Power to the People: Indicators for Accountability

Posted on Updated on

OECD Publication
Statistics, Knowledge and Policy 2007: Measuring and Fostering the Progress of Societies

OECD Publication

Chapter 9

Author Shailaja Chandra was the Executive Director of the National Population Stabilisation Fund from 2006 to 2009 and is presently writing a Report for the Ministry of Health& Family Welfare on the benefits that the public has received through the Indian Systems of Medicine.


Shailaja Chandra’s PowerPoint presentation in OECD World forum, Instanbul, Turkey from 27-30 June 2007

In this article I define what constitutes indicators and information in the context of civil society and participatory democracy. The first part describes how a government-citizen partnership called Bhagidari coupled with the Delhi Right to Information Act 2001 empowered the citizenry of New Delhi, the capital of India and promoted a climate of responsible response to civic challenges. The paper describes how the power of information could alter citizen’s lives and give them a public voice.

The second part of the article explores how in nearly half the 600 districts in India, the amalgamation of GIS maps and census data has enabled disparities and inequities in the provision of health services to be placed in the public domain, in a visual, easily downloadable fashion. This internet based indicator tool is aimed at enhancing the understanding of all stakeholders viz., the affected public, media, academic bodies and non-governmental organisations to enable them to use the information to bring about change.As the mapping exercise represents almost 94% of a country of 1.2 billion people, the visual data depiction is expected to widen understanding about the extent of inequity that exists between even contiguous districts and provides a tool to increase public accountability..

Section I

Participatory Democracy: How Indicators Gave Power to the People

Statistical data, surveys, projections, extrapolations, portrayal of inequities through inter and intra regional mapping, are all vitally important as indicators. But these cannot be easily understood or visualised by lay people and because of this it inhibits their participation in demanding greater attention to be paid by governments.Generally international organisations, national Governments and statistical organisations provide the status of developments and the result of analysis through the release of reports, political speeches, press releases, seminars and discussions in which improvements (or lack of them) are projected. Couched in economic jargon and statistical terms they do not create an impact on the wider general public, because in their very nature such reports do not appear to relate directly to community or individual concerns. Instead such data becomes of use only to planners and academics working in specific sectors. This has the shortcoming of presenting a misleading picture unless the historical background and context is understood. The general public is not well versed in appreciating the nuances of academic reports,much less using the information to demand better performance.

Against these presumptions, Section I of this paper expounds on three important developments which took place in New Delhi, the capital of India, which depict how indicators and information empowered the public to hold government departments and even the political executive accountable.

Delhi is mega-city with a population of more than 16 million. Since, the city is divided into 7 parliamentary seats, 70 assembly constituencies and 272 municipal wards, political conflict and contending priorities are inherent in the situation. Being the seat of the central and state governments and with three levels of political representation, with16 National newspapers published from the city and over forty TV channels devoted to its affairs, it is a daunting situation for both political and administrative management. Arriving at a consensus is extremely difficult while pursuing government policies in the absence of public participation a one-sided affair. An unforeseen backlash can occur at any time, caused by public perception about the bona-fides of the leadership which can derail even good projects and schemes.

Since the political colour of the Members of Parliament, Members of Legislative Assembly and Municipal Councilors in New Delhi is generally different, the Government of Delhi needed to identify a way of involving the public directly, to create an understanding about who was responsible for what aspect of governance and service delivery. The government also realized the importance of giving the public a route to measure the responsiveness of the government to their concerns. Educating and involving the public was therefore of paramount importance for which they had to be first equipped with facts and data, information about processes, reporting levels and where the responsibility for action finally lay. Likewise localized information on the performance of electricity and water utilities, schools, hospitals and dispensaries, municipal services, upkeep of roads, parks etc. had to be placed in the public domain to evoke interest and involvement of citizens.

Bhagidari: A Government Citizen Partnership

Bhagidari in Hindi literally means partnership. This is an example how people’s power catapulted over 3 levels of political representation and was responsible for the creation of more than 1800 Resident Welfare Associations in New Delhi in a span of 3 years from the year 2000. The movement grew in strength as the public became aware of the systems and processes through which Government organisations could be accessed and also became conversant with how the provision of services could be demanded, as due. Collaboration with the citizenry was fundamental to address the existing and future issues affecting the quality of life of people. Thus the partnership was of mutual interest.

