27. Energizing Post Covid-19 Economic Recovery in Maharashtra through Policy Reforms





 

Energizing Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery in Maharashtra through Policy Reform

February 2021





 

Section 1:

Executive Summary.

Energizing Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery in Maharashtra through Policy Reform

Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most serious challenges the world has faced in recent times. The total cost in terms of human lives is yet to unfold. Alongside the cost of lives and deep health crises, the world is witnessing an economic downfall that will severely impact the well-being of large parts of the population in the years to come. If we speak specifically in Maharashtra’s context, to date Maharashtra has recorded 16,01,365cases and 45,723 deaths and we are still counting these numbers. The economic impact of this pandemic is the worst in the history of the economic crisis.

The State Government’s latest economic forecast has projected 16.4 per cent contraction in the State’s economy in terms of gross value added for the year ending March 2021. In terms of Gross State Value Added or GSVA, the economy will likely see a 7.4 per cent plunge in the October-December quarter from a year ago. As per the State Government report, the government report has projected that except for agriculture, all other sectors including construction, real estate, mining and services, will clock lower nominal growths (in GSVA terms) in 2020-21 as compared to the previous year. The State’s GST collection has declined by a staggering Rs. 998.87 crore[1] for August as compared to the corresponding month last year. While Rs. 4674.81 crore was collected in August 2019, this year’s collections have been to the tune of Rs. 3675.94 crore.

Table 1: Month-wise Maharashtra State GST Collection (Rs. in Crores)

             Year

Months

2018-19

2019-20

2020-21

% Change

April

5348.7

5802.97

1080.59

18.62

May

4538.2

4538.2

2551.22

56.22

June

4804.86

5202.08

4849.64

93.23

July

4513.18

4801.19

3920.45

81.66

August

4355.47

4674.84

3675.94

78.63

September

4262.79

4411.48

4379.82

99.28

Table2: Goods and Services Tax (GST) Compensation Released in Maharashtra (2017-2018 to 2020-2021)

(Rs. in Crore)

State

2017-2018

2018-2019

2019-2020

2020-2021 (till Aug 2020)

Maharashtra

1488.00

8330.00

15018.13

6837.00

India

41146.00

69275.00

120498.29

65546.20

         

Source: Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 212, dated on 14.09.2020.

 

The GST compensation due from Central Government to Maharashtra for the entire year 2020-21 was Rs. 22,435 crore. Till December first week, Rs. 4820.05 crores were transferred to Maharashtra to compensate the GST dues. The Central Government borrowed through the special borrowing window and transferred Rs. 4820.05 crores to the State. Besides, the State was allowed to raise funds by additional borrowing of 50 percentage points more than the entire borrowing limit defined for the State[2].  The Another economic indicator denoting weak consumer demand is a sharp decline in non-tax revenue collections like fees, charges and penalties levied under all departments which have witnessed a near 73 per cent fall year-on-year from Rs. 6,381 crore (April-Sept, 2019) to Rs. 1,743 crore (April-September, 2020). Amid the sharp drop in income collections, the State’s committed revenue expenditure has continued to burden the State exchequer, forcing the State to apply brakes on development spending and borrow Rs. 52,000 crore to meet the salary bill. The borrowing so far this year is already 259 per cent higher than last year. To make the situation worse, the State’s unemployment rate has climbed by 2.3 percentage points from 3.9 in July to 6.2 in August amid the fresh wave of infections being recorded from all across the State.

In this context, an expert group was formed under the leadership of eminent economist Dr. Vijay Kelkar to give policy recommendations to revive the economic growth of Maharashtra. The PIC Experts Group consisted of AbhayPethe, AjitRanade, Amitav Mallik, Deepak Parekh, Devdutta Modak, Gautam Bambawale, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Pradeep Apte, Pradeep Bhargava, Prakash Apte, Prashant Girbane, Rajas Parchure, Ravi Pandit, Shammi Mehta, Sumita Kale, Umesh Chandra Sarangi, Vijay Gokhale and Vishal Gaikwad. The Expert Group gave sector-specific policy recommendations. The group has submitted 12 policy papers covering Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector, Industrial sector, Housing sector, Agriculture sector, Urban reforms, Higher Education, State Judiciary reforms, State Governance reforms, Labor reforms and suggestions to attract foreign investment. Two policy papers on Environment and Public health are under preparation.

In this paper, we present a summary of the sector-specific recommendations submitted to the Government of Maharashtra. 

List of Contributors

Pune International Centre woule like to thank all those who have contributed to this report, with their invaluable inputs. 

Abhay Pethe

Ajit Ranade

Deepak Parekh

Devdutta Modak

Gautam Bambawale

Pradeep Apte

Pradeep Bhargava

Prakash Apte

Rajas Parchure

Umesh Chandra Sarangi

Vijay Gokhale

Vishal Gaikwad

Section 02:

Housing Sector

The housing sector recommendations were divided into two components with timelines and prioritization for implementation: Short-term recommendations and Medium-term recommendations.

Short-term recommendations:

  1. Helping Migrant Workers Get Back To Work: As a humanitarian response, the Maharashtra Government should take the lead of announcing a temporary scheme which would offer to cover the travel and enhanced insurance costs of migrant labourers back to the construction sites. For instance, this could be offered for the first 45 days post the lockdown being lifted across the entire State. Developers could be used as the conduit and be subsequently reimbursed by the State Government.
  2. Deferred Payment Mechanism for Sale of Plots by State Bodies: Given the current environment where entities need to be careful with their cashflows, one way of incentivising the purchase of plots of land from State bodies is to allow the buyer to make staggered payments over a longer period rather than insisting on upfront payment, as front-ended costs are not viable in the current milieu.

Further, MMRDA, CIDCO and MIDC need to be realistic in terms of pricing the plots at reasonable rates to kick-start the real estate sector.

  1. Grant Concession/Waiver on Stamp Duty and Registration Charges for a Defined Period: Two options were offered for the concessions/waiver.
  • Option 1:
  1. For a defined period of say, 6 to 12 months, reduce the stamp duty to 1% for all real estate transactions such as sale/purchase/leave and license/conveyance/lease deeds etc.
  2. Waive all registration charges during this period.
  • Option 2:
  1. An alternative to Option 1 above is to offer a complete waiver of stamp duty and registration charges for only three months from October to December 2020.
  2. The timing of announcing a complete waiver of stamp duty is important. Offering this too early will coincide with the onset of the monsoons. Further, pitrupaksha (shraadh) is estimated to end on September 17, 2020.
  • The onset of the festive season and the small window of complete waiver of stamp duty will encourage more home-buyers to purchase homes.

Other Issues Meriting a Reduction of Stamp Duty:

Provide some concession on stamp duty for Joint Development Agreements, Joint Venture Developments and Redevelopment Projects.

In case of amalgamation, merger, demerger or reconstruction of companies, NCLT orders or court consent terms, the maximum stamp duty payable should be capped at Rs. 10 lakh. This will allow for consolidation and completion of projects.

