Session 3: Governance

The first presentation, from Karthik Muralidharan (University of California, San Diego) and Sandip Sukhtankar (Dartmouth College), focused on the use of biometric smartcards to deliver services to the poor in Andhra Pradesh. Two programs, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (NREGS) and Social Security Pensions (SSP) were evaluated. Working with the government of Andhra Pradesh, researchers used a randomized rollout design to monitor the implementation of biometric smartcards across 8 districts, affecting a population of about 19 million people. The study, titled ‘Building State Capacity: Evidence from biometric smartcards in India,’ found that the new system paid for itself in saved beneficiary time (worth $4.44 million) and also reduced annual leakage by an estimated $38.7 million.

The discussants, Santosh Mathew (Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India) and Jayant Sinha (Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha), expanded the conversation to the political economy of ‘why this works where it works’ but fails elsewhere. Mathew asked: ‘Why are we struggling to make these additional investments to make sure some of our programmes work?’ Sinha highlighted the struggles of implementing projects where the ‘state doesn’t exist on the ground in many areas.’

In the second presentation, Lakshmi Iyer (Harvard Business School) presented a working paper on political identity and religious violence in India. Her work centres on the question ‘Does increasing minority political representation lower religious conflict?’ The paper is based on a new dataset of the religious identity of legislators and an expansion of the Varshney-Wilkinson database on riots to cover the period from 1980-2010. The Q & A session included a discussion of possible mechanisms through which political representation could affect levels of religious violence and directions for further analysis of these new datasets.

By Mari Oye, Country Economist, IGC Myanmar