The Bhagidari process began with the organisation of large group meetings with a wide range of stake-holders namely resident’s welfare associations, market associations, school standards committees, environment groups. Such meetings were first organised at the district and sub-district levels as citizen’s day-to-day problems are generally localized. At the Apex level, meetings were organised by rotation, district wise every 2 months for 3 days at a time, in a large hall where 36 tables were occupied by 12 persons at each table ; 6 government representatives and 6 resident’s representatives on each roundtable. During the 3 day conclave, representatives on each table were give an opportunity to exchange lists of deficiencies and to listen to the response of the government offiials about the methodology of resolving civic problems. By the third day the macro picture emerged and senior officers of the government joined the meeting and responded to the main issues. This exposed the Residents Welfare Committee representatives to the working of the government departments and also gave them information about the intra-colony status of services, the intra-district funding available, future priorities, programmes on the anvil and the basis on which decisions had been taken.

In response the citizen’s representatives could differ with the organisation, question arbitrary decisions and also highlight instances of pick-and-choose and favoritism they had come across. They could raise issues of immediate concern to the neighbourhood and expect a positive response in the presence of senior officials.

The Bhagidari movement used newspapers, documentation, reports, awards and incentives and introduced systems for sharing lessons from failures and successes as instruments for generating momentum, expanding the support base and encouraging collaboration. The movement has now covered more than 3 million people and has helped create a network of associations which represent a large spectrum of citizens needs. Although they have no elected status, the Resident Welfare Associations have gained prominence and credibility because of their numbers and ability to leverage attention.From early initiatives which were localised, the movement spread to include more important subjects like electricity and water distribution, solid waste management. It jolted the ordinary citizen out from a state of helplessness to which he had become a accustomed and created a public awakening that public services that needed to be demanded and obtained through collective action and effective interface with Government agencies. The fulcrum on which this movement rested was the provision of information which led to empowerment.

The Bhagidari initiative received the United Nations public service award for improving transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the public service categories in 2005.

Human Development Report for Delhi

When the Bhagidari movement was in full swing it was decided to collect information for a Human Development Report (HDR) for Delhi city (the first city HDR in the world). An independent survey was commissioned which extended over 14 000 households in Delhi in 2003-04. The respondents were asked to provide their assessment of twelve different services which included education, health, water supply, power supply, sanitation, roads, transport, environment, livelihood and housing. the security of women and overall perception of governance also featured in the survey. The methodology of the survey gave due weightage to residents of eleven types of colonies which exist in the city ranging from posh up market colonies to slum clusters from rural and urban villages to the old walled city of Delhi, from Government housing, to self-promoted colonies on private land. The respondents had to comment on the performance of various sectors in terms of services offered to residents and also identify the most pressing problems that needed attention. While 82% of the residents wished to continue living in the city, their main complaints related to water supply, garbage disposal, traffic, high levels of crime and public transportation deficiencies. The collection of these indicators and zone wise display of survey results gave credibility to the process and provided a direct voice to the citizens in an organised way. It also provided a basis for making demands and holding the political representatives as well as the bureaucracy accountable. The Report was prepared by academics and experts in operational research which underscored objectivity of approach and the reliability about the results projected in the HDR. The results of the surveys are available on the website http://data.undp.org.in/shdr/delhi/completereport.pdf.

The HDR survey results gave further credibility to the Bhagidari initiative and increased public participation.

The Right to Information Act in Delhi

Side by side, the Delhi Right to Information Act was introduced in 2001 which further gave people the right to ask questions about governance, systems, processes and decisions. The introduction of the Right to Information law coupled with the Bhagidari movement brought to the fore the reluctance within the bureaucracy to open its files and system of working to public scrutiny. Since the Act allowed citizens to inspect public records, documents and works and even take samples of work, NGOs in particular became quick to use the legislation in creative ways. Data on the public distribution system, the food stock position in warehouses and its distribution showed that there was large scale diversion of essential commodities. The Indian Express group of newspapers conducted a series of camps along with a local Non-government organisation based upon the information received. The Right to Information Act created an enabling environment because people were empowered to expose wrong doing and keep public servants under check and accountable. It gave people the direct authority to question what Government organisations were expected to achieve and why there was an apparent shortfall in the outcomes.