  1. Reduction in Levies and Charges:

The premium and charges collected in Mumbai are significantly higher than other comparable cities. Hence there is an urgent need to reduce the cost of doing business.

  1. Reduction and rationalisation of charges levied: Reduce all premiums/charges/levies/cess/premium for staircases, lift-well and lobbies, amongst several others by 50% under the Development Control and Promotion Regulations (DCPR) which are payable to the municipal corporation/State Government.
  2. Allow a temporary concession on Land Under Construction (LUC) charges and revise methodology of computing LUC.
  • Other suggested changes to ease the burden for developers.
  1. Reduce Urban Land Ceiling Premium.
  2. Concessions for Retailers, Malls and Hotels:

It is suggested that for these entities:

  • Allow electricity and water charges at industrial rates
  • Waive property taxes for 6 months
  1. MahaRERA – Extension in Project Completion Date:

It is suggested that all project completion deadlines under RERA should be extended by at least 6 months.

  1. Amend Conversion Rules with lower charges:

Need to review the Maharashtra Land Revenue (Conversion of Occupancy Class II and Leasehold Lands into Occupancy Class I Rules), 2019 – “Conversion Rules.” (Class II lands are lands that are not freely transferable and require prior permission of the competent authority.).

  1. Reduce Ready Reckoner rates more frequently:

It is suggested that RR rates of flats be reduced by at least 25-30%.

MEDIUM TERM MEASURES – Reduce the cost of doing business, bring efficiency and better governance:

  1. Streamline approval processes:

There is need to have a high-level committee looking at fast-tracking stuck projects, especially in MMR. Also, there is need for a single committee for environmental clearances.

  1. Measures needing coordination between Central and State Governments:
  2. Facilitating on-line execution of mortgages
  3. Subsume stamp duty, registration and other charges into Goods and Services Tax (GST) 

Section 3:

Ease of Doing Business Recommendations

Ease of doing business plays a crucial role in the country’s economic growth. While ease of doing business has implications for foreign direct investments, local businesses too are impacted by the processes, rules and regulations set up by governments that can help promote a business-friendly environment or hold local businesses back from their entrepreneurial ambitions.

Even though Maharashtra is a leading State while attracting FDI in the country,  the State needs to make the economic environment easier for not just big companies but also smaller ones that have less capital and resources at their disposal. In creating an open and fair economic environment, the following changes were suggested in the laws related to ease of doing business. 

MAHARASHTRA SHOPS AND ESTABLISHMENTS ACT, 2017

Work Timing: The provisions related to working hours shall stand suspended for 1 year; however, no employee should be allowed or required to work for more than 12 hours a day, wherein there shall be two breaks for rest, so arranged that continuous work for more than 5 hours at a time is not required. Similarly, no employee should be allowed to work for 7 days at a stretch.

Overtime: The rate of overtime to be preserved.

Additional: Shops and commercial establishments should be allowed to be kept open from 6 am to 12 midnight.

THE FACTORIES ACT, 1948

Such factories which submit the certification report carried out by third party authorised by the Labour Commissioner regarding compliances of Factories Act, 1948 (No. 63 of 1948) to the Inspector having jurisdiction before 31st January of every year, shall be exempted from the routine inspection process. Hazardous operations will not be provided with exemptions. Also, an inspection of such factories shall only be carried out with the prior permission of Labour Commissioner, in case of serious/fatal accident or complaint information received thereto. Factories that fail to submit their compliance certification report before the prescribed deadline of 31st January of every year shall not be entitled to such exemption.

Working Hours: In additions to the exemption to Sections 51, 52, 54, 56, the provisions in Section 59 and Section 61 shall stand suspended for next 12 months, provided due health care and safety is ensured by the occupier.

 

For next 12 months: Propose that workmen, in all factories (other than those carrying out hazardous operations) be allowed to work for 12 hours a day (with max spread over of 13 hours) with two breaks and overall ceiling of OT hours not to exceed 250 hours in a quarter. Similarly, no employee should be allowed to work for 7 days at a stretch.

License for new factories and renewal license for existing factories shall be granted within 3 working days using the on-line process and deemed granted in absence of a response within 3 working days.

Returns: All shops and factories to submit consolidated annual returns instead of multiple returns under various labour laws.

ID ACT AND S & E ACT

Definition of Workmen: In addition to the current definition, propose that beyond the “nature of work” performed by an employee, if monthly salary is more than Rs. 50,000/- per month, he shall be deemed to be not a workman.

Returns: All shops and factories are asked to submit consolidated annual returns instead of multiple returns under various labour laws.

MATHADI ACT

Recommend the abolishment of the Mathadi Act which is unique to Maharashtra. Propose that the workforce be treated as contract workers as in other States.

EASE OF BUSINESS

Definition of Factory – Revise from 20 workers to 50 workers. This can help MSME’s to set up smaller units with ease, without the challenges of registration and statutes.

However, no relaxation on safety and welfare to ensure safe working conditions and basic amenities to all workers.

PUBLIC SERVICES GUARANTEE

We appreciate the Public Services Guarantee Act which ensures that there is transparency and time-bound delivery of services by government departments. We propose that the responses be given by the government agencies within 72 hours of receipt of the request.

Section 4:

A Strategy for Greater Foreign Investment Inflows: Handholding and Facilitation Services (Sherpa Model) to attract Foreign Companies to Maharashtra

 

This paper outlines the following strategy and the action points:

  1. Appointment of the following Advisory Committee:

Mr. Dipak Parekh (Chairperson) with the following members:

Ambassador Vijay Gokhale

Ambassador Gautam Bambawale

Principal Secretary (Industry), Go Mh (ex-officio)

Mr. Adil Zainulbhai

Dr. Ajit Ranade

Mr. Ishat Hussain

Mr. K V Kamath

Ms. Meher Pudumjee

Dr. Naushad Forbes

Mr. Prakash Apte

Mr. Ravi Pandit

President, Chamber of Marathwada Industries Association (ex-officio)

President, Vidarbha Industries Association (ex-officio)

President, Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture (ex-officio)

Mr. Prashant Girbane, PIC

  1. Government of Maharashtra (GoM) should focus upon / target three segments when short-listing candidate-companies for FDI in manufacturing:
  2. a) Global majors who will bring ancillaries/supply chains with them;
  3. b) Mid-sized “hidden champions” – global leaders in their manufacturing technologies. Usually, family-owned and export-oriented; and
  4. c) Sunrise industries – EVs, Battery Storage, Robotics, Advanced Materials
  1. Once GoM has identified the target companies and appointed Sherpas and teams for each target, the following set-up will also be needed by these companies in India:
  2. a) Facilitation Partner
  3. b) Knowledge Partner
  4. c) Tax and Legal Partner
  5. d) Banking Partner
  6. e) Chamber of Commerce and Industry

While (a) can be the MIDC or any other State-run facilitator and (e) can be a State level CCI, (b) to (d) will need to be identified, listed-out and suggested to potential investors. Expecting the potential investor to parse the market for such critical services required pre-investment when they have little or no experience of India, will discourage investors in the early stages.

