Good governance is vital to viable and sustained socio-economic development. Keeping up the spirit of a social democratic country, Indian policymakers have designed several policies and programs to make its governance more accountable, inclusive and responsive to the needs of its citizens. Free flow and accessibility of information is one of the main factors that foster transparency of the governing structures. Right to Information Act was based on the premise that citizens have a sovereign authority on the government. Section 4 of the same act calls upon all governance bodies (state and central) to provide information to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication. In addition to planning and budgeting social welfare schemes, different sections of the government are also responsible for actively promoting these schemes. Unfortunately, the current state of affairs indicates that mere lip service has been rendered to the provisions of RTI.
Indian government, at both Central and State levels, acts as the largest service delivery provider in India with multitude of schemes, benefits, plans and services. However, India’s massive population size and chronic socio-demographic disparity make service delivery process like maintaining a free flow of information regarding available public schemes, extremely perplexing. Implementation of these schemes, especially from user citizen’s perspective (distributing entitlements) presents an even bigger challenge. Shortage and mismanagement of funds have stunted the benefit from even some of the best laid development plans. For instance, more than two crore families (out of 10.6 crore applicants) have been denied work in the last 8 months under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme because of shrinking funds .
DEF launched ‘SOOCHNA SEVA’ program in collaboration with European Union in January 2014 with an aim to spread awareness, using ICT/non-ICT tools, about existing public schemes amongst the deprived sections and enable them to derive benefits from the same. In addition to empowering the masses with information, SOOCHNA SEVA has set its focus on capacity building of the local communities, groups and citizens and advance cooperation between the stakeholders and local administration to develop an operative framework for public scheme information dissemination and entitlement.
As a part of this program, SOOCHNA SEVA Kendras are the sustainable access points and as one-stop shop for information empowerment. The program has introduced tools based on ICT-enabled service delivery, access and entitlement model. The approach taken by SOOCHNA SEVA focuses on generating demand for the public schemes on the beneficiaries’ side. The level of operation for the program is at the district administration level and below (blocks and Panchayats).
SOOCHNA SEVA was founded with an intention of strengthening the RTI act and to address larger issues of poverty, rural development, social exclusion and inequity of marginalized groups through information empowerment. The action-plan of this program also aims to help India meet its Millennium Development Goals such as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality rates, and improving maternal health. The program has been deployed along with an integrated information services delivery and citizen entitlement framework in 5 backward districts in India in 6 key areas of - education, health, livelihood, employment, financial inclusion and social security. This initiative is further expected to strengthen the governance structure at district administration level and below.