Table  Status of Applications received under

 the Delhi Right to Information Act, 2001 and Disposed off Upto September, 2007)

Number of Applications Information
  Received Disposed Off Given Not Given
Total 11 557 11 036 10 067 969

Source : Department of Administrative Reforms, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi.

How Giving Information can also Derail Decisions

The Bhagidari movement and the avenue of Right to Information worked as a bulwark for participatory democracy. The government in power was re-elected on the strength of giving the public a meaningful place in governance, but the outcomes have to be viewed in totality.

The Government had privatised electricity at a distribution end by 2002. The expectation was that this would improve efficiency. In 2005 when the public realised that electricity meters being supplied through private companies were running fast, and the electricity bills were spiraling, they rejected the electronic meters and began questioning the privatisation process itself. Using the platform of Bhagidari and by demanding information under the Right to Information Act, non-government organisations used the information made available under the Act, to motivate the media and the public to raise issues which forced the government to abandon the proposed privatisation of water distribution in the city. Information relating to power privatisation was used to draw attention to how expensive the decision to privatise water distribution could eventually become, thereby using the power of information to forestall a government decision that had already been taken. By exposing the inter and intra-city inequities in the supply of water and the government’s intention to hand over the problem to private distributors an uproar was created, and later snowballed, involving the media, academic bodies and NGOs. The result has been that the privatisation of water has been put off indefinitely because of people’s capacity to impede the process, backed by data that exposed who was to gain through the privatisation of water. This too was an outcome of the power gained by people under Bhagidari and the Right to Information Act.


For participatory democracy to be sustainable, there is no doubt the power has ultimately to be exercised through the ballot. Information can imbue a non-elected groups with temporary power and authority to question government policies, schemes and the covert intentions behind certain policies. The dilemma is that while civil society can exert a counterveiling pressure on the domination of the state and an exploitative market, once it begins to exercise authority it can also challenge democratically established institutions. If the arbitration of what is right and wrong, important or unimportant, cost effective or sustainable, is to be determined by the public at large, it could have consequences on long term sustainability. Such civil society movements though powerful, have not been tested in the history of democratic countries. Never-the-less the power of information can make authoritarian systems accountable which point is underscored through the preceding examples

Section II

Enhancing Accountability through G. I. S. Mapping and Census Data

Population growth is one of India’s biggest challenges. India is a second most populous country in the world sustaining almost 16% of the world population on 2.4% of the land surface. The population of Indian states can be compared to the population of many countries. Unlike Europe and North-America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand and Korea, India has the distinction of having an enormous growth of a young population for the next few decades. In comparative terms India is facing fewer challenges of dealing with an ageing population that many countries in the world face today. It can look forward to high productivity on account of a high proportion of the population belonging to the young cohort. By 2026, the population of India will rise by 371 million and share of 15-59 age group would be 64%. However, this cannot be an asset unless social indices like health, education, drinking water, sanitation improve side-by-side.

It was therefore felt that the provision of localised indicators and information could highlight larger issues and motivate Government authorities, the media and Non-Governmental Organisations to understand the bigger picture and what lies in store. There is every need to project statistical data in simple visual ways to empower the public. One of the most effective ways is to display inter and intra regional disparities is through maps, graphs and charts in a way that can create direct interest at a local level.

Drawing Attention to Disparity – The Power of Comparative Analysis

India is divided into 28 States administered by elected governments and 7 Union Territories (administered through the Central Government). In an effort to provide information to the public, the National Population Stabilisation Fund of India (called Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK) in Hindi), prepared State Level Health Facility maps for 19 states.. As this article gets posted on the blog, all rural districts in the whole country have been covered and the PDF maps can be easily downloaded from JSK’s website.

;Figure 1 gives the picture in respect of just one state of India (Orissa) in terms of spatial distribution of Primary Health Centres.

