Rural development works now rely on geotagged verifications

By Karishma Mehrotra

Taking off two months ago, the Ministry of Rural Development now has public images of over one lakh assets, with everything from sewage drainage pipes and borewells to water tanks and streetlights.

New Delhi: The government has begun gathering mandatory geo-tagged images for about 20 lakh rural assets created by rural local bodies from their share of the 14th Finance Commission funds in the last three years.

Taking off two months ago, the Ministry of Rural Development now has public images of over one lakh assets, with everything from sewage drainage pipes and borewells to water tanks and streetlights. The ministry aims to complete the remaining photo collection process by January, signalling further implementation of geotagging for rural finance monitoring.

While the move elevates the ministry’s geotagging requirements to a much larger expenditure bracket, as village panchayats have been allocated about Rs 2 lakh crore under the 14th Finance Commission funds in the 2015-2020 period, the audit technique has already been a key aspect of the ministry’s centrally-sponsored schemes.

Scheme assets from the MGNREGA, housing, and roads — worth Rs 95,000 crore annual expenditure — have populated public online maps with almost 10 crore geotagged photos.

The expansion will also utilise existing training systems from these schemes. Since November 2016, when the rural housing scheme Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) was launched, almost 3,00,000 gram rojgar sevaks, community resource people, or women from local self-help groups were trained to shoot and upload a total of four to six geotagged photos for each phase of each house’s construction, leading to roughly 7.59 crore geotagged photographs.

Similarly, these field workers have uploaded 3.2 crore geotagged images of three stages for every asset under the MGNREGA.

A block official approves every photograph and a district official has the option of doing a random internal audit. The 14th Finance Commission-related monitoring on the government’s ActionSoft application shows a little over 4,500 geo-tagged asset photos were rejected so far.

Rural Development Ministry Secretary Amarjeet Sinha said geotagging “cleans up” programmes with the technology-enabled location tracking of current funds allocation. “If you look at total resources allocated — the finance commission, the money of various programmes — more than two lakh crore go into gram panchayats every year. If I want value for money, if I do better evidence-based planning, convergent planning, need-based planning, I will get better results.”

These photos are now also the measure of proof weighed in the Centre’s evolving performance indexes for each scheme by state, district, and gram panchayats. For example, PMAY’s state performance index places Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Odisha and Rajasthan in the top four.

Along with the photos, the process of onboarding all gram panchayats expenditure to link it with the central government’s Public Financial Management System — the online payment gateway system — is ongoing, with the exception of five states using their own systems. This will allow the centre to track gram panchayats’ financial transactions.

Finally, field workers have uploaded 13,000 photos of newly-instated gram panchayat public information boards, which were launched on October 2 to present a list of housing beneficiaries, areas that need improvement in the gram panchayat, and other local information in the locality.

The ministry would like all photos to be uploaded by December 31 and all the temporary boards to become permanent. Mandatory photos, attendance lists, and agendas of Gram Sabha meetings have also been populating the public website.

The MGNREGA and rural housing images are on the Rural Development Ministry’s Gram Panchayat Development Plan website.

Source: The Indian Express

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