Category Archives: Fieldwork Diary

Village, Politics and Reminiscence

PRAMIT PRITAM JENA

Pramit Pritam Jena, is a student of Public Policy from the batch 2016 who worked in the tribal village of Purulia, West Bengal with PRADAN. From the experience during his fieldwork, he brings to the light the daily life of people, empowerment of women collectives, sustainability of Self Help Groups and their way forward.

pano_20161023_120549Life in the tribal villages of Purulia (a district of West Bengal) is rustic and peaceful. At around 4:30 – 5 am, adults and children rise from slumber and set about their daily routine. The break of dawn sets into motion the typical village cacophony – cows mooing, hens cackling, and vessels clanging. The men depart for the farms, while the women form serpentine queues near the tubewell with pots and pitchers. This routine is consistently followed, which perhaps, creates a cultural divide from the urban areas.

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Water shortage is palpable, as is reinforced by the fact that Purulia is a notified drought-prone area. As agriculture is the chief source of subsistence, delayed monsoons set life in disarray. A deferred sowing of paddy leads to a late and poor harvest. Water harvesting structures have made life easier after the monsoons end, but the consolation only lasts till the smaller to medium sized ponds dry up in March/April. However, the villagers relate stories of the 1970s, when, in contrast, most villages had no source of drinking water. There is a visible change in villages where PRADAN has been working, according to the testimony of the rural folk. Government line departments are apparently not very effective as Project Implementing Agency. This could be attributed to the shortage of technical staff and bureaucratic lethargy. It is evident that PRADAN as an NGO is capable of fulfilling financial and physical targets, as well as establishing an emotional connect with the community.

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It is without a doubt that there is a contention between the local politicians and our host organisation. One of the members of an SHG, in the local MLA’s native village, recounted one incident when a PRADAN professional was apprehended by local leaders. Hundreds of women in the SHG federation rushed to the spot in support of the former. The matter was resolved once the MLA of the constituency intervened and took the perpetrators to task. Corruption is deep rooted, beginning from the highest levels of government, and percolating down to the panchayat. Funds for development work are sheared off in piecemeals as they are handed down the hierarchy, and a reduced amount reaches the works phase. Moreover, the beneficiaries are selected in a biased manner. The favourites of politicians and office holders remain at the receiving end, while the deserving look on.

However, project implementation through SHGs has brought about a paradigmatic shift in the story of local self-governance. Members assert that every penny is accounted for since the transactions are carried out through transparent SHG, Gram Sabha and Aam Sabha meetings. The quality and time periods of project completion have also improved. One begins to wonder whether the key to development lies not only in the Government policy making, but in the extent to which we have been successful in tapping the potential of an organised, mobilised and empowered rural community, especially women collectives.img_20161026_120153

The sustainability of SHGs to effect change is directly linked to their financial sustainability and rate of growth and maturation. Any external policy intervention to SHGs should bear this issue in mind. It is vitally important that both government and NGOs work to bear all the costs in mind of interventions to make them sustainable otherwise the SHGs will be overburdened and destined to fail. Government regulations could help manage this risk and increase the emphasis on sustainability of SHGs. There are key areas of SHG financial management that need to be improved such as internal controls, accounting, management stewardship, organisational efficiency and others. If the government were to enact policy that would regulate the quality of SHGs and tied this to their eligibility for SHG-Bank Linkage, then this would help bring about a more measured and responsible growth to the movement. Both for SHGs and SHG federations, there is a need to aspire to attain standards following the best practices. As the SHG federations are emerging as community owned microfinance institutions, there is a need for significant investment in providing institution building support. These SHG federations being bodies like corporations which are registered under an appropriate legal form must comply with the prudential and legal norms. There is a need for a well-developed third-party rating system for SHG federations before they are linked with financial institutions to act as an intermediary as they handle a large volume of funds from the bank linkage and also undertake savings from their members.

img_20161021_165450There is a need for establishing a computerised Management Information System (MIS) for SHGs and SHG federations to monitor their performance on a regular basis. SHG federations must be able to publish their annual reports and share those with all their members. A suitable marketing channel has to be developed at panchayat level by state agencies. Formation of such agencies can be inculcated into programme guidelines. The cost shall be borne by the State Government. SHGs need to be encouraged to upgrade into cooperatives. In advanced stages, these groups are capable of inducing change to domestic problems due to the presence of a corpus fund, skilled manpower and experience. Finally, the role of NGOs has been critical in achieving the vision of SHG led development. Using them as facilitators in SHG formation and guidance has to be made compulsory in programme guidelines as government line departments are unable to realise quantitative and qualitative targets due to multiple responsibilities in respective portfolios. The SHG model has to be supported through fortifying support of Government policy and guidelines in order to reach fruition.

