A development monitoring and evaluation office (DMEO) seems to be in the offing under the NITI Aayog. Its objective is to ensure effective and meaningful implementation of the government’s flagship programmes on infrastructure — ports, waterways, roads, all elements of smart cities, air traffic, etc. — and key social sector programmes such as the MGNREGA, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Skill India.

All previous governments had some mechanism for monitoring such programmes, but achieved little success.

The monitoring machinery hardly cared to verify whether programmes under review had made any real impact in improving the life of the poor for whom they were designed.

When it was too late The actual impact was known only after a long period of time (around 3-5 years) when the PEO (programme evaluation organisation, under the Planning Commission) or similar State-level bodies or some independent agencies pointed out that the impact has not been commensurate with spending, but it was too late by that time. At best, these reports provided some post-mortem analysis.

To enhance the effectiveness of our entire monitoring process, one should make a clear distinction between concurrent monitoring (day-to- day monitoring at the grass root level), concurrent evaluation (at short intervals of six months or so) and ex-post evaluation which may be done as mid-term appraisal after two to three years.

Next, concurrent monitoring has to be done by the Block staff. They can report about the real expenditure and ensure that physical assets created under the scheme actually exist. Officers sitting in State capitals cannot do this. District level officers should carry out meaningful inspection at frequent intervals and take urgent corrective or disciplinary action against the erring ground implementation staff.

Third, concurrent evaluation should be entrusted to the concerned State-level officers of impeccable integrity and having sound knowledge of evaluation techniques.

If the schemes are not achieving their objectives, they should quickly swing into action to take remedial measures in time.

Scanning States The DMEO should concern itself with only ex-post evaluation, since States will do the concurrent evaluation. Also, the DMEO should involve itself in only important flagship schemes where huge expenditure is committed.

However, a mechanism needs to be developed within the DMEO to oversee the monitoring work of States in respect of the schemes with which it does not wish to involve itself directly.

Fifth, it is necessary to ensure that the DME staff are fully aware of the latest methods of evaluation especially on impact assessment.

It must be emphasised here that finalisation of indicators for impact assessment (along with their respective weightages in the composite indicator) requires great ingenuity and experience.

And finally, it is essential to ensure full independence of the DMEO to enable it to carry out its function honestly without being pressurised by vested interests. Achieving this would not be easy. Will the NITI Aayog throw some light on how it proposes to do so?

Integrity of action and true professionalism would be the key to effective monitoring of schemes and programmers.

Hope the Modi’s government will choose the right course of action which has been eluding India so far.

The writer is a former director with CSO