By Sameet Panda
The National Food Security Act 2013 puts special emphasis on transparency where information relating to the entitlements under the Act should be placed in public domain. The section 27 of the Act particularly mandates, placing all documents relating to the Targeted Public Distribution System in public domain and creating mechanism for public inspection. However, the spirit of transparency norm is not limited to TPDS it is applicable to rest three major entitlements under the Act as well i.e Mid Day Meal, Integrated Child Development Services and Maternity Entitlement.
Taking the mandate forward the Government of Odisha has though made major progress when it comes to ensuring transparency provision under MDM and TPDS. However, it majorly lagging behind in case ICDS and Maternity Benefit Programme which is called Mamata in the state.
A comparison of transparency provision put in place by the state for the 4 schemes will give a idea how it is shaping the delivery of the respective schemes. The state government has set up a dedicated website http://pdsodisha.in for TPDS. The web portal has detail information relating to TPDS such as major policy directions, orders by the government, Panchayat wise ration card issued including names of family members who have got ration card as well as monthly food grain allocation made. It has helped the beneficiaries and activist working on the issues to highlight both exclusion and inclusion error in the system and any case of manipulation or denial of allocation of food grain. This transparency provision has also helped the officials to manage the programme well as they real time data on ration cards issued, food grain allocation made, even movement of vehicle from FCI to FPS.
In the recent 24 social audits conducted by SPREAD, civil society organisation working in KBK districts on Food and nutrition issues shows that post NFSA the quality and quantity of food grain provided under PDS is very close to norm. There are issues of eligible beneficiaries being left out but Households with ration cards are mostly receiving their entitled food grain.
The government of Odisha learning from the experience of transparency provisions under PDS has taken a step forward when it comes to putting transparency provision in Mid Day Meal programme. The School and Mass Education Department the nodal department for MDM programme has introduced a SMS based information system. In the system all head teachers on the schools are supposed to send information relating to the status of MDM served in their school, no of children who took MDM in any given day. The information is collated automatically in a web portal maintained by the department which is updated at a daily basis. The web portal http://www.mdmodishasms.nic.in is public, the department has also developed an App for MDM which up for download by public. Through the App one can check the numbers of students taking MDM in school in any particular day along with absence of cook cum helper, distribution of IFA tablets to students etc.
9003 children in 8 KBK districts were not provided MDM in the first week after opening of schools post summer vacation from 19th to 24th of June, said Jitendra Rath who works on right to food. Data from online MDM information system reflects this. It was cross checked with the teachers in charge of MDM whose numbers are on the website and found to be correct, he added.
This data can be used for claiming food security allowance as mandated under section 8 of NFSA which makes the state liable to pay in case of non supply of meal or food grain. Therefore having this information put pressure over the state to run the scheme effectively. It also helps the state officials managing the programme to be up dated on the programme on real time basis.
The Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti Department, which is responsible for two major entitlements of ICDS and Mamata is lagging drastically behind on putting things in public domain. ICDS and Mamata are most important schemes for maternal health and child nutrition. The recent experience of social audits facilitated by SPREAD in selected 24 Panchayats in 6 KBK districts shows both the schemes are in disarray. There are huge backlogs when it comes to issuance of Mamata instalments, whereas in case of ICDS, beneficiaries are receiving less than half of their entitled dry ration and hot cooked meal. Also there are major implementation issues like growth measurement of children, pre-school activities etc. There is also confusion and irregular maintenance of registers; one wonders how the government is getting information on important issues like numbers of underweight children in the state.
The website of the department has very little information; one can’t even get the exact numbers of Angwadi centres or present numbers of beneficiaries under both the schemes. Now it is difficult to understand what is stopping the department from learning from its peer departments. The department concerns for TPDS and MDM have already put substantial information in the public domain. The improved transparency has also lead to improve delivery of services and functioning of the schemes.
The department can look in to these systems and the template used can do necessary tweaking so that it can be used in case of ICDS and Mamata. The department can also set up dedicated websites for the schemes. It can have detail information relating to beneficiaries, Angnawadi centres, distribution of take home ration and hot cooked meal, growth measurement of children for ICDS. In case of Mamata scheme, Anganwadi centre wise information relating to beneficiaries, no of instalments due etc, could be placed in public domain. This will enhance accountability among officials in term of updating all information at the appropriate levels, timely identification of implementation gaps and addressing the same at the earliest. Hope in the era of digitalization the state uses it to its maximum to provide accountable and robust services to the most needy which is the essence of 3 Ts mantra of state Chief Minister.
Sameet Panda is an activist working on right to food.
By Sameet Panda