For the past six years, Skoch Consultancy Services has been doing its bit of cheerleading – and some more. It has been creating a knowledge repository of development, culled from the myriad initiatives in the country – more specifically in the areas of e-governance, capacity building, microfinance, financial inclusion and ICT enablement– in the firm conviction that the accumulation and transfer of this knowledge will increase the momentum of development. Skoch teams have travelled far and wide – from Majuli in Assam and Kanaipur in West Bengal to Dungarpur in Rajasthan and Kheda in Gujarat, from Temi and Namchi in Sikkim to Nalgonda in Andhra Pradesh, Neerpara in Kerala and Puducherry – to see these initiatives first hand. These self-funded (read: independent) observers have already put together over 150 case-study films, based on primary research and citizen feedback. Skoch has documented the progress on close to 550 governance projects. It has also instituted the ‘Skoch Challenger Award’ – which are editorially independent – to salute best practices in the areas of e-governance, education, ICT enablement, empowerment, capacity building and digital and financial inclusion. The Year 2008 edition of the Challenger Awards, the Sixth in an unbroken annual series, held up to light 17 such stories – of some individuals, some institutions, some initiatives. Here’s a sample:
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan: MKSS focuses on issues of transparency
In public works. Located in the village of Devdungri, near Bhim in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, MKSS has only a handful of dedicated workers. But that hasn’t hindered its successful campaign for public right to information. It all started with MKSS demanding access to Panchayat records on the plea that there had to be transparency in the use of taxpayers’ money for public welfare programmes. Over time, a process called ‘social audit’ – connoting comprehensive review of expenditure and asset creation from public work programmes – has been institutionalised. The effort is to track every payment made by the government and verify that it has been made correctly. What started as a movement to bring in transparency in the functioning of a Panchayat later snowballed into a national movement and legislation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It wasn’t even only a symbolic victory – detailed audits by the MKSS show that leakages have reduced to a single-digit percentage. The MKSS is now working on social audits with the Andhra Pradesh government, and has so far helped recover nearly Rs 70 lakh. A Skoch team attended one of the social audits in Devdungri recently and was witness to disgorgement.
HMIS, TCS implementation in Gujarat:
After successfully piloting the Hospital Management Information System (HMIS) project in Gandhinagar Civil Hospital, the Gujarat government has scaled up the initiative to cover all district-level hospitals in the state. This makes for greater accountability and transparency and also facilitates prompt and vital policy decisions. HMIS has been developed by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) on the Microsoft .NET technology platform. For the patient, it means: a) less time spent per visit; b) standard charges for services; c) relief from carrying bulky medical fi les to the hospital and the pain of preserving/ maintaining these records; and d) online information about availability of doctors. For doctors, the system means at the first level easier access to the medical history of patients, which has a direct bearing on the efficiency of treatment. For the hospital management, this means better inventory control, the facility to monitor predefined health indicators and decision support based on exception reporting using alerts and triggers.
Its experiments with the Panchayati Raj system of governance have been frequently held up as a model for other states to follow. The standout feature of the state’s model of Panchayati Raj is the degree to which it has been able to devolve power to the people: in a state administration spanning 999 Gram Panchayats, 152 Block Panchayats and 14 District Panchayats, a third of the plan budget is spent through Panchayats; two-thirds of public services are delivered through Panchayats. By setting aside such a large chunk of plan funds for Kerala’s Panchayats – and enacting institutional reforms to support this process – the state’s administration has gone a long way involving people in the process of setting their own development agenda. The Information Kerala Mission (IKM), which grew out of the needs of the People’s Planning Campaign, launched in 1996, has invigorated this grassroots democracy.