Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Conference : “From Outlays to Outcomes: Getting Development from Development Expenditures”

The Centre for Development Finance, Institute for Financial Management and Research, and the
Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research, are delighted to invite you to a conference entitled

“From Outlays to Outcomes: Getting Development from Development Expenditures”
on Tuesday, 25th August 2009.

The conference will be held at the “Dome”, Taj Ambassador Hotel, Sujan Singh Park, New Delhi from 9.30am onwards .

Drawing together eminent policy‐makers, practitioners, civil society activists and academics, the conference aims to create a meaningful dialogue on the processes and mechanisms for strengthening transparency and accountability in the implementation of social sector programs in India.

Shri. Abhijit Sen, Member, Planning Commission will deliver the keynote address.

Deliberations at the conference will emphasize three key issues:
1. Getting the design right: Strengthening planning, institutional arrangements and processes for monitoring and tracking funds.
2. Monitoring outcomes: Identifying tools and processes to ensure that outcomes are tracked regularly, and progress on outcomes is disseminated widely.
3. Using Information Technology (IT): Harnessing the potential of IT to track fund flows, and monitor processes and program implementation.

The conference will provide a forum for key stakeholders –policy‐makers, practitioners, civil society and academics –to exchange ideas, draw lessons from experience, and identify solutions to what is perhaps the greatest challenge faced by the government: ensuring accountability in the money spent. The conference will also bring together researchers and practitioners from around the world to share their experiences and best practice. The deliberation and recommendations drawn from this exchange will be disseminated widely to encourage a greater debate and catalyze action for change.

The conference will close with a moderated panel discussion to debate the issue from practitioners’ perspectives. The panel discussion will begin at 18.00 hrs.

We look forward to seeing you. Please confirm your participation by writing to us at: .

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Whose Right to Education?: Building Schools and Rewarding Voters in Tamil Nadu

Milan Vaishnav

How do politicians in democratic settings influence the allocation of public goods? This is a question that gets right to the heart of the accountability debate. Bureaucracies often set up geographic or need-based norms for basic services such as education, health, and sanitation. Yet it is perhaps India's worst-kept secret that the de facto and de jure allocation of services can diverge significantly on account of influential politicians seeking patronage or "pork barrel" for their constituencies. Despite a large number of qualitative studies that examine this influence, there are few quantitative studies in India that try to measure the extent to which India's elected representatives skew the overall allocation of public goods in a given sector.

It was in this spirit that my colleague Neelanjan Sircar and I went about trying to estimate the influence politics has on the construction of new public primary (and upper primary schools) in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. As political scientists, we were motivated by two questions. First, is the construction of public schools linked to the political process so that the building of new schools operates on a political budget cycle? If such electioneering exists, it begs a second question of how public investments are targeted. That is, can we detect political motivations in the targeting and placement of new public schools?

In our analysis, we focused on the influential role of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). MLAs are one of the most important, yet among the least understood, cogs in India’s patronage machine. Over forty years ago, Bailey's (1963) study of the Orissa assembly perhaps best sums up the enduring conventional wisdom about MLAs: “[Their] MLA is not the representative of a party with a policy which commends itself to them, not even a representative who will watch over their interests when policies are being framed, but rather a man who will intervene in the implementation of policy, and in the ordinary day-to-day administration. He is there to divert the benefits in the direction of his constituents.”

Understanding state-level dynamics is crucial because most education and other large public goods initiatives emerge from centrally sponsored schemes and projects (and are often bolstered by state-level matching funds or complementary programs) where the states have broad discretionary authority. For example, this is the framework for India’s most recent flagship primary education program, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Furthermore, as far as the construction of schools (or other local public works projects) is concerned, the MLA is able to simultaneously please two constituencies: his friends, local contractors and suppliers; as well as the broader population of citizens he or she represents.

For our analysis, we consider all public school construction between the years 1977 and 2007 in Tamil Nadu. In terms of timing, we find that there is a significant spike in school construction immediately following the inauguration of a new state government. This post-election jump makes intuitive sense since all governments want to appear as if they are doing "something" -- especially if that something will help distinguish them from their predecessors. Furthermore, in the case of Tamil Nadu, post-election investments in public works (as opposed to pre-election works) are even more sensible given the state's exceedingly high rates of electoral volatility and unpredictable voter behavior.

