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Mid-day Meal scheme in 'capability trap'

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  • Thiagarajan Arunachalam
    From: karmayog - tanya http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/ZND1PevLjD6anekcGVl0bM/Meal-scheme-in-capability-trap.html Meal scheme in
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 22, 2013

      From: karmayog - tanya <info@...>


      Meal scheme in 'capability trap'

      States remain stuck in the capability trap as they mimic the forms and
      structures of successful organizations

      Yamini Aiyar

      Thu, Feb 21 2013. 06 24 PM IST

      In a recently published paper, economists Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock
      and Matt Andrews argue that many developing countries are stuck in a
      "capability trap" in which the "appearance of development activity masks the
      lack of functional development activity". India's experience with
      implementing the Mid- Day Meal (MDM) Scheme is a good case study on how this
      capability trap unfolds.

      Delivering MDM ought to be a relatively straightforward administrative
      exercise. Unlike other welfare programmes with more complex eligibility
      requirements and monitoring systems, MDM is an input driven scheme that
      requires the administration to make a universal transfer, based on calorie
      norms determined by guidelines, of foodgrains and money to all government
      schools. Schools are responsible for the actual implementation-procuring
      cooking materials, hiring cooks and preparing meals for children. Some
      states and districts have outsourced implementation to local NGOs
      (non-governmental organizations) who prepare and deliver cooked meals to
      schools. Yet, as my colleagues at Accountability Initiative discovered when
      we began tracking the implementation of the scheme in Uttar Pradesh and
      Bihar, even these routine tasks are often not implemented properly.

      Under MDM, districts are an important administrative hub, as they sanction
      the transfer of money and grains to schools, monitor progress, maintain
      accounting records and resolve administrative bottlenecks. However, we found
      in our review that poor management systems, inadequate resources and weak
      infrastructure make it impossible for the district to perform these
      functions effectively. For example, in Bihar, the administrative arm
      responsible for delivering foodgrains runs parallel to the MDM
      administration. The MDM department has no powers of accountability over the
      foodgrains administration. So if schools have problems, like grains not
      arriving on time, all the MDM authorities can do is issue a letter of
      complaint. So by design, the MDM department cannot be held accountable for
      ensuring that schools receive their foodgrains.

      Even within the MDM administrative structure, management and monitoring
      mechanisms are weak. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, there are no dedicated
      officers responsible for monitoring schools at the local level. This task is
      performed by overworked elementary education officers who report to
      education and not to MDM authorities. Unsurprisingly, monitoring MDM is not
      their top priority.

      Bihar has dedicated block-level monitors, but the sanctioning authority
      rests with the district education officer, for whom MDM is again not a high
      priority. Lack of adequate financial resources adds to the problem. In one
      interview, a local official in Uttar Pradesh said that he was unable to
      monitor schools as he had not received any transport allowance for the year.
      So, when reports have to be prepared, officers collect information through
      telephone calls to headmasters.

      Given these problems, districts have developed their own strategies for
      reporting on progress. We found that utilization numbers in district records
      are calculated based on formulas devised by the district rather than on
      actual consumption in schools. If you compare school and district records on
      money transferred, the numbers do not match. So reports, perpetuating the
      fiction of a functional system, rarely represent reality.

      The schools' experience with implementing MDM is quite different to what
      district records suggest. Our analysis of foodgrains receipts based on
      school surveys in Bihar found that for several months in the year, a large
      number of schools-75% in one district-did not receive enough foodgrains to
      serve the requisite meals on all school days. We also discovered that
      salaries for cooks can take anywhere between two and six months to arrive in
      school bank accounts. The process of fund and grain transfers is so opaque
      that schools have no prior information on the timing and quantum of
      foodgrains and money they can expect to receive.

      Where information systems have been developed, they have not been well
      conceived. Uttar Pradesh developed a system to send SMS alerts to
      headmasters with details of the amount of grain a school ought to receive,
      but the SMSes were in English and many headmasters complained that they
      could not read them! Faced with such constraints, schools have developed a
      range of coping strategies, all of which seriously compromise
      accountability. In some instances, headmasters entered into credit-based
      arrangements with local stores. In others, headmasters said that they used
      their own money and reimbursed themselves once government money arrived.
      Sadly, the most common coping mechanism reported was reducing the quantum of
      food given to students or simply not serving meals. We found in our school
      surveys that schools in Uttar Pradesh serve meals regularly, but the amount
      of food given is much lower than required by the guidelines, while schools
      in Bihar go months without serving meals to students.

      These capability failures are not unique to the MDM scheme. As we have
      explored in this series, capability failure is the one common thread that
      runs through India's implementation of welfare schemes. To return to the
      argument made by Pritchett et al, one reason why states remain stuck in the
      capability trap is that they mimic the forms and structures of successful
      organizations-in India's case, the hierarchical, top down bureaucracy that
      works in the Western world-without creating conditions under which these
      forms can be successful. It is clear that this mimicry is not yielding
      results in India. An honest, robust public debate on reforming India's
      administrative institutions is the need of the hour.

      Yamini Aiyar is director, Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy
      Research. With inputs from of the PAISA team at Accountability Initiative,
      especially Mehjabeen Jagmag and Ram Ratan Jat.

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