The government had promised to use the insights of behavioural economics to shape public policy. This budget revealed no signs of it.
As some of us might remember, in September 2016, it was announced with much fanfare that the government think tank NITI Aayog was going to set up a “Nudge Unit” on the lines of the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK. It was reported that NITI Aayog had tied up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to go about changing behaviours of people. The policies that were supposedly going to benefit from this nudge unit were the flagship programmes of the current government — Swachh Bharat Mission, Jan Dhan Yojana, Digital India, etc.
In delivering his Union Budget speech today, the Finance Minister has laid out the priorities of the Union Government for the next year. However, Mr Jaitley did not mention anywhere that this Government will spend any money and effort on incorporating behavioural insights into public policy.
It’s impossible to know whether NITI Aayog’s Nudge Unit has been set up and what it is working on. Neither the NITI Aayog website nor the BMGF website has any information that hints at setting up of such a unit. What is more, in February 2017, the Government had cut its ties with BMGF on a health mission due to an apparent conflict of interest. We do not know how that incident affected BMGF’s promise to fund the nudge unit.