To examine the issue of geographic targeting, we map assembly constituencies to administrative blocks using GIS (in Tamil Nadu, they make a relatively neat match). We do find evidence of the political targeting of new school construction. In most years, areas in which voters elect MLAs affiliated with the future ruling coalition benefit disproportionately in terms of the number of new public schools the government decides to build in those areas. For instance, when AIADMK re-captured control of the state in 2001, it was AIADMK constituencies that received the bulk of the largesse when it came to building and establishing new public schools.

But politicians are a crafty bunch. The ruling party does not always blindingly shower its supporters with new public works; they also take into consideration the nuances of electoral dynamics. For instance, there are deviations from rewarding one's "core" supporters in those years with exceptionally high levels of electoral competition within constituencies. When more than half the ruling coalition’s victories come in closely-fought (“swing”) constituencies (as they did in the elections of 1980 and 2006), we find that the ruling party alters its post-election targeting strategy to reward pivotal "swing" areas.

We interpret this as the constraining effect of electoral competition: while there may be a bias of rewarding their most ardent supporters, politicians must abide by electoral realities. In swing constituencies where the margin of victory is slim, politicians must make desperate promises to sweeten the pot. In the elections of 1980 and 2006, there were a disproportionate number of such constituencies; hence, benefits flowed to those areas disproportionately.

This research is still in its preliminary stages but it provides initial evidence of the kinds of influence many suspect MLAs of having on public works, even in the era of decentralization. In the coming months, we hope to update this work and expand it to other states as well. For instance, it might be interesting to ask how the Left Front government of West Bengal allocates public works to those areas under opposition control. Does Mayawati privilege Dalit areas in UP where community infrastructure is desperately needed? In the coming months, I will post some of these initial drafts on my website:

Milan Vaishnav is a PhD student in political science at Columbia University. He is visiting the Accountability Initiative in August.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Opening up or Ushering in?: The Panchayati Raj amendments, Activists, and Public participation

Jason Keith Fernandes

Over the 25th and the 26th of July I was in Pondicherry, to participate in a workshop around the theme of public consultation and citizen participation in urban governance. ‘Opening Up or Ushering In’ was the rather enigmatic name for the workshop that mystified most of the participants. It was only later that we got an inkling into this framing of the workshop. Given that public consultation and citizen participation that have become rather fashionable catchwords; are these processes being used to open up spaces for citizens to participate in the articulation of plans and projects in their cities and neighbourhoods, or usher in technocrats and their consultancies under the guise of public consultation and participation? You have to admit with me that the organizers were more than clever in their framing of the workshop title, as well as placing on the agenda, an interesting issue for debate.

I would like to reflect on this idea within the Goan context, returning in the process, to a theme that I have not taken up for some time, that of the frustrated moment of the Goan revolution. What has not ceased to amaze is the manner in which, despite constantly brandishing the issue of public participation and decentralization, most of the groups in the fray have been singularly unable to actually realize the objective. All of this despite the fact that the GBA, at that time the more powerful among these groups, held the trumps at a crucial moment in the struggle.

Trying to understand why they failed to seize the moment, two options emerged. One, because of the conviction by some of the more prominent Margao activists that decentralization was a bad thing, the average citizen would make a mess of the powers they were given. The second, because for the architects and urban planners involved in the movement, participation and consultation began and ended when they were ushered into the planning process. In their well-intentioned estimation, this was also participation and consultation, so at least they were taking the process somewhere. As the recent ‘stepping down’ of Edgar Rebeiro has shown us, this assumption was not just terribly naïve, but eventually impotent as well. Participation is not achieved until the entire body of citizenry is enabled to participate in planning. The question that needs to be seriously posed is if this association with the State executive, right from the time the GBA joined the Task Force, an association entirely outside of a legal process, was useful or not.

The reason for distinguishing between the two reasons stated above, is because I would like to distinguish between a conscious option to prevent genuine and large-scale participation (in the first case), and a misunderstanding as to what participation and consultation actually means. In the second case, the error is possibly unconscious, the result of a blinkered vision engendered by one’s professional training. It is a different matter that this professional training is rooted in the same fear of the ‘ignorant masses’ held by our Margao activists. When imbibed through education however, it gets internalized unconsciously. That these professionals belong to a class that in any case has a tendency against mass participation and towards a surprisingly firm belief in its own capacities does not help them in thinking out these biases that are educated into them.

