Arun P S is a well trained lawyer from Kerala who works as a Researcher in the field of Policy Advocacy in the Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He was graduated from DSNLU, Vishakapatnam and further worked in various committees and Institutions such as IPAC, NIRD & PR as junior and project associates. He has also gained experience by working as a research assistant at the office of C N Jayadevan, member of parliament. He has interned at various govt institutions such as at Parliamentary Studies and Training, Kerala legislative Assembly and Ministry of Law and Justice. He has extensive and comprehensive perceptions about how policy framing and decision making must be done in the democracy and also was acknowledged by Forbes India Magazine for his imperative ideologies and suggestions for better public participation in the coming era.
Aparna: What made you choose this profession? Were you always prepared for this venture from the beginning of your journey?
Arun: Honestly, pursuing law was not a part of the plan. I initially wanted to pursue medicine and joined the science stream in 11th class. However, I lost interest midway and somehow found CLAT to be an interesting opportunity. I filled the form in the last week of March and was not sure if the printed application would even reach Jodhpur (NLU Jodhpur was the CLAT convenor in 2012) before the prescribed deadline. Eventually though, I did end up securing an admission at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam.
Aparna: You are a graduate of Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, do you think NLU graduates have a lead over the graduates of non- NLU’S?
Arun: Some workplaces do have certain policies that tend to place NLU graduates in an advantageous position compared to Non NLU graduates. This is probably because of the professionalism that the entry of NLUs facilitated. However, we should stop assessing the worth of an institution just based on placements figures. We should also note that NLUs were not originally envisaged to create graduates tailor made for the firms.
Aparna: You have been a part of many government projects which include framing certain policies and guidelines. So tell us how did you succeed even though the profession you engaged in was different from the activities of your core profession?
Arun: I always wanted to explore the public policy sector and fortunately my role in various establishments placed me in different stages of policy processes like policy making, implementation, analysis etc. I was a Project Associate at the National Institute of Rural Development(NIRDPR) where I was a part of discussions on revision of the National Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) Guidelines, 2018. During my brief stint, I got to observe how various stakeholders from the Union Secretary to the Sarpanchs play a crucial role in the Panchayati Raj system. I was also a part of the founding team that conceptualised NIRDPR’s 100+ Panchayat Cluster Development Action Research Programme for Sustainable Development spread across 426 Gram Panchayat (GPs) in 100 clusters from 115 Aspirational/ Mission Antyodaya districts in 19 States. I must also emphasise that the Policy sector is a space where someone with a law background has a huge advantage, especially in the policymaking space where a lot of understanding about drafting languages and other technicalities help. I am not sure if I can comment about the success part of that question though.
Aparna: In the article published by Forbes India on “poll apps: giving power to people” there was a statement that you denoted; “Public participation has never been a top priority for the government”. What do you think can be done by the government to ensure the existence of a better transparent relationship with its citizens?
Arun: South Africa’s constitution places an obligation on the state’s legislative machinery to facilitate public involvement in its legislative processes. The Pre Legislative Consultation Policy (PLCP) , 2014 that regulates public consultation in India is not being implemented properly. This policy mandates circulation of draft bills and legislative proposals in the public domain for at least a period of thirty days to facilitate participatory policymaking. Through my initiative PLCP Track, I have been tracking the implementation of this policy. From June 2019 to May 2020, a total of 66 bills were introduced in the Parliament, out of which 44 saw no consultation. From the 22 bills placed in public domain for receipt of comments, 12 of them did not adhere to the thirty day deadline.
We need legislation that mandates public participation in policy processes with punitives measures on the authority that fails to involve the public in the lawmaking process. Social Accountability laws should be institutionalised to ensure social audit of legislations during the pre and post legislative stage.
Aparna: While joining as a researcher in an industry body, what all were the challenges you had to overcome?
Arun: Working as an independent policy researcher is always much easier than working for any organisation. After joining the Cochin Chamber of Commerce as their policy researcher, the difficult task, while preparing various representations to policymakers at state and national level, is to ensure that your personal bias and inclinations do not influence the position paper that you prepare for that organisation. For this, understanding the organisation’s history and working is very important. Over the years, we at Cochin Chamber of Commerce have been able to set up a strong policy advocacy wing that renders policy inputs to various important policymakers. We were invited to depose before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour to provide inputs on Industrial Relations Code. We were also invited by the Union Finance Minister’s pre budget consultations in December 2019. Presenting the proposals in the easiest and the simplest way possible is also another challenge that one encounters while engaging with policymakers.
Aparna: You have written an article on the policymaking and better decision-making framework of our country. What do you think should be done to maintain a steady system that would positively aid the citizens?
Arun: In 2019, Sushmita Patel and I wrote an article tracing the implementation of Pre Legislative Consultation which questioned the democratic deficit in policymaking. Ideally, we need a system where structured consultations happen during the pre-drafting and post drafting stage of the bill. We should also have a centralized repository where all the ‘calls for inputs’ are curated, preferably through www.mygov.in that was conceptualised as a platform to aid participatory governance. Currently researchers like me find it difficult to source consultations from different government websites that are not really search engine friendly. We need more initiatives like www.civis.vote that facilitate conversations between citizens and policymakers on policy related issues.
Aparna: How do you balance cooperation with others and independent thinking while working on government projects in a team without any conflict of opinion?
Arun: It is often necessary to identify the root source of such a conflict of ideas and opinions before dismissal or escalation of conflict. To be able to gauge that alternate opinions are a sign of a healthy working environment, and in turn is enabling “deliberation” is probably the first step of associating positivity with such an issue. Patience, evidence-based arguments and more importantly the tolerance to accommodate differing opinions in the absence of prejudice is important. It is hard to stick up to a certain ideal that may be contrary to a more dominant narrative, especially while working on government projects, coupled with their archaical resistance to change, but it doesn’t hurt to push for what you believe in as long you know when to stop.
Aparna: Lastly, what advice do you have for the law students and law graduates especially for the ones who want to pursue a career in the field of policy research and interested in joining government bodies?
Arun: Follow the works undertaken by various prominent think tanks in India. Consider exploring the possibility of internships with think tanks like PRS India, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Centre for Law and Policy Research, Centre for Policy Research etc. PRS’s monthly policy review is a brilliant resource to keep yourself updated about the policy developments at national level. Our blog can help you track public consultations initiated by various governments. Participating in relevant competitions (legislative drafting, policy analysis competition etc.) can also help you strengthen your skill and deepen your interests.
Various departments including the Legislative Drafting department regularly hire young professionals on contract mode. Following portals like Lawctopus and Livelaw can help you keep track of these calls for applications.