  1. GoM should provide the following assistance facilities:
  2. a) Dedicated hotline, fax and email to answer individual company queries by relevant experts. It is essential that the reply is factually correct, not ad hoc and the reply should never merely direct the potential investor to web-sites or other government departments.
  3. b) Webinars on topics requested by the target companies. Many companies prefer to see/hear their interlocutors when making investment decisions. Webinars are good tools.
  4. c) Experience Sharing and Networking Events: Target companies may require to hear about the experience of other companies who have already invested. It is useful for the GoM to draw up a list of foreign companies who have had a positive experience, as points of reference for target companies. Such experience sharing/networking can be done by physical or virtual means.
  5. d) Updates on investment policies: Target companies should be updated on changes in the policies.
  1. Approach towards how to identify / short-list target-companies:
  2. a) Use our chambers of commerce or foreign business associations located in India;
  3. b) Ask our Embassies and High Commissions for inputs on companies that have shown interest in investing in India;
  4. c) Utilize databases of trade fairs and exhibitions held in Maharashtra to identify potential investors based on their market interest;
  5. d) Invite private investment and consultancy firms to suggest companies;
  6. e) Invite Consul Generals of key investor countries to meet with GoM / CM.

[Objective: To collect company data from all possible sources and to identify their relevance based on the business model, relevance to Make in Maharashtra and their plans (especially if leaving China).

  1. What should the Sherpa and team do with their target company?

(a)  Devise and send to each interested target-company a questionnaire for disclosure on business description, investment plans, market understanding and expectations;

(b)  Follow it up with a video/conference call with a representative of the company to understand their plans, challenges and explain the sort of support that GoM can offer;

(c)  Offer to hold a webinar or virtual experience-sharing event to build a level of comfort/trust;

(d)  Respond in writing to queries that arise during the webinar. Propose a second webinar dedicated to answering specific company requirements. At this webinar, expert advice should be available on tax and legal matters; visas including employment and business visa procedures; options for market-entry financing; human resource identification/recruitment; land allotment; liaising with government authorities on permissions/approvals/company registration procedures; suggested partners who can help the target-company in market assessment, technical feasibility and strategy formulation.

(e)  Draw up and present a market-entry plan which includes Government support in terms of approvals facilitation as well as incentives. The plan needs to have specifics such as time-scale for provision of facilities and completion of procedures [This kind of pro-active approach leads to favourable results];

(f)    Sherpa visits company HQs or invites company management to visit India.

( g) The relation of Sherpa with the company should continue even if he or she is transferred to another assignment. Investors value continuity once they have established confidence.

 We would like to emphasise the urgency for taking action to leverage the

“first mover” advantage. These steps have to be done in short order. GoM does not have the luxury of time.

  1. Once the target-company has made an initial decision, what are the next steps by the Sherpa / GoM?
  2. a) Prepare sector-focused presentations/webinars which are company-specific and which are designed to answer the company’s specific questions (not generalized replies). These are likely to be on GST, transfer pricing, other taxation if any, labour laws, company incorporation and registration, permissions related to land (finding the right places) and essential services, incentives given by GoM, supply chain challenges, financing options etc. (not exhaustive list) [Note: It is usually a good idea to ask the target company to share the questions in advance of the webinar and for the Sherpa to be prepared with detailed responses, or to have concerned experts available on hand];
  3. b) Sherpa should maintain a problem-solving approach and maintain regular personal contact, correspond at least once every two or three days, respond promptly and specifically to all queries [Note: For this a simple Query Log Status chart is useful. It should show the number of queries received, allocated, resolved and pending. [Note: This builds transparency and trust];
  4. c) Establish close contact with Indian Embassy / High Commission located in the country of the foreign investor to answer all visa-related queries to ensure smooth visa facilitation/issuance and also to ensure that the embassy reaches out to the company and acts as theGoM’s local partner. [Note: This is regularly being done by our embassies]
  5. d) Fix time and action targets in consultation with the company and strive to meet the targets. [Note: This point is critical to trust-building];
  6. e) Have a feedback mechanism to measure the effectiveness of facilitation services using on-line feedback forms. [Note: This activity should be done by somebody other than the Sherpa]. Based on feedback, Sherpa should plan for taking corrective actions.
  1. What does the Sherpa do after the target company decides to invest?
  2. a) Assist with location assessment and land allotment.
  3. b) Help the target company to get a market assessment done (this will be done through private players but GoM could facilitate as required);
  4. c) If the company needs investment support, the Sherpa could offer suggestions on financing modalities and sources;
  5. d) Taxation and legal issues are key components. The wider impression abroad is that India has a complicated and tedious tax and legal system. GoM will need to address such matters;
  6. e) Technology and IPR are also key concerns, especially in sunrise industries. GoM / Sherpa should be able to guide the company on sector-specific regulations in India.
  1. The Sherpa’s Team
  2. a) Each Sherpa must have the minimum qualification of Secretary, GoM or as specifically agreed by the Nodal Officer at CMO/Industries Department. Each Sherpa must go through an orientation session and through periodic refresher sessions which can largely be conducted on-line.
  3. b) Set up a committee to handle front-end and back-end activities. The team must have tax and legal expertise.
  4. c) Institute the system of weekly review meetings.
  5. d) Establish a time-line to realize the market entry of the target company.
  6. e) Monitor progress and take corrective action.
  7. f) Maintain steady communication and response to all queries on the same day. If this is not possible, send an interim response with time-frame for a specific reply.
  8. g) Facilitate site visits, meetings with all concerned officials etc. when the company representatives visit the State.
  9. h) Hand-hold the company through the entire process on the ground.
  1. Institutional Architecture:
  2. a) Nodal officer (Secretary/PrS/ACS) in CMO and Industry Ministry, GoM.
  3. b) Committee of GoMh Secretaries to expedite the clearing of bottlenecks.
  4. c) Team of Sherpas.
  5. d) Back end support and assistance from MCCIA.
  6. e) Commissioning of consultants and bankers for funnelling the prospects.
  7. f) Advisory group (part or all of the above-mentioned committee).
  8. Immediate Action:

A shortlist of 20 prospect companies is prepared by the advisory group that will be shared with the CMO so that the Nodal Officer can immediately send an email of invitation to the Chairpersons/MDs of the companies listed and assign Sherpas to every lukewarm/positive response to the very first correspondence.

Section 5:

Policy Proposal on ‘Fixed Term Employment’

The following recommendations are about the introduction of a mechanism which will cleanse a section of the existing workforce engagement practice from non-compliance, inefficiencies, abuse and exploitation. It will help all stakeholders i.e. Employers, Employees and Government. It is relevant to note that this practice has also contributed to the present crisis in our State due to migration of workers.

