Focusing on constituency-level data can drive more focused answerability from elected representatives
One of the vexing questions in Indian democracy is how can the electorate in a constituency measure its directly elected representative’s performance? Parliamentary/assembly participation is one way, but, what about more material impact on every-day life in the constituency? Since India continues with the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), there should ideally be more that constituents could look at than signboards saying road work or footpath beautification undertaken by Shri/Smt XXX with MPLADS funds when it is time to appraise their representative’s performance. A team of researchers from Harvard University, Tata Trusts, the Institute of Economic Growth and NITI Aayog may have taken the first step towards enabling the electorate to do this by mapping parliamentary constituencies against their respective child health indicators from the National Family Health Survey. This should allow both the electorate and the vote-seeker to set benchmarks and judge the latter’s performance against this. Sure enough, critics may say this will interfere with separation of power. But if the law allows MPs to undertake certain kind of works directly, it can be changed to allow them to supplement the executive’s work/funding for fundamental uplifting of constituents, especially in areas where the development indicators are low.
Determining the most appropriate interventions requires understanding the local context. For example, an MP seeking to reduce the prevalence of stunting in her constituency, first and foremost, requires current, accurate stunting prevalence estimates. Across India, as per the findings of the research, over 20% of children under five experienced wasting, over one-third were underweight, and nearly 60% of children aged 6–59 months were anaemic. India’s 57% prevalence of child anaemia is a “severe” public health problem, based on the WHO cut-off of 40% prevalence. The ranking of constituencies on indicators of child malnutrition, that the Harvard-Tata-IEG-NITI team has done, will help prioritise constituencies’ needs. It can also help realise goals of nutrition-focused schemes like the POSHAN Abhiyan programme and, besides building MP-focused accountability, lead to increased competitiveness.