Deal with the Devil: The Successes and Limitations of Bureaucratic Reform in India

Iqbal Dhaliwal, Rema Hanna

NBER Working Paper No. 20482
Issued in September 2014
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Public Economics

Employing a technological solution to monitor the attendance of public-sector health care workers in India resulted in a 15 percent increase in the attendance of the medical staff. Health outcomes improved, with a 16 percent increase in the delivery of infants by a doctor and a 26 percent reduction in the likelihood of infants born under 2500 grams. However, women in treatment areas substituted away from the newly monitored health centers towards delivery in the (unmonitored) larger public hospitals and private hospitals. Several explanations may help explain this shift: better triage by the more present health care staff; increased patients' perception of absenteeism in the treatment health centers; and the ability of staff in treatment areas to gain additional rents by moving women to their private practices and by siphoning off the state-sponsored entitlements that women would normally receive at the health center at the time of delivery. Despite initiating the reform on their own, there was a low demand among all levels of government-state officials, local level bureaucrats, and locally-elected bodies--to use the better quality attendance data to enforce the government's human resource policies due to a fear of generating discord among the staff. These fears were not entirely unfounded: staff at the treatment health centers expressed greater dissatisfaction at their jobs and it was also harder to hire new nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists at the treatment health centers after the intervention. Thus, this illustrates the implicit deal that governments make on non-monetary dimensions--truancy, allowance of private practices--to retain staff at rural outposts in the face of limited budgets and staff shortages.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20482

Published: Iqbal Dhaliwal, Rema Hanna, The devil is in the details: The successes and limitations of bureaucratic reform in India, Journal of Development Economics, Volume 124, 2017, Pages 1-21, ISSN 0304-3878,

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