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CGD in the News

March 11, 2019

India's Poorly Performing States need a Federal Takeover (OZY)

From the article:

India’s schooling system is notoriously unequal, with wealthy private schools offering horse-riding classes often sitting near crumbling public schools. But ask any Indian parent to pick between public schools run by the federal government and those managed by states, and you’ll likely hear this answer: “the so-called central schools, please.”

Welcome to an inconvenient truth about Indian democracy. Decentralization of power is, without a doubt, essential for deepening the roots of democracy. Indian elections, from the national level down to the villages, mean the world’s largest democracy is also among its most robust, and an example for other postcolonial nations. But what if education and health standards in some states are consistently much poorer than in most union territories (UTs) — seven federally governed regions spread out across India? In those cases, it’s time for the central government to step in.


Why are the UTs outperforming states in education and health?

First, the central government simply has more funds at its disposal than any state. And successive federal governments have focused those financial resources on building top-notch educational and health institutions in the major union territories, especially Delhi, Chandigarh and Puducherry, according to Rama Baru, a professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Officials in charge of implementing policies in many states also typically face greater political interference than their counterparts managing federal education and health programs, experts say. Because states run programs using a combination of some of their own funds and the rest from the federal government, officials in states often receive conflicting instructions, complicating their work. “The UTs have a big advantage because there is just one set of instructions to be followed,” says Anit Mukherjee, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C.


But there are examples from the recent past, says Mukherjee, where the central government has taken greater control of key social programs without leaving state governments feeling threatened. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, India’s mega education-for-all initiative that has helped dramatically improve school attendance this century, the central government identified 121 particularly troubled districts across the country and pumped in additional money and resources — in exchange for greater control over policy implementation. The federal government has driven India’s HIV/AIDs prevention program. “We were clear that, given the sensitivities [condoms and sex are taboo subjects in many parts of the country], many states may not take it up,” recalls Mukherjee. And at the very least, says Tilak, state institutions should pick up the stricter governance and quality norms that have made their central counterparts tick.

India owes that to its citizens.


February 20, 2019

India's re-entry to PISA triggers mixed response (Devex)

From the article:

LONDON — India’s decision to rejoin a prestigious global education ranking has been welcomed by education experts as a positive signal, but some questioned whether the move will bring about meaningful reform.

In January, the Indian government announced its plan to rejoin the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, after a 10-year absence. The country dropped out of the ranking, run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2009 after being placed 72nd out of 74 nations.


Anit Mukherjee, a policy fellow focusing on education at the Center for Global Development, told Devex that by having Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas schools take part in the test, the government is trying to have more control over the sample in the hopes of getting a better score. However, he said this is not unusual and that other countries have done the same.

“Learning outcome measurement across the world against a global benchmark is good … I would rather have India going to PISA in some way which is acceptable to both the government in India and OECD than to sit outside, otherwise we don’t have any comparator,” he said.



February 5, 2019

Targeting farmers on basis of landholding won't benefit large rural population: Expert (The New Indian Express)

From the article:

WASHINGTON: Targeting farmers on the basis of landholding is unlikely to benefit a large section of the rural population in India and will create fiscal burden without solving the actual problem, an expert at an American think-tank has said.


"There is some evidence that targeting on the basis of landholding would not benefit a large section of the rural population who are equally if not more in distress. This might even backfire politically if the government is seen to be favouring the already well-off farmers," Mukherjee, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development think-tank, told PTI in an interview.


"Both completely exclude the urban poor who are growing in number, but the political parties do not consider them to be influential vote banks. So to be clear, there is very little economic basis for these schemes - it should be seen for what they are: a political gimmick before the elections," Mukherjee said.


One of the main advantages of UBI is that it is universal - no targeting is necessary. India is replete with lessons of how difficult it is to target schemes to particular beneficiaries, leading to misallocation, corruption and leakage. Aadhaar and Jan Dhan would not be able to solve the targeting problem," he argued.

Mukherjee said that "half-baked policies" will do more harm than good, both in the short and the long term.

"They will create fiscal burden without solving the actual problem. Just think of farm loan waiver - how much damage it has done, but still politicians think it is the only way to get votes.

I sincerely hope the cash transfer program doesn't go the same way," he said.