To be sure, these biases have a longer history, as displayed in the history of the anti-colonial struggle in British-India. The early forms of the ‘national struggle’, in particular the demands of the liberals and Swarajists, was not for ‘freedom’. Whenever this potentially explosive term was used, it was in fact rather ambivalently articulated. Their aspiration was in fact for a greater ‘share’ in the governance of the country, as reflected in the demands for greater opportunities in participation in central and provincial legislatures and executive councils. There was no contemplation of universal participation for all Indians, the attempt was to only share the pie of governance with the white man. It was only later, in the event of the failed expectations of the Indian National Congress on most offers of constitutional ‘reforms’ that the discourse and practice got radicalized to lead to the situation of a robust non-cooperation against the British Raj. Popular support was garnered through the eventually unrealized promise to the unwashed masses of their having a say in the future, in matters of governance.

What we must not forget is that there existed right from the very beginning a tension between the freedom struggle led by Gandhi, to whom we can trace this liberative notion of local self governance, and the representative ‘consultative’ democracy that eventually triumphed. This latter form took for its inspiration the structures of the colonial State, and this is why today, we experience nothing less than a colonial violence, as demonstrated by the recent changes effected to the Goa Panchayati Raj Act by the representatives in the legislative house. The fight in Goa, for greater transparency and more participation in governance is in fact a continuation of this unresolved fight against colonialism, and one can see uncanny resemblances. The State apparatus in Goa is that inherited from the Raj, the GBA-mobilization was led by elites for whom sharing of power is sufficient.

It now looks as if this earlier history from British-India is repeating itself. The failed expectations of the leadership of the GBA are prompting queries if we should not now push forward into more radical measures against the Government. As suggested on numerous occasions, that may not be such a bad idea. However, this radical action CANNOT be the goal of the movement. Any action (radical or otherwise) has to necessarily acknowledge that the goal of the movement is nothing less than a legally recognized system of meaningful consultation with the citizens in their wards, and an effective system of participation in village-level and city-level meetings. It is because of our longer history, where colonial institutions and logics have prevailed over the genuinely participatory logics that we have to make sure that in the next mobilization that seems to be imminent, we ensure that the lessons from the history of both the Indian anti-colonial struggle (popularly called the freedom struggle) and the ‘Save Goa’ campaign are not forgotten.

What we need is an opening up, not an ushering in.

Jason Keith Fernandes is a columnist for the Gomantak Times. Click here for his blog.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

What’s so smart about SMART Cards?

Mandakini Devasher

India is undergoing a smart revolution – make that a smart card revolution. Smart cards have been in the news lately with the Government’s decision to set up a Unique Identification Authority (UIDA) to develop multi-purpose identity cards for every Indian. The smart card UIDs are expected to improve national security, enable easy access to government services and help eliminate fraud and corruption in the management of large-scale social welfare schemes as the NREGA and PDS. But, UIDs are just the tip of the iceberg – there is a vast and untapped market for smart cards in India. Growing annually at the rate of 45% the Indian smart card industry is predicted to reach $6 billion by 2010.

Basically, smart cards are pocket sized electronic devices that can store a variety of data safely and securely. We are all too are familiar with the many avatars of these nifty devices which include credit cards, ATM cards, fuel and phone cards. Smart cards are commonly used in Europe and other developed countries as they offer governments and service providers and citizens with a number of benefits. First of all, they are portable, easy to use and offer cashless and paperless transactions. They can be used to as a one-stop shop for citizens to access multiple services. Smart cards improve service delivery by connecting clients directly with service providers thereby reducing the discretion of public authorities. If implemented well smart cards can improve service delivery systems to cut out middlemen, corruption and bring services to closer to end users and beneficiaries. From a service delivery and accountability perspective, smart cards can help plug leakages and curb corruption in the implementation of large-scale social welfare schemes. Capable of storing a range of beneficiary data such as name, address, photographs as well as biometric information, smart cards can help in beneficiary selection, identification and targeting under anti-poverty programmes and schemes.