Spatial Distribution of PHC’s in Orissa


From the state map one can move to the district map and view the picture of each district, its sub-divisions and the population of every village along with its distance from the nearest primary health centre. The maps highlight inequities in health facility coverage down to every village to enable resources to be targeted to underserved areas. The national, state district and other roads further exhibit the proximity not only to Primary Health Centre but also to surface communication in general. All this can be viewed alongwith rank of every district on JSK’s website (www.jsk.gov.in).

The maps are an amalgamation of census data and GIS mapping and they depict not only the disparities in access to health facilities in respect of every sub-division of the districts but also provide information on the distance people have to travel to reach a health facility. This information was sent on CD to the senior most administrator of each district (called Collector or District Magistrate), the Chairman of the District Development Committee, the member of the Legislative Assembly among others to familiarise them with the extent of prevailing inequity .

Figure 2 Health Facilities in District Malkangiri, Orissa

The information highlights the inter and intra district differences and disparities in coverage by health facilities. The census data has been used to show the distance of a village from a primary health centre alongwith the population of each village living 5 kms. away, 5-10 Kms and more than 10 Kms. away from the health facilities. The GIS mapping has been used to display the clustering of health facilities and the presence of large underserved areas. The map shown in Figure 9.2 indicates the clustering of facilities in Malkangiri District of Orissa State. The Distance chart at Figure 9.3 shows the distance to be traveled to reach a Primary Health Centre represents just one sub-division (taluka) out of eight sub-divisions of that particular district. There are 600 districts in the whole


Table 9.1 State – Orrisa: District – Malkangiri: Range from PHC’s

State – Orrisa: District – Malkangiri: Range from PHC’s

Table Indices Covered in Study “Ranking and Mapping of Districts” for Composite Ranking and Composite Index

Source: Ranking and Mapping of Districts, IIPS 2006.

In 2006, the International Institute for Population Sciences India released a report titled “Ranking and Mapping of Districts – Based on Socio-economic and Demographic Indicators”. The Report had given a composite Ranking to every district (Table ). This information was converted into bar charts and the ranking based of the district in terms of the composite index was made available for scrutiny on the CD sent to the districts. The bar-charts shown in Figure 9.3 and 9.4 indicate the difference between the best performing and a lowest performing district within the same state. This is something people can relate to and raise questions about.

Figure 9.3 Best Performing District of the State according to the Composite Index: District of Indore (State – Madhya Pradesh)

Source: Ranking and Mapping of Districts. IIPS 2006 and DLHS-RCH State and Nutritional Report, 2006.

*IIPS: International Institute for Population Sciences, Deonar, Mumbai, is an autonomous insititution under the administrative control of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Government of India. It Offers academic courses in the area of population studies.

Figure 9.4 Lowest Performing District of the State according to the Composite Index : Distric of Sidhi (State – Madhya Pradesh)

Source: Ranking and Mapping of Districts. IIPS 2006 and DLHS-RCH State and Nutritional Report, 2006.

*IIPS: International Institute for Population Sciences, Deonar, Mumbai, is an autonomous insititution under the administrative control of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Government of India. It Offers academic courses in the area of population studies.

The National Population Stabilisation Fund has placed all this data on its website http://jsk.gov.in which can be accessed by public representatives, administrators, media and research bodies. The organisation has publicised the availability of this information through national newspapers and magazines so that a wider group of stakeholders can access it. An average of 100-150 persons a day access the website every working day.

The point to be underscored is that until now the availability of the data on health and social indices as well as the resident population was merely seen as statistical inputs. These have now been converted into visual form and made easily accessible on the website. This is expected to empower the public to question why the inter-district and intra district indices show so much variation and why availability of health services and accompanying health indices are better in certain districts as compared to others. It is expected that in planning new health facilities the underserved areas will now get prominence.


It can be concluded that indicators and information can be used to empower the public to hold their policy makers accountable. Were it not for access to information and indicators, the Bhagidari initiative may not have been able to gain the leverage it gained in the context of empowering citizens of New Delhi.

