Tuesday, 20 July 2010

New AI Blog Page

The Accountability Initiative Blog has moved!

For the latest updates on accountability news and views across the country, log on to our new blog page at:


Saturday, 10 July 2010

AI in the News: Who's Watching the Watchers

The NGO landscape in India is getting pretty crowded. According to the findings of a recent government survey there are an estimated 3.3 million registered NGOs working in the country — one for every 400 Indians. But with the growing influence of NGOs in India today, many have raised questions about their transparency and accountability. Mandakini Devasher, Accountability Initiative discusses how the Right to Information (RTI) could offer a possible solution. Click here to read the article in the Indian Express.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

India and the Failed States Index: 12 Counts of Failure

Rishiv Khattar

Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace have been publishing the Failed States Index since 2005. The 2010 Index uses 90,000 publicly available sources to assess 177 countries and rate them on 12 metrics of state decay—India ranked 87 and received a score of 77.8.

Higher scores on a metric indicate a greater degree of failure. The scores used are from the Fund for Peace publication as there appears to be some inconsistency in the Foreign Policy publication’s score.



India’s score


Mounting demographic pressures



Massive movement of refugees or internally displaced persons, creating complex humanitarian emergencies



Legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance or group paranoia



Chronic and sustained human flight



Uneven economic development across group lines



Sharp and/ or severe economic decline



Criminalization and/ or delegitimization of the State



Progressive deterioration of public services



Suspension or arbitrary application of the rule of law and widespread violation of human rights



Security apparatus operates as a “State within a State”



Rise of factionalized elites



Intervention of other states or external political actors




While the most recent analysis of the scores is not yet available, past assessments by the organizations and recent news are useful in deciphering the factors that may have contributed to these scores.

1) The score on the demographic pressure metric is due to high population density relative to food supply and other essential resources in the country, and pressures from skewed population growth that have led to a “youth bulge”.

2) India does not have a major refugee or IDP problem but does have a manageable influx of refugees from Tibet, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

3) Group grievance scores are high primarily in Kashmir, as a result of the rise of militant groups, communal violence, and tensions between India and Pakistan. An increasingly violent Maoist insurgency and the rise of Naxalism have also exacerbated grievances.

4) Human flight indicators remain high for India as a significant percentage of the country’s educated population leave to study or find jobs elsewhere.

(5) and (6) The Indian economy has rapidly developed and established itself as the world’s second-fastest growing economy. India’s recently updated foreign direct investment policy (2005) has helped further open markets. And India’s significant economic growth (GDP increased by 6.8 % in 2009 despite a global recession) has been inequitable, as a large section of the population lives in poverty.

7) Politicians running campaigns and being elected to office while on trial for criminal charges have undermined state legitimacy. While Indian law prohibits convicted criminals from holding office, nothing prevents them from doing so until they have been convicted. Apart from the growth of crime syndicates linked to government officials, there is endemic corruption and widespread resistance to accountability and transparency—something the recently passed Right to Information Act may improve.

The FfP’s most recent assessment of India’s core state institutions:

8) The quality of public services is severely lacking, especially in rural areas. Nonetheless, government efforts to improve health and education services (such as through the NRHM) have contributed to an improving score on this metric. Significant efforts this year—the Right to Food Act and the Right to Education—may further help.

9) India has a decent human rights record, having recently made concrete steps toward expanding the rights of women and LGBT populations. However, the state is sometimes accused of preventing human rights organizations from entering Kashmir.

10) The rise of militant groups as well as the power wielded by Kangaroo courts and unofficial governing bodies in rural areas impact performance on this metric. Populations often turn to these bodies to address their grievances due to social custom or a lack of confidence in elected officials.

11) Communal, caste and regional tensions are sometimes reflected in government which has led to the factionalization of elites, but this is often mitigated by India’s functioning democracy.