(Pramit Pritam Jena can be reached at pramitpj@nls.ac.in)

Forest Rights Act: Ten years later

Apoorva Srinivas, Devika Singh, Dwijaraj Bhattacharya, Smita Mutt,  Trisrota Dutta

MPP 2016-2018

December 18th, 2006 witnessed the historic passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Almost a decade later there is only a tiny portion of the vast forest land of India which has been brought under its purview. The tribal population all over India still face an ongoing struggle on a daily basis but with considerable support from civil society groups and Government officials, they have been partially successful in acquiring their rights under the act. We take this opportunity to share a glimpse of their lives which we observed during our fieldwork visit.

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This village Panchayat (or Rachabanda in Telegu), in Andhra Pradesh meeting, to discuss Rehabilitation & Resettlement package they will receive if the Polavaram Dam project goes through. The package being offered to them is as per the 2013 Act and not the updated version they are entitled to, causing them a loss of nearly Rs. 6,00,000. The project has forced the villagers to understand Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 and Forest Rights Act 2006 – all laws that rely on vigilant and aware Gram Panchayats to protect local interests.

                In a corner of Rajasthan, this is the state of the government primary school. It has been running for approximately four years and at present, 52 stud
img_3528ents study under this shelter.
A local man is willing to donate the land it currently stands on but due to errors in his application filing, it was immediately rejected. He had originally filed an individual rights claim (as laid out in 3(1) of the Act) instead of a community development claim (as given in 3(2)).  Despite the ambitious promise of the Act, a lack of understanding of its details prevents many communities on Scheduled lands from receiving their basic rights, in this case, primary education.

                  The Nayakheda village in Achalpur block of Melghat in Maharashtra is one of the model villages in the area. The Gram Sabha with help from non-governmental organisations like KHOJ has successfully acquired its rights under the Forest Rights Act. The villagers have also established their rights over the vast forest land and taken it upon themselves to protect, conserve and reforest the area. It is the present generation which has made a rigorous effort to restore their forest and agricultural land, stopped migration and hence built a stable village economy.

                    In the Western Ghats of Karnataka, the seven forest dependent tribes of Kodagu district are the Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba, Panjari Yerava, Pani Yerava, Malekudiya, Soligas and Marathi / Naiks.

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Image source: CORD

The socio-political and economic disparities can be explained due to the gaps in the implementation of Forest Rights Act, along with the lack of transparency and accountability of the Forest bureaucracy. Characterised by the colonial mindset of administration and solitary decision-making authority, the forest wealth and lives of the tribals has been under rigid surveillance by the forest department. The struggle for rights has been an ongoing saga but has gathered momentum in the form of civil society organisations which are playing an instrumental role in advocacy and campaigning for implementation of Forest Rights Act. Kodagu is also famous for the Nagarhole Park which is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, declared as the thirty-seventh Tiger reserve under ‘Project Tiger’ in 1999. Coorg Organization for Rural Development (CORD), an NGO has documented several case studies regarding the violation of rights and skewed rehabilitation arising from such conservation regimes.

Our fieldwork participation helped us see that the experience of the Forest Rights Act is varied, with different regions facing specific challenges. Despite this, many of India’s forest dwelling communities retain deep connections with the forest and can protect them more effectively than a distant bureaucracy.
The Forest Rights Act recognises this wisdom and the benefits of a ‘democratic forest’, but it needs sustaining commitment and cooperation in order to succeed.

