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Writing on the Wall as Appropriate Technology for Transparency

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (known widely as NREGA) is the rural employment guarantee scheme implemented by the Indian government in August 2005. The law guarantees 100 days of work for a pay of Rs 120 a day (see MGNREGA on Wikipedia). With its Rs 40,000 crore (US$ 8.8 billion) budget, it is no surprise that the project is bedeviled by charges of corruption and embezzlement.

There are ongoing efforts to fight this corruption by creating transparency in NREGA’s functioning, especially in the fund disbursement process. It is in this area that I recently came across a great example of appropriate technology seen in the photo below (image courtesy: The Hindu):

This is the “Transparency Wall” in Ranga Reddy village in Andhra Pradesh, India. The Hindu reports that the writing on the wall contains names of workers, how many days they have worked, and how much they have earned. (see Tool of exclusion)

Various technologies such as SMS and websites are utilized to collect and share information about work completed and funds distributed. However, due to poor connectivity and high cost, they are not directly accessible to the rural poor that the NREGA is supposed to serve.

The wall on the other hand fully serves its purpose of transparency and accountability. It gets the information to a wide segment of the population, foiling abuses of the system. For instance, if someone who is not eligible for the scheme is receiving payments, it is now on a wall for everyone in the local community to see and take preventive steps. It also puts the officialdom on notice about paying out these funds in a timely manner. With an at-a-glance-report of how much was disbursed and when, the writing on the wall removes the power that a bureaucrat could wield over the rural poor with misinformation about when funding was received and who got paid.

Simple. Elegant. Beautiful. Those are the words that come to mind when you behold this writing on the wall. Three words that are also the hallmark of appropriate technology.