrariness. Therefore, when a law is unjust, fighting for the repeal of that law would be defending rule of law.

Your current research is on safety against sexual assault. How is it related to the causes you champion?

(1) If a person, woman or child or man, cannot walk freely on a road whether it is 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning, it is evidence of absence of rule of law.

(2) Article 21 of the constitution of India guarantees the fundamental right to life to all persons without discrimination. It is settled law now that right to life is in fact right to life with dignity.

Therefore the failure to provide a safe environment is in effect failure to uphold rule of law and denying citizens a fundamental right guaranteed the constitution.

Who would benefit from your research?

All stake holders- citizens, policy makers, academics and researchers, students, civil society activists and anybody else who is interested.

How is Centre for Justice different from a law firm?

Centre for Justice is a law centre. We focus on legal research and advocacy. When we take up litigation, it will be non-profit and to promote our causes.