Fieldwork

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Apoorva Srinivas, Devika Singh, Dwijaraj Bhattacharya, Smita Mutt,  Trisrota Dutta

MPP 2016-2018

An intrinsic component of a Public Policy program is an experience of the ground reality. In order to comprehend the actual workings of a policy initiative or government scheme, the batch of 2016-18 engaged in three weeks of fieldwork. Different groups of nascent policy analysts spread across Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and West Bengal and worked on a range of policy issues. We spent three weeks in villages, drinking water out of wells, cooking our own food, living with limited infrastructure, facing the lack of water and electricity connectivity, realising that a very prominent section of the Indian population still lives without the basic technology we take for granted. The social, economic and political reality of these areas is harsh. Life is tough. The mainstay of our work was an analysis of the implementation process of policies and barriers to effective implementation. We worked with the Forest Rights Act, Integrated Child Protection Scheme, Juvenile Justice, Child Development and Protection, Rural Development, Tribal Development, Women’s Health and Education, Child Education and Child Rights, RTI and the Rehabilitation of displaced and tribal communities.

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In a meeting with Jharkhand State Livelihood Mission team, Pradan

We were linked with NGO’s established in these different areas, who have been working with the people for at least twenty years in bridging the gap between government policy, government officials and the people. Some of our partner NGO’s were CORD (Karnataka), MKSS, Seva Mandir and URMUL (Rajasthan), PRADAN (West Bengal and Jharkhand), Khoj (Maharashtra) and Samata (Andhra Pradesh). We engaged with the local people, children and women, Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, government school officials, Ward members, the Panchayat, police officials, and of course, the organisation workers.

It has been an enriching and eye-opening experience, one that will ground all our future endeavours. Accounts of personal engagement and learning will soon grace the walls of LOKNITI, so stay tuned to know more about the India no one talks about.

Field work: Story of SCOPE

SCOPE – Society for Community Organization and Peoples’ Education, started in 1986, which works mainly on health and sanitation. For more details on the organisation, visit: http://www.scopetrichy.com/

Have a look at the journey of students of MPP who visited the rural spaces of Tiruchi District, Tamil Nadu as part of the fieldwork. In order to understand the sanitation practices prevalent in the area, people, institutions and infrastructure were studied in Thuraiyur and Musiri blocks under the guidance of SCOPE.

 

The following candidates of MPP participated in a month-long field work with SCOPE, Trichy:

Anyesha Mitra
Drupa Dinnie Charles
Kiran A. B.
Roshan Mishra
Vijeth Acharya

Anganwadi

Swasti Raizada

Watch the barefoot journey of Swasti Raizada, MPP student, as she traces childhood through the anganwadis of rural Rajasthan as part of her field trip. At the intersection of child rights and food policy, the questions that she raises, hit the core of public service delivery in India today. She brilliantly essays  the impact of the policy through the eyes of the recipients- the children.

Credits: Sakshi Jain and Pranvendra Champawat

Image source: Official website, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India.

Case Study on Elections and Decentralisation

Meenu Maria Joseph

Elections and Decentralisation: A Case Study of Kudumbashree in Select Panchayats of Kerela

Understanding Kudumbashree

Kudumbashree, the flagship poverty eradication programme of Kerala government was launched in the year 1998 in urban Alappuzha and in rural Malappuram under the aegis of Government of Kerala to scale up the strategy to the entire state. This was to be introduced through concentrated community action with the support of the Local Self Governments (LSGs) that would facilitate convergence of the available schemes and resources to tackle the multiple dimensions and manifestations of poverty holistically. For this purpose, Kudumbashree with the support of the LSGs facilitated the building of Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) of women across the state. Today, with the participation of more than 41 lakh women; Kudumbashree is the biggest CBO in Asia.
The primary aim of Kudumbashree was to eradicate poverty in the state by the year 2008.Women were recognised as the most suitable drivers for bringing about poverty eradication. Even though women emancipation was an unintended consequence, Kudumbashree ensured one of the most successful examples in independent India of women empowerment along with the elimination of poverty.
The 73rd and the 74th amendment of the Indian constitution coupled with the Kerala specific legislation in 1994 were crucial for the effective decentralisation process of Kerala. Kerala initiated a process which probably no other state in India would have implemented. People were involved in the consultation, identification of problems and development of effective solutions at the local level. The state government set aside nearly 40% of the planned fund for the panchayat bodies. This required each panchayat preparing detailed plans for the devolution of the funds. They were also encouraged to enhance the collection of own revenue, which had been an important source of income for panchayats in Kerala even before the decentralisation process (Kannan and Jagajeevan, 2013).
The people’s plan campaign was probably the single largest experiment in local democracy strengthening people’s voices and giving them a role to play in the decision that affects them. This process directly impacted the lives of nearly 31 million people across the state. It led to the emergence of several landmark mass programmes and certainly Kudumbashree being the most important one of them.