  1. Contract Labour – Fixed Term Employment, context and compulsion:

Employers and Trade Unions jointly evolved the concept of “Fixed Term Employment” (FTE) as the viable / legal / fair mechanism to meet such workforce needs. In this dispensation, the employer directly recruits a person on his payrolls (which ensures fair compensation and social security), has direct supervision and control over the performance of that employee but there is no binding on the continuation of the employment beyond the agreed duration. No termination benefit / VRS and no middlemen either.

The Union Labour Ministry went one step further and advised all State Governments to issue similar notifications so that the enterprises in their States can benefit from this mechanism. Copy of letter dated 8th October 2018 from Union Labor Secretary to all Chief Secretaries is attached. We did follow this up with Government of Maharashtra on more than one occasion.

  1. Relevance today and our ask from Government of Maharashtra:

The proposition is for the Government to issue the amendment notification making Fixed Term Employment as a valid mode in the State.

Such an amendment has already gone through the diligence of the Union Government (and two State Governments).

This is within the powers of the Executive and does not need to go to the Legislative Assembly for approval.

The economy and industry are rebooting themselves post the Covid crisis. It will be a perfect time to introduce this measure which will ensure equity to all, flexibility and fairness, the certainty of compliance and take a greater share of our workforce in the formal mode.

Section 6:

Agriculture

Agriculture was the only sector which registered a positive growth among all sectors of the economy. That being said, agriculture in Maharashtra is a complex mixture of successes and failures.We propose some critical policy initiatives here that will help ameliorate these conditions, accelerate progressive changes and develop new avenues of prosperous agriculture.

  1. Land Reforms:
  2. Tenancy laws need to be made modified to make leasing in and leasing out of land without loss of title/entitlement to the extant owner and the present provisions of continuously registered tenancy for a certain period making the tenant non-evictable permanent tenant, need to be eliminated. Similar amendments were made to urban land and house properties with success.
  3. Similarly, a person/entity who is not already owning agriculture land is prevented from buying agriculture land. This in turn leads to the route of seeking time-limited permission issued by the district collector. This provision also needs to be eliminated to facilitate vertically linked investments in agriculture.
  4. Ceiling limit on agriculture land needs to be revised and corporate bodies should be allowed to own / lease / operate agricultural land as per the requirement of the investment projects.
  5. Waste land also can be considered for the creation of solar farms.
  6. Carbon Credits for such forestation as applicable be made available to entrepreneurs.
  7. Seeds: The Government needs to encourage crop field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) plantation material crop field trials (seed or otherwise). Once the sanitary and phytosanitary trials are over, the varieties should be released for commercialization without further loss of time.
  8. Trade policies: In India, agri-futures trading is too thin. For better price discovery and for hedging the price risk while taking planting decisions based on future prices rather than last year’s prices, we need to develop ‘futures’ market for agricultural goods.

To create Indian ‘agri-futures’ market, the Government must emphasize on (1) training and capacity building of resource organizations; (2) using experiences of initiatives implemented in Bihar and Rajasthan as ideation process for other regions; (3) gaining confidence in functioning by giving more emphasis on commodities which are not protected by heavy government intervention; (4) identifying production centres for such crops first and then constructing delivery centres around them to encourage futures trading in these regions; (5) using learnings from newly emerging Asian countries, which can help emphasis on agri-futures, reduce Govt. protection and customize products; (6) encouraging and motivating trading agencies to directly participate in the futures market; and (7) encouraging forwards and options instruments.

  1. Agriculture data and related issues: Sharing of inter-departmental data: For example, data on housing societies in Pune was used for doorstep delivery of supplies by MSAMB / APMC for vegetables.

The forthcoming agricultural census must seek registration of all farmers with their claimed land-rights and GPS location with AADHAR for personal identity.

  1. Regional Imbalance: Region-wise agro-processing industries/parks need to be encouraged to promote agriculture and to protect agricultural produce from market price fluctuations. There is a great potential for cotton processing, soya food processing and fruit and vegetable processing industries in Vidharbha and Marathwada.

To promote horticulture in backward regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha, a program like ‘Horticulture Mission’ needs to be implemented.

  1. Dry Land Farming: We cannot make dryland agriculture current purchased input and capital intensive. The cost of cultivation needs to be brought down without losing much on yield. Crop rotation / mixed cropping can be practised to meet the requirement and maintain soil fertility. Today, the farmer needs to buy everything i.e. the seed, the fertilizer, the pesticides and corporate entities producing them fix the price. These costs keep increasing but the price of produce never increases commensurately. Our emphasis should be on ‘margin’ and physical crop and not on yield. High yield with low margins scarcely helps farmers. So our strategy should be to reduce cost. Farmer should produce seed of the variety he wants to use in the village itself and share among the community. With such practice, the cost would be as low as 30 percent of the price that he pays today. Fertilizer use should be scaled down and compensated by organic manure, green manure, cover crop etc. to meet crop nutrient demand and yet reduce cost on account of chemical fertilisers. Pesticides should be used only as a last resort after exhausting all other alternatives. We have to replace the green revolution technology model and use ‘low cost input’ based techniques and reduce self-investment as well as the requirement of credit. This is possible and needs to be taken to the farmers by agricultural extension staff, the same way we took green revolution technology.
  2. Other Important Recommendations:
  • Launch special card for farmers with name, bank/loan account/land-title survey number.
  • Crop area report/registration for the season by the farmer through Agri-app.
  • Every village with population 2500+ to have at least micro-weather station.
  • Offer farmers ‘drip irrigation supplier list with services and menu with price quotation’ and direct transfer of subsidy.
  • Complete the ‘phase separation’ in a year and direct power bill subsidy to account where phase separation is complete.
  • Appoint committee for restructuring agriculture marketing system and transform the existing APMC platforms in the electronically enabled competitive platform and abandon the regulatory set-up. 

Section 7:

Governance Related Reforms

The economy of Maharashtra has been changing rapidly and will continue to change even faster in the coming years. The modalities of governance and system of policy responses need to co-evolve with changing economic conditions. We indicate here some important steps that could be initiated that would update and sharpen the governance capabilities to cope with changing opportunities and challenges.

  1. Urban Governance:

There is a lack of good governance and missing local public finance. Good governance may be seen to be made up of policy-framework (informed by basic economic principles) simplification of processes and protocols (transaction costs) and building of capacity to implement (delivery).

The issue of resources and the empowerment of ULBs is a big challenge. The local governments are simply too weak and this needs to be remedied. The revenue handles that exist in the post-GST regime are inadequate even when exercised efficiently. Thus, cities whilst they are wealth and value producers, are at once not self-sufficient. This is simply the result of the way our tax system is set up. There is a need for the flow of funds from a higher level of government. These flows must not be seen as aid but rather as an investment so that the higher-level governments continue to benefit via tax buoyancy (among other things) resulting from well-functioning cities.