December 9, 2018

El desafío de los subsidios a los hidrocarburos (Los Tiempos)

From the op-ed:
El 2018 no ha sido el mejor año para las exportaciones del gas boliviano. El 98 por ciento del gas boliviano salió hacia Brasil y Argentina, cuyas economías están haciendo todo lo posible por reducir esas importaciones. La Corte Internacional de Justicia recién descartó la posibilidad de exigir a Chile un acceso soberano al mar, reduciendo el anhelo de exportar por un puerto propio. Los precios del petróleo están muy inestables, lo que significa mayor incertidumbre para las exportaciones bolivianas, posibles aumentos en los costos de subsidios y mayores déficits fiscales.
En un estudio publicado por el Centro para el Desarrollo Global, Roberto Laserna estimó que entre 2005 y 2016 Bolivia dedicó anualmente un promedio mayor a los mil quinientos millones de dólares ($us. 1.500 millones) a los subsidios a los hidrocarburos. ¿A quién fueron esos miles de millones? Fueron a quienes pudieron consumir la mayor cantidad de energía. Laserna revela que el 10 por ciento de familias con los ingresos más altos gasta unos 546 bolivianos de su ingreso mensual en energía, mientras que las familias del 10 por ciento de ingresos más bajos solo gastan un promedio de 107 bolivianos al mes para la energía. Esa es la proporción desigual en que reciben los subsidios los bolivianos.
Read the full piece here.
October 17, 2018

Why did India really reject the human capital index? (Devex)

By Amruta Byatnal

From the article:

MUMBAI, India — When World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced the human capital index at the bank’s spring meetings this April, he anticipated the rankings to be “wildly controversial.” Delivering on his prophecy, India — which ranked 115th out of 157 when the index was launched last week — rejected the results.

The HCI aims to determine national levels of human capital by using survival and stunting rates as a measure of health, and quality-adjusted learning as a measure of education, to indicate the potential productivity of children born in a given country. India scored 0.44, lower than the average of 0.56, suggesting a child born in the country today will only be 44 percent as productive as she could be if she had complete health and education. The country brief points out that India’s score “is lower than the average for its region and income group.”

In challenging the methodology of the HCI, India also challenged its premise. It claimed such slow-moving indicators would do little to motivate efforts toward an improved ranking, and that the indicators used do “not reflect the key initiatives that are being taken for developing human capital in the country.”

It claimed the data used for measuring education quality is not accurate, challenging the veracity of the Programme for International Student Assessment and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study scores used in the HCI. That was in part because the PISA scores date back to the last time the assessment was done in India in 2009. 

Still, a forthcoming paper from the Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, used a synthetic test made up of different international assessments on 4,000 children in the Indian state of Bihar. The results weren’t very different from the 2009 PISA test.

Anit Mukherjee, a policy fellow focusing on education at CGD who co-authored the paper, sees this as an opportunity for the government to shift its focus from inputs to learning outcomes. “Can learning be the center of India's education policy going forward? There are good examples in different states within the country, and there’s a lot to learn from them,” he said.

Read the full article here.


September 27, 2018

India's Aadhaar ruling highlights debate over 'good digital identity' (Devex)

By Catherine Cheney 

From the article: 

On Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric identity scheme, did not violate the country’s constitution — but also limited the scheme’s scope so that Aadhaar enrollment will not be required for access to bank accounts, school, or mobile phone connections. 


Anit Mukherjee, policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who has served as a policy advisor to Aadhaar, told Devex that he has some thoughts but little clarity of what “a good digital identification” is or should be. If good ID means strict data protection and data sharing protocols, and a high degree of personal agency with multiple authentication options, many developing countries have a hard time meeting those requirements, he said.

Despite the controversy around Aadhaar, based on the ruling, Aadhaar may be getting close to being a real-life example of what good digital ID can be, Mukherjee said. 

Read the full article here


September 27, 2018

Aadhaar: Govt should pass legislation on data sharing, privacy, say experts (Press Trust of India)

By Press Trust of India 

From the article: 

US-based experts have said that the Supreme Court verdict on Aadhaar biometric system has struck a balance between the need for a foundational ID and measures to limit its required use, but stressed that the government now urgently needs to pass a legislation on data sharing and privacy.

The Aadhaar project was launched by the previous UPA government, primarily to plug loopholes in delivering benefits of social welfare schemes to intended beneficiaries.

The current NDA government expanded the ambit of the biometric project. 

A constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar but restricted the government's push to make it mandatory for services such as bank accounts, mobile connections and school admissions.

"The Supreme Court judgement is the culmination of a long and healthy debate on Aadhaar, in the best traditions of a democratic society that India can truly be proud of," Anit Mukherjee from the Center for Global Development told PTI.

The Center is a nonprofit think-tank based in Washington. According to the information on its website, the Center works to reduce global poverty and improve lives through innovative economic research that drives better policy by the world's decision-makers. 

Mukherjee, an expert on digital IDs, however, said much work lies ahead, especially in improving implementation and creating an enabling legal framework for data protection.

