Subsidiarity & public policy

There are goals which we wish to pursue faster in public interest but often lose track of certain values of subsidiarity in design, action, review and redesign. What does subsidiarity imply in the context of public policy?

For instance, the long overdue goal of removing open defecation through building toilets. I was talking to one of the district level officers recently. I asked whether the design of the toilet pot has been made variable in respect to the water available for cleaning per use in different pockets of the district. It had not been done.

We know the situation about drinking water availability in the country. Situation for sanitation may not be that bad but availability is constrained in many places. If many of these toilets get choked after some time and girls continue to suffer in schools and other places, where these much needed toilets are non-functional, we will have to blame ourselves. Why did not we use public policy space for enough decentralisation, reflection on the design suitable for given water constrained situation, and what remedies are available for mid-course correction. Won’t it be embarrassing if a large number of toilets are found to be not used well because of improper design to begin with?

Can we not combine speed, scale and successful implementation through efficient adaptation of location specific design? What is remarkable is that national policy does take note of this problem very graphically.


How do we ensure that we reward innovations in design, delivery, and disposal and reuse of waste material if old design has to be scrapped and replaced by new design? Similarly government issues guidelines to banks to give loans to start-ups recently. Two loans to SC/ST and other disadvantaged clients per branch. Under Start-up India, Stand-up India, massive facilities have been offered by the government.


But when one visits the portal ( and looks at the responsiveness, earlier for first few months, at least reply were being given. Of late, the comments are not being responded. Obviously, no senior officer may be monitoring such responses or lack of them to make this well intentioned programme more effective.


We surely can make changes in our portal so that if some comment is not responded in reasonable time, the unanswered question or comment is escalated to a higher officer. This will ensure that at least in two weeks, all concerns are responded. When I reviewed the links at and checked a few schemes of banks, I found that their guidelines still stress on mortgage of immovable assets and other assets, as required earlier for small business loans.


The impact of various concessions announced by the government is not visible in these schemes. If this factor, so vital for customer service and success of the start-up movement is supported by user satisfaction surveys and monitoring of changes in these schemes, the results would have been better.


We have knowledge. We also have some feeling, but when it comes to translating our feelings into action, we sometimes falter, as I have argued in my recent book: Grassroots Innovation: Minds on the margin are not marginal minds (2016).

I hope we will avoid making a trade-off between values of serving society and velocity with which this service is provided with desirable consequences. This is a movement.