The Indian government is experimenting with smart cards in sectors such as health care, transport, social security and defence. Smart cards are increasingly being used to deliver wages, pensions, rations and even health benefits under programmes such as the NREGA and RSBY. A number of States including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Tamil Nadu amongst others have already begun integrating smart cards in the implementation of government schemes and programmes with interesting results. In Andhra Pradesh, the State Government has tied up with Mumbai based company - Financial Information Network and Operations (FINO) – to provide biometric smart cards to disburse social security pensions and NREGS wages in 5 districts. Following a successful pilot of the smart card initiative in Warangal and Karimnagar districts, smart cards are now being used for disbursement of pensions and NREGS wages in 259 villages in Andhra Pradesh. In Delhi, the State Government has launched “Samajik Suvidha Sangam” (Mission Convergence) to streamline the delivery of basic services in the NCR by converging citizen services provided by various departments into a single window for easier beneficiary access. Key components of the programme include the setting up of a computerised data bank, computer systems at each delivery point and the provision of e-benefit cards to citizens. The e-benefit card is a biometric smart card issued to individuals to provide them with easy access to a number of government services. At a national level, smart cards are being used to deliver health insurance benefits to BPL families under the Rashtriya Swasthiya Bima Yojana (RSBY). Under the scheme, all beneficiaries are issued biometric smart cards that contain the fingerprints and photographs of family members. As of 6 August 2009, 53,77,708 smart cards are active and operational in the country. Increasingly, a number of States are considering using the RSBY smart cards to piggy back other welfare schemes, as the cards now provide a dependable means of beneficiary identification.

While there is certainly limitless potential for the use of smart cards in India, there is also need for caution. For one thing, there is a huge gap in our knowledge base about how smart cards actually work on the ground. There is not a lot of data or research that documents the use and impact of smart cards on large-scale social sector programmes like the NREGA or RSBY. There is also little information publicly available about the actual details of how these schemes are being managed. With contracts being awarded to private companies there are growing concerns about the transparency and accountability of these companies to beneficiaries and ultimately taxpayers. However, by far the biggest challenge is surely in the execution and implementation of smart card technologies. Smart cards clearly have the potential to revolutionise the way we think about service delivery – but the success of this technology depends greatly on how well they are implemented. The old adage “well begun but half done” come to mind here. The perennial Achilles heel of India’s many welfare programmes has always been weak implementation. The Government of India has been issuing voter ID cards, ration cards and PAN cards for a number of years, yet, discrepancies such as ghost entries, missing beneficiaries, multiple cards continue to exist. These are issues which must be addressed as smart cards become the new mantra in service delivery. As Swaminathan A Aiyar recently observed, there is a real danger of smart cards becoming “just one more scheme, with its own leakages and omissions”. Ironically, it appears we need to be smart about smart cards!

Mandakini Devasher is a Consultant with the Accountability Initiative.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Abhijit Patnaik

The tabling and subsequent withdrawal of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Act, 2009 by the Law Minister Veerappa Moily has raised several key questions pertaining to the power of the RTI Act 2005 and judicial accountability. The subsequent hue-and-cry among the opposition & civil society organizations and the media interest generated on what seems to be a double standard adopted in the implementation of the RTI act by shielding of judges from scrutiny has confined the bill in its current form to the dustbin. Reforming and making the judiciary more accountable indeed is the need of the hour, however, successive governments have failed in taking any meaningful steps in this direction, under pressure from both the judiciary itself and political considerations.

A CMS-TI study threw light upon the reasons for corruption in the judiciary. From misuse of power by judges without fear of any action being taken, a tedious impeachment process (no judge has ever been impeached by Parliament since Independence) and above all, the inefficient pace at which cases move through the courts all make it possible for people wanting to pay to speed up the system and get favourable judgements, to be able to do so.

Arguments for the Bill in its current form come from well-regarded members of the legal fraternity. It usually boils down to the possibility of harassment of judges handling controversial cases. Though this may be true, the question remains whether a blanket law allowing non-disclosure of assets will do more harm than good. Public perception of the independence and incorruptibility of the Judiciary will definitely take a hit. By excluding judges from declaring their assets, the big fear is that it will indicate that they are a separate class of citizenry, an argument which would take on a different dimension if extended to our politicians and other public servants. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the watchers?) seems appropriate here.

Abhijit Patnaik is Senior Researcher at the Accountability Initiative

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The Judges’ Assets Bill – A window for reforms

Kanan Dhru

As the India transitions towards a more accountable and transparent democracy, the society gets confronted with issues that sometimes raise fundamental questions.

One such issue is being raised with the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill (hereafter ‘the Bill’), being introduced as part of the ambitious reformist agenda of the current government. The Bill tries to further judicial accountability by making disclosure of the assets and liabilities of the judges mandatory.

In Indian society, role of the judiciary has been pivotal. Decisions of the Courts in India have always had a tremendous impact on the way the country is governed. Society, which sometimes gets disillusioned by the executive and the legislature, gets left with only the judiciary to look to for fairness in governance. However, with the growing instances of corruption in the judiciary across the country, it was necessary that some regulation get introduced to make the functioning of the judiciary more transparent. In a system where, traditionally, public scrutiny of the functioning of the judges has been very minimal (especially on the matters concerning disclosure of assets and liabilities), the Bill comes as a big leap forward.