"As the judges observed 'it is better to be unique than the best' but Aadhaar can aspire to be both," he said. 

Read the full article here


March 6, 2018

It’s Time To Review Priority Sector Lending And Pull Commercial Banks Out Of Risks (The Print)

From the article (op-ed by Anit Mukherjee)

One of the key talking points of the recently unveiled federal budget was the Modi government’s focus on the rural economy. Most commentators saw it as a political overture in the run-up to the next general elections.
But beyond the politics, does the government have the financial tools needed to significantly revamp the rural sector? More importantly, an evaluation is needed to see if existing tools such as priority sector lending targets are meeting their purpose.
The move to benchmark minimum support price on the cost of production for all agricultural commodities will potentially lead to a rise in farm income. The government also promised to substantially increase both the supply of credit and infrastructure investment in the rural sector. For rural credit alone, it has proposed an outlay of $172 billion, a 10 per cent increase from the current year. In terms of the overall projected rural investment of $220 billion, the finance minister stated that over 80 per cent will come from “extra-budgetary and non-budgetary sources”.

Read the full article here

February 12, 2018

Name and Number Please (The Mark News)

From the article:

Seraphine recently received a national ID card issued by her country, Rwanda. It includes her photo and some basic details: her name, gender, birthdate, place of issue and a copy of her signature along with a 16digit number. The card – or more importantly, its number – is how she will identify herself and will be officially recognized from now on. In a country where memories of ethnic conflict are still fresh it’s an attempt to move beyond the past into a new digital future.

Around the world, governments and citizens are increasing their digital interaction. A unique digital ID is the first step to receiving benefits and paying taxes but it also raises some important questions: Is this new digital governance empowering? Does it reduce corruption and misuse of public resources? Are we moving toward a better world where governments are efficient and accountable? These questions are fundamental to the changes underway as a result of the rapid spread of digital technologies, mobile communications and social media.
Within the past decade, more than 140 countries have issued electronic or digital IDs. As with Rwanda, many of them have issued cards that can store fingerprint and iris scans – or the “biometrics” of a person. India’s unique biometric ID – Aadhaar – is an online system that has registered 1.2 billion residents in six years. This revolution in identification – largely unnoticed until recently – has been spearheaded by developing countries. In Malawi, the government registered the whole population in a matter of months. Pakistan and Indonesia have built multipurpose ID databases covering nearly their whole population; they  are now used for personal verification and authentication.
Three big changes make this transformation possible.
First is identification. It is easier to design and deliver programs to improve health, education and social security if the state knows and can identify the end beneficiary. With a digital registry and authentication at the point of service, governments can better allocate fiscal resources and track their impact more effectively. Interestingly, the immediate impact is often the discovery of “ghosts” – people who do not actually exist but still receive benefits from the government, including salaries and pensions. In Ghana for example, more than 26,000 such workers were found in the public sector alone, costing the government more than $100 million a year. These savings in and of themselves can help offset the cost of setting up a national digital ID system.

Read the full article here.

January 3, 2018

From Polio To Poverty To Sex Ed: 9 Predictions For 2018 (NPR)

From the article: 
"More people will be guaranteed a "universal basic income"
That's the idea that a government pays each of its citizens — regardless of their income or employment — a minimum amount of money to live on. According to advocates, this is the fastest way to fight poverty and inequality. Pilot projects have been launched in Namibia, India, the Netherlands and elsewhere with positive results, including small-business growth, higher employment rates, reduced malnutrition and increased school attendance. Studies have also shown this practice can be less costly than existing welfare programs. Though governments have been slow to implement the idea, Anit Mukherjee, a fiscal policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, is "absolutely confident more countries will announce universal basic income" in 2018.
"The architecture for UBI transfers is now in place," Mukherjee said. "Essentially, every household in the world will be covered with a mobile phone in the next year, and they will be covered with some form of financial account. There will also be [fewer] than 500 million people without identification. There were no channels before to get that money to people, but now there's no holding back."
 - Joanne Lu
The poor could get poorer
Anit Mukherjee of the Center for Global Development sees two reasons for pessimism. Curbs on global migration through counterterrorism measures mean fewer people from poorer countries will be able to work abroad and send remittances, or cash to families back home. And as the climate changes and makes it harder for, say, farmers to farm and communities to defend against natural disasters, the ability to travel to other places to earn money becomes more critical.
Remittances can be crucial "for housing, for school fees, for medical services," says Mukherjee. "But both in terms of human movement as well as financial movement, there's going to be a significant drop. The result is that people in the developing world who depend on remittances will be squeezed out."
- Joanne Lu