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PM Plogging, Taking Up a Broom Matters: Here’s the Behavioural Economics Behind It

behavioural economics

During the informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mahabalipuram, PM Modi posted a video of him ‘Plogging’ or jogging while picking up litter along the way.

This captured the imagination of the citizens and very soon “Plogging’ became the leading trend on social media with celebrities and influential netizens joining in to cleaning the environment as well as keeping fit. But as usual few compulsive contrarians started criticising and ridiculing this move by the PM without realizing the significance of gestures like this.

Gestures like Plogging which encourages good behavioural traits as well as desirable social outcome is described as ‘nudges’ according to Nobel Prize winning theory on Behavioural Economics by Dr Richard Thaler. Dr Thaler popularised the idea of ‘nudge economics’, which emphasises subtly guiding humans toward beneficial behaviours without forcing them to comply.

While Dr Thaler won Nobel prize in 2017 for his work on Nudges, Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been putting it into practice since 2014. We shall now look into how Modi Government has employed Nudge theory to improve efficacy of the government schemes.

While there have been toilet building programs before, Swachh Bharat Mission is the first one to emphasize behaviour change as much as, if not more, construction of toilets. Within five years of the launch of SBM, household access to toilets has increased to nearly 100 per cent in all states. SBM has achieved success in not only providing toilets but also in ensuring that these toilets are used. Independent studies also verified that 96.5 per cent of the households in rural India who have access to a toilet also regularly used it.

To initiate behavioural change in usage of toilets, more than five lakh swachhagrahis, foot soldiers of the SBM, were recruited; the similarity with satyagrahis is intentional to reinforce the message. As each village has at least one swachhagrahi, who is a local, these swachhagrahis were able to leverage their social ties within their villages to effect change. The PM himself personally sweeping the streets and picking up litter as well as encouraging celebrities to take up Swachh Bharat challenge reinforced the norm of a clean India and toilet usage repeatedly to the citizens and helped the scheme to become successful.

Just to show an example, after the PM posted the video of himself Plogging, google searches on the item increased to 100% showcasing the awareness it had managed to raise on both fitness and cleaning up.

Source: Google Trends

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) also used similar methods like Swachh Bharat to increase awareness about girl child education and improving sex ratio at birth. Specific campaigns like “Selfie with Daughter” encouraged parent to celebrate girls and changing the social norm of seeing them as a burden. The successes of BBBP are self-evident- it has reversed the declining Sex ratio at birth observed between 2001 and 2011 census in large states.

Give It Up Scheme launched by the Prime Minister in 2015 to encourage citizens to voluntarily give up their LPG subsidies encapsulates the best of behavioural economics. This scheme has introduced mass philanthropy in India, where each individual’s action is small, but it all adds up to substantial outcome. Till now there are 1.86 crore non-subsidised LPG consumers, including 1.03 crore ‘Give it up’ consumers.  A letter signed by the PM thanking consumers for giving up their subsidies has also further incentivized others to do the same.

Fit India Movement which launched movements like #HumFitTohIndiaFit encourages people to work out and post those videos in social media. Engaging celebrities to do the same has made it extremely popular and more and more common people especially youngsters are taking up this challenge. This has increased awareness about fitness and an effective way to tackle rising lifestyle diseases.

Several other instances like thanking tax payers during budget speech to encourage people to pay their taxes fairly and asking people to refrain from using single use plastic on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday to describing families that practice family planning as act of patriotism in order to tackle population explosion are also Nudges that encourage people to adopt beneficial behaviour voluntarily.

Indian Economic Survey, 2019 also focused on this by dedicating an entire chapter on how to incorporate ‘Nudges’ into our policy making.

Last year, NITI Aayog also tied up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to set up a ‘nudge unit’ that would work towards bringing about behavioural changes and recommending policy corrections to help make the programmes more effective.

Thus, the government led by PM Modi while nudging the citizens to adopt best behavioural and social norms is also making them an intrinsic part of governance ensuring “Sabka Saath” and “Sabka Vikas”.