When the mirror has 2 faces: the story of governments own datasets not matching!

Posted on:17-08-10

 Avani Kapur

A few months back I was searching for release and expenditure data for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Since the financial management section of the SSA portal hasn’t been updated in 2 years (the latest available information is August 2008!), I was left struggling to find places to look. Luckily, I remembered that we now we have a tool – the Right to Information Act – an easy method to get information.  So I decided to file my first RTI !

At the outset, let me just say that I got an amazing response. The PIO officer in-charge was prompt in his response, transferred some of my queries to the relevant departments and even sent them reminder letters to send me the information on time. So for those sceptical about filing RTI’s – go ahead, give it a shot, you might be surprised! But this post isn’t about filing RTI’s. It’s about what the RTI revealed.

 The RTI showed the complete chaos and confusion that exists within government databases. Information on state-wise expenditures and releases for SSA  in 2008-09 from the Joint Review Mission( available on the SSA website here) put the All India total GOI release for SSA in 2008-09 at Rs 1,270,533 lakh and the total expenditure for SSA, during the same period at Rs 1933231 lakh.  However, the same data in the RTI gave the figures of Rs 1,261,120 lakh and Rs 1,905,652 lakh respectively.

 For more details, please see that table below giving the state-wise variations. 

State

GOI release according to Joint Review Mission

( in Rs Lakh)

GOI Release according to the RTI

( in Rs Lakh)

Difference

( in Rs Lakh)

Tamil Nadu

45,414

53,241

7,827

Himachal Pradesh

8,553

10,513

1,960

Arunachal Pradesh

13,684

15,568

1,884

Mizoram

5,113

3,873

1,240

Delhi

1,529

1,029

500

Nagaland

2,868

2,368

500

Dadra & N. Haveli

105

85

20

Madhya Pradesh

85,569

85,570

1

 

State

Total expenditure according to Joint Review Mission

( in Rs Lakh)

Total expenditure according to the RTI

( in Rs Lakh)

  Difference

 

( in Rs Lakh)

Bihar

209,431

226,382

16,951

Chhattisgarh

75,101

82,246

7,145

Mizoram

2,127

5,244

3,117

Such vast differences – (for Bihar amounting to Rs 16,951 lakhs of rupees!) can’t be blamed on “reporting errors”. Instead, they raise some important questions.

How do we know which is the “correct” data? How are schemes and programmes expected to function efficiently and be successful when no one is sure how much money is being released or spent? And most importantly, how can we expect to have transparency and accountability when our government databases are in shambles?

While organisations like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) do their part in highlighting some of the discrepancies or errors in government data, they can’t overhaul the entire system. But it’s obvious - it’s time we get back to the basics- get our data clean. And whether the UID can assist in this process – I guess we’ll have to wait and watch!

Avani Kapur is Senior Research and Program Analyst, Accountability Initiative.

THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA


After reading the article on data-base mismatches between the Joint Review Mission and the information revealed after filing a petition under the RTI, the most obvious face of the Indian face has been revealed. Nothing better can be expected out of the people in the business of our governance. But the positive fact is, now that this discrepancy has been found out, some fruitful result out of it can be expected...