[op-ed snap] There’s a hole in the data
Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India’s data regime.
Mains level: The news-card analyses issues and challenges with India’s data regime, in a brief manner.
- The credibility of India’s data systems is under serious threat with the recent controversy over the employment data of the National Sample Survey.
- While the Census of India and the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) have a good reputation, when it comes to data related to the social sector (health, education, nutrition) the situation has been deficient on numerous counts.
- The information collected is not available in real time or even annually
- The NSSO collects data through specific rounds (health expenditure, debt etc.) which don’t have a fixed cycle unlike the consumption expenditure surveys.
- The Census collects data once in 10 years.
- Budget allocations follow an annual cycle and policy pronouncements are not dovetailed to the years for which data is available.
- This raises important questions about the basis on which policies and plans are made.
Case of malnutrition and learning levels
- In the case of malnutrition, which is a problem needing urgent solutions, there was no independent data telling us what the trends are for a long time.
- The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) report came out in 2017 after a gap of over 10 years (NFHS-3 was in 2006).
- In the interim, major initiatives were planned for the eradication of malnutrition without any inkling of the situation on the ground or how it was changing.
- Similarly, data on learning levels was not collected consistently by the government till 2017.
- It is not known when the next round will be held or how long it will take for the data to be made available.
2. Inconsistencies in definitions and sampling frames
- There are inconsistencies in definitions and sampling frames across data sources and across time in the same data source.
- For instance, questions posed by the NSS for obtaining information on out-of-school children vary dramatically from those posed by the Census.
- As a result, the two arrive at vastly different numbers.
- Similarly, in the case of malnutrition data, there have been changes in the definitions used by NFHS across different rounds that make comparisons over time difficult.
- Periodicity of data collection also varies across sources, furthering difficulty in validation.
- Data validation plays an important part in improving the quality of data collected and ensuring authenticity, without which departments are basically shooting in the dark.
3. Data collected in these surveys is not geared towards policy or planning
- The education rounds of NSS are part of the survey on social consumption, which in turn is for the purpose of making an assessment of the benefits derived by various sections of society from public expenditure incurred by the government.
- It provides no information on how the education system is functioning.
- As a result, several important indicators that would be of interest for planning or to the people, do not even figure in them.
- For instance, the different categories of teachers or their salaries is a not a data point in any data-set on education.
(a) Data suffer from gaps in information
- In the absence of regular large-scale survey data, what is available is the registry data collected by departments and ministries for monitoring of programmes.
- Unfortunately, these too suffer from gaps in information and are rarely used for programmatic purposes.
- At most, they are part of an accounting exercise.
- For instance, school surveys by the MHRD collect information on broad indicators of infrastructure and teacher availability (only two categories, whereas multiple exist) and student enrolment (but not attendance) and distribution of incentives.
- These take stock of the provisioning in schools, showcasing administrative efforts, but not functioning of the education system or real changes within it.
(b) Conflict of interest resulting from data being collected by people who are entrusted with ensuring outcomes
- Thus, school data for District Information System for Education (DISE) is collected by school teachers, health workers fill in the information for Health Management Information System (HMIS), anganwadi workers provide nutrition data and so on.
- This creates perverse incentives for them to hide the reality on the ground.
- This came out starkly in a comparison (by N C Saxena) of monitoring data of ICDS, which showed severe malnutrition for the country at 0.4 per cent, whereas NFHS data for a comparable period showed it to be around 16 per cent.
- Field studies show that anganwadi workers are often penalised by their superiors for reporting severe malnutrition.
- Similarly, teachers fear losing their job if enrolment or attendance falls below a certain level.
(c) Data collection also suffers because it is not used in any meaningful manner
- The anganwadi worker who fills numerous registers each month never receives any feedback on the data collected.
- Cluster and Block Resource Persons in the education system routinely collect enormous amounts of information in multiple formats.
- But no action is taken on it.
- This lack of feedback acts as a huge disincentive to the data collectors reducing the quality of what they collect.
- The shift to mobile reporting has not changed the situation on the ground as introduction of technology did not improve the feedback mechanism that continues to be a missing link.
Implications and Concerns
- In effect, the state has failed to create capacities that can be devoted to developing and maintaining a timely, reliable and decentralised data regime.
- This inadequacy pervades the system from top to bottom.
- DISE has barely a handful of people manning the entire operation of developing and maintaining the official database for education.
- At the sub-national level, they rely on data entry operators to collate and digitise data manually collected by teachers in complex formats.
- There are no statisticians in the system and few inputs received from educationists.
- Data in usable or useful form is unavailable at local levels, severely hampering ideas of transparency, accountability and decentralised planning.
