Role of ICT technologies in combating malnutrition: Increasing transparency in India’s mid‐day meal programme
Social welfare programmes in developing countries are infamous for poor administration and leakages from the distribution networks. Large swathes of benefits often do not reach the intended beneficiaries. This project focuses on a state-driven, technology-enabled reform and shows that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be harnessed to improve existing public delivery systems.
We investigate the statewide roll-out of Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) introduced in Bihar, India on the functioning of the mid-day meal (MDM) programme. The programme entitles each enrolled child to a meal on the school premises each school day. It currently benefits 120 million primary school children, making it one of the largest school feeding programmes in the world. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that this programme is fraught with corruption and inefficiencies. A key challenge faced by the top tier programme administrators is that they have to rely on the take-up estimates provided by the mid-level delivery system to determine the future allocations and performance of the programme. Such estimates are often non-verifiable and leave room for rigging the statistics, syphoning off from the system, and inaction by the middle tier monitors. Therefore, improving information flow from the bottom to the top tier of administration might be effective in the implementation of the program. To this end, the state of Bihar introduced in 2012 a fully automated platform that calls school teachers every day to record whether the school provided meals to the students.
- We use state government reports and independent assessments of MDM by the central administration and an independent NGO that monitors schooling outcomes in India to analyse the impact of this policy reform.
- We utilise the introduction of the program in 2012 in Bihar and compare the outcomes in these districts to comparable districts in the neighbouring states before and after the introduction of the programme.
- In an independent assessment of the program where we employ the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) data collected by Pratham, a national NGO, we find significant improvement in delivery. Our most conservative estimates suggest that the percentage of schools providing MDM increased by 20 percentage points after the implementation of IVRS in Bihar.
- Using the same data, we find that enrollment in schools declined, whereas reported attendance increased.
- We find evidence of malfeasance in reporting. As per official state data, 100% of primary and upper primary schools in Bihar provided the school meals before the IVRS. However, after the program, we find that the percentage of enrolled students taking the meals declined by 34%.
In addition to effects on the provision of the midday meals we also investigate the effects of IVRS on learning and health outcomes.