The State Finance Commissions are the vehicles for such transfers to happen from the State Governments to local bodies. These SFCs must be treated seriously and their awards must implicitly have the same status that the Central Finance Commissions enjoy at the Central level. These are the minimal prerequisites that will ensure that the 3Fs will be cared for adequately. On a related matter, wrong-headed policies must be reformed to improve outcomes.

We need to revisit the entire arena of Development Plans (DPs). They should be related to relevant budgets and have prioritization built-in. They should be minimalistic and strategic rather than overly detailed but unrealistic and hence non-conformable. In the matter of city management and empowerment, it may be useful to seriously look at the transformative and comprehensive Sharad Kale Committee report submitted several months ago to the Urban Development Ministry, Government of Maharashtra.

  1. Information and Data Systems for Good Governance:

Most of the State Governments suffer from information and data deficiency in several areas/aspects. The system of data and information collection is inadequate, slow and based on the old regulatory paradigm.

Directorate of Economics and Statistics (DES) should change itself as a big data generation agency in two ways.

(A) Install a different app-based system of customer / beneficiary clientele for each department. Generally, there is an identifiable section of the population with which departments have a direct interface. A sizable section of the population now has AADHAR / JAN DHAN / Election voter ID ‘colour-code ration card.’ Local governments should be able to add/update these for their purposes and uses.

(B) Develop own rapid survey methods like short questionnaire for gathering data on various elements (including service satisfaction of clients for various departments). GoM should evolve such systems independent of the present MOSP directed set-up.

(C) Delivery tracking system for the scheme beneficiaries (like the one operated by LPG users and their subsidies) for loan-waivers, subsidies for micro-irrigation, MGNREGS wage payments, registration for participating procurement or certification.

(D) Sharing inter-departmental data: For example, data on housing societies in Pune was used for doorstep delivery of supplies by MSAMB / APMC for vegetables.

(E) All urban local governments should have GIS-based RDBM data for planning, delivery of services, monitoring and disaster management.

(F) The forthcoming agricultural census must seek registration of all farmers with their claimed land-rights and GPS location with Aadhar for personal identity.

(G) Department of Health should develop an information tracking system integrating all medical / hospital establishments engaged in the provision of different medical services. Similarly, it can create an Aadhar linked/based health card for the user of health services.

  1. Water policy and governance:

(i)  Centre of Excellence:  Identify or better still, help set up a Centre of Excellence in some academic institution in Maharashtra. As its first research project ask it to study singly or collectively all the issues and loose ends (number crunching included). This could be done through a one-time consultancy work given to some expert agent / agency but we would very much like a Centre because the need of the authority to provide evidence-based reform will need continual engagement, as also such a Centre will provide functionaries of the Regulatory Board as well as other governmental agencies such as WALMI / CADA / Water Resources Department, a chance to interact and refresh themselves as well as contribute to the research.

(ii) Proper information and monitoring system should be set up to ensure that there is no shortfall whatsoever between the revenues demanded / assessed and the actual realization.
(iii) Have a serious look at the exemptions / concessions granted. It would be worthwhile to study/debate if the objectives for which the exemptions were first mooted continue to be relevant. This is true even for the incentive concessions (for the WUAs). With a large number/proportion of WUAs being non-existent or dysfunctional and with the tariffs set so low that the concessional grant, when received by the WUAs, are so low that they serve no purpose, it is moot whether continuation has any rationale. Rationalize, or scrap them.
(iv) Given the current recovery status through tariff setting, there is scope to increase tariffs. The way to go about doing this is to compute the O&M costs properly (include all the items/components, cost the energy and such other costs at proper un-subsidised prices, including proper costs of maintenance of irrigation systems for one, depreciation of assets). Of course, an inflationary hedge has to be built in the computation. The tariffs should be set to at least cover O&M plus 1% of capital costs (all properly computed). Ideally, this should be increased to 3% (at least this could be brought about over a time horizon of 5 years). Of course, this will still not cover the cost of routine replacement of capital and service of implicit debt incurred if the capital costs are computed based on historical costs rather than replacement costs. Using the current structure of tariffs for different sectors, we can calculate the new set of tariffs. These may then be used as benchmarks for adjusting the structure with the proviso that the cross-subsidies are reduced to the extent possible.


(v) Rationalize and reduce the cross-subsidy. This is easier said than done, given the woolly-headed treatment that agriculture has always received in India. The way to do it is to increase the tariffs as suggested above and then incrementally increase the tariffs on irrigation/agriculture as a proportion of either the costs incurred or value produced. It would be easy to argue/demonstrate that the huge gap between the agriculture/irrigation sector as compared to urban or industrial sector will need to be filled and some movement towards it has to begin. Even if this movement in the right direction begins (with the ultimate goal in view), it would be a step forward. A plan should be set in place/motion (to gain acceptability over time) whereby a measure for cross-subsidy should monotonically be reduced to a benchmark over a set time horizon.  In any case, the structure of cross-subsidy must under no circumstance, worsen.


(vi) One way to apply the above principles is to divide the overall water availability into two parts for each sector in benchmarked amounts for each (maybe leave the industrial sector out and consider only the rural-urban sector for use of the population). The norm could be 135lpcd to as low as 50lpcd.  This should be set to ensure bare minimum adequacy (provided the distribution is taken care of by the agencies at the lower end). This will take care of livestock apart from people in the rural areas and some part of protective irrigation, hence no distinction between rural and urban consumption norms. Having taken care of bare necessities at minimal (theoretically zero prices), apply the partial block pricing principle with anything above the first part of the division mimicking market pricing. At least we should be able to apply rational principles of increase in tariffs and reduction in cross-subsidies for this part.


(vii) Get a mandate from the government for matching grant as budgetary support and then ring-fence the revenues so realized for O&M plus some amount for last-mile completion of projects and projects related to piped drinking water in pre-determined proportions.


(viii) Move away from setting tariffs based on extant cropping pattern and technology. Rather, move to the more scientific basis of topography/geography and geomorphology with considering the average precipitation and broad agro-climatic zoning. Ideally, with minimum differentiation, allow/nudge/incentive with information so that agriculture as a whole starts moving away from the path of dependency towards the seemingly elusive goal of optimal cropping pattern with optimal technology usage, switching over to Demand Side Management and making systems compatible with and amenable to the demands of WMGR.

  1. Maintenance and operation of water resource management:

Irrigation projects in Maharashtra have been designed only for flow irrigation considering the supply of water to individual farmers. Their original planning did not provide for lift irrigation, non-irrigation [domestic and industrial water supply] and WUAs. However, they are now expected to simultaneously achieve multiple and at times, even conflicting objectives. The Overall Project Efficiency (OPE) assumed in the design of these projects normally ranges between 41% to 48% only! It is needless to say that the actual OPE is hardly 20 to 25% because of the host of constraints. Too much is being expected from the system, which is not designed for the same.