Process of Development of the Kudumbashree Structure

Practices such as Pidiyari sambadhyam, Kuri Kalyanam, Weekly chit funds, Kettu Thengu project etc. are examples of traditional saving schemes that existed in Kerala wherein a mutual support system existed to help each other in cash and kind was an inspirational idea for the setting up of Kudumbashree in the state.
Two important initiatives under the PPC, firstly, the creation of Women Component Fund under the Gram Panchayats and secondly, the idea of making women Neighbourhood Groups, an important tool for better functioning of Gram Sabhas- both strengthened the thoughts on the emergence of the Kudumbashree project in Kerala.
There are several programs which provided the background for the thought process of introducing a model like Kudumbashree for poverty eradication in Kerala. The Urban Poverty Alleviation Programme implemented in Alappuzha municipality in 1992 – 93 formed NHGs of women in seven wards, formed a Community Development Society (CDS) and started functioning as a CBO network. This model spread across all 36 wards in the Alappuzha municipality by 1993 – 94. This model was then adopted by all the Panchayats in Malappuram district in 1994. By 1995, this model was adopted by 58 municipalities across Kerala. In 1995 – 96, the Kerala Municipalities’ Act was amended to include that two per cent of the municipalities own fund would be kept aside for poverty eradication activities.
In 1994, apart from the Poverty Alleviation Project, Malappuram district had also implemented the CBNP project with the assistance from UNICEF under which 4000 plus NHGs were formed. It was registered as a State Poverty Eradication Mission in November 1998 and it became functional in April 1999.

Structure of Kudumbashree – The Community Based Organization

Kudumbashree developed an innovative methodology to identify the poor using non-economic parameters. The poor thus identified are organised under a well networked Community Based Organization (CBO).

Kudumbashree

Neighbourhood Group (NHG)

The lowest tier constitutes the Neighbourhood Group consisting of 10-20 women members from economically backward families. Meetings are convened on a weekly basis in the house of one of the NHG members. In the weekly meetings, all members bring their thrift, which will be collected and recycled to the system by way of sanctioning loans. The thrift amount is decided on the basis of how much the poorest member in the NHG unit is capable of paying every week.The NHG has 5 office bearers, who are elected through an internal election process for a period of three years. The office bearers are:
1. President
2. Secretary
3. IGA Volunteer
4. Health and education volunteer
5. Infrastructure volunteer

Area Development Society (ADS)

The second tier is the Area Development Society, which is formed at ward level by federating all the NHGs in the ward. The activities of the ADS are decided by the representatives of the women elected from various NHGs. ADS consists of a General body which consists of the 5 representatives from every NHG in the ward. From the general body, an executive committee consisting of 7 members is elected and this includes the chairperson, vice-chairperson and a secretary.

Community Development Society (CDS)

At the Panchayat / Municipal level, a Community Development Society (CDS), a registered body under the Travancore-Cochin Literacy Scientific and Charitable Societies Act is formed by federating all ADSs in the Panchayats. The CDS is constituted by a General Body which consists of all ADS Governing Body members. Further, an Executive Committee is selected through elections and consists of representatives of each ADS. From the CDS executive committee, a chairperson and a vice chairperson are elected. The chairperson is the highest office bearer of Kudumbashree in a panchayat.

