India must prudently manage its finance

Professor Mukul G Asher of the National University of Singapore has been a consultant to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, UN-ESCAP, Asian Development Bank Institute and Oxford Analytica. With a specialisation in public finance for developing countries, he is regarded as an authority on social security arrangements in southeast Asia.

In an exclusive, free-wheeling interview with domain-b, Mr Asher explained how Indias public finance, if managed prudently, can lead to quantitative and qualitative improvement in social security schemes such as old-age pension and health care.

domain-b: Is India equipping its public finance program with qualified professionals? If not, has this adversely affected our public policy programming?

Mukul Asher (MA): India does not have a systematic approach whereby a person desirous of pursuing a course in public policy programming can do so. There is no university or institute from where a professional degree in public policy can be obtained. In the good old days the government was sending its officers and civil servants to Harvard and to the Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute at Shimla for doing short term refresher courses. More recently the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore has introduced a course in public policy programming. But this is at a stage of infancy. There is a need for an interdisciplinary approach.

Coming to the second part of your question I must admit that absence of qualified professionals has had an adverse impact on India's public finance programming. In the fifties and sixties India's fiscal policy was very conservative. As the country tried to reorient its political economy, influenced by events such as the wars we had fought, we began to see deterioration in public finances. Some kind of organic rigidity took over that did not allow the right talent to go to the right place.