Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Think Tank Politics has its own history

Suman Bery recounts the NCAER but any one who has worked with NCAER would knows that its services are no less unique but what beyond its sophisticated model making business by simply not having word on the free market ideas like the liberalism.

Some excerpts from his article.

  • Today, 54 years later, many elements of this “business model” are increasingly unviable. While contract research for government remains an important part of our portfolio, it is becoming an increasingly unsatisfactory business. Output is delayed or suppressed by mid-level bureaucrats, payments are sometimes withheld even for completed work, and different officials or departments hold widely differing attitudes to public disclosure or publication of the contracted work. This is obviously not an environment conducive to professional development.
  • As Sanjaya Baru noted in a column in this paper earlier this year (“Indian minds, foreign funds”; Business Standard, August 9, 2010), the outcome has been to drive many such organisations to avoid contact with government if at all possible. While his concern was with foreign policy think tanks, the incentives facing economic think tanks are not very different. Meanwhile, a long-established consensus that the activities of such institutions should be tax-exempt has been upset by recent changes in the law, perhaps reflecting abuse of these provisions by newer players.
  • Finally, efforts by Indian think tanks to become regional centres of excellence are being frustrated by increasingly restrictive visa restrictions on visits by scholars for seminars or for research. I remember a leading American academician once remarking to me that, because of visa uncertainty, she recommended that only her students of Indian origin take up a career of research on India. A recent notification from the Ministry of Home Affairs has now clarified that even holders of OCI cards need to seek permission to undertake research on India.
  • International research on the role of think tanks suggests that they come into their own once the business sector begins to feel that it benefits more from rational policies rather than specific rent-seeking. Outsiders seem willing to bet that the time has come for this transition in India. It will be interesting to see if our own corporate and foundation sector follows suit.

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