Policy Problem: In Conversation with Rohini Pande

By Srishti Singh, Arushi Gupta, Darshana Sunoj, Anubha Agarwal, Ujjavala Bothra, Aakriti Chowdhary and Amritanshu Patnaik

Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government, is a name that rings a note of familiarity for anyone interested in Public Policy. Her research forms the edifice of theoretical and empirical work in policy debates relating to gender, caste and pollution control. Our team of editors was in conversation with her at ISI earlier this year.

Editorial Board (EB): Empirical Studies have established positive linkage between education and health outcomes and Reservation for Women. However, field experience indicates that business in Constituencies reserved for Women is typically driven by the closest male relative (affectionately called ‘Sarpanch Pati’) of the Woman Sarpanch. So what has been the impact on the control of Women on Decision Making?

Rohini Pande (RP): So in the work that my colleagues and I have done, in looking at the effect of women sarpanches there is always the concern of who can becomes a woman sarpanch. So one way you can look at this effect is by looking at reservation because it often is quite random. So what we find is that women a) implement different goods so it is not like they are completely controlled by their husband and we also find that they have very significant role model effects in terms of affecting future entry of women into politics and also aspirations of parents. So overall it seems like on average you there are positive effects. And now at the same time what is true is the fact that women are smart. I mean they need to be elected in a male dominated environment. So the fact that you can campaign with a picture of your husband next to you is also indicative of the fact that you know the reality. But that in itself I think is one good reason for doing academic research is that you can’t assume by just looking at the fact of how women appear of what they’re actually doing. It’s also the case that you know we see these effects on women but maybe they would have been much larger if they happen in this shade or environment of their husbands so you can’t tell. But there certainly seems to be positive effects associated with women and recent work we’ve done it seems quite clear that these effects are linked to actually having a female panchayat head and not just hearing about it. So it’s important to have actual exposure.

EB: Coming to informal lending, it seems to be more prevalent and effective in comparison to microcredit…

Pande: Why do you say that

EB: Because people tend to resort to sources of informal lending more than microcredit institutions

Pande: So they may go because there isn’t enough microcredit but that does not mean that it is more effective. I don’t see that they are more prevalent than microfinance, I mean they also serve two very different purposes. Informal lending is something that is very accessible. If I have a sudden shock and I need money today. I mean a microfinance loan is still something you have to apply for and typically microfinance loans have ceilings so you can’t have more than 50000 rupees. So they’re serving different purposes. You could say you could potentially change the regulations around microfinance if you wanted to serve the purposes of informal lending but until you change those regulations they seem to be doing very different things.

EB:So they can’t be thought of as substitutes?

RP: No, I don’t think they can be thought of as substitutes

EB: In your paper titled ‘Can Mandated Political Representation Increase Policy Influence for Disadvantaged Minorities? Theory and Evidence from India’, it was observed that political reservation has increased representation and targeted redistribution in India. These results seemed to be specific to certain schemes, for instance the paper found no significance with respect to land reform legislation. how would one explain this disparity, especially given the fact that land reform is a politically important issue, especially for marginalised communities, ability of particular legislators to act against party interests (owing to the absence of full commitment as assumed in the paper)

RP: So land reforms tend to be large state level acts. I mean there hasn’t been much movement in it so my sense is that what the minority groups were able to push for were targeted transfers towards their goals. So land reforms require a much higher level of political mobilisation. I think the groups opposing it are more strongly organised as than if you’re trying to push on the margin for a little bit more of the budget to go to the tribal subplan.

EB: Also how do you explain the abysmal implementation record of many schemes?

RP: I think the state is a very strong presence in India. I think even if we may think that implementation is weak you should recognise how huge state presence in India is especially in the life of  a poor person. So for instance when I think about just Nepal which is the neighbouring country to us and actually has no targeted social programs. The difference you sort of see at the state presence v/s the local community is huge. So  I think for a poor person you see a huge presence of State in your life even if I agree what they’re providing isn’t high quality.

EB:  About the program in Delhi that we had about the odd-even scheme. So the first phase was seemingly more effective and there is discussion about going the Singapore way.

RP: So what we’ve found the world over is that market based mechanisms are successful especially if they are implemented in places with weaker state capacity, because markets will work if you set them up right.The problem in a place like Delhi is that it is a much more messily organised place than Singapore so if you think of congestion pricing you’ll need entry points and exit points. But at the same time technology is improving so fast that it’s not infeasible to some extent you want to have traffic. So I think congestion pricing would be the way to go. Not to say that it would necessarily reduce pollution but I think in the long run it is a much more effective solution than odd and even which produces a bunch of behavioural responses like buying a second car or buy two driving licence plates

EB: Ma’am wouldn’t such a system lead to more congestion if the people are ready to pay for it?

RP: Well in that case you need raise the prices even more. But you’re right, what we don’t know is whether congestion pricing is regressive. So in one of the studies it would be nice to know the price elasticity of congestion pricing.

EB: Ma’am what about parking charges?

RP: So we did one meeting with all the stakeholders and they told us that the problem is not parking charges but that the drivers are very cheap. So like in Connaught Place there’s a lot of a parking lots but you still have a lot of people who will have drivers driving around in circles.  So I guess you just have to make cars expensive. Impose a lot of taxes on it. So my sense is that at least the people in my generation, I’m just struck by how little they take the metro. Probably in your generation everyone takes the metro. So you just make the cost much more so that people actually think about it.



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