The Modi government’s technology-assisted surveillance of development projects is transforming governance and last-mile delivery
For Khairul Haque, a 30-year-old farm labourer from Dibu Dobak village in Assam’s Kamrup district, home used to mean a bamboo structure with a tin roof. In February this year, district officials approached him with a proposal that seemed too good to be true, a concrete house. The assistance on offer—Rs 1.3 lakh under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme. Five months on, Haque is today the proud owner of a pucca house, a dream that sounded impossible even six months ago. About 2,500 km west of Haque’s home, at Lohegaon village in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, 57-yearold tribal widow Shakuntala Hure has a similar story to tell. The daily wager recently shifted to a pucca house built with Rs 1.2 lakh government assistance.
Haque and Hure are just two beneficiaries whose names got flashed on the dashboards of the rural development ministry after their houses
were completed. The houses were geotagged, photographed and uploaded on the dashboard for real-time monitoring. And it’s not just the rural development ministry. Some of the other ministries which have been running social welfare schemes maintain such dashboards to make sure that deliverables and benefits reach the intended target.
Today, there are about four dozen such dashboards of various ministries and their departments which monitor the day-to-day progress of concerned schemes. This means government officers in charge of implementation are more accountable—diversion of funds, fudged records, dummy beneficiaries etc. have been weeded out to an extent. Progress of schemes in the infrastructure sector too is monitored similarly. The NITI Aayog now monitors schemes in 15 infrastructure sectors of ministries like housing, coal, new and renewable energy, railways, rural roads and highways and power. “We are using a new concept called ‘Big Data analysis’ for selection of targets monitoring and review of projects and schemes across sectors to ensure outcome-based governance,” says Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog.
The Niti Aayog has engaged two top data mining experts for the purpose,
including one from IIM Bangalore, Pulok Ghosh, to analyse the huge flow of data and help the government arrive at the right policy decisions in terms of targets and implementation. A member of the prime minister’s office (PMO), the prime mover behind the initiative, says, “Big data analysis is still in a nascent stage and was, till now, largely limited to the private sector. The Indian government is one of the first to adopt it. This will also mean transparency and empowering citizens with the help of data.”
The new methods of monitoring were developed after months of close consultation in which the PMO played a key role. Kant made as many as 16 presentations before the PMO. Says ex-NITI Aayog vicechairman Arvind Panagariya, “At least now we have a reliable measure of what is happening in every infrastructure ministry. Earlier, we didn’t know where we stood.”
For instance, the Union power ministry has 13 dashboards for mapping the day-to-day progress of various schemes with near real-time data including geotagged pictures of the beneficiaries. Significantly, 12 of these are in the public domain. Piyush Goyal, minister of state for power, coal, new and renewable energy and mines has in a way revolutionised the process of monitoring and review. For example, a dashboard named Merit India tracks whether states are following the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) directive to buy power from the lowest cost source (earlier there was a lot of corruption in this). Another dashboard, Vidyut Pravah, connected to the national power exchange, tracks whether power is available at uniform and affordable rates across India at the same time. It also manages power ‘congestion’ to keep rates under control. Till 2015, there was not a single day when power was sold at the same rate at any given point of time. In June 2017, the rate uniformity percentage across India was 94 per cent.
The Garv dashboard tracks power connections through the Aadhaar card. An example: on July 19, in Bajwa village of Bhojpur district, Bihar, Bachan Ram got a new connection under the Deeendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. The next day his name was posted with a geo-tagged photo. On the same day, the dashboard showed that in Bajwa the number of households with power connection was 233, out of a total of 277.
Goyal even has an inhouse dashboard to monitor the progress of the major schemes of his four ministries. A section in it shows the progress in colour coding. Green means ‘work in progress’, blue is ‘delay in work’, orange ‘slight delay’ and yellow means ‘late by 30 days or more’, which is like a red flag. Interestingly, all the work has led to India improving its position in the World Bank’s ‘ease of getting power’ ranking to No. 26, from No. 99 three years ago.
The use of satellite and other technology in this dashboard-based governance is also yielding great results. While it has sped up implementation, it has also brought to the fore the shortfalls in the schemes. Like in the PM’s rural road scheme where the construction pace report-
Almost every MNREGA asset is listed on the dashboard. Continuous monitoring has led to an exponential rise in the number of assets created
edly went up to over 130 km per day in 2016-17. Three years ago, 25,000 kms worth of roads were laid in a year. In 2016-17, the figure touched 47,000 kms. But the monitoring system also showed small lacunae—about 18 per cent of the rural roads were falling short by a few hundred feet while connecting the concerned villages.
