Tamil Nadu

Nobel laureates Abhijit-Duflo’s Tamil Nadu connection

Their organisation is involved in several studies in State

Two of this year’s Nobel laureates for Economics — Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo — have a Tamil Nadu connection.

For nearly five years, Abdul Latif Jameel – Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), U.S., an organisation founded by the economist couple with Sendhil Mullainathan, has been involved in several studies in the State as part of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the lab and the State government in November 2014.

It was former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa who gave the nod in August 2014 for the studies, as part of her government’s approach of “evidence-based policy making”.

At present, the two economists are engaged in a study on the socio-economic status of the elderly population in the State — in short, called Elderly Panel Survey. Former Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan is the third principal investigator (PI) for the study.

Initially, the JPAL team did studies on primary school education intervention, improving youth labour market outcomes and on non-communicable diseases. Partnering with the Social Welfare Department, it undertook a scoping study in 2015 to identify potential challenges facing the ICDS programme in improving early childhood learning and nutritional outcomes of children.

After the study, the JPAL suggested four interventions across five districts in the State. The interventions were: hiring an additional worker dedicated to preschool education activities, incentivising existing frontline workers through a flat increase in pay, a performance-based pay linked to improvements in child nutrition outcomes and additional supplementary nutrition (a glass of milk) for all children attending the ICDS centre. After the State Planning Commission appraised the proposal and recommended the project, the government sanctioned money in February 2016 for three years.

Dr. Duflo is associated with two other studies — one on strengthening the implementation of the Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme (MRMBS) and the other on evaluating primary school education interventions in northern districts of the State.

In total, 15 studies were taken up, of which pilot or scoping studies (formative research) were completed in respect of nine. Randomised control trials (RCT), also called impact evaluations, were over in the case of three, while they are under way for the rest. Seven departments of the State government are currently involved.

S. Krishnan, principal secretary, Finance, one of those responsible for the collaborative project, says the engagement between J-PAL and the government has become a model for others to follow.

(With inputs from B. Aravind Kumar)

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 4:54:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/nobel-prize-winning-pairs-tamil-nadu-connection/article29684579.ece

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