Near double-digit growth, global takeovers by Indian companies and massive payments being made to cricketers across the world by the Indian Premier League (IPL), all sign's of prosperity and all around growth. However this growth is not uniform, there is an 'India' which is surging forward, but there is a 'Bharat' which continues to be home to one third of the world's poor.
India is the world's second most populous country, ranked 128th out of 177 countries on Human Development Index, with an estimated population of 1.13 Billion in 2007. According to UNDP, 28.6% of these 1.13 billion people live below poverty line and in terms of absolute nos. it is a staggering 323 million people.
Orissa is one of the poorest states in India and regularly suffer from natural catastrophe leading to further suffering to vulnerable and resource poor populations.
A staggering 18.5 million people (49% of the population) earn less than 10 rupees (0.16 Euros) a day - it is hard to comprehend how people can survive on such a pittance. Of course it is a fact that many do not, or have to take extreme measures in order to meet their most basic requirements. Stories of this despair from Kalahandi (Orissa) formed the headlines in media for years.
Against this backdrop of extreme poverty, the Government of India has sought to introduce a series of Social welfare schemes and programmes to provide minimum support for its poorest citizens such as Old age/disability/widow pension, food from Public Distribution System, Mid Day Meal Programme in schools etc. The latest such scheme is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) which provide 100 days employment to each rural household that demands it. For poor households these social security schemes can provide a vital safety net. Unfortunately most of these programmes, schemes and services have not achieved their objectives owning to poor implementation as well as corruption in the programme delivery system.
Regular audits and studies have identified that there is a need for greater transparency at all levels of programme delivery to ensure due entitlements reach the needy. To raise their voice against corruption people were lacking information and knowledge. This leaves them in a very disadvantageous position in developing themselves with no bargaining power whatsoever. Monitoring Entitlements for Rural Communities (MERComs) is a mobile phone based monitoring system for tracking delivery of entitlements to rural poor.
Concern Worldwide, an Irish non governmental international development agency, is working in Orissa and partnering with several development organisations including Women's Organization for Socio Cultural Awareness (WOSCA), Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD) and Prakalpa under its Governance and Livelihood with an endeavour towards achieving its strategic objective of promoting responsible governance.
Ghatagaon and Banspal blocks are the two most backward blocks of Keonjhar District in Orissa state. Banspal block spreads over a geographical area of 1191.07 sq. km. and consists of natural dense forest and hills. Ghatagaon block is spread over an area of 547.29 sq. km. Both these blocks are home to a large tribal population, of which more than 80% live below the poverty line. The tribal population includes Bhuiyan and Juanga, which have the status of Primitive Tribal Groups.
Concern Worldwide and WOSCA partnered with Ekgaon Technologies, a New Delhi based socially committed information technology company for conceptualising and implementing the MERComs system in Ghatagaon and Banspal blocks of Orissa. MERComs is a modular, expandable and localized (in English, Hindi, Oriya) Management Information System (MIS) for NGOs, INGOs and volunteers for monitoring rural entitlements.
Emphasising on its role Mr. P K Prabhakar, Programme Manager, Concern Worldwide India said,
"Concern's endeavour is to inform and empower the poor to access their rights and entitlements to lead a life without poverty".
He added that billions of rupees cannot be allowed to go waste every year due to leakages in the system.
MERComs framework developed by Ekgaon allows central tracking and monitoring of rural entitlements programmes and its status through decentralized field based monitoring units and partners using mobile phone based application.
The system captures the transactions, payments, status, availability, value etc. which stands as evidence for the delivery made respectively from / to the entitled members, viz. all the persons being covered or are eligible to be covered under the NREGS, Public Distribution System (PDS) and various Pension schemes such as the Madhu Babu Pension Yojana.
"We are using technology for feeling the pulse of people and putting the last first", Mr. MDP Nayak, Programme Coordinator, WOSCA "Concern aims at bringing lasting changes in the lives of the poor by promoting good governance at all levels". Mr.Ashish Raj, Senior Programme Officer, Concern Worldwide Photo: WOSCA WOSCA Volunteer tracking PDS records using Mobile Phone at the Gram Panchayat Office, Singpur of Banspal Block, District Keonjhar, Orissa
The system has facility to generate wide range of reports for user-defined period, which are shared at various levels of governance of programme and schemes. The solution informs and empowers the people to capture information in real time and push for corrective measures, thus ensuring rights of the people.
To ensure rights and entitlements of the marginalized a regular interface and collaborative action with the concerned government departments and Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) has been established by the project, where MERComs reports are shared.
The project case study paper
"MERComs - Tracking Entitlements of Rural Communities for Livelihood Security in Orissa" was selected for the Best Paper Award for Compendium for the 12th National Conference on e-Governance held on 12-13 February, 2009 at Goa by Government of India.
The national recognition received by the project puts it amongst the best e-governance enabling initiative in India. It has potential to further scaling up acting as a direct citizen to government interface using their mobile phones to know the status of their entitlements.
Basic motto behind MERComs system is "Ensuring Compliance Assuring Rights"
"Good governance can be achieved only when the citizen aided by information as power can demand change".
The RTI Act has given the power to people for seeking information, however the means to do the same have not been enabled, ekgaon aims at providing these tools to people through innovative technology applications, accessible at All times from Anywhere in there local language.
Mr. Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, Chief Executive Officer, ekgaon technologies
The Government of India is also aiming to enable government services by 2013 to all its citizens, with over Rs 20,175 crore investment in its National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). The announcement to this effect was made by the officials during the 12th National Conference on e-Governance at Goa.
The Award for the best paper was presented in the valedictory of the conference session on 13th February 2009, by Mr. Filip N Rodrigues, Honorable Minister of Ministry of Water Resources, Forest, Legal. Meteorology, Government of Goa.
Award being received by Mr. K Sasikumar, Asst. Vice President, ekgaon, Mr. MDP Nayak, Programme Coordinator, WOSCA and Mr. Ashish Raj and Mr. P K Prabhakar of Concern Worldwide. For further information
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