The Modi gov­ern­ment’s tech­nol­ogy-as­sisted sur­veil­lance of de­vel­op­ment projects is trans­form­ing gov­er­nance and last-mile de­liv­ery

India Today - - GOVERNANCE | TECHNOLOGY - By Uday Mahurkar

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

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