- The paucity and unreliability of government data has given rise to a plethora of non-government data sources in the social sectors, similar to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy for industry and employment data.
- In education, the Annual Status of Education Report and the India Human Development Survey are commonly used.
- While these sources have been useful in highlighting neglected issues, it raises the question of data neutrality.
- A large country of India’s complexity and growth should strengthen its own data regime to ensure independence and neutrality.
- It will go a long way in ensuring that the country’s policies and plans are on track.
U.S. House to hold hearing on Indian curbs on Christian NGO
- Event: The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing
- Why: On restrictions imposed by the Narendra Modi government on American charity Compassion International (CI)
- India had in March 2016 stopped the flow of funds from CI to around 250 organisations it wanted to support in the country this year
- Reason: Indian security agencies say the funds were being used for religious conversions
- It partially lifted the restrictions in October, allowing ten organisations to receive funds from CI
- Reason: Secretary of State John Kerry took up the matter with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
- Many members of the U.S. govt want the restrictions to be relaxed further
This news demonstrates how our internal security can be impacted due to pressure from other countries. Even though such religious conversions frequently cause communal violence, but the govt. has to give in to pressure from a superpower and an ally like the U.S. It also shows how a country like the U.S., a self proclaimed defender of ideals like democracy and secularism, openly sides with its religious organisations.
11,000 NGOs will not get foreign funds
- Event: The licences of 11,000 NGOs expired as they did not apply for renewal in time
- Previously: Two years before the NDA government cancelled the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licences of 10,000 NGOs
- Result: A senior Home Ministry official said “expiry” technically meant cancellation and the NGOs could no longer receive foreign funds now
- The fate of another 1,700 NGOs is in a limbo as the Home Ministry has put them under “closed” category for submitting incomplete documents
- This brings down the number of NGOs that can receive foreign donations from 33,000 to 25,000
- FCRA licence is given for five years
Ministry to move Cabinet for ban on Naik’s NGO
- What: The Home Ministry is all set to move a Cabinet note for a ban on an NGO run by controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, under the anti-terror law
- How: Banning an organisation under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) requires an approval by the Cabinet
- The NGO will be declared an “unlawful association,” based on four points — criminal cases against Naik, his provocative speeches
- The NGO’s dubious relationship with the banned Peace TV and transfer of the NGO’s money to Peace TV
A fact check on NGO transparency issue
- Source: The CBI records filed in the Supreme Court
- There are a total of 29,99,623 registered NGOs under the Societies Registration Act
- However, out of these only 2,90,787 NGOs file annual financial statements
- In some States, the laws do not even provide for the NGOs to be transparent about their financial dealings
- Examples: In Kerala, which has 3,69,137 NGOs, there is no legal provision to submit returns
- The same is the case for Punjab with 84,752 and Rajasthan with 1.3 lakh NGOs
- In the Union Territories, of a total of 82,250 NGOs registered and functioning, only 50 file their returns
- Example: New Delhi has the highest number of registered NGOs among the Union Territories at 76,566 but none of these organisations submit returns
Unaccounted flow of funds to NGOs a major problem: SC
- Supreme Court: Will consider asking the Law Commission of India to bring an effective law to regulate the flow of money to a total 29.99 lakh NGOs functioning in the country
- Anyone can register a society and it becomes an NGO & there is no legal brain work done at the Central level to control them
- Unless some mechanism is put in place centrally, nothing can be done
The FEMA-FCRA struggle
- Finance Ministry: Regulates International donors such as the Ford Foundation which are registered under FEMA but not the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010
- Home Ministry: Monitors foreign funds donated to NGOs and organisations through the FCRA
- Issue: There are certain NGOs which are registered under FEMA and continue to disburse foreign funds to various associations in India
- Since FEMA is regulated by the Finance Ministry, there are many occasions when MHA is not able to monitor the flow of funds effectively
- Since there is a separate law, the FCRA, to deal with such transactions, it will be better if they are brought under a common head
MHA oversight for all NGOs?
- News: The Home Ministry wants the Finance Ministry to surrender its powers to monitor non-governmental organisations (NGOs) under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA)
- Purpose: To bring all NGOs which receive foreign contributions under one umbrella for better monitoring and regulation
3,000 Indian NGOs received 22,000 cr in Foreign Funds
- This amount is almost double than what was received by the NGOs in 2013-14
- 33% of the total contributions went to NGOs based in Delhi and Tamil Nadu alone
- These NGOs are registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which regulates foreign funding to these bodies.
