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  Excerpts from the Annual Report 2012 - 13
 

As everyone who works at NCAER knows, one of the most enjoyable aspects of life in a think tank is the public give and take over research findings and the wider sharing of its scholarly work. It is also the life and blood of a policy research institute, especially one such as NCAER with its mantra of quality, relevance, and impact.


Certainly, the events calendar of NCAER seminars, lectures, and major conferences remained extremely full in 2012 and 2013. Many of these discussions centred round work done by NCAER, but we also provided a forum for debate around key issues and for hosting research by others. Described below are few highlights of the past year: a complete list of events is available in the Annual Report.


The prestigious, annual Neemrana Conference, named after the historic Neemrana Fort Palace just outside Delhi where it is held, entered its 14th year with the conference on December 14-16, 2012 organised by NCAER. The 2012 Neemrana was unusual for a number of reasons. First, the 2012 participants were privileged to engage in a far-ranging, two-hour dialogue with the Union Finance Minister, Shri P Chidambaram. Second, Nandan Nilekani, NCAER’s President and Chairman of the Unique Identity Authority of India, delivered a fascinating special address on “The Journey to a Billion Unique IDs.” Third, the 2012 Neemrana featured for the first time a policy roundtable exploring a current issue much in the news. Montek Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, ably chaired this fully-packed roundtable, called “Of gridlock, paralysis, and the politics of reform: Prospects for 2013?”, that anticipated a number of thorny problems that have become so much more evident in 2013, particularly on growth, inflation, and the exchange rate.


There is a strong focus on high-quality analysis and the commitment to use empirical evidence in the research conferences that NCAER sponsors. Nowhere is this more evident than in the India Policy Forum (IPF), the annual conference on the Indian economy that NCAER has jointly organized with the Washington-based Brookings Institution since 2004. IPF papers and proceedings are published by NCAER in an edited volume every year. It is a matter of pride that the IPF volume is consistently the highest ranked economics journal out of India based on citation counts by RePEc, ahead of the next Indian journal by more than some 400 global rankings.


IPF 2012, the ninth in the series, was held on July 17-18, 2012 with generous support from the Indian corporate sector, particularly our long-standing principal partners, State Bank of India and HDFC. Five high-quality papers on India covered primary education, IT productivity in Indian manufacturing, India’s demographic dividend, sustaining groundwater in India, and India’s rural sanitation campaign.


NCAER’s research activities and data collection

NCAER’s work falls into four programme areas: growth, trade and economic policy; the investment climate, industry, infrastructure, labour, finance, and urban; agriculture, natural resource management, and the environment; and poverty, human development, equity, gender, and consumer behaviour. NCAER research activities in these areas are described in the relevant sections of this Annual Report.


NCAER concluded in 2012 a major, multi-year, research study on decentralisation and rural governance funded generously by IDRC Canada. This far-reaching work is based on a unique, rural household panel data set—the Rural Economic and Demographic Survey, or REDS as it is more commonly known—that NCAER has been collecting since 1969. The project has produced almost 20 research papers on fiscal decentralisation, women’s empowerment, service delivery, accountability, elite and program capture, corruption, and identity-based voting.


The work provides wide-ranging empirical evidence on what is working and not working with decentralisation in India and proved to be extremely timely. The Government of India in mid 2012 set up a Committee of Experts, headed by Mani Shankar Aiyar, MP and former Union Minister for Panchayati Raj, to look at how Panchayats can be leveraged to improve the delivery of public services. Based on NCAER’s research findings, Mr Aiyar led a roundtable discussion at the December 2012 Alwar Conference on the future of local government in India with participation from several Committee Members and outside experts. The Committee’s final report released in mid-2013 gratefully acknowledges the contributions made by NCAER’s work, much of it now being submitted to refereed journals and to also appear in a book by Cambridge University Press.


NCAER was invited by the Kerala State Planning Board in early 2012 to help prepare a 20-year perspective plan for Kerala that would go well beyond its current five-year plans. Kerala is the first Indian state to take this initiative to develop a long-term vision. With strong backing by the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Board, the study, called Kerala Vision 2030, seeks to understand how Kerala can build on its human capital, educational and locational strengths, and on its external diaspora links, to attain a trajectory of sustained, rapid growth. NCAER’s work develops a strategic framework and analyses policy choices for Kerala to build on its comparative advantage and to develop a knowledge economy that can sustain growth and inclusion over the next two decades.


NCAER’s “dharma of applied economic research” as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed it at NCAER’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 2006, finds its clearest expression in NCAER’s data collection and analysis. Building on its nearly 60-year legacy of primary data collection, NCAER continues to fill a unique niche in India of collecting, assembling, and analysing wide-ranging sample survey data on the Indian economy and society. 2012–13 saw two such major efforts coming to fruition, the India Human Development Survey-II (IHDS-II) and the National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (NSHIE) 2011-12, both of which completed field operations. When ready for analysis, IHDS-II will be the first, major, longitudinal panel data set for India that will allow detailed exploration of the social and economic transformation that India is going through. NSHIE is helping understand consumer behaviour at highly granular levels because of its detailed household coverage of Indian states and union territories, rural and urban India, and India’s major metros.

 
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