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Improving the Effectiveness of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

Our earlier wage employment programmes failed due to the common problems of ineffective targeting, leakages and poor quality asset creation, etc. Hence, while developing rules and guidelines for implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, more attention should be paid to the lessons we have learnt from past experiences. Because this act has the potential not only to strengthen social security in India, but also to strengthen community mobilisation, ensure better responsiveness of local governments to community needs and priorities, and most of all enhance governance outcomes. This article is an attempt to articulate some key design principles that can strengthen the effectiveness of the new act.

Perspectives

Improving the Effectivenessof National Rural EmploymentGuarantee Act

Our earlier wage employment programmes failed due to the common problems of ineffective targeting, leakages and poor quality asset creation, etc. Hence, while developing rules and guidelines for implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, more attention should be paid to the lessons we have learnt from past experiences. Because this act has the potential not only to strengthen social security in India, but also to strengthen community mobilisation, ensure better responsiveness of local governments to community needs and priorities, and most of all enhance governance outcomes. This article is an attempt to articulate some key design principles that can strengthen the

effectiveness of the new act.

YAMINI AIYAR, SALIMAH SAMJI

T
he passage of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in August 2005 saw the culmination of a lively debate on the merits and demerits of wage employment guarantee programmes as the appropriate mechanism for social security and, as some would argue, poverty reduction in India. The act mandates all state governments to develop subordinate legislation and schemes for the provision of at least 100 days of guaranteed employment (unskilled manual work) to every rural household in India. The act identifies panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) as the key implementing body.

Now as bureaucrats go back to the drawing board to develop rules and guidelines for the NREGA schemes, the focus has shifted to implementation. Concerns over programme implementation stem from India’s past experience with wage employment programmes, including the famous Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS), which suffers from common problems of ineffective targeting, leakages and poor quality asset creation. Consequently, even the act’s, most ardent supporters agree that in the absence of the right “design”, which will ensure accountability and transparency in the implementation processes, the NREGA will not fulfil its promise and could end up adding to the fiscal burden of the state.

This paper is an effort to contribute to the ongoing process of developing rules and guidelines for implementation within the state governments. It does so by drawing on lessons learnt from past experience with wage employment programmes, in particular the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY) – the largest current national wage employment programme. Through this analysis, we articulate some key design principles that could contribute to strengthening the effectiveness of the NREGA.

Establishing a Normative Framework

Accountability and Public Institutions

Observers of contemporary Indian polity attribute the continued deterioration of India’s public sector to the failure of accountability mechanisms in current governance structures. Many argue that the mechanisms are weak primarily due to the presence of perverse incentives within the administrative and political system that encourages patron-client relationships. The dynamics of this relationship results in bureaucrats and politicians being accountable, internally or upwards to their individual patrons rather than to the needs of citizens [Saxena 2004 and Mehta 2003]. In a country such as India, where the poor rely on the state for basic survival and protection, the consequences of weak accountability are particularly debilitating. In the absence of accountability mechanisms, the poor are unable to interact, influence or exercise enforceability upon the state (outside of electoral politics). Thus, when government teachers and doctors do not come to work or when social security schemes do not cover intended beneficiaries, the poor have no recourse. Moreover, weak accountability encourages corruption. As Rajiv Gandhi famously said, “of every one rupee spent on development only 15 paise reaches the poor”. The challenge India faces, therefore, is to identify processes through which accountability relationships are strengthened, leading to the state being more responsive to the needs of the poor.

Given the central role that accountability plays in determining the impact of services delivered through public institutions, it provides a crucial reference point for articulating design features that could contribute to NREGA’s success. In the next section we examine the concept of accountability. We then use this framework to examine the potential of PRIs, the chief implementing body of NREGA, to encourage accountability in the governance structure. The debate on the PRIs and accountability provides the starting point for the discussion on NREGA.

Understanding Public Sector Accountability

In contemporary public policy discourse, accountability has been defined as a relationship in which power holders can be held answerable for their conduct [Goetz and Gaventa 2001; Goetz and Jenkins 2004; Bellour and Newell 2002].Accountability consists of two elements, “answerability” (accounting for actions taken) and “enforceability” (punishments, sanctions or rewards for actions taken) [Goetz and Jenkins 2004].

Accountability in public institutions operates on two levels: horizontal and vertical.1Horizontal (supply-side) accountability is a relationship where one state agency monitors the activities of other state agencies. Institutional oversight and checks and balances internal to the state machinery represent this relationship. Vertical (demand-side) accountability refers to the relationship between citizens and the state. Elections are the most conventional form of vertical accountability [Goetz and Jenkins 2004]. Recent formulations of accountability have expanded the realm of vertical accountability to include citizen-based action such as lobbying and advocacy. Theorists such as Goetz and Gaventa (2001) emphasise that both horizontal and vertical relationships of accountability must operate in tandem. This breaks the states’ monopoly over institutional oversight and ensures that citizen perceptions contribute to state policy.

A related concept is that of responsiveness. Exercising accountability assumes that institutions have the capabilities to respond to those that hold them to account. Thus accountability requires that a balance be struck between the capacity of citizens and horizontal accountability institutions to demand accountability and the capabilities of power-bearing institutions to respond to these demands. Drawing on the importance of responsiveness, Caseley (2003) has defined accountability as engagement (between two actors where demands are expressed through formal, accessible and transparent mechanisms), and responsiveness (the extent to which the parties upon whom demands are made takes one or more of three actions: answerability, enforcement and organisational change) [World Bank 2004].

Synthesising these ideas into a coherent framework, the World Development Report (2004) identifies four key relationships of accountability: voice (between citizens and policy-makers or politicians); compact (between policy-makers and organisational providers), management (the relationship between organisational providers and frontline providers) and client power (between citizens and organisational providers) [World Bank 2004]. In this formulation, horizontal accountability is reflected in the relationships of compact and management while vertical accountability is reflected in voice and client power.

Crucially, the report identifies five elements: delegation (of roles and responsibilities),financing (accessing funds to fulfil roles), performing (nature of performance), informing (access to information), and enforcing (ability to sanction, punish or reward) as central to each relationship of accountability. Failures in accountability can usually be traced back to the failures in one or all of the elements within these relationships.

For the purposes of this paper, we draw upon the definition of horizontal and vertical accountability emphasising the importance of responsiveness in accountability relationships. Within this context, we examine the different elements of accountability relationships.

Panchayati Raj through the Accountability Lens

Efforts at rural decentralisation (following the 73rd amendment) in India were initiated within the context of strengthening accountability in governance structures. The argument is that decentralisation brings governments closer to people thereby allowing them to respond more effectively to local needs and preferences. Moreover, proximity encourages monitoring and enforcement [Faguet 2004; Khemani 2001]. India’s experience with decentralisation, however, has been far from satisfactory. This can be attributed to the fact that decentralisation has been “unbalanced”.

Political decentralisation, in the form of elections has made significant headway with as many as 3.2 million men and women now formally part of the political system. Moreover, the provision for reservations has had some, albeit limited, impact on empowering the hitherto marginalised [Chattopadhyay and Dufflo 2003; Besely et al 2005]. However, administrative decentralisation (understood as the devolution of the three Fs – funds, functions and functionaries) has been limited at best. Studies show that PRIs in India have limited or no funds to implement functions devolved to them. Further, their administrative powers are curtailed because they are dependent on state government functionaries to fulfil their responsibilities. The PRIs therefore have no enforceability over their administrative staff [World Bank 2004a].

In addition to this unbalanced decentralisation, accountability relationships have not improved. In the absence of clear devolution of powers and resources, horizontal accountability structures operate in much the same way as they did prior to the 73rd amendment since line departments maintain much of the same control. Vertical accountability structures too remain unchanged and gram sabhas, perhaps the strongest mechanism for enhancing citizen voice, are weak [Besely et al 2005]. In the absence of strong accountability mechanisms oft repeated concerns of weak capacity, elite capture and corruption at the PRI level have the potential to further undermine accountability.

This is not to say that decentralisation cannot lead to greater accountability. Rather, decentralisation requires the PRIs to have clearly assigned functions, be adequately resourced such that funds follow functions and have some administrative powers over their staff. Further, the PRIs should be provided with the requisite capacity, while citizens should be adequately equipped to articulate their rights and enforce their demands on PRIs. It is only when the PRIs are appropriately equipped with these powers, resources and skills that they will have the capabilities to respond to the needs and demands of citizens for accountability. Thus, strengthening the alignment between the three Fs and ensuring greater citizen participation in the local government activities, is essential for decentralisation to fulfil its promise as a mechanism for enhancing accountability in public service provision.

In the specific context of NREGA, the PRIs have been identified as the key implementing body, in part as an effort to strengthen PRIs but mostly in order to ensure accountability and transparency in the scheme implementation. However, drawing from past experience with PRIs implementing wage employment programmes as in the case of SGRY, it is clear that simply assigning responsibility without adequate resources and capacity will not lead to any serious improvements in implementation because accountability is not addressed.

Lessons Learnt from SGRY

The objective of SGRY is to “provide additional wage employment in rural areas as well as food security, alongside the creation of durable community, social and economic assets and infrastructure development” [GoI 2004]. In this scheme, funds are transferred directly from the state and central governments to zilla panchayat

Economic and Political Weekly January 28, 2006

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(ZP)/district rural development agency (DRDA) which in turn, devolves funds to the lower tiers of government. Funds are divided across the three tiers in the ratio of 20:30:50.2 Wages are set in accordance with state agricultural minimum wage and are paid partly in cash and foodgrains. The gram sabha prepares the annual action plan (AAP) which is then approved by the ZP/ DRDA. Fifteen per cent of the funds can be used on operation and maintenance. The scheme requires compulsory physical, financial and social audits.

The SGRY guidelines provide for a strong participatory wage employment programme. However, recent empirical work examining the impact of SGRY suggests that the implementation of SGRY suffers from some serious pitfalls [GoI 2003, 2005]. These include: Extensive use of contractors: A recent evaluation of SGRY undertaken by the ministry of rural development (MoRD) finds that 14.3 per cent of officials, across the states in India, reported the use of contractors in the implementation of SGRY. This despite the fact that the guidelines specifically prohibit the use of contractors.3 Beneficiary surveys at the state level suggest that the use of contractors is even more extensive than the officially reported amount (Orissa 92.4 per cent, Kerala 66 per cent and Jharkhand 30 per cent). Contractors are hired either by line department officials or by PRI members and control the entire process right from identifying works and beneficiaries to the dissemination of wages (both the cash and grain component). The repercussions of this are many. First, contractors hire their own labour from different districts. Second, labourers are paid at rates far below the minimum wage rate. Third, since profit is the main motivation, in most cases, contractors identify works that are machine-intensive and, therefore, hire very little labour. The presence of contractors is testament to the weak horizontal relationships of accountability. There are no checks and balances between PRI institutions. Moreover, line department functionaries are not accountable to PRIs. Vertical relationships of accountability within the PRI system are weak and as a result citizens are unable to exercise enforceability. Top-down approach to work identification and beneficiary selection: Since resources provided to PRIs are limited, it is no surprise that line department officials continue to have a strong presence in programme implementation. This is particularly the case in the states such as Orissa where the DRDA exists parallel to the PRI system. Not only has this allowed for extensive leakages but it also means that works identified do not reflect local needs and priorities and that money is often spent in areas and on infrastructure that only benefit the local elite. Moreover, the self-targeting mechanism of the programme is diluted with officials drawing lists of beneficiaries and presenting them to the gram sabha. This has a serious impact on efforts at social inclusion, in particular, gender. While the guidelines for SGRY specify that at least 30 per cent of wage employment opportunities should be reserved for women, the MoRD study found that only 12 per cent beneficiaries are women.

Programme monitoring, social audits and display boards: Weak vertical accountability within the PRI system has meant that although the programme guidelines allow for extensive and innovative monitoring systems, particularly the social audit mechanism, these have not been implemented with any degree of success. Social audit is a process in which the details of both financial and non-financial information, used by public agencies for development initiatives, are then shared with citizens often through a public platform. Several studies [Gopakumar and Sreekumar 2004; Sankaram 2004]find that even when social audits do take place: they lack a uniform methodology (who participates? frequency of meetings? quorum requirement? gender participation? what process should be followed? how to disseminate information?); there is no standard format for reports generated; and beneficiary committees (the locally selected committees that execute the works) lack financial, technical and management skills. Sixty-seven per cent of the beneficiaries surveyed in the MoRD study reported the non-existence of beneficiary committees. Top-down monitoring and evaluation systems, of course, has meant that muster rolls and account books can and are regularly fudged allowing for gross irregularities to take place. According to the MoRD study, 57 per cent of beneficiaries surveyed said display boards did not exist at work sites thus defeating the goal of creating a transparent scheme.

Delays in the release of grain/finance and technical sanctions: The Tenth Plan Mid-Term Appraisal (2005) reports evidence of gross delays and non-availability of foodgrains at FCI godowns. The report cites inadequate number of godowns, high transport costs, cumbersome processes and black marketeering as reasons for the non-availability of foodgrains. Delays are also experienced at the level of fund release. The MoRD study shows that only 45 per cent of the states release funds within a fortnight of the release of the central share. Delays are also experienced at the implementation level. According to the guidelines, construction of works can only begin after GPs receive a technical sanction from the engineer, usually posted at the block level. In practice, the receipt of technical sanctions can take anything between five to over 30 working days. As a consequence of these delays there is very little synergy between the implementation of the programme and the off-season requirement for labour and wages. Thus the bulk of programmes tend to be implemented when most unskilled labourers have found alternative forms of employment thereby encouraging the use of contractors, the construction of machine-intensive works and in some cases the inflation of wage rates so as to attract labourers. Consequently, the benefits of the programme do not reach its intended target. Inappropriate wage setting: Although the guidelines maintain that wages for SGRY should be set on the basis of the legal state agricultural minimum wage, wages are often modified at the local level. According to the national MoRD study, 48 per cent of beneficiaries are not aware of the minimum wage set by the government. Further, 12 per cent of total beneficiaries were paid less than Rs 30 while 65 per cent were paid between Rs 30 and Rs 60. At the state level, minimum wage paid for skilled labour ranges from Rs 124 in Punjab to Rs 41 in Arunachal Pradesh. The minimum wage paid for unskilled ranges from Rs 84 in Punjab to Rs 35 in Arunachal Pradesh. This indicates that there is a large differential between skilled and unskilled wages.

Operations and maintenance/quality of assets: The MoRD study highlights that only 28 per cent of the works undertaken in SGRY adhere to quality specifications of SGRY. Further, only 31 per cent of the beneficiaries are aware of the quality specifications prescribed for the works under SGRY.

As the above discussion demonstrates, simply devolving responsibilities without providing the requisite powers, resources (three Fs) and capacities to PRIs leads to a zero sum game. In such circumstances the failure in horizontal and vertical accountability relationships, lead to the weak implementation as well as poor programme monitoring. In the context of NREGA, strengthening accountability relationships at the PRI level will thus be critical to its success.

Strengthening Accountability Relationships

The key question in the design of NREGA schemes is: How can states ensure that wage employment programmes are delivered effectively in an environment prone to poor accountability, corruption and inefficiency?

In this section we identify some design features that state governments could incorporate into the NREGA programme guidelines. The emphasis here is on strengthening those elements that contribute to stronger relationships of accountability. The design features mentioned below are areas where the states have maximum discretion in creating the schemes. Moreover as seen above, weaknesses in these areas contributed to some of the problems experienced with the implementation of SGRY. Addressing these, therefore, is crucial for the success of NREGA. Wage setting: The act stipulates that unskilled workers will be paid the state agricultural minimum wage subject to a minimum of Rs 60 per day. The NREGA has no specifications on the wage differential by skill set. It stipulates that material cost, semi-skilled and skilled labour together cannot exceed 25 per cent of the total cost per work undertaken. Resource availability amongst PRIs: The act allows state governments to determine the allocation of financial resources across the PRIs with a minimum of 50 per cent specifically allocated to the GP. The post of a programme officer at the intermediate panchayat (IP) level and district programme coordinator at the district level has also been introduced by the act to assist PRIs with discharging scheme functions. Information dissemination: The central employment guarantee council (CEGC) and state employment guarantee council (SEGC) have been allocated the responsibility of promoting widespread dissemination of the act. Monitoring systems: The act allows each tier of government to undertake monitoring at its level. It also provides for mandatory social audits to be undertaken by the gram sabha.

Grievance redressal mechanisms: The act gives the state governments the flexibility to design its own grievance redressal system at the IP and district level.

The analysis of the SGRY experience suggests that there are two key dimensions that have contributed to the failure of accountability within the programme design. These can be identified as process and programme monitoring (ensuring compliance).

Monitoring the Process

Transfer Resources to the GP

The NREGA proposes a minimum of 50 per cent of the funds be transferred to the GP. However, this leaves some ambiguity on the specific roles and responsibilities for the different levels of government within the PRI structure. Because the GP is the unit of government closest to the people, we propose a system where the bulk of resources are transferred directly to the GP who in consultation with the GS makes all the major planning and operational decisions. There are three aspects to this: Operational transfer: The GP should be responsible for all operational activities related to the implementation of the programme. This implies that the GP will be responsible for the creation of all public works. As the act stipulates, all annual action plans should be prepared by the GS. In addition to the sanctions received by the DPC and PO, the GS should also have the authority to sanction annual plans and budgets for implementation. Financial transfer: The finances made available to the GP should be in consonance with the operational responsibility given to them. In other words, funds must follow functions. If as we suggest, GPs are allotted all operational responsibilities, the funds required would be more than the minimum 50 per cent stipulation laid down by the act. Technical transfer: The PRIs require two kinds of technical assistance. The first is administrative. For this, the act creates two new administrative positions at the district and IP levels (district programme coordinator and programme officer) to assist PRIs in scheme implementation. However, if these positions were restricted to the state bureaucracy the problems of functionary accountability discussed earlier remain. This could be avoided through the introduction of a competitive hiring system where GPs are allowed to solicit technical expertise from outside the bureaucracy. Comparative criteria with civil service positions would need to be developed by the state government. Second, the PRIs will require technical assistance for developing construction plans, getting sanctions and developing operations and maintenance strategies. As we discussed in the section on SGRY this is a point at which many delays occur. Therefore, the GPs should be able to outsource technical expertise as and when necessary. The SGRY guidelines allowed for this: “In case of shortage of technical staff or otherwise, it shall be permissible for the GP to have the projects technically appraised by private technically qualified people”.4 However, state governments have not followed this provision. When attempted, outsourcing of technical expertise has proven to be a successful form of reducing PRI dependency on the bureaucracy and encouraging accountability between PRIs and their staff. In Karnataka, for instance, the panchayati raj and rural development department created a pool of engineers at the district level to assist PRIs on a need basis. This experiment met with some success.

In effect, transferring resources to the GP ensures the alignment of the 3Fs (in the specific context of the NREGA schemes) thereby encouraging strong relationships of accountability, while reducing the time lag between planning, sanctioning and implementation as well as strengthening citizen voice.

Capacity-building of GPs

The potential problem of weak capacity amongst local PRI representatives is well recognised. Most PRI representatives (particularly women and SCs/STs that are elected through the reservation policy) have little prior experience or understanding of the governance system. In response to the capacity gap, SIRDs and NGOs have been actively involved in training the PRIs. Despite these efforts, a consistent implementation and support plan for PRIs is yet to evolve. Capacity inputs at present tend to focus on the sectoral capabilities of PRIs rather than strengthening their capacities to perform functions generic to local governments. These include capacities for financial management (planning, budgeting and accounting); procurement procedures; conflict resolution and performance monitoring. Better financial management is crucial to ensuring the funds received through NREGA are utilised effectively.

Economic and Political Weekly January 28, 2006

Capacity-building of Gram Sabha

The efficiency of this system is largely dependent on the effective functioning of the GS. It could be argued, and often truly is the case, that the GSs are never held and if they are largely ineffective, it is because of low levels of participation.5 One of the main reasons for poor GS participation is the fact that citizens feel that GPs have no power, and therefore, cannot resolve their problems. In part, this problem is resolved by giving the GP greater financial powers for this would automatically ensure that citizens have a higher stake in the proceedings of the GS. However, this does not address the problem of the quality of participation. Often, power relations within the GS contribute to keeping the poorest (and in this case the key beneficiary group) outside the system.

To address this we propose an approach that aims at encouraging gram panchayats to hold gram sabhas and improving the quality of participation in the GS. This can be achieved through scaling up the role of state level training institutions such as SIRDs and NGOs by: (i) improving current training modules to focus on the issue of GS participation, (ii) raising awareness both at the panchayat and citizen level on the need and importance of GSs, and

(iii) mobilising community-based organisations (CBOs) around the issue of holding GSs.

Using Information Technology to Reduce Time Lags

The use of innovative tools developed through e-governance can contribute significantly towards reducing leakages and delays in wage payment. There are successful examples of “e-governance” such as the e-sevas in Andhra Pradesh and the Bhoomi land registration process in Karnataka. Information and communication technology (ICT) can be used in multiple ways to encourage transparency in NREGA. Job cards, for instance, can be computerised. Through this computerisation process, GPs and citizens can verify that beneficiaries with job cards get paid for the number of days they work.

Lessons can also be learnt from international experience. For example, in Namibia, the United Africa Pay Masters (UPM) introduced a new system that can be best described as a “mobile bank”, using ATM machines for the payouts of pensions to the elderly. Basically, every pensioner is issued with an electronic identification card with PIN number and a fingerprint identification, which then serves as verification by the ATM machine [Eckhard 2002]. South Africa uses both a mobile bank as well as post offices to deliver pensions.6 Such alternative money transfer mechanisms could be explored for paying wages to beneficiaries in NREGA. This would serve to further reduce leakages.

Programme Monitoring

Transferring resources to the GP requires strong monitoring to guard against the potential of elite capture, patronage politics and leakages. We propose a three-pronged approach to monitoring: intergovernmental monitoring, community-based monitoring and external monitoring.

Intergovernmental Monitoring – PRI

The NREGA assigns a supervisory and monitoring role to the ZP and the IP. Here we address the specific ways in which this could be done. The ZP and the IP ought to play an overall supervisory role where they hold the GP accountable and ensure that regular and effective gram sabhas take place. In addition they should also ensure that social audits take place. Therefore, we propose the following: Random visits by ZP on scheduled GS meeting days: The ZP must undertake regular supervision visits to GPs on a random basis to ensure that GPs hold GSs on agreed upon dates. If they are not held, then the GP will be liable for a penalty. Rewards to GPs that hold GSs: Based on benchmark performance indicators decided upon by the state government. These could be a combination of monetary and non-monetary incentives such as press coverage, grants and awards.

Intergovernmental Monitoring – The State and PRI

The act envisages a regulatory and supervisory role for the state government in the form of a (SEGC) and the creation of a grievance redressal system. We propose instituting an ombudsman office7 at the ZP and IP levels that would report directly to the SEGC. Therefore the SEGC would receive information from the DPC (complaints register), reports from the presidents of the ZP and IP, ombudsman offices and the community-based monitoring system. In addition, the act also provides for a system whereby the state can take corrective measures. 8

Community-based Monitoring

Here we focus on the demand-side of improved local governance in administering NREGA. In particular, the use of: Social audits: As in SGRY, the NREGA also mandates that GSs undertake regular social audits. Audits of this nature, conducted at the local level by communities have proven to be an innovative way of holding governments accountable. However, as SGRY demonstrates, social audits are futile in the absence of specific guidelines and an effective feedback mechanism.

Therefore, it is imperative that the state should be lay out detailed guidelines on the process and implementation of social audits. The NGOs could be used to build the capacity of the GS in conducting these audits. The focus would be twofold:

(1) Creating awareness about the NREGA with respect to its rules and regulations. In particular, the guarantee of 100 days of work, the existence of unemployment allowance, minimum wage to be paid, job card and the ban on use of contractors. This coupled with the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 will change the extent to which citizens and groups can use this information to provide an oversight for the programme officer. (2) Understanding issues like wage rate, muster rolls, accounting practices, and the procurement of construction materials. A beginner’s guide to social audits in the form of a photo album could serve as a user guide for GSs.

The key lies in institutionalising social audits as they serve to deepen democracy by making the GS more effective. The audit report could be presented at the GS meeting with a copy sent to the SEGC. To ensure transparency, social audit reports should be placed on district websites, printed in the local newspapers, and be included in the publication of social monthly magazines featuring best practices on social audits in different parts of the country. In addition, a special learning website could be created for GPs to access and share information via e-kiosks.9

Citizen/Community Score Cards

The citizen report cards (CRCs) were pioneered in India by the Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore, as a means to strengthen the interaction between civil society and the state, while pursuing the mission of improving governance. The methodology has been used extensively in India, as well as in several other countries, to pursue a wide spectrum of accountability and monitoring objectives.10 For example, in Bangladesh, Committees of Concerned Citizens (CCCs) have been formed to assess the activities of the local providers of services in their areas.11

With respect to NREGA, the introduction of CRCs could be used to further strengthen the role of NGOs in capacitybuilding through direct interactions with the GS and GP. Here, the NGO could act as the interface between communities and the local government ensuring that the planning process is participatory and the needs do reflect local priorities.

It is the combination of random visits of ZP officials on scheduled GS meeting days and the use of community scorecards that will ensure and further strengthen the need to hold GSs.

Monitoring Implementation through IT

Since the NREGA provides for a guarantee of at least 100 days of employment, introducing a well-maintained computerised tracking system will be critical in reducing leakages in the system. In particular, it could track job card information, number of applications submitted, beneficiary lists, number of days of employment generated, unemployment allowance paid, and number of complaints received as well as the action taken. Monthly progress reports could then be submitted to the SEGC which would then facilitate monitoring the progress of implementation of the NREGA schemes.

This is indeed a daunting task but critical to the success of NREGA schemes. If states find that housing the tracking system in the PRI structure adds too much burden on them, they could use colleges to provide this service. This would have the added benefit of creating employment for youths in the state. In states that do have rural BPOs,12 they could be used to manage the data that is collected.

The outcome of these community-based monitoring systems must feed back into the state management information system via the SEGC. If no visible corrective action is taken as a result of the findings, then there will be no incentive for the communities to participate in the future. After all, there is an opportunity cost to participation.

External Monitoring

With the passing of the RTI Act 2005, the government has committed itself to an unprecedented level of transparency. However legislation alone cannot reduce leakages in the system. We propose the following independent measures that will

(i) serve to triangulate the information received from the community-based monitoring, and (ii) feed back into the system to ensure that corrective measures are taken. In particular, both NGOs and regional media can be used in the following ways: NGOs: The SEGC could contract independent NGOs to randomly visit work sites, write reports and present their findings to them as well as the GS on a regular basis. Their terms of reference could include: adherence to general principles and procedures of NREGA, quality of infrastructure built and the participation of villagers, especially the poor and women. This would help to triangulate the information received from other sources (complaints register, social audits and community score cards) and would provide a check against the internal monitoring system. Furthermore, the reports would enhance the GS’s ability to monitor public use of funds. Media: The SEGC could encourage freelance journalists to make random field visits to obtain first hand information on the de facto implementation reality. This could be in the form of commissioned articles, investigative reporting or general information pieces. To ensure the use of local language, state and district newspapers should be targeted. In effect, this would enhance free media’s role in being a “public watchdog” by reporting on the private appropriation of public resources. In the international arena, Indonesia’s Kecamatan Development Programme uses journalists to monitor its implementation. This has been an effective mechanism in following up reported corruption cases and highlighting the resolution in these cases. It has also had a direct impact on policy-makers by pressuring them to take corrective action.13

Conclusion

The emphasis in our recommendations lier on two key features that could significantly contribute to strengthening accountability relationships in the NREGA. First we argue for a clear separation of functions across tiers of government. Thus, as discussed above, the GP is responsible for all operational activities (with some support from the ZP and IP) whilst the state government is responsible for overall monitoring and regulation of the process. Within the PRI structure, the ZP and IP would also have a role in monitoring. Of course, resources (both financial and administrative) must follow functions. Such a system allows the GP flexibility to respond effectively to citizen needs and priorities without depending on any external authority. It also prevents tiers of government from passing responsibility for performance on to one another, as is common in the present system. Finally, a strong system of overall monitoring will ensure process compliance. The second feature that we emphasise is the central role that citizens must play in monitoring the provision of public services. Crucial here is the regular flow of information and the enhanced ability of citizens to exercise enforceability through tools such as social audits and community score cards.

Many in India argue that the NREGA is one of the most important pieces of socio-economic legislation passed in recent times. Indeed, if done right, the NREGA has the potential not only to strengthen social security in rural India, but also to strengthen community mobilisation, ensure better responsiveness of local governments to community needs and priorities, and most of all enhance governance outcomes. However, the key lies in getting the design right.

EPW

Email: aiyar_y@yahoo.com

Notes

1 Theorists have identified many forms of

accountability – upward, downward, external

or internal, political managerial. We focus on

horizontal and vertical as it encompasses

the key ideas we want to address. We address

other forms of accountability within this

context.

2ZP:IP:GP

3 Guidelines: Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar

Yojana (2004), section 5.16.1

4 6.10.6 SGRY guidelines. 5 For more on this see Besely T et al (2005). 6 see http://www.cgap.org/SAfricaRemittances/

5.html

7 Seventeen states have created Lok Ayukta

(ombudsman office) to address corruption.

Karnataka has evolved a role for the ombuds

man office to address corruption in service

delivery.

8 Articles 25 and 26 NREGA, stipulates that a fee of Rs 1,000 can be levied if a district does not comply with the set guidelines.

Economic and Political Weekly January 28, 2006

9 A financially viable way would be to leverage existing ITC services in district (e g, ITC e-choupals and e-kiosks).

10 For more information, see http://www.pacindia.org; S Paul (2002) and G K Thampi (2005).

11 For more information see http://www.ti-bangladesh.org

12 Lason is working in Tamil Nadu and Byyraju foundation has Gram IT models in Andhra Pradesh.

13 KDP Phase 2 results, World Bank, September 2004.

References

Bellour, S and P Newell (2002): ‘Mapping Accountability: Origins, Context and Implications for Development’, IDS Working Paper No 168, www.ids.ac.uk

Besely, T , R Pande and V Rao (2005): ‘The Political Economy of Gram Panchayats in South India: Drawing Policy Implications from a Research Project on Democratically Elected Village Governments’, World Bank. http:// www.cultureandpublicaction.org/bijupdf/ panchayatreport.pdf.

Caseley, J (2003): ‘Blocked Drains and Open Minds: Multiple Accountability Relationships and Improved Service Delivery Performance in an Indian City’, IDS Working Paper No 211, www.ids.ac.uk

Chattopadhyay, R and E Dufflo (2003): ‘The Impact of Reservation in Panchayati Raj: Evidence from a Nationwide Randomised Experiment’, Poverty Action Group, MIT.

Eckhard, S (2002): ‘Namibia’s Universal Pension Scheme: Trends and Challenges’, International Labour Office.

Goetz, A M and J Gaventa (2001): ‘Bringing Client Voice and Client Focus in Service Delivery’, IDS Working Paper No 138, www.ids.ac.uk

Goetz, A M and Jenkins (2004): ‘Accountability’ in Adam Kuper and Jessica Kuper (eds), The Social Science Encyclopedia, Routledge, New York.

Gopakumar, V and G S Sreekumar (2004): ‘Citizens Charter: A Tool for Social Auditing’, Working Paper, Grameena Patana Kendram Karakulam, Thiruvananthapuram.

Faguet, J P (2004): ‘Does Decentralisation Increase Government Responsiveness to Local Needs? Evidence from Bolivia’, Journal of Public Economics, 88, pp 867-93, www.elesiver.com/ locate/econbase

GoI (2003): ‘Concurrent Evaluation of Sampoorna Grameena Rozgar Yojana (SGRY) in All Districts in India’, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.

  • (2004): Guidelines – Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana, Ministry of Rural Development, www.rural.nic.in
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    – (2005): Tenth Plan Mid-Term Appraisal, Planning Commission, www.planningcommission.nic

    Khemani, S (2001): ‘Decentralisation and Accountability: Are Voters More Vigilant in Local than in National Elections’, www.worldbank.org

    Mehta, P B (2003): ‘The Burden of Democracy’, Penguin.

    Paul, S (2002): ‘Holding the State to Account: Citizen Monitoring in Action’, Books for Change.

    Sankaram, P N (2004): ‘Gaps in Transparent and Corruption Free Decentralisation: Some Reflections on Kerala’, Working Paper, St Joseph’s College of Business Administration, Bangalore.

    Saxena, N C (2004): ‘Improving Delivery of Programmes through Administrative Reforms in India’, www.nac.nic.in

    Thampi, G K (2005): ‘Ensuring Effective Project Monitoring and Evaluation in Tsunami Relief Operations: Exploring the Role of Community Feedback Mechanisms’, Public Affairs Foundation.

    World Bank (2004): ‘India: Fiscal Decentralisation to Rural Governments’, Oxford University Press.

    – (2004a): ‘Making Services Work for Poor People’, Oxford University Press.

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