Dashboard-based governance is also encouraging healthy competition between states in the implementation of central schemes. The catch is, for it to succeed, you also need workers on the ground. From ensuring data feeds to the dashboard to geo-tagging, to taking clean pictures of beneficiaries and the projects and how and when to post them on the dashboard, a huge “back-end exercise” is involved.
An example of how a public dashboard can be successful is ‘Meri Sadak’, a public monitoring scheme for rural roads. People can post geotagged pictures of potholes and it is mandated that action has to be taken by the authorities within seven days of the post. The rural development ministry received 56,000 complaints with pictures in 2016-17. On the last date of the financial year, March 31, 2017, only 70 complaints were pending.
The dashboard for monitoring rural housing shows that as against the target of one crore pucca homes for the poor by 2019, the government had built 3.2 million in 2016-17 itself, an impressive figure. The figures for urban housing, though, are not that flattering. Against the target of 12 million homes by 2022, only 1.02 million are under construction right now. It shows the lack of coordination between various state authorities in land-strapped cities like Mumbai where 1,500 acres, in just two chunks of private land in Vashi and Ambernath, is lying untapped.
In the shipping ministry, checking of foreign-bound ships is now physically happening for the first time since a new clause was introduced which requires that inspectors post geo-tagged photos of the inspection with details of every ship they check. Says Raj Gopal Sharma, officer on special duty to shipping minister Nitin Gadkari, “In many cases, ship inspections used to be only on paper before we introduced this mandatory provision of posting geo-tagged pictures.”
But it’s in MNREGA that dashboard-based governance has perhaps made the biggest difference. The Narendra Modi government turned around the largely non-productive scheme by linking it to asset creation,
Countrywide, about 358,000 families claim they have been left out of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana despite being eligible
including watershed management projects. Almost every MNREGA asset is listed on the dashboard now. The constant monitoring, with of course greater budget allocation, has exponentially increased the number of assets created (over 6 million in 2016).
Drones are also being used for the first time to track various projects as part of the new concept of outcome-based governance. In the mining sector, the Mineral Exploration Corporation Ltd uses drones for exploration while the power ministry is doing it in breakdown management by tracking physical disruptions in transmission lines. The coal ministry is using it to track illegal mining.
However, it’s still only a beginning as far as plugging the loopholes in welfare schemes is concerned. Says Harinesh Pandya, who heads the Agaria Hitrakshak Samiti which works for the welfare of salt workers in the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, “The Modi government has made a good beginning, but it’s still a tall order. Well-off families masquerading as below poverty line (BPL) ones and availing benefits are still a significant enough number. They are entrenched in the structure with the connivance of corrupt officials. They have to be weeded out.”
Pankti Jog , another social worker who works with Pandya in spreading RTI awareness amongst the rural poor, adds, “The government’s commitment to transparent delivery of welfare schemes will be proved only when it enacts a law to punish false BPL card holders. It’s a strong nexus that can only be broken by enacting a law.”
The socio-economic and caste census (SECC) conducted between 2011 and 2015 , based on which eligible families have been identified for welfare measures, also has faults. There have been many complaints that genuine beneficiaries have been left out of the BPL list. The government has a provision allowing such people to approach it through the gram sabha, but it is a lengthy and cumbersome process. Country-wide, about 358,000 families have till now claimed that they have been left out of PMAY despite being eligible. Says Janakidevi, wife of Ratan Ranjit Singh, of Chaukhutiya tehsil in Almora district, Uttarakhand: “We earn a pittance. My husband is bedridden. I make a living for our six-member family by selling firewood and grass. How can we not be eligible for a pucca house under the poverty criteria?” The story is repeated across the hill district.
Uttarakhand has some 35,000 applicants claiming they are BPL and hence eligible for a pucca house. The state rural development department still has no clue as to what the actual number might be. New applicants keep getting added every day. Union rural development secretary Amarjit Sinha says they are “trying to get these claims validated by the gram sabhas as per the eligibility criteria we have set. Many such cases stand cleared now”.
The Modi government has taken the first few steps towards improving service delivery. This tiny technological step should go a long way in solving what is a problem of gigantic proportions.
There are about four dozen dashboards of various ministries and their departments to monitor the daily progress of schemes
On camera PM Modi chairs a video review meeting with officials of various ministries
Brick by brick Shakuntala Hure, at her new PMAY-built home in Lohegaon village, Maharashtra