NGOs not comfortable about falling under the ambit of the Lokpal Act
- The Act includes officers of trusts that receive more than Rs 10 lakhs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) under its ambit
- The 2013 Act that was passed in Parliament defines those who work in NGOs as public servants
- Some believe that this is Centre’s strategy to target NGOs – Home ministry had recently cancelled about 10K registration on account of violation of FCRA
Crackdown on activists
Latest is attack on activists Soochana Evam Rozgar ka Adhikar Abhiyan in Rajasthan
- It betrays rising resentment on the part of the ruling class towards civil society organisations demanding accountability.
- Message is being sent out that activism should be tempered by a nuanced deference to the state’s overarching interests.
- In recent years, civil society has played a significant role in shaping policy.
- Landmark pieces of legislation — the Right to Information act have come about only.
- Because the government chose to involve stakeholders across the political and social spectrum and obtain their inputs and advice.
- Any attempt to prevent the free functioning of such organisations will amount to de-legitimising key participants and stakeholders in the country’s social, economic and political policymaking sphere.
New rules mandate undertaking by NGOs
- The amended Foreign Contribution Regulation Rules, 2015, were notified by govt.
- It require them to give an undertaking that the acceptance of foreign funds is not likely to affect the sovereignty and integrity of India.
- It should not impact friendly relations with foreign state and does not disrupt communal harmony.
- All dealings with NGOs will now be online and the portal was inaugurated for online filing of returns and details by NGOs.
Govt to change registration, audit processes for NGOs
- The government plans to streamline the audit and registration of NGOs receiving foreign funding, and is expected to come out with a new set of guidelines.
- The aim of the exercise is to ensure greater disintermediation of processes so that there is minimal contact with the bureaucracy.
- One of the key change will be,NGOs that do not receive any foreign funding in a particular fiscal year will not be required to file a certified copy of the auditors’ report with the ministry’s foreigners division.
- It will made changes to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules (FCRR), 2011, under which NGOs receive foreign funds.
- The proposed amendments come in the wake of the home ministry’s cancellation and suspension of licences, under the (FCRA Act), of approximately 8,000 organizations, and recent court cases involving Greenpeace India and Teesta Setalvad’s Sabrang Trust.
Only 10% of NGOs file returns: CBI
- Only about 10% of the over 29.9 lakh registered NGOs file their annual income and expenditure statements.
- The data was revealed in an affidavit filed by the CBI in the Supreme Court.
- In some States, the laws do not even provide for the NGOs to be transparent about their financial dealings.
- The CBI was acting on the basis of a SC order in a PIL petition, alleging misuse of funds by Anna Hazare’s NGO Hind Swaraj Trust.
Greenpeace India’s registration cancelled
- Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) cancelled the registration of Greenpeace India.
- Under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), this means that the NGO would not be able to receive any kind of foreign donations from now on,they have to depend on domestic contributions for its operations.
- Sources said the decision came in the wake of “prejudicially affecting the public interest and economic interest of the state,” which violates the conditions of grant of registration.
- In its report, the government also mentioned a campaign against an Indian tea brand, which Greenpeace claimed contained hazardous pesticides.
MHA cancels licences of over 15,000 NGOs for violations of FCRA
- But why? For violations of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
- The NGOs allegedly failed to submit their annual returns – were given proper notice by the Foreigners’ Division of the Home Ministry with adequate time to reply.
- In a related move, Caritas International, linked to the Vatican, may be put on a watch list – so things are getting heated up here.
- There we go, made up for the FCRA goof up 🙂
Govt cancels licences of nearly 9,000 NGOs
- Home Ministry cancels licence of 9000 NGOs for violating Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
- They also put America’s Ford foundation under watchlist.
- RBI told all banks not to release funds of Ford to any local NGO without permission of home Ministry.
- Reason? Gujarat government has accused ford of interfering in the country’s internal affairs and fanning communal disharmony
NGO moves Green Tribunal over wastage by RO purifiers
- NGT receives petition to stop sale of Reverse Osmosis (RO) purifiers. Why?
- They lead to wastage of water.
- RO systems are meant for filtering seawater, not groundwater.
- They use chlorine/nano silver which may have harmful health effects in the long run.
- No study to prove they reduce chances of waterborne diseases.
- Some of them chlorinate the water which can lead to cancer in long-term.
- Government itself should provide clean water so there is no need to use such purification machine.
’White Bindi’ project campaigns against child marriage
- An NGO kickstarted a “No Child Brides” campaign by unveiling an interactive art installation fashioned out of thousands of white bindis.
- The artwork comprises a portrait of a 15-year-old girl from Jharkhand, decorated with a total of 39,000 bindis.
- Reportedly, India is home to 40% of the total child brides in the world.
- In September 2013, UN Human Rights Council brought the first ever global resolution on the child marriage problem.