Studying the Election process

The elections to the three-tier structure of Kudumbashree concluded on the 25th, January 2015 immediately after the start of my internship. Even though Kudumbashree came into existence in 1998, the elections to the three-tier structure lacked uniformity and there was a clear political intervention for obtaining the top positions in the organisation. Elections to the NHGs was often presided by the panchayat ward members. The president, the secretary and the other volunteers were decided based on the preference of the panchayat representatives. Often importance was given to members with education. This essentially meant that everyone in an NHG unit didn’t have an equal chance of becoming an office-bearer. When the volunteers weren’t nominated by the members themselves, the democratic character of the elections was lost.
The existence of the three-tier structure was also not uniform. For instance, in some panchayats, the CDS, ADS and the NHG existed for 1 year and in others for 2 years etc. before 2008.
Positions to the top office namely the election of the CDS chairperson and the vice chairperson was undertaken under political considerations. The CDS office more often than not lacked autonomy through the constant intervention of the panchayat officials. Panchayat officials being elected directly by the people considered themselves superior to the CDS office bearers and constantly subjugated them. The CDS bye-law which came into existence in 2008 rejuvenated the election process by regaining the confidence of women and gave a new life to Kudumbashree.
I was assigned with the task of evaluating the entire election process after the initiation of the CDS bye-law in 2008 and also to study how the initiation of democratic elections into a poverty eradication policy is capable of altering the social-democratic capabilities of women. For the purpose of the study, I was expected to undertake both desk research as well as field work. The desk research was mainly to understand the election to the three-tier structure before 2008 and how it has changed with the initiation of the bye-law. I also conducted discussions and interviews with several people who have been working within the fold of Kudumbashree to understand how the election process has changed over the years.
For my field work, I was assigned to evaluate the election process of the panchayat of Pandalam Thekkekara in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala for a span of one week. During this process, I attempted to study the election process to all the three structures. For this purpose, detailed interviews were conducted with several NHG units, office bearers of ADS and CDS. In the course of my interaction with women, the focus was on understanding how after assuming roles of leadership through the election process their capabilities have been altered. Attempts were also made to understand if the election process was transparent and if there was any kind of political influence during the conduct of these elections.

Bringing a Democratic Process to a Poverty Eradication Program

Kudumbashree made a relatively late arrival to the panchayat of Pandalam Thekkekara in the year 2002. But it has undoubtedly transformed the lives of women and the way a male-dominated society perceived them. It has been a long journey in transforming a society wherein women were meant to be within the four walls of their houses to a time where women are holding positions of power and are involved in all the major decision-making process of the panchayat. Kudumbashree has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in altering the lives of millions of women. The success of Kudumbashree lies in making women partners in the democratic process. For many a journey from a normal member to an office bearer has greatly transformed their lives both personally and their stature in the society.
Women in this panchayat clearly recall how men in the house detested the idea of their womenfolk joining Kudumbashree and sitting in a circle of other 10-20 women. For men, Kudumbashree in its initial phase was just a gathering of a set of women from the neighbourhood sitting and gossiping and coming together for no constructive purpose. But the initial success of Kudumbashree started changing the tide of things when men pushed their women to get out of the houses and become a part of the neighbourhood groups.
By becoming a part of the Kudumbashree network women now had their own set of savings which could be put forth along with the income of the men in the house. With ready availability of loans which could be repaid at minimal interest rates, Kudumbashree clearly ensured greater financial independence for women and relieved them from constantly demanding money from men for every small need of the household.
Most women in the panchayat proudly claim about handling all the expenses incurred for the kids in the beginning of an academic year. All major expenses right from the purchase of uniforms, books etc. are completely handled from the savings a woman gathers from Kudumbashree. With the initiation of MGNREGA, this process has become more enhanced.
Most women recount a time when they didn’t even know how to withdraw money from the banks and had to go in a group of 3 or 4 for any bank transaction. Now every woman has a bank account of her own by being in the fold of Kudumbashree and later in MGNREGA.For many signing a cheque on their own has now become a sign of empowerment.
Being involved in Kudumbashree has brought in significant changes in the way women were perceived in the society. Not only have women been economically empowered but she has also been socially strengthened. Activities are not limited merely to a weekly collection of money and internal lending or setting up of micro enterprises. With the involvement in Kudumbashree, complete development of women has been ensured. Right from the weekly discussions of the happenings in the society to the regular training and classes has successfully opened up new horizons for women. Things which seemed completely inaccessible now seem to have become an integral part of their lives.
This is true with women assuming roles of leadership within the NHG units and the structure upwards. The office bearers of the three tiers have now become involved in the entire decision-making process of the panchayat. We see a scenario wherein they sit along with the Panchayat representatives and pose questions, seek clarifications and put forth their suggestions. Assuming roles of leadership within the three tier structure of the Kudumbashree has instilled the confidence and have given them space which was purely dominated by men till more recently. Many of them after assuming various roles of leadership within the fold of Kudumbashree have joined active politics and have gone on to contest elections for the post of panchayat presidents or the MLA etc.

