This Article is From Apr 20, 2023

Opinion: India's "Federalism Dividend" Can Soar Through Innovation

April 21 has been designated as World Creativity and Innovation Day by the United Nations. Creativity and innovation touch every aspect of human development. Innovation is not just a buzzword for Big Tech or Fortune 500 companies.

My favourite story of innovation is about the little-known engineer Nils Bohlin. While working at Volvo, he invented the V-type three-point safety belt for cars in 1959. Even though Volvo spent millions of dollars in R&D and marketing, they decided not to enforce their patent, and made the design available to all car manufacturers. They prioritised public safety over profits.

At its core, innovation is what makes lives simpler for people from every strata of society. It leads to income generation, job creation, inclusive social development, and an all-round better quality of life.

On World Creativity and Innovation Day, let us celebrate some truly inspirational schemes initiated and implemented successfully by state governments. This incomplete list features creativity in federalism. 

1. Mid-day meal: The concept of providing free meals to children in schools was started as early as the 1920s by the Madras Corporation Council, under President P Theagaraya Chetty. In 1956, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Kamaraj decided to provide free meals to poor children in all primary schools. Chief Minister MG Ramachandran or MGR further extended the scope of mid-day meals to Anganwadis, and primary schools in rural and urban areas. Years later, M Karunanidhi introduced the concept of adding boiled eggs to the meal. The success of the scheme led to its national rollout in 1995. Today, 12 crore children in 11 lakh schools are part of the programme.

2. Kanyashree, direct benefit transfer for girls: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee launched Kanyashree in 2013, a direct benefit cash transfer scheme which incentivises girls to pursue education for a longer time and put off marriage at least till they are 18.

Besides an annual scholarship for girl students between 13 and 18 years, a one-time grant of Rs 25,000 is paid after a girl turns 18, provided she is engaged in an academic or occupational pursuit and is not married. It has led to improved outcomes in the health of the girl child, financial stability, and social empowerment. The scheme has benefitted around 2.8 crore girl students and was awarded the Public Service Award by the United Nations in 2017.

3. Mohalla clinics: To cater to the poor and vulnerable in slums, colonies and rural areas, those who have limited or no access to primary healthcare, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal rolled out Mohalla clinics. These clinics aim to provide basic medical care, diagnostic tests, and free medicines to communities at their doorstep. Since its inception, over 1.5 crore people have been treated in these clinics. This is a positive first step towards achieving universal free healthcare. The project has been lauded by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and by former Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Gro Harlem Brundtland.

4. Amma canteen: Officially called "Amma Unavagam", these budget restaurants were launched in 2013 by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Though it was started with the aim to provide low-cost nutritious meals to the underprivileged, it became a hit among people from all sections of the society. The canteens offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, with items like an idli for a rupee, curd rice at Rs 3 and sambar rice at Rs 5. Not only has this slashed the food cost for lakhs of people eating there, it has also generated jobs for thousands of women who staff the canteens. During the pandemic, Amma canteens were serving 11 lakh people everyday.

5. Swasthya Sathi, health card: This health insurance scheme was launched by the Bengal Chief Minister in 2016, two years before the launch of the Union government's PM-Jan Arogya Yojana (Ayushman Bharat). Swasthya Sathi provides health insurance cover up to Rs 5 lakh per annum, and is paperless, cashless, and smart card based. All pre-existing diseases are covered. There is no cap on the family size and parents of both the husband and wife are also covered, including any physically challenged person in the family. The entire premium is borne by the state government and no contribution is needed from the beneficiary. To encourage women's empowerment, the smart card is in the name of the female head of the family. There are 2,200 empanelled hospitals and the scheme covers 2.5 crore families in the state, with a claim settlement rate of 97%.

6. Free bicycles for girl students: The brainchild of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar - the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana of 2006 entitles girls in class IX-X to a free cycle, or one at the cost of Rs 2,000. The impact of the scheme was evident when the number of girls registered in class IX in state government schools more than tripled in four years, from 1.75 lakh to 6 lakh. The drop-out rate also reduced significantly. The success of the programme led to other states adopting the concept.

There are many other schemes from states across India which have been successful. It is only by emulating innovative public policy programmes which have a proven track record in states, and implementing them nationally, can India reap, what I call, the federalism dividend.

(Derek O'Brien, MP, leads the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha)

Additional research: Ayashman Dey

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.