3: Social Sector Service Delivery 1

Dr. Shaibal Gupta, Country Co-Director of IGC India Bihar, chaired the 1st panel discussion on Social Sector Service Delivery. The first researcher in session was Maham Farhat from Oxford Policy Management Group who presented the findings of Baseline Survey on the effectiveness of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). BISP is one of the largest unconditional cash transfers of its kind in South Asia, targeting the poorest 20% of the population. It is being evaluated independently by OPM in an effort to provide rigorous results of the effectiveness of the programme; as well as provide on-going support to policy makers to help improve the programme design. The baseline data collected in 2011 revealed large differences between BISP and non-BISP households: BISP households are poorer, more food insecure and have poorer nutrition and education outcomes. They are also engaged in more vulnerable livelihoods, and are thus exposed to serious household shocks, particularly covariate shocks which can result in extremely damaging coping strategies. The presentation concluded with citing potential impact areas of BISP on reducing household poverty, vulnerability to shocks, women’s empowerment and education outcomes.

The next research presentation was titled “Women political leaders, corruption and learning: Evidence from a large public programme in India” and presented by Dr. Vegard Iversen, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester. The research looked at the effectiveness of women sarpanches (head of the Panchayati Raj Institution at the Gram Panchayat level) in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme in Andhra Pradesh. While there is a large literature showing women to be agents of change focusing on allocation and priorities within households, the existing research is divided over the effectiveness of women political leaders. This study plays an instrumental role in enhancing this debate. Taking advantage of India’s policy of randomly allocating village council headship to women, the study uses household survey data and official social audit data – the latter to highlight how the impacts of women’s leadership may change over time. The main finding from the household survey is that corruption and inefficiency is higher in Gram Panchyat (GP) reserved for females. However, when one incorporates level of experience of the Sarpanch, this adverse effect goes away. When using the panel data to look at changes over time, the study concludes that inexperienced women political leaders perform worse than men during their first year in office. However they completely catch up in the second year and from then onwards perform as well as their male counterparts.

Dr. Gupta, chairing the panel, reflected upon the findings with anecdotal evidence from Bihar. He highlighted that Bihar appears to be a counter example change women sarpanch bring by playing a crucial role in disallowing liquor shops to be opened in the village.

The final study in the discussion was titled “Social Audits and MGNREGA delivery: Lessons from Andhra Pradesh” and presented by Dr. Farzana Afridi, Assistant Professor of Economics, Indian Statistical Institute. Concerns over corruption consistently arise in relation to large public programmes in India. Against this backdrop, community monitoring is perceived as a low-cost and powerful mechanism to bolster transparency and effectiveness. Determinants of successful participatory monitoring include high beneficiary stakes, the ease of comprehension and measurement of effectiveness, and a credible grievance redressal mechanism. Uniquely, the MNREGA Act mandates regular social audits by local stakeholders or Gram Sabhas. AP is the only Indian state to institutionalise social audits of MNREGA projects combining a top-down and grass-roots participation process. The data on complaints from these social audits show that the number of irregularities has increased over time: while labour related irregularities do not change with successive audits, material related irregularities strongly increase. While the audit process may have been effective in detecting irregularities and there is evidence of beneficiary learning, the audits do not deter pilferage and malpractice. The reason is that there is a lack of enforcement and punishment of transgressors.

Dr. Minhaj Mahmud, Head of Research at Institute of Governance Studies and Brac Development Institute spoke about the need for looking forward to the impact from the income support program that will appear once the study is completed. On the study related to the performance of women in political leadership, he suggested that there is a need to look at behavioural factors that influence the initial level of poor delivery but leads to a catch up in a year.

Dr. Bharat Ramaswami from Indian Statistical Institute sought information about accuracy of targeting, scale and composition of spending in households, and any formal mechanism to take inflation into account in the BISP program. In India, cash transfers are hotly debated but there isn’t a scale up so far. The feasibility of how you deliver cash to households is a problem.

Dr. Ashwini Kulkarni from Indian Statistical Institute and Pragati Abhiyan asked why in service delivery of programs where women are GP heads should it make any difference when rest of the context remains the same? What is the sphere of influence of just having one women member in the leadership? She said, it is heartening to know that more women are able to access social programs when there is a women sarpanch. With respect to social audits, the learning is that we need to reformulate the objective of social audit in a narrower way – it acts as a good feedback loop. Social audits may not work in all programs. NREGA is a complex mechanism where it is difficult to pin down who has earned at what point. For programs such as food security, social audits is important. The principal question is how can we really have some kind of penalty on bureaucracy on leakages and non-performance. Insights from this will have policy impacts in shaping social audits in Maharashtra.

Summing up, Dr. Shaibal Gupta said, one should take into consideration the historical factors working behind the techno-managerial aspects. In India, most of the southern states have a history of good governance and social movements that strengthened the community. Social sector service delivery is now making or breaking governments in Hindi heartland. He expressed satisfaction that research presented in the discussion delivered on the objectives.

By Ghanshyam Tiwari, Country Economist, IGC India-Bihar