(Meenu Maria Joseph is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in National Law School of India University. The article is based on a month-long field trip to study the election process of Kudumbashree Kerala. Email: meenujospeh@nls.ac.in )

Featured image source: http://www.ipsnews.net/2008/09/india-empowering-women-is-about-basic-funding/
Other images: author.

The Rural Rural Divide: Mobile Phone in Rajasthan

Srisagar B.

Mobile Phone Penetration in Rural Rajasthan Understanding the Rural-Rural Divide: A Study of Two Panchayats

India’s tryst with telecommunication began with the laying down of the first telegraph line between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour in 1850 and setting up of a separate department of posts and telegraph in 1854. Since then India has come a long way from ‘land line phones’ to ‘GSM’ mobiles. The telecom revolution in modern India began during the liberalisation period (1990) when the mobile phone subscribers increased from just 10 lakh to 94 crores until December 31st, 2014, making India the world’s second-largest mobile phone user base (TRAI, 2014). After the opening up of the economy in 1990, private investment in the sector of Value Added Services (VAS) was allowed and cellular telecom sector was opened up for competition from private investments. It was during this period that the Narasimha Rao-led government introduced the National Telecommunications Policy (NTP)  in 1994, which brought changes in the following areas: ownership, service and regulation of telecommunications infrastructure. The policy introduced the concept of ‘telecommunication for all’ and its vision was to expand the telecommunication facilities to all the villages in India. Liberalisation in the basic telecom sector was also envisaged in this policy. The LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation & Globalisation) policies of the 1990s created huge inequalities in society as we focused more on growth and less on distribution. One such inequality related to telecom sector is between ‘digital haves’ and ‘digital have not’s’. As it is said that India lives in its villages, it has created a huge rural-urban digital divide as development in telecom sector was focused mainly in urban areas leaving the rural people behind. This is the challenge for the future policy makers to reduce this digital divide between rural and urban people. My study focuses on how people in two panchayats (Kakarmala and Barar) of Rajasthan were accessing mobile phone technology, two decades after the country opened up to the mobile phone revolution.

Location of the studyim1im2

My first field trip was on October 27, 2014, to October 31, 2014. I had been to Khakarmala Panchayat of Amet Tehsil in Rajasamand district of Rajasthan. In my second field trip from November 4, 2014, to November 8, 2014, we had been to Barar Panchayat of Bhim Tehsil in Rajasamand district of Rajasthan.

Rural-rural digital divide

The Khakarmala Panchayat had no internet or mobile connectivity, whereas as the neighbouring village Nanana, which was just 2 km away had network coverage. The main reason for this is the hilly topography of Rajasthan and while travelling from Nanana to Khakarmala. This was creating a Rural-rural digital divide between the two villages.

Usage of mobile phones by different kinds of people

Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers

ASHA workers in Rajasthan were using their mobile phones to contact Auxiliary Nurse or Midwife (ANM) and doctors before bringing a pregnant woman to the Primary Health Centre (PHC). It can be said that usage of the mobile phone by ASHA workers in an effective way has reduced the MMR to some extent.

I compared this with a similar service in my home state Karnataka, in the south of India. Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS) in Karnataka: an example for usage of mobile phone effectively in public service delivery. This is a centralized web-based application for improving delivery of health care services to pregnant women and children up to five years of age through name based tracking of each beneficiary and monitoring service delivery. The ASHA worker identifies the pregnant women in her locality and persuades her to come to PHC for health checkups. Once the pregnant women visit the PHC for the first time her mobile phone number is noted down in a registry and fed into a computer database which in turn sends SMS to the mobile phone of the pregnant women informing her of the next due date for a check up.

