Maharashtra became on Tuesday country’s first state to form a government-promoted public policy think-tank on the lines of the Centre’s Niti Aayog. The Devendra Fadnavis Cabinet approved a proposal for setting up the Maharashtra Institute of Public Policy Research in Pune that would act as a think-tank of the state government on policy matters. The chief minister has retained control over the agency’s functioning by appointing himself as the chairperson of its apex committee.
The finance minister, the higher and technical education minister, and the public health minister, the state’s chief secretary and the General Administration Department (GAD) secretary will be the other permanent government members on the apex committee. A yet-to-be appointed eminent researcher or a public personality, who will head the think tank’s advisory council, and two government nominated private policy researchers will also be a part of the panel.
Incidentally, the setting up of a policy think tank at the state level was first pushed by Fadnavis’ predecessor, Prithviraj Chavan, in 2013. In May 2013, Chavan had similarly tabled a proposal in this context before his Cabinet. But his Cabinet colleagues at that time including Ajit Pawar, Narayan Rane, and (late) R R Patil had strongly opposed the move, contending it will create yet another power centre in the state. Following the opposition of his Cabinet, Chavan opted not to push the proposal further. Four years since, Fadnavis revived the same proposal, and has now approved it. Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick said, “At present, there is no state government-funded institute that works in the policy advisory space. The purpose of the institute will include evaluating existing policies and suggest improvements, besides recommending new policy reforms.”
To counter allegations of creation of an alternate power centre, the government has proposed a four-tier model for policies and issues to be referred to the think tank. “Secretaries of various government departments will first identify the priority sectors for the respective departments. A department-level administrative reform wing, under the secretary himself, would then suggest the broad parameters of the subject or matter for research. This would then be referred to a high-powered committee of bureaucrats,. headed by the Chief Secretary, which shall shortlist the matters to be researched on priority. The apex committee will ratify proposals referred by the CS-led panel.”
A policy research centre with the proposed institute will then engage government and private universities, research firms, and government empanelled evaluation agencies for research on the shortlist sectors and policies. Their scope would also include comparing the policy framework existing in this regard in other countries and parts of the state. The government’s economical and statistical wing will act as a co-ordinator and provide statistical help for the research activity.
The government’s proposal states that the United Nations Development Programme has agreed to provide technical assistance for the initiative. The government has also said that it might also seek technical guidance from renowned IT firms and use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds for the research activity. A specialised training module for government officials will also be taken up as part of the initiative.
Policy matters in public administration, economics, social development, agriculture, rural development, urbanisation, industrialisation, and basic infrastructure services, are expected to be referred to the think tank. The CM-led apex committee will rate the recommendations made by the think-tank, following which the proposal will be tabled before the state Cabinet or the government for approval.
While the government has so far disclosed that the institute’s advisory council would be headed by a researcher or a public personality of repute, it has also planned to engage a private legal expert, and two independent policy experts, as members on the panel. The council will also make recommendations on whether the institute must be registered as a society or a public trust.
For the time being, the new institute will operate from the campus of the Yeshwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA). YASHADA’s Director General would be a member on the council and the high-powered committee.