Insights into Editorial: The growing tribe of think tanks in India

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Insights into Editorial: The growing tribe of think tanks in India

13 April 2016

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An annual compilation done by the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program (TTCSP) of the University of Pennsylvania pegged the number of think tanks in India at 192 and 280 in its 2014 and 2015 versions, respectively.

  • With this India has leapfrogged Germany to become the country with the fourth highest number of think tanks behind the UK, China and the US.

Concerns:

While the numbers are growing, the thinks tanks in India are becoming less influential. Hence, the growing numbers notwithstanding, the quality of output and level of influence in policymaking have been underwhelming.

  • In the TTCSP rankings of think tanks, 2015 only one Indian think tank has found place in the top 100 and five in the top 150.

Reasons for the poor performance of think tanks:

  • Government’s determination, particularly within its powerful bureaucracy, to jealously hold the policy reins.
  • Lack of funding from sources other than government is another major problem. The government-funded think tanks are not seen as objective enough and the rest do not find enough resources to invest in quality people and peripatetic projects.
  • Skewed geographical spread is also an area of concern. Capital cities tend to attract think tanks for entirely known reasons.

What needs to be done?

  • Diversify the sources of funding. This has been achieved to a certain extent with the arrival of foreign private foundations such as Ford Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Indian corporate groups have also made a late appearance. However, a lot more needs to be done to make funds available for different kinds of projects and collaborative activities.
  • Allow top foreign think tanks to open their centres in India.
  • Limit government involvement and make these think tanks autonomous.
  • As the states now account for more than half the total government expenditure in India, the need for a greater number of think tanks—and of a better quality—in states cannot be overstated. Hence, states have to be taken on board while deciding on these issues.

Conclusion:

The reforms should not just be left to the state governments. All stakeholders including policy entrepreneurs, private investors, foundations and business groups should set their eyes on these reforms and help these think tanks perform effectively.