It is also expected that the exercise undertaken by the National Population

Stabilisation Fund of India (called Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh in Hindi) to provide inter-state and intra-state, inter-district and intra district variations which highlight underserved districts, sub-districts and villages will lead to questions about low performance. Both the political executive as well as civil servants would be answerable for allowing apparent inequity to continue. It would necessarily require infusion of funds for upgrading facilities and services since disparities would be evident down to every village. Since data as compiled by national organisations like the Survey of India and the Registrar General of India has been used, complaints that it has been selectively compiled to credit or discredit any particular segment would not hold true.

Although such data has been available for decades, the difference now is that technology has enabled it to be displayed in visual form capable of being down loaded and lending itself to analysis even by a layperson. By improving access to information, leaders can keep themselves abreast of developments and have a basis to profess how they are promoting the quality of citizens life and how progress can be measured.

The process would also help international donors and external agencies to evaluate where critical gaps exist. The data can be used to focus on under-served areas so enabling the funding to be targeted properly.



The exercise includes a population of 960 million (out of a total of 1.2 billion) from the States of Bihar,Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, West Bengal, Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu covering 482 districts, 4 645 sub-division and 579 779 villages in India.

Ten States have been omitted because village boundary data is presently not available with the Survey of India. The excluded states constitute 111 districts and a population of 68 million which is relatively small (6% only), given the size of the country.

Accordingly almost 94% of a large country of 1.2 billion people has been covered through JSK’s exercise,

giving a visual idea of the location of health facilities, alo


Annual Report of Public Grievances Commission, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi .

Bhagidari Cell, Office of the Chief Minister, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi.

Delhi Human Development Report 2006: Partnership for Progress, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006

International Institute for Population Sciences, Nutritional Status of Children and Prevalence of Anaemia among Children, Adolescent Girls and Pregnant women, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, 2006

National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Department of Information Technology, Government of India

National Population Stabilisation Fund, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.

Ram, F and Chander Shekhar, Ranking and Mapping of Districts: Based on Socio-economic and Demographic Indicators, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, 2006

Registrar General of India, Census Volumes, Census of India 2001, New Delhi

Survey of India and Registrar General of India data

World Bank, Reforming Public Services in India: Drawing Lessons from Success, 2006


10 thoughts on “Power to the People: Indicators for Accountability

    Dominik Wujastyk said:
    August 9, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    Dear Ms Chandra,

    In your blog of January 3, 2011 you say you are authoring a “Report for the Ministry of Health& Family Welfare on the benefits that the public has received through the Indian Systems of Medicine.” I would be very interested to read your report. Is it finished? Available?

    Yours Sincerely,
    Dominik Wujastyk

      Shailaja Chandra responded:
      November 17, 2011 at 8:11 AM

      Sorry I did not reply. The Report is on this Blog now under A Report on the Status of Indian Medicine.Thanks. Shailaja

      Shailaja Chandra responded:
      April 12, 2013 at 8:35 PM

      Hello Dominik,
      Well the second book /report is out and it is on my Blog as Part II. The PDF version and the link in the AYU journal are sent to you by e-mail. Thanks for your interest. Would love to hear back from you.

    soundcloud bot said:
    April 12, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to provide one thing back and help others like you helped me.

    wikipedia reference said:
    April 24, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    What’s up i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anyplace, when i read this piece of writing i thought i could also make comment due to this brilliant piece of writing.

    Click To Read More said:
    May 5, 2013 at 9:18 AM

    Very descriptive article, I loved that bit.

    Will there be a part 2?

      Shailaja Chandra responded:
      May 5, 2013 at 10:15 AM

      Am glad you liked it.That article was for an OECD publication.Alas no part II as of now!

    internet said:
    June 25, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    Hi it’s me, I am also visiting this web site on a regular basis, this web site is genuinely pleasant and the people are in fact sharing good thoughts.

    buy instagram followers instantly said:
    August 7, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    My spouse and I stumbled over here coming from a different web page and thought I
    might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following
    you. Look forward to finding out about your web page repeatedly.

    Kerry said:
    August 27, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    Wow! In the end I got a webpage from where I be able
    to in fact get valuable data regarding my study and knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s