Session 6: State Capacity

Chair: Dr Pronab Sen (IGC Country Director India Central)


  • Role of ICT technologies in combating malnutrition: Increasing transparency in India’s mid-day meal programme – Sheetal Sekhri (University of Virginia) 

  • Emissions trading as an environmental innovation in India: Measuring the policy impact on emissions and abatement costs – Anant Sudarshan (Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, University of Chicago)

Discussant: Santhosh Mathew (Ministry of Rural Development)

Professor Sheetal Sekhri opened the final session with the paper Dial ‘Mobile’ for Monitoring: Using technology to increase transparency in public service delivery. The study looked at the impact of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) platforms on the delivery of a school midday meals (MDM) programme in Bihar, as part of a massive school-feeding programme. Several reports previously documented high programme leakages. The study aimed to reduce these by identifying a low-cost, scalable system to improve accountability of public service delivery.

The study used a Difference in Difference approach, measuring the roll out of an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) across Bihar. IVRS collected beneficiary take-up data and monitored programme delivery. The study compares the impact on MDM in schools receiving IVRS, before and after the study, to the difference before and after the programme among schools not receiving IVRS.

Prior to IVRS, monthly reports prepared by school headmasters would document the number of students requiring meals. This data was sent up through the administrative chain, aggregated at different levels, eventually reaching the top where funds were disbursed. Under IVRS, schools registered additional points of contact allowing for increased school-level monitoring of actual provisions. The study found overall that independent data based assessment of MDM provision improved after IVRS. Central government audit data revealed quality and meal sufficiency also improved. Prof. Sekhri emphasised that the study showed significant promise for the use of ICT in reducing leakages and improving efficacy of public service delivery.

Comments by the discussant, Dr. Santosh Mathew from the Ministry of Rural Development, offered an analysis of other external factors in Bihar at the time of the study that may have contributed to IVRS’ success. Particularly, Nitish Kumar’s wider reform agenda, under which, public programmes experienced significant improvements in administrative capacity. Dr. Mathew suggested that some of IVRS’ impact could be attributable to improved managerial quality and wider changes in political economy and governance in Bihar during the study.

Following this discussion, Dr. Anant Sudarshan presented his paper: Emissions Trading as Environmental Innovation in India.

Pollution has significant implications for health and welfare. Data suggests that concentrations of fine particulate across India, particularly in North India, has a substantial impact on life expectancy, as well as broader economic costs from elevated disease burdens, all of which negatively impact economic productivity. The challenge, outlined by Prof. Sudarshan is developing a responsive and efficient regulatory scheme, providing adequate information and monitoring whilst keeping compliance costs efficient to ensure  good firms are not inhibited from entering the market.

To address this, the study looks at three different coupled approaches for regulating emissions. Particular emphasis was placed on testing a market-driven emissions-trading scheme and assessing its impact on pollution and firm compliance. An emission-trading scheme allows for continuous incentives to firms to reduce pollution. Using market-based monitoring may encourage innovations and greater efficiencies among participating firms. Leveraging the market to regulate firms in contexts where state enforcement capacity is insufficient is also desirable. The challenge, however, remains good data; without data and a functioning monitoring system, market solutions fail.

Comments by the discussant Dr. Mathew pointed out the importance of the study in developing alternatives to the classic approach of increasing regulatory oversight through greater administration and reporting burdens. Instead, markets offers scope for leveraging locally generated, collective action to enforce regulations. Reflecting on both the session presentations, Dr. Mathew called for greater attention to the utility of ICT platforms for motivating greater collective action by local citizens to create an additional accountability check on polluters.

Summary written by Upaasna Kaul, Managing Editor and Hub Economist at the IGC