Kerala’s Industrial and Commercial Policy: A case for collaboration, consultation

Why it won the Best Consultation (State) Award at India’s Inaugural Public Consultation Awards by Civis

Antaraa Vasudev and Shachi Nelli | May 30, 2024


#Kerala   #Ministry of Law and Justice   #Policy  
(Image courtesy: x.com/KSIDCKerala)
(Image courtesy: x.com/KSIDCKerala)

In 2014, the Ministry of Law and Justice published India’s ‘Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy’ or PLCP, a landmark policy that outlined a process and recommendations for lawmaking, through the incorporation of public participation and opinion. In 2024, we mark a decade of this policy, which the Ministry put out with the intention of “responding to the legitimate and growing expectations for transparent and better-informed Government”. A milestone like a decade of policy implementation calls for reflection and in equal amounts celebration!

Notably, while PLCP strictly applies only to the central ministries, it has resulted in a wider adoption at the state as well as local government levels. With more and more state governments leveraging formal processes of public consultation, there is a tangible shift in how much say the citizen has in the creation of policies.

A recent policy that stands out as an example is the Kerala Industrial & Commercial Policy 2022, which was published for consultation by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) in October 2022. The government sought inputs on the draft from citizens of Kerala on ways to improve innovation and investment in the state. To achieve this goal, the policy outlined seven objectives such as fostering entrepreneurship and enabling infrastructure. Over 40 pages, the draft policy also sets out the methods to achieve these objectives in detail.

One of the key highlights of this consultation is in the presentation of the policy to the citizens. For effective responses on any subject, ensuring the government’s thought process and proposed ideas are laid out succinctly and clearly is key. The draft industrial policy was able to achieve that, by ensuring that all proposed changes and ideas were categorised by sector and industry and presented in simple and accessible language. Aside from the verbiage, the draft is also visually designed to present information concisely. The use of graphics and design helps present complex ideas in a simple manner, something that is essential for a successful conversation with the public.

Translations also play a key role when it comes to conducting consultations in a country that is as linguistically diverse as India. In the case of the Kerala Industrial Policy, two versions of the document were created and published – one in English and one in Malayalam. This helped the draft reach a wider audience and reduced the barriers of access considerably.

The consultation was open for a limited duration of 19 days, falling short of PLCP’s recommendation of providing at least 30 days to gather responses. For greater outreach, KSIDC made use of traditional media channels as well as their own Twitter handles to create awareness and encourage participation. Despite the time constraints the consultation managed to garner a plethora of responses from industry bodies, organisations as well as individuals. Another tool that is often used by policymakers to increase participation is to offer multiple modes of communication for the citizens to respond to the consultation – such as emails, telephone calls, WhatsApp chatbots, and through post.

In a laudable move, KSIDC aggregated all the comments and suggestions received in English and Malayalam and published them in a document on their website. This transparency in the approach to the process of consultations is essential, since it is communication that will build trust in the process for the citizenry.

The consultation on the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation went on to win the Best Consultation - State Award at India’s Inaugural Public Consultation Awards by Civis. This prestigious award recognises the exemplary efforts of a state government in conducting consultations that transcend mere procedural compliance. Civic Innovation Foundation ‘Civis’ conducted a rigorous study and review of consultation practices in India, analysing 179 consultations published during 2022-23. The framework for assessment included 10 sub-criteria, aided by an eminent jury composed of G.N. Bajpai, jury chairperson & former chairperson of SEBI; Dr. M.S. Sahoo, founding chairperson of IBBI; and Dr. Sekhar Bonu, Senior Fellow at the NITI Aayog.

In the category that Kerala won, the other contenders also presented formidable efforts to bring inclusive, evidence-based policymaking to the citizens. The other nominees included consultations on state legislations and policies from Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan.

A study conducted by Civis on the growth of public consultations in the aftermath of the PLCP shows a whopping 1068.9% increase in the quantum of documents being put out for public consultations by governments at various levels. There is also an uptick in citizen engagement in the business of policy making, helped along by citizen collectives, non-profit organizations, and the digital age. The authors remain hopeful for next decade, where the focus will be to create a sustainable space for continuous and open dialogue between the Government and its people for better policy outcomes. And on this road to the future, leveraging the public consultation process must be the first step!

Antaraa Vasudev is founder & CEO, Civis. Shachi Nelli is associate director, governance, Civis.

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