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When the mirror has 2 faces: the story of governments own datasets not matching!

Sruti Bandyopadhyay

17 August 2010

A few months back I was searching for release and expenditure data for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Since the financial management section of the SSA portal hasn’t been updated in 2 years (the latest available information is August 2008!), I was left struggling to find places to look. Luckily, I remembered that we now we have a tool – the Right to Information Act – an easy method to get information.  So I decided to file my first RTI !

At the outset, let me just say that I got an amazing response. The PIO officer in-charge was prompt in his response, transferred some of my queries to the relevant departments and even sent them reminder letters to send me the information on time. So for those sceptical about filing RTI’s – go ahead, give it a shot, you might be surprised! But this post isn’t about filing RTI’s. It’s about what the RTI revealed.

The RTI showed the complete chaos and confusion that exists within government databases. Information on state-wise expenditures and releases for SSA  in 2008-09 from the Joint Review Mission( available on the SSA website here) put the All India total GOI release for SSA in 2008-09 at Rs. 1,270,533 lakh and the total expenditure for SSA, during the same period at Rs. 1933231 lakh.  However, the same data in the RTI gave the figures of Rs. 1,261,120 lakh and Rs. 1,905,652 lakh respectively.

For more details, please see that table below giving the state-wise variations.

State GOI release according to Joint Review Mission

( in Rs. Lakh)

GOI Release according to the RTI

( in Rs. Lakh)


( in Rs. Lakh)

Tamil Nadu 45,414 53,241 7,827
Himachal Pradesh 8,553 10,513 1,960
Arunachal Pradesh 13,684 15,568 1,884
Mizoram 5,113 3,873 1,240
Delhi 1,529 1,029 500
Nagaland 2,868 2,368 500
Dadra & N. Haveli 105 85 20
Madhya Pradesh 85,569 85,570 1


State Total expenditure according to Joint Review Mission

( in Rs. Lakh)

Total expenditure according to the RTI

( in Rs. Lakh)



( in Rs. Lakh)

Bihar 209,431 226,382 16,951
Chhattisgarh 75,101 82,246 7,145
Mizoram 2,127 5,244 3,117

Such vast differences – (for Bihar amounting to Rs. 16,951 lakhs of rupees!) can’t be blamed on “reporting errors”. Instead, they raise some important questions.

How do we know which is the “correct” data? How are schemes and programmes expected to function efficiently and be successful when no one is sure how much money is being released or spent? And most importantly, how can we expect to have transparency and accountability when our government databases are in shambles?

While organisations like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) do their part in highlighting some of the discrepancies or errors in government data, they can’t overhaul the entire system. But it’s obvious – it’s time we get back to the basics- get our data clean. And whether the UID can assist in this process – I guess we’ll have to wait and watch!

Avani Kapur is Senior Research and Program Analyst, Accountability Initiative.

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