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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Indian Government reports/policies being jazzed up-a good thing?

Till recently, one could identify a 'sarkari' report/document by the sheer unappealing nature of it. No pictures, black and white text, poor formatting, verbose text-all this would put off even the most avid reader-BUT those who could make themselves pore through all the documents, would often make windfall profits, merely because other(not having read/digested the policy) would not take benefit of it. During a CPE(Continuing Professional Education) program organized by the ICWAI, a faculty member, while advising the attendees to 'read minutely and between the lines', boasted that he had convinced a cigarette baron to set up a factory in an area where the Govt had not set an upper cap for sales tax rebate-even though this was meant to subsidize the capital outlay only. I thought this was a bluff, but when I cross checked the facts later(using Google), I found this to be truth.

But recently, the Government has taken a leaf from the (expensive) pages of the consultants they often use. Be it the Economic Survey, Planning Commission Guidelines, Vision documents of the infrastructure ministry(Rail/Aviation/Ports etc), all of them are colorful, well laid out, and a pleasure to read. This has brought in many PR brownie points for their authors. But the question to be asked is-in the haste to bring our press friendly, politically correct policy documents, are we sacrificing their viability? For instance, the Civil Aviation's Vision 2010-20 included politically correct plans to rescue Air India. Those assumptions were explained in great detail, but were a classic example of 'Garbage In Garbage Out'-and that has been validated by the financial crisis the airline is presently facing.

My only advice is this-while reading pleasant on the eye documents, do not suspend your belief. Professional drafting/writing does not necessarily mean logical flow of thought, viability, unbiasedness etc. For evidence on this front, ask yourself-why do investment banks/consulting firms always come out with bullish reports/studies to identify the next hot thing? It is because they want to be in forefront of the investment advisors who will counsel on that gold rush. Similarly, the policy document author may just want to prove a political point(like Railways White paper written in 2009, commissioned by the then new Railway Minister).
As MBA students, we would often need to use these documents for secondary research. Then, suspending critical thinking would be a bad thing.

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