Increased Transparency, Enhancing Voice and Political Move

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Increased Transparency

  • Greater transparency is an important step towards corruption-free administration. This is one important lesson from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). “Information walls” in Rajasthan, whereby the names and employment details of all Job Card holders in a village are painted on the walls of the Gram Panchayat office, can help eliminate bogus Job Cards and fudged Muster Rolls. The NREGA’s Monitoring and Information System (MIS), which computerises all records and makes them available on the Internet, is another important transparency measure that people are slowly learning to use.

  • Along similar lines, simple transparency measures have been introduced in Chhattisgarh to eliminate bogus ration cards. For instance, every house in Lakhanpur had a large round sign, painted next to the door, displaying the type of ration card held by that household and the corresponding entitlements (price and quantity). This serves the dual purpose of generating awareness about entitlements and of “naming and shaming” those who possess a ration card (e.g. an Antyodaya card) for which they are not eligible.

Enhancing ‘Voice’

  • Turning to the “demand side” of the story, the most significant step in Chhattisgarh was a major expansion in the coverage of the PDS. In what is widely seen now as a shrewd political move, Raman Singh (BJP leader and current Chief Minister) revamped the PDS ahead of the 2007 state elections. Today, close to 80 per cent of the rural population — including all SC/ST households — is entitled to PDS grain at either one or two rupees per kilo. The fact that most rural households have a strong stake in the PDS has generated immense pressure on the system (ration shops in particular) to deliver.

  • Expanded PDS coverage and lower issue prices have both contributed to enhancing the voice of otherwise poor and disempowered rural cardholders. As Rajeev Jaiswal (Joint Director, Food and Civil Supplies) put it: “At the moment we are only using the voice of 80 per cent of the rural community. When the PDS is universalised, the entire community including the better educated and more vocal sections will start putting pressure on the system.”

Political Move

  • Ultimately, however, it is political will that seems to matter most. Somehow, the PDS became a political priority in Chhattisgarh and a decision was made to turn it around, instead of siding with the corrupt dealers who were milking the system. When political bosses firmly direct the bureaucracy to fix a dysfunctional system, things begin to change.

  • The fact that government functionaries were under enormous pressure to make the PDS work was evident in Lakhanpur. For instance, monitoring grain movements had become one of the top priorities of the patwaris and tehsilars. The tehsildar mentioned that the PDS was the first agenda item whenever meetings were held at the district level. The political pressure was also manifest in their willingness to stand up to vested interests, e.g. by arresting corrupt middlemen and taking them to Court if need be.

  • It would be naïve to think that the revival of the PDS in Chhattisgarh reflects the kind-heartedness of the state government, especially in the light of its contempt for people’s rights in other contexts. It was a political calculation, nothing more. But it worked, and it can happen elsewhere too.