The system of the irrigation projects consists of main canals and distributaries i.e. up to the head of minor, if there is a WUA on a minor. It is at present up-stream controlled, manually operated, mostly open channel system without any arrangement for operation of Head Regulators and Cross Regulators based on Real-Time data.  Head Regulator (HR) and Cross Regulator (CR) gates at strategic locations in canals and DISNET are of vital importance to control and regulate water supply.  But HR and CR gates are cumbersome to operate. Their manual operation limits the flexibility of canal operation. In the absence of real-time data regarding water levels and discharge, gate operation becomes ad-hoc. Engineering control over water does not come into practice.  Volumetric supply becomes impossible. Timely and predictable water supply remains only on paper. Inordinate delays and grossly inadequate water supply inevitably lead to water conflicts. Unless the main system is modernized, there will not be any significant improvement in water management, governance and regulation.

To modernise the main system, the following need to be done:

  • Provide motorized HR and CR gates
  • Special Gates M & R Mobile Units may be created
  • Gradually replace conventional HR gates by distributors and conventional CR gates in the main canal by automatic gates and those in distributaries by duckbill or diagonal weirs.
  • Introduce Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) on the main canals of major projects to start with.
  • Switch over to indirect measurement of water. Introduce modern technology in existing / old projects and in on-going projects before their completion.
  • Make modern technology mandatory for all future projects.
  • Industrial production of HR and CR gates, duckbill weirs, measuring devices, and water meters and provision, installation, maintenance, repair, calibration, automatic data collection, etc. could be huge business opportunities.
  1. Re-engineering of the Government:

Maharashtra’s economy has been evolving rapidly. The modes and practices of administration should appropriately co-evolve and adapt to the current pace. In particular, the ease of doing business, legal, regulatory and tax-related compliances should be easy, transparent and with minimal interface with the administration.  Such reforms and reshape of administrative practices need informed and well thought out plans. We recommend setting up a high-level committee under the chairmanship of a senior experienced minister or a former chief minister on “Re-engineering of the Government” to give specific recommendations.

Similarly, given the delicate, even precarious fiscal conditions, the government may consider the appointment of a committee on expenditure management under the chairmanship of a former Chief Secretary or Addl Chief Secretary.

Both the committees can be tasked to give their first report in the next three months.

Section 8:

Judicial Reform at the State Level

Maharashtra is second only to Uttar Pradesh in pendency. 67% of prisoners in the nation’s jails are undertrials. This speaks ill of our judiciary and governance systems. Apart from law professionals whose income originates from it, people have lost faith in this system. The situation is similar even for business litigants. Contract enforcement through courts is a long drawn, almost fruitless exercise. Nearly 21% of pendencies are more than five years old.

The lack of initiative indicates a lack of judicial and political will to correct the situation. At least in Maharashtra, the government could very well do a lot to change this picture. It will have two beneficial impacts – the voters will see this as supportive and it will make Maharashtra a more attractive venue for investors – local and global.

Referring to the State List for an indication of the remit of State Governments, and based on the team’s collective experience and expertise, we decided to focus on areas where the volume of litigation is large and pendencies have been increasing:

  1. Land Record and Land Revenue
  2. Food and Civil Supplies
  • Charity Commissioner
  1. Co-operatives
  2. Labour Law

Recommendations: 

  1. Review and Reform of State Laws:
    • Continuation or repeal of selected statutes

An illustrative list of Acts that we believe could be eliminated from the statute book, without any loss of ability to govern the State, since they have become obsolete because of subsequent legislation and/or cease to bear any relevance to current conditions.

  • Consolidation and codification of multiple laws into one Act

Government has already constituted a committee for consolidating all land revenue laws into MLRC, under the chairmanship of Shri Gaikwad. Similar action is suggested in the following areas as well – higher education, labour law, Devasthanam Inams, police related Acts, Markets and Fairs Act, etc.

  • For continuing statutes, study and modification of provisions in the current context, in the following legislations: ZP and Panchayat Acts, Municipalities Act, Waqf Act, Fragments and Consolidation Act, Felling of Trees Act, etc.
  • Continuation or modification of processes and forms included in the statute, again in today’s context
  • Establishment of standards across statutes using IT Act definitions, for periods and service of summons, absence of advocates and officers, other procedures and processes, periods, etc. using currently available Information Technology (IT) and Digital Telecommunication (DT) tools, to improve efficiency and effectiveness
  • Simplification of the language of all statutes and regulations, including translation into Marathi, the State language
  • Bringing up-to-date all fines and punishments in various laws – a great precedent has been laid down by the Companies Act, 2013 and its amendments till date, including the requirements issued by SEBI, the regulator of listed companies
  • Sunset clauses for Acts and limiting dates for retrospective litigation opening without mitigating circumstances which are listed
  • Constitute a Statutes Review Committee (SRC) to annually review State statutes – for annual updation of selected statutes. Each year, the Committee should review statutes relating to specific ministries/departments, to complete all in 5 years, with 9 months for report submission, including draft legislation. Release for public and administrative feedback, within 2 months. Within the balance 1 month, the final report with crisp recommendations to be presented to the relevant ministry/dept. Ministry to make agreeable change commitments to the Committee and the public. This process should result in a leaner and better-implemented statute book.
  1. Review and reform of dispute resolution processes:
  • Pendency reduction is probably the most important concern in the junior judiciary. Cases currently pending resolution can be classified by cause / law / amount of dispute / age / process issue, etc. For example, all cases that have not been resolved for longer than 5 years should be pulled out and settled within 6 months by constituting special benches for this purpose in each district or similar court. For commercial disputes, create District Courts for commercial disputes redressal, to resolve matters below Rs. 50 lakhs to expedite dispute resolution and reduce the burden on the High Court. Other classes of cases can be clubbed in appropriate manners and disposed of in similar time frames.
  • Updating forms and procedures at qjudicial bodies – for the above 5 focus areas land records and land revenue, food and civil supplies, charity commissioner, co-operatives and labour laws and more going forward. A study for rationalization and standardization to minimize duplication, using available IT and DT tools is needed. A Forms and Procedures Committee (FPC) of IT and law experts to work with (reporting to) the SRC, within the same time-limits, to revise age-old forms and processes (including floors and ceiling limits for filing complaints at different venues) to help reduce unnecessary wastage of time, effort, paper and other resources – and reduce opportunities for corruption and arbitration as well.
  • Minimize the number of steps of adjudication to arrive at closure. For example, in revenue matters, there is a provision of 2 appeals only. However, in practice, under the pretext of ‘revision,’ adjudication is done at multiple levels and can be taken to as far as the Supreme Court. This can be reduced to 2 levels all told – one appeal and one review. An overall time limit of process time could be conceived and implemented. Also, ‘banning venue/forum shopping’ through the issuance of appropriate rules with FPC recommendation, can bring multiple forum litigation to a halt. Also, FPC could make specific suggestions to minimize litigation in key areas, viz., Revenue, Labour, Charity Commissioner, Co-operative and Administrative law.
  • Reducing State utilization of court systems and court time – the single largest burden on judiciary resources is that imposed by State Governments and their agencies for their litigations.
  • “National Litigation Policy” has made several suggestions to reduce this burden. It would be eminently useful for the State to formulate the Maharashtra Litigation Policy, including the setting of guidelines for conduct/cessation of litigation, including the setting of floors above which litigation could begin or continue, keeping in mind the Ombudsman. Also, for intra-governmental disputes, the use of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) methods would reduce the burden on courts and increase the responsibility of executive officers for mediated closure. Creating an “Ombudsman” for mediating in litigations where both parties are ‘State’ and with the consent of the other party, even litigations where the State is one party. Should the State GAD issue orders that give the Ombudsman’s rulings effective power for implementation, the process could be effective and efficient. FPC could set guidelines for establishing cost-benefit metrics to justify litigation starting or continuing litigation or curtail/terminate it. The Ombudsman lacks statutory powers and can only deal with claims or compensation where the maximum amount is Rs. 20 lakh. This limit should be increased to Rs. 50 lakhs. Also, to ensure accountability, the Ombudsman must issue reports summarising the findings and recommendations/awards given.
  1. Review and reform of dispute resolution infrastructure:
  • Physical infrastructure: Most tribunals and QJ bodies suffer from lack of appropriate space, furniture and other relevant infrastructure. Since this is for the benefit of litigants as much as the judiciary and executive, Government needs to review the availability of requisite infrastructure annually through the FPC and implement recommendations.
  • People infrastructure: Requirement for the training of law officers, magistrates, court staff, etc. in tune with the new procedural requirements and technologies. Here again, FPC could be tasked to make recommendations which could then be implemented. The Maharashtra Judicial Academy at Uttan could be tasked to undertake both on-site and travelling programmes for upgrading the knowledge and skills of judicial officers state-wide.
  1. IT and DT Infrastructure
  • Creation of a data grid on State Statutes and Rules and Regulations issued thereunder – MahaNiti – to be run by the Ministry of Law and Judiciary. Individual ministries to be responsible for maintaining up-to-date content in respect of laws they are required to administer. This will reduce opportunities for information and time arbitrage that drag cases and cost litigants as well as the judiciary more than they ought to. MahaNiti, MahaNyay and MahaMahiti could be created and operated as PPP activities to ensure minimal budget allocation by government and early implementation. PIC members would be glad to contribute.
  • Creation of a database of precedent-value judgments/orders that will be easily and cheaply accessible to both litigants and judges – MahaNyay. This should be accompanied by changes in rules of procedure to mandate research of such databases before acceptance of any filing, to ensure that frivolous and repetitive litigations do not enter courts and waste court as well as litigant time. Details are in the note in Annexure 6. Providing research assistance and legal assistance to litigants would minimize filings which will lead to the minimization of delay. Further, research in AI and ML could help the judiciary reach decisions earlier.
  • Finally, there needs to be an information grid containing information about all State Government schemes that enable citizens of the State to understand what the Govt of Maharashtra offers them, including direct to account benefits and so on – MahaMahiti. Dissemination of this information will effectively stop spurious information and reduce corruption and delay by agents who inhabit the corridors of power. This will also lead to the reduction of disputes and thereby pendencies, enhancing delivery of justice.
  • Ministry/Department-wise web presence and web-based performance reporting:

