Friday, 28 May 2010

After the Tsunami: Malaysia’s Transformed Political Landscape in 2004 Continues to Test its Democracy

The documentary Selapas Tsunami (After the Tsunami), assesses the sweeping political changes brought about by the results of the 12th General Election in Malaysia, and discusses the ramifications these changes have had on government accountability and the building of an inclusive democracy. The film raises powerful arguments for decentralization—the benefits of greater regulation at the local level, the friction between federal power and local control--and highlights the inevitable backlash from an old guard that is uncomfortable with the transparent new model of democracy.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

If Only Khoslaji Had the RTI...........


One of the most difficult things to get in Delhi is land for your house. Even more difficult is figuring out whether the land is legal or illegal, whether the land deal is genuine or if someone is tricking to trick you and make you a victim of a land fraud scam. Considering all the hassles, you might just choose to buy a flat, more so a flat which is built and allocated through the government, only to find out that there is no water in the taps, an electric current is running freely all over the place and the whole area just across the street is some kind of a hub for household industries and it just wont let you sleep. Even worse is that you open a shop on what you consider perfectly legal land only to discover after a few years that a huge crane is standing in front of your house, ready to tear apart the shop on the ‘now encroached’ land. For all of this and more, there is now a one pill cure for all the ailments in the form of the Right to Information Act.

A closer look at the RTI applications submitted to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) reflects the power of information to bring about a more transparent and accountable system of governance. The RTI also helps citizens to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and the associated corruption which have harassed the ‘common man’ for ages. Many of these applications are inquiries about a piece of land and its use, or a flat which a person is either currently using or plans to acquire in the future. There are some which are concerned with general queries about the maintenance of colonies, parks and the associated area in a particular locality. While these cater to the interests of an individual or a group of citizens, there are others which are relevant to the general public as a whole and question the DDA on planning, implementation and malfunctioning of public works. Besides this, there are also questions on corporate houses, various government departments who seek to benefit from the information gained about any kind of prevailing contract, prospective work or just a suspected case of corruption which negatively affects their interests.

The most surprising thing about applications to the DDA is that its pretty evident that a lot of DDA officials are using the RTI to settle intra/inter-departmental issues and raising questions about the general functioning of the DDA. These musings within the DDA often take the shape of settling personal vendettas using RTI. But these cases are an exception, rather than the norm.

The role of RTI in raising awareness and generating public opinion can’t be denied. From the welfare of the poor and the homeless to the banning of sale of narcotic substance, citizens have tried to question the government on many important issues. They have tried to direct government’s attention towards forgotten matters and bring out the flaws in our system of governance. The most important flaws, which courtesy RTI, are out in the public is the tremendous gap between existing policies and their implementation. By focusing on it citizens have certainly helped in improving their lives, the lives of the people around them and most importantly the state of governance. With the increasing awareness amongst citizens about the the value of RTI as a tool, one can picture a more accountable, transparent government in the future.

Alas, only if the fictitious Khoslas of "Khosla Ka Ghosla" fame had been able to use the RTI, they would not have fallen victim to a land extortion racket.

Abhishek is an intern with the Accountability Initiative. He is a graduate from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Monday, 24 May 2010

FAQs on NRHM Fund Flows

By Sruti Bandyopadhyay

The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) aims at strengthening the financial management structure and accounting systems so as to conform to best practices and meet accounting and auditing standards, at all levels. However, on several fronts, achievements have fallen short.

1. At what level can one identify the variations in reported figures?

Answer: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report observed that at times, variations were noticed between the funds releases by GOI and those received by State Health Society (SHS).
a) For FY 2007-08, the figures released to SHS, Andhra Pradesh (reported by GOI) was Rs. 597.83 crore. However the SHC reported to have received only Rs. 556.96 crore.
b) Even there is a gap between the funds released by SHS to District Health Society (DHC) and funds received by DHS. For FY 2008-09, Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh had reportedly received only Rs. 951.75lakhs, however as per the SHC’s record, they have released Rs.1131.13 lakhs.

2. How regular is the fund flow from SHC to DHC?

Answer: Considerable fund remains with ICICI bank (banking partner in 13 states), both at State and District levels, till such time they were actually utilised. In Kerala, the monthly balance in the ICICI bank account of the SHS ranged between Rs. 17.52 crore to Rs. 86.12 crore during 2007-08. Average monthly balance worked out to Rs. 49.52 crore.