The quality of public services is a metric that India consistently performs poorly on. Whereas demographic pressures fluctuate with factors like natural disasters that lead to a massive loss of life, the progressive deterioration of public services can perhaps more effectively be tackled through systemic reforms and improved accountability. It’s important to note that India’s score of 7.0 on this metric puts it behind countries like Ghana, Kazakhstan, Namibia that it is more developed than in other categories.

The writer is an intern at the Accountability Initiative.

From Outlays to Outcomes- Getting Development from Development Expenditures

In August 2009, AI and the Centre for Development Finance, Institute for Financial Management and Research organised a conference entitled “From Outlays to Outcomes - Getting Development from Development Expenditures” in New Delhi. The papers presented at the conference have been featured in a special issue of India Review (Volume 9 Issue 2 2010). These include a section of guest editor papers, a number of papers discussing accountability in public expenditures in India, and a review essay on decentralization, institutions and accountability.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Health Care Spending Rising Faster Than Economic Growth In Industrialized Countries – OECD Health Data 2010

While India is still struggling to live up to the “Nine is Mine” dream (calling for 9% of GDP to be committed to health and education), according to OECD’s Health Data 2010, in leading industrialized countries, the health care spending is rising faster than economic growth. The study reports:

  • Average health spending in the 31 member OECD counties has increased from 7.8 percent of GDP in 2000 to 9.0 percent in 2008 –averaging around 8.4% of the GDP.
  • During the same period, health spending per person increased by 4.2% a year on average.
  • Governments of most OECD countries shoulder most of the burden of healthcare costs. Public expenditure has increased from an average of 12% of total government spending in 1990 to a record 16% in 2008.
  • United States tops the list, spending 7,538 dollars per person on health care in 2008, more than double the average 3,000 dollars for all OECD countries.

Monday, 28 June 2010

UID: Thoughts from an Erstwhile Skeptic

Avani Kapur

Last month I attended a Consultation Workshop on the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), now called AADHAR. With the first UID numbers being issued between August 2010 and February 2011, this was a part of UIDAI’s campaign to hold a wide range of consultations with Civil Society Organizations in various parts of the country.

For those of us, who are curious about the UID, and recognize the potential benefits it can have (can being the operative word here) but yet have our reservations, the workshop was definitely enlightening. One of the main things that came out from the consultation was the amount of confusion that still exists about what exactly the UID can and cannot do and how much of an invasion of privacy it actually is.

I thought it would thus be useful to lay out some facts regarding the UID.

Fact 1: The UID itself will collect only standard attributes such as name, date of birth, gender, father/mother/spouse/guardians name, address and a photograph. The only unique information is the biometrics (10 fingerprints and both iris scans).

Fact 2 : The UID will be given to all residents who are in India and avail services and not just citizens.

Fact 3: The information in the database will be used only for authentication purposes and will not be shared or transmitted. Anyone seeking to authenticate the identity of another person using the UID database – will only get a response in YES or NO.

Fact 4: The UIDAI is working on a partnership model with a variety of agencies and service providers ( both government and private sector) to enroll residents for UID Numbers and verify their identity. For e.g. Insurance companies, LPG marketing companies, RSBY, MG-NREGA etc. The UIDAI will also engage with Outreach Groups (essentially CSOs) to target, the homeless, urban poor, tribals, differently-abled population of the country etc.

Fact 5: The UID database will be guarded both physically and electronically by a few select individuals with high clearance. It will not be available even for many members of the UID staff and will be secured through encryption, and in a highly secure data vault.

Sounds good so far? The obvious question then is that if these ideas are indeed so good then why are people so skeptical and in some cases even taking an extreme position of completely rejecting the UIDAI. I think the answer is nuanced and symptomatic to deeper issues.

Broadly there are 4 main concerns regarding the UID, namely, concerns over exclusion, individual privacy, and misuse of data and finally whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Let’s deal with them one by one.

While the UID team keeps stressing that the UID is voluntary but the fact of the matter is, for all practical purposes, in time, it will become mandatory as service providers may require a person to have a UID to access services. The concern then is, what will happen to those who are unable or purposely unallowed to get the UID.