Once the baby is delivered periodic SMS are sent until the baby turns five years informing the mother about the immunisation and vaccination programs being run in her locality. Also, nutrition tips for feeding the baby are sent over the phone.This kind of public service delivery system using mobile phone has helped Karnataka to reduce MMR and IMR. The state was awarded the Rockefeller foundation innovation award in 2011 for making use of technology effectively for public service delivery.

Farmers

Few farmers in the villages we met were using their mobile phones to call ‘kisan call centre’ (1800-180-1551) to get the market price of their produce so that they are not cheated by the middlemen who directly buy from the farm of the farmer.

Women in the house

The villages we had been to, had a huge outward migration of the male family members. So the women in the house used their mobile phones to stay connected with their male relatives and children.

College going students

The college-going youth in the villages used mobile phones to stay connected with their friends via Whatsapp and Facebook.

Markets for mobile phones in Bhim town

The picture below shows a place called as Badnaur Chauraya in Bhim town where the study was conducted. This is the place where people from surrounding villages congregate on every Thursday to participate in a fair. This fair is usually organised on Thursday because it is a holiday for MGNREGA workers in Rajasthan.
The study was conducted in this area by interviewing 5-6 mobile shop owners.

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The number of mobile shops has increased from 15 in 2008 to 90 in 2014. This shows that the mobile phone market is expanding and the demand has increased enormously and hence the number of shops.

Type of mobile phone most sold

Spice (M-5007) is the most sold mobile phones in the Bhim market. 20-30 pieces of Spice (M-5007) mobile are sold every month per shop depending on the location of the shop. The reason for people choosing this one particular model over the other is that it is cheaper, simple to operate, supports regional language and has long durability.

Most preferred networks

Almost 60 percent of the mobile phone owners subscribed to ‘Airtel’ network, 30 percent of them to ‘Vodafone’ and the remaining 10 percent to BSNL. The reason for this is the quality of network offered by the private players and easily available SIM cards at low cost.

Effect of MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) on mobile phones

I happened to talk to two women in the mobile shops who were buying mobile phones from the savings they had done by working under MGNREGA. It is no doubt that MGNREGA has increased the purchasing power of the people and also empowered the rural women by putting money into their hands as more than fifty percent of the MGNREGA workers are women. It is not that only literate people can use the mobile phone, but also the illiterate can operate the basic function of receiving and making a call. So mobile phone is no more a luxury good, it has become a basic necessity for the people and has become a part and parcel of their life. So mobile phones have been as indispensable as the three basic necessities of life, namely, Roti, kapda, makan – “Roti, kapda, makan aur mobile phone”.

Conclusion

Mobile phone technology is a wonderful platform that still needs to be explored for effectively delivering public services. The TRAI data shows that mobile phone penetration India is skewed towards urban centers with a teledensity of 142 percent whereas rural areas witnessing a teledensity of 40 percent. So one has to take this huge digital divide into account before deciding to make mobile phones as the core for the beneficiaries to receive their entitlements. Mobile phones with internet connectivity would make life simpler for the citizens to access services of the government. Also, it is very important to provide internet connectivity to the panchayat offices as they are the main source of contact for the people in villages. So the Government of India in 2011 has come out with a project called as National Optical Fiber Cable Network (NOFN) to connect 2 lakh odd Gram Panchayats with broadband connectivity so that the people in the rural areas can access the government services offered over the internet. Also, few initiatives like ‘internet.org’ by social media website Facebook which offers to provide free internet facility by placing drones over an unconnected locality would go a long way in bringing down the rural-urban digital divide in India. So connectivity should be seen as a basic human right in future for the all round development of the country.

Bibliography and References

Bharat Broadband Network Limited (n.d.). Project National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN). Retrieved on 27 February, 2015 from http://www.bbnl.nic.in/content/page/national-optical-fibre-networknofn.php .

TRAI (2015, February 6). Highlights of Telecom Subscription Data as on 31st December, 2014. In Press Release No. 11/ 2015. New Delhi: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

(A graduate engineer having worked with a leading IT firm of international repute and a gym enthusiast, the author is reading for Master of Public Policy (2016) at the National Law School.)

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Other images: author.