3. Does this unspent amount earn interest?

Answer: As per the NRHM framework, funds were to be kept in interest bearing bank accounts. However, in two States, unspent funds were not kept in interest bearing accounts.
a) In Assam, DHS Lakhimpur kept Rs.1.20 crore in current account
b) Similarly, in Bihar, SHS deposited Rs. 106.76 crore in March 2007 in non-interest bearing account
c) DHS, Bhojpur kept the NRHM funds in a current account and sustained an interest loss of Rs 37.42 lakh as of June 2008.

4. Has the money always get spent on prescribed line items?

Answer: As per rules, funds were required to be spent for the purpose for which they were intended. But that is not always the case.
For instance, for FY 2008-09, in Karnakta, Rs. 0.36 crores of NRHM fund was spent on purchase of
i) four wheelers under Kysanur Forest Disease Control Programme, ii) control of Handigodu disease, iii) and even on Mysore Dasara Exhibition.

5. What is the experience so far with the state wise audited reports?

Answer: Cases of discrepancy between opening balance of SHSs and DHSs, difference between cash balance depicted in accounts and bank pass book, inconsistency between opening balance of the current year and closing balance of the previous year etc. were observed.
In Bihar, four different opening balances as on 1 April 2005 were noticed in four different sets of documents of SHS detailed below:
Opening balance Amount (Rs. in crore) as on 01-04-2005
As per SOE--------- ---------------------47.66
As per annual account of 2005-06 ----45.12
As per financial statement -------------52.67
As per Bank account -------------------43.78

6. So, after spending this huge sum of money every year, does all PHC/SC/CHS have atleast electricity facility?

Answer: No. For example, as per latest figures available, by the end of FY 2008-09,
A) In Bihar 72 SC and 30 PHC do not have electricity connection
B) In Arunachal Pradesh 37 SC and 5 PHC do not have electricity connection

7. Now that we know the problem, what is the solution?

Answer: There should be clear guideline for the nodal personnel to integrate data under various NRHM components at the DHC and SHS level.
a) Unique identification number for institutions (UIID), in line with UID, might make the fund flow tracking process easier to operate and monitor. It would provide the authorities a tool to make timely interventions.
b) We should also have a country wide unique accounting and reporting framework. The format should be user friendly and should not vary from state to state. As part of this new format the district level accountant should have the capability to consolidate realtime data presented in Rogi Kalyan Samiti’s (RSK) meetings.

Sruti Bandyopadhyay is a Research Associate with the Accountability Initiative

Thursday, 20 May 2010

UPA First-Year Performance Review: Mixed Results, Promising Future?

As the UPA-II completes its first year, there have been a series of articles in the media assessing its performance on various fronts. Livemint has published a review of the UPA’s reform agena, Good Moves, Bad Press, and posted a podcast discussion with AI’s Yamini Aiyar on the UPA’s successes and failures. Click here to see a slideshow summarizing the major UPA policies. The economy appears to have rebounded well after the global financial meltdown, but according to Rajya Sabha member N.K. Singh, the government is stalling on the economic front and needs fresh initiatives and resolve. Listen to chief statistician of India Pronab Sen speak on the present state of the Indian economy under the UPA and what predictions can be drawn for the future, and view a graphic summary on the ups and downs of the economy over the year.

The UPA intended to focus on infrastructure development as a core interest over the past year, however its achievements on various infrastructure fronts have been mixed. Gokul Chaudhry, a partner at BMR advisors, provides perspective on the UPA’s challenges and successes in developing infrastructure in this audio discussion.

Finally, the Economic Times’ Debate Section includes a series on the UPA’s performance with perspectives from the CPI, the UPA, and the Opposition. Brinda Karat comments on how the diminished presence of the Left this year has led to a more opportunistic government, less focused on policies for the masses and more interested in its own agendas and the desires of powerful special interest groups. Salman Khurshid points toward the transformations in rural India, and the reforms made in education, law, and in areas concerning equality and minority empowerment as powerful indicators of the UPA’s success, and optimistically highlights the potential success of policies on the horizon. Arun Jaitley however, highlights the PM’s lack of control and what he views as a tendency of the government to favour the corrupt.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mid Day Meal Scheme - Centralisation is no panacea

Gayatri Sahgal

The National programme for Nutritional Support for Primary Education commonly referred to as the Mid Meal Scheme (MDM’s) is aimed at providing supplementary nutrition to primary school children with the overall objective of enhancing enrollment, retention and participation of children while simultaneously improving their nutritional status. Under the scheme every child in every government school and government assisted primary school is provided with a prepared mid day meal with a minimum calorie content of 450 calories and 12 grams of protein on a daily basis for a minimum of 200 days.

A far cry from providing such benefits, the functioning of MDM’s in Delhi has most recently been found to impede rather than improve the nutritional status of children in government schools. Last week 29 children studying in a government girls middle school in Hauz Qazi near Ajmeri Gate, fell ill after consuming ‘choley puri’ served as part of the mid day meal. While a case was registered with the police, school and government authorities responded by dismissing claims of illness pointing out that they were psychological in nature. According to the State Education Minister, Arivnder Singh Lovely, ‘somebody had spread a rumour that there was an insect in the food due to which students started feeling sick’. This incident comes in the wake of a similar case in the November 2009 when 125 children from a government school in Trilokpari fell ill after consuming the mid day meal. Following large scale protest by parents and opposition parties the Delhi government responded by suspending the MDM scheme for two days to review it’s functioning. Additionally the license of the society responsible for providing such food was also cancelled and samples of the contaminated food were taken for examination.

Ironically such instances have emerged despite the move by the Department of Education (the nodal agency responsible for the implementation of the MDM scheme) to outsource the responsibility of supplying MDM’s to a number of NGO’s/Societies. Unlike states which follow a decentralized model wherein food is prepared within the school premises by a cook or a helper, the Department of Education has opted for a centralized model where an external agency prepares and supplies meals to schools. The rationale behind the adoption of this model was the belief that food prepared in a centralized kitchen would ensure the provision of hygienic and nutritious food as well as allow for the optimum utilization of infrastructural facilities. It was felt that only a centralized model allowed for mechanized food preparation which was touted as being efficient as it would simultaneously lower labour costs and by limiting the chances of human contact, also serve to lower the occurrence of food contamination. Moreover the reduced financial responsibility of the DOE within such a model was also an important motivation for its adoption. Today there are 11 NGO’s/Societies who operate a total of 13 kitchens and supply food to 1.1 lack children who are covered under the scheme.

Currently the MDM scheme is monitored by a range of bodies, the foremost being the School Mid-day Meal Committees (SMDMC). The (SMDMC) is constituted at the school level and comprises of the Head of School, Teacher in charge of the MDM, Home Science teacher, at least 3 mothers of children from different classes, the DDO of the school and one Vidyalaya Kalyan Samiti (VKS) member. These committees are empowered with the responsibility of receiving and monitoring the MDM’s on a daily basis. At the department level, a Zonal Level Steering Cum Monitoring Committee, comprising of the Education Officer of the zone, two principals, two parents and one VKS member is expected to draw up a month-wise programme of monitoring the distribution of the MDM and inform the DDEs (District Deputy Directors of Education) about the same. Education Officers (EO’s) are also expected to be present as far as possible in schools falling within their respective zones at the time of distribution of the MDM. The monitoring of the working of the SDMC’s and the Zonal level steering committee is the responsibility of the DDE’s. Complaints from parents, schools or service providers are examined and resolved by the DDEs. In addition MDM guidelines also allow for appointment of independent agencies to monitor and evaluate the agencies.

In spite of the formulation of such a robust monitoring structure, its implementation has been found to be far from adequate. According to a recent study conducted by the Supreme Court Commissioners Office regarding the functioning of the MDM’s in the city, the participation of beneficiaries particularly parents and children in monitoring bodies such as the SDMC has been found to be minimal. In many instances testing of food is only done once the food is delivered to the schools. Teachers often do not visit the kitchens to test the quality of food provided. Furthermore EO’s also rarely visit schools to oversee the distribution of MDM’s. In 2008 out of the 136.86 lakhs which were allocated towards Management and Monitoring Expenditure, the total expenditure under this head was only 1.40 lakhs (1%) with expenditure on school monitoring committees accounting for 0%. Moreover within the 1.40 lakhs which were spent, management expenses accounted for a bulk of the share. External monitoring and evaluation expenditure during that year was also reported as being nil.

Thus problems of food contamination and lack of quality hardly seem surprising in light of such ineffective systems of monitoring. The Department of Education’s eagerness in outsourcing the supply of food grains was not matched with an emphasis on strengthening the monitoring and accountability provisions. The centralized model was heralded as a panacea without due cognizance of the fact that unlike a decentralized model where the suppliers and the beneficiaries come in direct contact, the new model served to increase the distance between the suppliers and the ultimate beneficiaries making it more difficult for the beneficiaries to monitor the supply of services.

Gayatri Sahgal is a Research Associate with the Accountability Initiative.

Livemint series: MGNREGA Implementation in 5 States

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is considered one of the largest social safety nets of its kind, spending under which has totaled almost Rs. 80,000 crore in the past four years. Livemint has recently published an extensive series on MGNREGA, assessing its implementation in various regions. The record and status is patchy but hopeful, and continued government commitment to the program appears crucial for its success.

Uttar Pradesh: Bundelkhand is one of the least developed regions in India, making it an ideal environment to test the effectiveness of MGNREGA. The scheme has had few successes here and the defining narrative here is one of corruption and ignorance. To read the Livemint article, click here.

Chhattisgarh: With social progress and development widely considered effective barriers to the lure of Maoism, the success of MGNREGA in this region could prove especially significant. While initial results are hopeful, the state is still developing infrastructure to help MGNREGA projects take off. To read the Livemint article, click here.

Rajasthan: The MGNREGA appears to have altered both economic and social dynamics in the region. Almost two-thirds of the people employed under the scheme in this state are women, and their rising socio-economic independence is contributing significantly to their empowerment. To the read the Livemint article, click here.

Andhra Pradesh: The state is amongst the top-performers under the MGNREGA. Unlike most other states, officials in Andhra Pradesh have adopted an entirely different delivery model which bypasses the panchayats. The scheme has garnered impressive performance metrics with its unique delivery model which has remained successful. To read the Livemint article, click here.

Orissa: The lack of significant change brought about by the MGNREGA scheme in the severely poor, drought-afflicted region of Kalahandi highlights that it has not been able to avoid the usual trappings that hinder the effectiveness of social development programs. Primarily due to low awareness, the scheme has failed in its promise to provide a reliable safety net for the poor. To read the Livemint article, click here.

Monday, 17 May 2010

NREGA wage payments through banks: Taking Stock

Anindita Adhikari

In May 2008, the Government declared that wage payments, under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the world’s largest rural public works programme, would be made through banks. According to a recent announcement, under the new system of financial inclusion 8.60 NREGA workers accounts have been opened and about 82% of wages i.e. close to 17,000 crores have been disbursed through these accounts up to December 2009 - accounting for 70% of the expenditure under the programme. Although this new system has been hailed as a foolproof, cost-effective solution to reduce leakages and to promote greater transparency, the transition was rushed and several complications with the new system are now becoming apparent.

Delays in wage disbursement: The issue of delays in wage payments is one of the most serious problems with the system of bank payments. Reports from several states including Jharkhand, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal indicate the problem of delayed payments and dwindling interest in employment under the NREGA is rampant across several states.

It is a well established argument that the coverage of banks and post offices in rural India is patchy and as a consequence workers especially in remote parts of the country find it difficult to travel long distances to collect their wages causing delays in payments. Interestingly though findings from a survey in UP and Jharkhand indicate that close to 90% of workers who lived more than 5 km from a bank/post office expressed a preference for bank payments over cash despite the distance, indicating the deeper problems lie elsewhere. An important cause of the severe delays in the disbursement of wages is the institutional incapacity of rural banks to handle the huge volume of accounts. The shortage of staff and technology is most acute in post offices where accounts are managed manually through log journals.

However, the cause of delayed payments is more complicated than this. There are several bottlenecks associated with the different steps in the wage payment process: Filling the muster roll, measuring work and matching with attendance, preparing payment orders, sanctioning of cheques by officials and finally crediting of wages in workers accounts by the bank. Centre-state financial norms are not always clear and often mired in politics causing significant delays in the flow of funds from the central to state governments. A detailed discussion on these delays at different levels can be found in a recently published article by Reetika Khera called ‘Wages of Delay’.

Although such delays legally entitle workers to unemployment benefit, compensation has rarely been paid which is a clear violation of the Act. The government has acknowledged this gap and has sought to rectify it by directing state governments to ensure that the ‘twin legal mandates’ of wage payment within 15 days and through institutional accounts are ‘scrupulously adhered to’. A host of directives follow such as holding of a monthly Gram Rozgar Diwas at the panchayat level in which issues of payment backlogs will be cleared, strict monitoring of timely payment of wages by the District Programme Coordinator etc.

The ‘Business Correspondent Model’ which is currently being rolled out by the government is an attempt to address this problem of delayed payments and ensure that the rural poor have timely access to financial services. How this works is that the business correspondent (BC) would, on behalf of the banks, for a commission, deliver financial services to ‘clients’ though appropriate technology like handheld computer devices. However, given that the problem of delays is more complex than a simple issue of institutional access, the solutions might lie beyond the scope of this administrative ‘innovation’.

Corruption: While the move of separating the implementation and payment agencies has countered the earlier forms of corruption such as siphoning of funds, some forms of embezzlement have persisted and some new forms have emerged. The first is through ‘deception’ where often the abhikarta (implementing agency) in collusion with the bank officials withdraws money from the accounts of workers without their knowledge. The second is through ‘exploitation’ where genuine workers withdraw their wages themselves but are forced to hand over part of their money to the contractor or sarpanch based on a pre-decided ‘deal’. The third method is where workers ‘collude’ with the implementing agency and fake names are entered in the muster roll on the basis of which wages are withdrawn.

While the first type of embezzlement can be effectively dealt with through strict enforcement of certain minimum safeguards such as ensuring money is only withdrawn by the account holder. The other two types of embezzlement are perhaps more difficult to counter because they are borne out of an essentially feudal, exploitative set up in which rural banks function.

Taking strict action against such corruption, the government has restated that unfair practices in the system of wage payments will be punishable under section 25 of the Act. However the record for invoking this clause has been quite abysmal. While enforcing this penalty clause which allows for a fine up to 1000 will ensure accountability to some extent, there is a pressing need to restore transparency safeguards already built into the act. Public scrutiny of wages through reading out muster rolls and regular updating of job cards needs to be reinstated. This is a powerful practice because it enables workers to verify their attendance and monitor wage payments themselves, thereby curbing corruption.

The switch to bank payments has without a doubt provided substantial protection against embezzlement and is a critical step towards ensuring greater accountability in the disbursement of wages under the NREGA. However, the issue of delays in wage payment needs to be tackled swiftly by both streamlining processes and mechanisms under the system of bank payments as well as reinforcing traditional safeguards.

Anindita Adhikari is a Research Associate with the ASER Centre.

Friday, 7 May 2010

SC Upholds the MPLADs Scheme: A Questionable Judgement?

Yamini Aiyar

On Thursday, the Supreme Court Bench passed an order upholding the disastrous MPLAD Scheme – claiming it was meant for public purpose. The MPLAD is a disaster not because, as newspapers often report, of the extent of corruption in MPLAD expenditures and the extent to which these schemes are used to dispense patronage – these are problems faced by most public sector programs. It’s a disaster because it encourages MP’s to overstep their domain, performing a function that is not officially their and weakening the constitutional separation of roles and responsibilities across jurisdictions. All this has serious consequences on strengthening accountability. Let’s consider the arguments.

The first issue is that MPLADs assigns executive functions to legislators and thereby confuses the separation of powers – after all should MP’s be administering funds and determining their specific resource allocation? This creates a conflict of interest between the legislator and the executive and seriously compromises the oversight function that legislators ought to play. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission used this critique to recommend that the scheme be abolished.

Another argument, made by the 2002 National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), is that the MPLADS scheme violates the distribution of powers between the union, states and local governments as defined in the constitution. Therefore, it is inconsistent with the spirit of federalism. The NCRWC report points out that all the activities on which MP’s can spend their funds are already on state lists. Furthermore, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments mandated that many of these become activities to be undertaken by Panchayats and Municipal governments. Thus the scheme seriously undermines local bodies by creating incentives for MPs to provide basic civic services such as roads, bridges and street-lights that are constitutionally the responsibility of local governments.

In the present system, individual MPs decide how to spend the money and funds are disbursed through the district administration. Local bodies are neither consulted nor involved in the details of execution despite the fact that articles 243G and 243W of the constitution entrust local bodies with the powers to prepare and implement plans for economic development and social justice. In recognition of this problem, the National Advisory Council in a report to the government in 2005, recommended that the scheme guidelines be changed to require that the funds be spent through local bodies. These criticisms point to two much deeper, unresolved questions confronting our democracy. First, what is the role of the MP, the MLA and the local body representative? Second, what do we, as voters, hold them accountable for?

From an MP’s perspective, the MPLAD scheme is important because it allows them to tangibly and quickly respond to their constituents’ needs. At election time, these achievements can be drawn upon to highlight the MP’s performance. After all, what happens in Parliament is so far removed from the typical voter, that this becomes an easy way for an MP to demonstrate five years of work. Nevertheless, this presents a dilemma. Since the constitution already demands that these functions be performed by local governments, not the MP, who should be held accountable by the voter? This dilemma has significantly obfuscated accountabilities and confused voter expectation.

However, the bigger question we need to ask is: should this be the role of the MP? India decentralized because it recognized that local governments are best suited to assess local needs and are better placed to respond to them than State or Center. Local governments were created and entrusted with this responsibility by virtue of their ‘localness’ - an MP typically represents 10-15 lakh voters, while a Gram Panchayat represents on average 3000 voters - and because they can be held directly accountable for fulfilling these needs. Ironically, Panchayats and Municipalities are starved for funds to perform their constitutionally assigned roles, while MPs, thanks to the MPL LADS enjoy the privilege of an uninterrupted yearly flow of funds to do the job of Panchayats and Municipalities. Given that local bodies are better placed to deliver civic services then it may be wiser to devolve funds directly to them rather than to the MPs.

This is not to suggest that the MP is not responsible or accountable for the development of his or her constituency. Rather, it suggests that the MP should do what he or she is best equipped to do. Instead of directly spending money on civic services an MP ought to be lobbying for funds from the central government to reach local bodies and pushing for appropriate policy decisions. To ensure that services reach their constituents, the MP should monitor the functioning of the local bodies and leave them to do what they are best equipped to do: provide the civic services demanded by their constituents.

The MPLAD scheme has been dogged by controversy since its inception. By putting its weight behind the scheme, the Supreme Court has simply given legitimacy to a scheme that is fundamentally unconstitutional and this is a real blow to democracy.

Yamini Aiyar is the Director, Accountability Initiative.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Yes, how many deaths will it take till we know...

…that too many children have died?

Maitreyi Bordia Das

I adapt this from Dylan’s famous 1962 lyrics, but it is nowhere more true than for Adivasis or tribal peoples (called Scheduled Tribes) in India.

Come monsoon, the Indian media is rife with stories of child deaths in tribal areas, frequently reported as “malnutrition deaths”. Kalahandi district in Orissa for instance, had been a metaphor for starvation due to press reports dating back to the 1980s. Melghat area in Maharashtra has similarly surfaced in the press especially during the monsoon when migrant Adivasis return to their villages and to empty food stocks in the home. This is followed by public outrage, sometimes by public interest litigation and often a haggling over numbers.

We recently published a working paper that looks at child mortality among India’s adivasis – the starkest manifestation of their deprivation. We find that an average Indian child has a 25 percent lower likelihood of dying under the age of five compared to an adivasi child. In rural areas, where the majority of adivasi children live, they made up about 11 percent of all births but 23 percent of all deaths in the five years preceding the National Family Heath Survey 2005. While there has been progress in child survival over the years, and much greater vigilance, which often leads to these stories surfacing in the media at all, the fact remains that children in tribal areas are at much greater risk of dying than those in other areas.

Our analysis based on national data from the National Family and Health Survey 2005 has three findings. First, a disproportionately high number of child deaths are concentrated among adivasis, especially in the 1-5 age group and in those states and districts where there is a high concentration of adivasis. Any effort to reduce child morality in the aggregate will have to focus more squarely on lowering mortality among the adivasis. Second, the gap in mortality between adivasi children and the rest really appears after the age of one. In fact, before the age of one, tribal children face more or less similar odds of dying as other children. But these odds significantly reverse later. This calls for a shift in attention from infant mortality or in general under-five mortality to factors that cause a wedge between tribal children and the rest between the ages of one and five. Third, the analysis goes contrary to the conventional narrative of poverty being the primary factor driving differences between mortality outcomes.

There are many small and very important initiatives that have lowered child mortality among adivasis, but how do you scale them up?

India is not alone in having such poor outcomes for its adivasis – called “indigenous peoples” in the global context. A recent global report on indigenous peoples edited by Gillette Hall and Harry Patrinos was released yesterday in New York at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. And it shows remarkable congruence in the processes and outcomes that exclude indigenous peoples the world over.

Very soon, a new report on social exclusion in India that we have been working on will be ready for review – and it also addresses adivasi deprivation using national data. We look at poverty rates and the fact that adivasis in 2004 were where the average Indian was twenty years ago. I will keep you posted through this blog.

Maitreyi Bordia Das is Senior Social Protection Specialist in the South Asia Human Development Department at the World Bank in Washington DC. This piece was cross posted from Maitreyi's Blog. Log on to read more of her posts.

Monday, 3 May 2010

World Press Freedom Day - Special focus on Right to Know

Today (May 3rd) is World Press Freedom day. Ever since it’s proclamation by the UN in 1993, the World Press Freedom Day has aimed at raising awareness about media freedom issues and to promote the right of journalists to collect and disseminate information without risk to life or liberty. The theme for this year's World Press Day is the "Right to Know" or “Freedom of Information". Today more than 80 countries around the world have introduced laws that guarantee citizens the right to access information held by public authorities. The Right to know has been recognized as an essential part of the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the World Press Freedom Day Conference organised by UNESCO, Governments have been called on to enact laws guaranteeing the right to information. Participants of World Press Freedom Day on Monday adopted the Brisbane Declaration. The declaration calls on UNESCO member states "to enact legislation guaranteeing the right to information in accordance with the internationally-recognized principle of maximum disclosure".It also demands that media companies to raise awareness of freedom of expression and the right to information, and for UNESCO to aid the development and implementation of new laws. (Read more...)

In addition, Access Info Europe and Transparency International, together with members of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network and the UNCAC Coalition, are marking World Press Freedom Day by submitting requests for information in 30 countries around the globe under the Tell Us What You've Done Initiative. (Read More.....)

Community-Funded Participatory Journalism: New era of Grievance Redresser

By Sruti Bandyopadhyay

The Indian government is spending crores of rupees on welfare schemes. However that is news to Sharan, whose house is half built as the money from Indira Vikas Yojna was inadequate to even complete the roof. Sharan lives in a village just 10 km away from Purnia town. While symbols of modernity like mobile phone have made inroads, welfare lags. Sharan said officials asked for a 200 rupee bribe for a job card under NREGA -a charge echoed across several villagers.

“Does the government know that we are willing to work under NREGA and still not getting any job? Where should we go and complain then?” Sharan asked. Who can possibly give Sharan his answers?

The concept of community co-funded participatory journalism aims to put consumers of news in touch with journalists and publishers – allowing the consumers to request news about topics of interest. If you have 50 people, you can all hire a journalist from the nearest block office to investigate the problems in the fund flow management under various social sector schemes. This report would enable the villagers to identify the right person in the long chain of officials and demand accountability from him.

Now the obvious question how it is different from other existing tools and how do I envision it as a tool that can improve service delivery mechanism? In this model, there is a direct connection between the consumer and the producer. People are asking for reliable information from an individual, not organizations. In this set up, end users would decide what stories need to be told. Journalist can investigate about the origins of the problem and how the concerned authority could possibly remediate it. There would be media centres in each block, and would be run by local graduates. Reporters are selected from district based panel and posted in a particular district office. They need to be present at the block office on few given dates and time, to register request from the villagers. The cost of this time bound investigation would be shared by the government and by the fund raised (tax empted) from the common people. All the donation would go to the selected scheme/topic and place the donor want it to go. There would be guidelines specifying the standards of remuneration. It would be based on competitive rates throughout the country for freelancers. If a news organization wants to buy exclusive rights to the story - then they can do so by paying the government.

Government would only fully sponsor two stories per month for each block. Beyond these two stories, if the money doesn’t materialize, the idea goes unreported. Local people can report if their information needs are met at the end of the investigation. No one person can donate more than 20% of the total cost, and the report needs to be peer reviewed to avoid unethical practices. The government can put 5% of the annual social sector allocation for this project. For 2010-11, the amount comes out to be Rs 14, 741 crores of rupees.

Copies of report would reach the DM, MP, MLA and BDO or the councillor (depending on rural or urban set up). Pictorial representations need to be created for the illiterate consumers (who requested for the news). There would be designated media partners to publish or broadcast the stories on local news channel.

To equip thousands of illiterate citizens with the tools for demanding accountability from the public service provider is not an easy task. We certainly need to experiment. Some of them might not work. But we need to launch a lot of boats.

Sruti Bandyopadhyay is a Researcher with the Accountability Initiative