When children at the government primary and upper primary schools in Hasera village in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district had to go without their mid day meal (MDM) for two days earlier this month, school authorities did not need to fret. Instead, assistant school teacher Uma Shankar just sent a text message to the MDM authority cell in the state capital, describing how a shortage of grains was preventing the schools from feeding children. Within a few days, grains were delivered to the school, which restarted the noon time snack.
Over 22 million children in India’s most populous state are today much more assured of receiving their MDM than just three years back because of a unique initiative that uses technology to increase the scheme’s efficiency. The initiative has also caught the attention of policy makers across the country. Till 2009, a shortage of grains and lentils, or corruption in their delivery to schools meant waiting for weeks for complaint letters to be answered. And that was in best case scenarios. If the corruption involved powerful local politicians or officials, the wait could be even longer. Today, as Shankar found out, an SMS is all it takes.
“It has created fear in the minds of people entrusted with the distribution of MDM to provide food, or it is just a matter of time before complaints will be lodged over the phone,” said AN Upadhyay, principal of Lucknow’s KK Vocational School.
Each school principal is informed about a central IVRS number where they can text any complaint concerning the MDM. The complaints is stored in a central database. But the Daily Monitoring System (DMS), built using cloud computing isn’t only reactive.
Every day at noon, once meals are served, IVRS calls are made to all government school principals or teachers nominated by them. These principals and teachers are required to type in the number of students who ate the MDM that day. The data is stored in the central database, which records attendance for the MDM for each school.
In a state with 1.52 lakh schools spread across 880 blocks, the monitoring system has come as a blessing, argued Sudhanshu Tripathi, finance controller of the state MDM authority. Introduced under then UP chief minister Mayawati, the technology was developed by Gurgaon-based Knowlarity, a firm started by several IIT and IIM alumni. “To keep a tab on this large volume technology was the only way to keep a tab on effective distribution of MDM,” Tripathi said.
Mal block just on the outskirts of Lucknow was a direct beneficiary of the telephonic monitoring system.
A village leader well-connected with local politicians was preventing the distribution of food grains to schools. Teachers registered a complaint using the IVRS texting technology. Officers swung into action and the bank account of the village leader was seized. Now, the money for the MDM food grains and lentils is being credited directly into the school’s account.
But the technology hasn’t only touched UP.
Government officials from other states – particularly Andhra Pradesh – have also initiated plans to adopt the DMS. And this year, Kapil SIbal’s human resource development (HRD) ministry has also decided to use the technology to set up a national mechanism to monitor the implementation of the MDM, the world’s largest school-feeding programme which covers over 150 million children daily.
Over the 11 years of its existence as a national scheme, the MDM is widely credited with helping increase India’s school enrollment rates, and with keeping students in school. But the scheme has also been frequently ravaged with scams involving pilferage of food grains and lentils, which are then sold in the open market at higher rates.
“The new technology provides a ray of hope in curbing this corruption,” a senior HRD ministry official said.
UP, often chastised by some as a backward state languishing in the past, may just have shown the way to the rest of India.
HT Photos/Ashok Dutta