To ensure citizen connect and minimize State-citizen disputes, individual ministries could set up web portals as a part of MahaMahiti. These could provide answers to queries (FAQs), accept suggestions from citizens and report to citizens on the actions taken by the concerned ministry/department in the past quarter/year. This could go a long way in minimizing communication/understanding gaps between citizens and government, thereby reducing disputes.

Section 9:

Reforms in State University Education

Maharashtra is considered to be one of the progressive States in terms of its achievements in education and other human development indicators. While on normal parameters/measures we are doing well as compared to national attainments, surely we need to do better. As far as elementary and adult-education are concerned, to expect some quality improvements especially for specific vulnerable groups (such as women in Marathwada and tribals), we don’t need to deviate too much from business as usual trajectory.

Covid-19 has resulted in major disruptions such as all lectures having to be called off and exams disrupted at all levels. Examination schedules have gone for a toss and there is no alternative in place. At the graduate and postgraduate level, the process of joining internships for summer vacation and on the job training has stopped due to lockdown. No placement process could be started in many institutes for final year students due to lockdown. The next academic year cannot begin in June as per the practice. There will be a delay of at least four months in starting the new academic year. Naturally, the more vulnerable sections will suffer disproportionately and the fear is that part of it may be permanent.

These are immediate issues and through IT leveraging and other emergency and innovative methods as well as hasty capacity building on part of all stakeholders, we will have to get out of this situation with minimal loss.

The issues here are not epistemic; rather, they have to do with political will and implementation.

We flag a couple of facts that may be useful if kept in mind:

  1. a) In Maharashtra, the elements of ‘meritocracy’ and the ‘needs blind approach’ importantly recommended in the realm of university education by Sam Pitroda have been ignored.
  2. b) The recommendation of a majority of committees to have a universal/holistic character for the universities has been ignored and we have continued to create silos (like medical/technical universities etc.
  3. c) The State universities cater to an overwhelming number of students and we have failed in the transition from historical, elite institutions to contemporary mass universities.

Following are the action points for specific stakeholders along with brief explanatory notes:

  1. We begin with the State Government:
  • We need the restructuring of University education, which requires resources but most important, governance reforms. Governance comprises the policy framework, processes and protocols and capacity building. The reforms here will have to be located within these three components. This is an important matter for State Universities which play the crucial role of facilitating an efficient regime. Otherwise, private universities will displace State universities and that would hit the vulnerable and socially backward the hardest.
  • The government should immediately start the process of breaking up the universities into several entities. The large affiliated structures have proven to be unmanageable; nor are they able to cater to diverse clientele and geographies. Either they should go the unitary way or small (less than 50-100 affiliated colleges) size. If there are concerns about legacy issues, they may be addressed emulating the University of Paris model where they have named the different smaller universities born out of the mother university likethe University of Paris I, University of Paris II etc. To date, there are at least 17 such Universities.
  • Provide adequate resources by filling up all vacant positions. That is the fundamental job of the government. It should fill it, shut it, forget it! While it can demand accountability, it should not get into the job of academics. Also, respect autonomy (one size doesn’t fit all) so let each one grow as per its vision. Do not try to create standardization and uniformity. It is still possible to create equivalency for inter-university transfers. One of the implicit recommendations here is clearly that the budgetary allocations for higher education need to be buffed up (at least doubled) from the current dismal levels if what we are suggesting has to be achieved.
  • The State should set up a well-functioning State Council for Higher Education (SCHE) which is a pre-requisite for qualifying for RUSA funding. This will be a planning and regulatory authority at arm’s length from the government; it will have a role in setting out a vision for the State as far as higher education is concerned and be the via media to allocate funding from the Central Government. It will overseet but will respect the autonomy of the universities in their functioning and will keep the Government in the loop. This is in keeping with the consensus of the governance structure emerging in the country in various sectors.
  • To create possibilities of incorporating skills and enhance employability, the State must enable setting up of community colleges associated with university departments. The association with departments instead of functioning in silos will give much-needed status to them. Compared to the IT model, this is likely to be important as the better students will be able to seamlessly move to mainstream and get socially-coveted degrees.
  • The State will have to help the universities with their transition to the ‘e’ world. This will not just mean the hardware (which is easy and indeed already in place mostly) but also in creating content in local (Marathi) language. The vulnerable sections and those in rural areas are likely to face many hardships. Special provisions will have to be made so that all such students can go to community centres which are conveniently situated with access to internet/WiFi so that they may keep up with their studies.
  • In all the changes that will be carried out, meaningful nurturing of backward class students will have to be managed. This will require additional resources. At the very least, the extant provisions must be used efficiently. What is legitimately due must be provided promptly. This covers monetary provision to hostel facilities to e-facility to pedagogic hand-holding. This may seem simple but is a very crucial non-trivial intervention.
  • The State with the help of SCHE will have to also create a new template for funding universities. These will be based on whether the institutions require hand-holding, are average or are excellent. Everyone will be entitled to normal funding based on some observable indicator based norms; other categories will be provided additional funds for specific work required in their category (say for remedial teaching or for encouraging excellence). If they are excellent they should be given complete autonomy and allowed to fly.
  • One of the things that could be done (especially for excellent institutions) is to allow them the freedom to sign MoUs with business houses who could provide funds for additional facilities. A lot of flexibility in operating procedures will be called for if business houses are to incentivized to join. Perhaps there are learnings from other countries such as China in this regard that need to be taken cognizance of and emulated.
  • Without over codification, the best leaders should be appointed to run universities, made accountable by defining their broad roles, which can be fleshed out by the universities. There is a case to be made here for a mature political leadership to sincerely and consciously keep out of the process. Depending on the type of university, it should provide it funding or allow it to raise resources on its own without involving it in bureaucratic quagmire and by not penalizing them for the effort but rather, applauding them. Then it should step aside to supervise from a distance, respecting autonomy without interference but with carefully calibrated supervision and demanding accountability.
  1. Now turning to what universities can do internally (asserting their autonomy):
  • Departments and colleges should be granted autonomy in the true sense and the university can only exercise meaningful supervision within clear guidelines and from a distance. At least low-hanging fruit can be reaped through demonstrated leadership from the top. Recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all, true autonomy (within set parameters) will have to be granted de facto to as many departments/institutions as possible. This will allow well-performing colleges and departments to usher in inter-disciplinary studies and introduce meritocracy with the needs-blind approach. It must be recognized that this requires leadership of high order and hence, the business as usual rotation of heads will not work. In fact, it may even be detrimental. There are alternate ways in which heads may be appointed by the VC (seniority cum merit) and that will enable the VC to be jointly accountable for the outcome.
  • Given that the nature of pedagogy is going to now change and may indeed continue to do so in the long run, immediately start workshops to create capacity among teachers to use IT for carrying out their duties (teaching/evaluation) so that they are comfortable using such platforms. It may be prudent to use the HRDC Centres as focal and pivotal points to usher these changes. Several workshops and training modules have to be created and this should be done in a participatory manner by brainstorming with teachers and other stakeholders about possible consequences.
  • Digitization in semi-urban and rural areas (within the geographical domain of the university) will require special external funding, which will have to be helped directly by the government. Perhaps in the urban areas, the universities would be able to raise the funds required. In doing so, the planning of programs as well as funding protocols could be asked for as information from the universities but they must be left well alone to do this on their own in an autonomous manner with the State only stepping in for help with coordination efforts.
  • To improve the quality of higher education in particular, it is essential to set up a Centre for Local Knowledge (Marathi). This will be tasked in the first instance to make available quality material in various subjects in Marathi and ultimately for knowledge creation in Marathi. This is the reason we need a Centre rather than a cell. This will have to be an interdisciplinary Centre with skilled resource persons (use good retired academics). Care must be taken to not allow this to degrade this Centre as a place to fit/accommodate people ‘who have nothing else to do.’ This will require motivation and drive from the top leadership; otherwise this will degenerate into tokenism!
  • It needs to be recognized that teachers’ roles in this IT-enabled framework will have to be re-imagined. Going forward, there will be a significant percentage of work being done on-line (by all stakeholders). Especially for teaching purposes, three categories of students, viz., below-average performers, average and top performers will need different treatments and capacity will need to be built with the teachers. Different types of treatment like remedial, pacing and informing with discussion will need to be understood and institutionalized. In a world where first-rate teaching resources are available in open-source models, teachers’ roles will have to be reinvented/remodelled along the lines suggested above.
  • To repeat, all the above presume the recognition that a new normal will be upon us even as we are well past the present crisis. This is an opportunity to restructure and build capacities for IT leveraging. This requires not just resources for physical infrastructure but a change in mindsets on the part of all the stakeholders starting from the top. This is very important, where trust will have to replace suspicion as the point of departure for designing new rules and protocols, at least where excellence is concerned. Again, using the HRDC Centre as the fulcrum/pivot and using a participatory approach will help.
  • The overall structure of universities will have to be nimble/smart and hence, large and unmanageable affiliating structures will have to be dismantled (by creating clusters/granting autonomy/breaking up into smaller universities as earlier suggested). This will improve their current pathetic capacity to absorb the available funds (say from RUSA). This will also allow for an inter-disciplinary character to be integrated into the university system which is so very essential in the present age.
  • As far as interdisciplinary courses and research are concerned, teaching with a cafeteria approach with flexibility is conceptually now well-established in choice-based courses. Research is a different matter. This requires learning different skills of working together with others who speak a different language. One way to do this (especially where traditionally such a habit is non-existent, is to set-up a Centre for Public Health Research. This will allow different disciplines to come together as they compile useful data from different perspectives and the problems are set up and researched holistically as real-world problems normally are. This will allow the twin purpose of encouraging meaningful interdisciplinary research and create an extended footprint into the society to help it tackle the real problems it faces. After all, universities are societal institutions and must embrace their concerns integrally. 

As we make our suggestions/recommendations for higher education, New Education Policy (NEP) has been rolled out. NEP is a transformational document and although an abridged version of the voluminous original report, continues to be more of a vision document. It presents a brilliantly thought out comparative static picture of the education sector with only hints about implementation. It is imperative that the State Government now applies itself seriously to creating a realistic and prioritized action plan. Further, it is necessary to chalk out this plan keeping in mind a realistic estimate of resource envelope as well as the State capacity available so that the recommendations emanating from such an exercise present a doable prescription. 

This policy paper is the compilation of the sector-wise policy recommendations submitted to the Government of Maharashtra. We hope that the study and its recommendations will be useful for the Government of Maharashtra in developing strategies, programs and policy measures aimed at overcoming the consequences of the crisis and supporting recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic.