Most such solutions limit themselves to introducing technology quick fixes without addressing deeper structural issues
Between 10.30 am and 12.30 pm every day, government-run elementary school headmasters in Uttar Pradesh receive an automated phone call from state headquarters asking them to report on the number of mid-day meals served to school children. In response, school headmasters punch in the appropriate number. This data is uploaded into a software program that generates daily monitoring reports, allowing senior officers to monitor the program, in real time, across the state.
This is Uttar Pradesh’s effort at introducing a tech-savvy method to infuse accountability in the mid-day meal programme. Uttar Pradesh is not alone in this endeavour to use technology to improve government monitoring and strengthen accountability for delivering public services. Governments across India have been experimenting with ways to use technology to increase transparency and ensure that programmes for the poor actually help the poor. This meme has become so successful that in many ways technology has become synonymous with transparency and accountability in India. It is, to borrow a phrase coined by my colleague Salimah Samji, the era of E-Raj.
The E-Raj is everywhere. To increase accountability in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Bihar has experimented with creating a cadre of ‘mobile inspectors’. These inspectors are supplied with smartphones and are expected to upload data and photographs of work-sites on their monitoring visits. This allows the district magistrate to track progress of government programmes across the district and, at the same time, ensure that inspectors are doing their job. Andhra Pradesh has introduced a similar system. Chhattisgarh has been using global positioning system to monitor the movement of vehicles delivering subsidised foodgrain under the public distribution system, to ensure that wheat and rice are not diverted to the black market along the way. Once a vehicle starts moving from the warehouse, an SMS alert is sent to the designated store-owner. Another set of messages are sent to a randomly selected group of 10 local beneficiaries announcing the arrival of the grain at the store. Another celebrated example of E-Raj is the