As for toilets, quick NSSO surveys are very useful
A recent survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, not surprisingly, has been used to show the Prime Minister’s toilet-building scheme is not working. According to a report in The Economic Times, an NSSO survey shows that just around half the toilets built are being used for what they are meant—in rural areas, the survey found they were being used for grain or general storage. That is an important piece of information, and would be even more useful if it shed light on why this was so—was it because Indians prefer to do it in the open or was it because the toilets have no water, or worse, inadequate drainage.
While a conclusion will depend upon what the final report says, it is important for the government to use rapid NSSO surveys to assess just how well various schemes are doing, and to draw policy conclusions from the results. This is already being done, in a sense, by academics—that’s how you know, for instance, that just around half of PDS grain reaches the intended beneficiaries, or that leakages in schemes such as MGNREGA aren’t that much better. And the ASER report, over the years, has provided a good indication of just how the government is wasting tens of thousands of crores of rupees each year in primary education without any great results. What is now required is to institutionalise the process and build-in budgets for rapid NSSO surveys for major schemes to get an independent assessment of whether they are really helping. Indeed, even in the case of areas like taxes where the government claims to have really cleaned up its act—except for, it claims, a handful of legacy cases—it would be a good idea to have an independent audit of what the taxman does; having a panel of independent chartered accountants/tax firms doing a sample check of various orders passed by the taxman, with the names of the assessees removed, would be a good idea as it would help the finance minister know if there was any genuine ease of doing business as far as the taxman is concerned. Third-party audits are the way to go.