But fearing that the Indian public might misuse the disclosure to mudsling against the judges, and that the judges may not be able to defend themselves like politicians, the Bill created an in-built system by which the disclosure will have to be made only to the respective Chief Justices, and not to the public at large. In fact, the Bill makes it a penal offence in case the disclosure of the assets of the judges is made to any citizen. In effect, the Bill exempts the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court from any real public scrutiny of their assets – a privilege even the President and Prime Minister do not enjoy. Expectedly, the Bill faced stiff opposition in the Parliament, and its introduction had to be deferred.

Clearly, judges should be put at par with the elected representatives, and any provision that exempts them from such parity in probing may go against the Right to Equality built in the Article 14 of the Constitution, as well as the Right to Information Act. Elsewhere in the world, many countries including the USA require public and annual declaration of assets as a norm by all federal judges including judges of the Supreme Court. Surely there is no reason to think that such a requirement would be any differently problematic in India to warrant any exemption?

While in spirit, the Bill does signifies a positive start towards a much needed process of reforms in the justice delivery mechanism of the country, and to that extent it should be welcomed, exemptions such as one in question dissipate the very objectives of transparency and equality that the Bill purportedly stands for. It remains to be seen if the Government takes steps to address the problems in the Bill, and reintroduce it in the earnest.

It is crucial that the momentum in judicial reforms be maintained. The Judicial Inquiries Bill, the reconsideration of procedure for appointment and removal of judges, as well as instituting an appraisal mechanism to evaluate their performances are all long due reforms within the judicial system, and let us hope that productive discussions around the Judges Assets Bill bring into light the need for these changes as well, to ensure adequate checks and balances within the Judicial system.

Finally, there is a hope that the issues that were so far hidden below the surface will be put on the reform agenda of the government. As far as the reforms in the legal arena are concerned, it is high time that we demand even stricter and more rigorous regulations for those who uphold the law itself.

Kanan Dhru is Managing Director of Research Foundation for Governance in India.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

What is driving the Indian middle class towards electoral politics?

Poulomi Chakrabarti

In the 2009 parliamentary elections, Delhi registered a 53% voter turnout – the highest in twenty years and the second highest among metropolitan cities in India. The media attributed this development to increase in middle-class vote, most due to aggressive political awareness campaigns by the election commission and popular media. This may be true to a large extent, but political awareness alone cannot explain the differences in voter turnout across cities. This development made me think of the 2007 Municipal Elections in Delhi where the middle class vote was not only higher than usual but some members of Resident Welfare Associations, most of which are middle-class in nature, ran for political office.

That being said, the middle class has been active in public policy related discourse in the last few years across most urban areas in the country. We see this activism through the rise of neighborhood associations. Examples include the Advanced Locality Management (ALM) program in Mumbai, Janagraha in Bangalore, Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) in Chennai, Delhi and other cities. Delhi presents a unique case for a number of reasons. Neighborhood associations in Delhi were able to form horizontal networks across the city and used their influence to tilt major policies in their favor on multiple occasions. This included major policy changes like coercing the State Government to revert the proposed hike in electricity rates by electricity distribution companies, and preventing privatization of the Delhi Jal Board. Interestingly, all of this follows the popular Bhagidari program of Government of Delhi that institutionalized citizen government participation through these very associations.

Most intriguing of course is the participation of some of these associations in electoral politics. It is significant not only because this was the first time a development took place in any large city in India but also because this represents a blurring of boundaries between the civil society - characterized by its ‘apolitical’ nature, and the political society which has traditionally been the domain of the poor. As a graduate student at the time, I got an opportunity to study the rise the RWAs and their subsequent advent into formal politics in 2007. It was very interesting to find out ‘who’ within the array of neighborhood associations in the city decided to join politics. This year long research led to me discover that neighborhood associations with pre-existing networks with government agencies were more likely to remain apolitical and assume the traditional ‘watch-dog’ role of civil society. RWAs without these networks – either with the high bureaucracy or political representatives at the bottom, sought to become part of the government machinery through formal electoral channels. Going back to my first observation, although it might still be difficult to link the dynamics of local politics with turn-out rates in the national elections, these developments clearly point towards a more politically active middle class in the capital. And given the political emphasis on decentralization and local governance, we are likely to observe similar developments in other cities soon.

Poulomi Chakrabarti is a Consultant at Accountability Initiative