COVID-19: Ideas that can make a difference to public policy

COVID-19 has gripped the whole World, India being no exception. The damage is huge and is likely to cause a ripple effect on the economy in times to come. However, we are sitting in the middle of a live Case Study on How policy should be made and implemented by the Government, What will work? and What will not? Few examples, that are not exhaustive, are listed below for better understanding:

  1. Environment and Climate Change – With pollution levels reaching an all-time low and a 60% reduction in PM 2.5 levels in Delhi, the dream of a cleaner environment is closer than ever. While most of it is the result of the lockdown, the unprecedented awareness generated should be tapped and better green deals be made with Corporations and Industries to further sustainable development goals. Introducing timed Factory breaks and factoring them into carbon credits or as Corporate Social Responsibility targets could be one such strategy. Nature has shown us how quickly it can heal itself if given such occasional breathers.
  2. Swatchh Bharat Mission – The flagship scheme of the Govt – Swatchh Bharat is relevant in these times like never before. This pandemic has been able to generate response on cleanliness even from the lowest strata of the society. Washing hands regularly, waste disposal, maintaining proper sanitation and hygiene have now become routine for people, effluent and poor alike. This opportunity should immediately be harnessed to provide soaps at cheaper rates to poor people, making stringent rules for waste disposal, rules against spitting on roads and even considering a ban on gutka/tobacco.
  3. Healthcare – A robust policy on Healthcare is perhaps the biggest need of the hour. Revamping of Healthcare System with increase in Healthcare Expenditure and enhancing the initiatives from Government Preparedness to Community Preparedness will go a long way in dealing with future challenges. An inundated public sector will have to be complemented with an affordable private sector. Infact, healthcare would prove to be one of the pivotal foreign policy agendas in the times to come. The recent Healthcare diplomacy between PM Narendra Modi and President Trump is an apt example of this.
  4. Public Administration – The same bureaucracy that is often accused of being inefficient has provided necessary stability to the country on one hand and rapid delivery of public services on the other hand. Indian Railways is providing 24*7 services to ensure the supply of essential commodities. SETU – a voluntary initiative of young IRTS officers to facilitate movement of essential goods across the country during the current time of crisis has showcased the untapped potential of Indian Railways parcel services which can be utilized vigorously post COVID-19. Even the central ministries with their skeletal staff are ensuring that Govt functions are carried on without breakdown and continuity is maintained at every level.

This shows that public administration may still be the most important tool to ensure that poverty and hunger become bane of the past. This also highlights that will and innovation are invaluable for proper implementation of social welfare schemes.

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However, It needs to be ensured that valuable policy lessons like above and many more learned during this pandemic are not lost, in a new World post this pandemic. PM Narendra Modi shares the same vision when he says that India will have to be self-reliant and carve out a new and independent path for itself to deal with future challenges.

(The author is a civil servant, the views expressed are personal )

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