The case of exclusion is definitely a concern – but not limited to the UID alone. Instead, the UID for its part has tried to mitigate against this by having an introducer system and getting ngos to assist in the enrolment process. Now it is the job of all the enrolling agencies to make sure that everyone has access to it and for us, civil society to assist in the process.

Individual Privacy and Misuse of Data
The UID itself only collects standard attributes, but since the enrolling system is through partnership with existing agencies such as LIC, banks, PDS shops, nrega job cards etc - the full board of the UIDAI may have additional data fields related to identity. The fear being , this kind of information could compromise privacy of the people, and leave it open for misuse—racial profiling being an obvious threat.

This is a legitimate fear, but blaming the UID itself for this, is not.

On the one hand, the question of privacy in itself is a very “urban” concept. No one really talks about the fact that for NREGA, muster rolls, job cards and daily wages are a matter of public knowledge and are instead considered important components for accountability and transparency. Moreover, anyone not privileged enough to have a permanent address or identity proof will ascertain to the fact that finally having some sort of “identity” would alleviate the challenges of something as basic as getting children into school, getting a telephone connection or even a death certificate.

Second, a host of our personal information is already publically available and there are no guarantees that they are not prone to misuse. The Election Commission and Census already collect a lot of our personal information; the railways make the names and ages of passengers public each time we travel , not to mention online social interaction sites such as Facebook , Orkut and Twitter, which are often prone to hacking.

So even without the UID, what is urgently needed is a law protecting our privacy. Last week, the UPA government appointed a panel to create a blueprint for a new law guaranteeing a citizen’s right to privacy. Once in place, the law is meant to recognize the right to privacy of an individual as a fundamental right and have in place provisions against wrongful collection of and misuse of data. While it remains to be seen what shape the law will take, it has to be said, in a way the UID has finally made us think about this important issue.

Lastly, Expenditure
With crores of rupees being put into the operationalisation of UID – is it really worth it?

Lets be clear, the UID itself will not solve all of the world’s problems. However, what it does have the potential to do is to centralize and clean up the government databases – a huge step in itself. Anyone who has gone through government databases knows that often, it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack (for more details please see here)

And having authentic, clean, reliable data can be an important step in better delivering our services. Take for example the PDS. While the UID may not be able to solve the problem of people not being included in the BPL list and hence being excluded from the PDS system, it should be able to solve problems related to leakages (see post below) and the presence of a large number of fake ration cards – all of which are literally money down the drain.

Finally, let’s remember, like with most things, the UID model is only as good as its application!

Avani Kapur is Researcher and Coordinator, PAISA Project at the Accountability Initiative

Friday, 25 June 2010

Debate on the National Food Security Bill

Gayatri Sahgal

An essential aspect of ensuring that benefits reach the desired beneficiaries includes the ability of beneficiaries to hold the power holders to account; to make them responsible for their behaviour and actions. In the context of the debate on right to food, the first draft bill formulated by the government, titled ‘The National Food Security Bill’, failed to comprehensively address such core concerns. Accountability issues were largely glossed over with only respite involving a commitment to ensure the monitoring of finances by the Gram Sabha, through the medium of social audits. Notwithstanding, the limited discussion on accountability the main provisions of the proposed Act were widely attacked by civil society groups and academicians. The strongest opposition has emerged from the Right to Food Campaign who expressed their displeasure by formulating an alternative draft proposal. This proposal, referred to as the ‘Food and Entitlement Act’, while calling for a need to consolidate and expand existing entitlements along with addressing the structural causes of food insecurity, also included a separate section exclusively dedicated to addressing issues of accountability. The draft proposed the need to empower the Gram Sabha with the powers to monitor the implementation of the act, as well offered a detailed outline of the structure of the grievance redressal to be established to address complaints related to the violation of the provision the act. With the debate on the right to food stirring up again it seems prudent to take stock of how the accountability debate has been structured thus far.

Click here to view a table comparing the accountability provisions in the 'National Food Security Bill' and the 'Food and Entitlement Act'.