The government offers subsidies of Rs. 12,000 each to rural households for constructing toilets. But for one NGO that helps villagers use this scheme, the process of filing applications and tracking construction was proving to be difficult. Until an app called mDemand came along.
“Organizations working in the social sector in rural India face several operational issues. This is because of low technology adoption and lack of proper tools or applications to share information. We wanted to develop mobile apps to help such organizations with their day to day activities,” says Swapnil Agarwal. He is the co-founder of Dhwani Rural Information Systems, an organization that develops information and communication technology tools for NGOs and social enterprises in rural India.
mDemand is one such app that Dhwani developed in collaboration with Samarthan, a Bhopal-based non-profit organization that is working towards improving water and sanitation services in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The app, which has been in the pilot phase for about three months now, captures the demand for toilets in villages across Madhya Pradesh and helps track the progress of the construction of these toilets.
Mankaj Kumar Singh, a programme director at Samarthan, says the NGO first conducts mobilization activities in villages to create a demand for toilets. The organization is working on raising awareness about the risks of open defecation and how citizens can get government support to ensure safe sanitation services.
Field workers tell villagers that the government offers a sum of Rs. 12,000 for the construction of toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission to households that fall in the Below Poverty Line category.
Once there is a demand, Samarthan sends the villagers’ applications to the district administration via panchayat and block level offices. “We realized that usually there is a lag in this communication process and we are not able to track the total demand or record the progress. We wanted a tool that would help record details of beneficiaries who opt for toilet construction so that officials at all levels can track the applications,” says Mankaj.
mDemand is an Android-based app and the entire interface is in Hindi. This is how it works in two stages to help the NGO:
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• Creation of demand: The app has pictures of the kinds of toilets villagers can get for their houses. Field workers from Samarthan show the pictures to the prospective beneficiaries and immediately profile the interested people by uploading their application forms, photographs and addresses on the app. This way, all concerned officials can access this information right away. The app has details of contractors who can take up construction work in these villages as well. This makes it easy for field workers to inform contractors about the work and also to send their contact details to the villagers.
• Tracking progress: There is a fixed format in which the beneficiaries of this scheme have to submit photographs to the district administration to claim their subsidies. They need to post pictures along with supporting documents on a government website after completing 50% of the construction. This is when they receive the first instalment of the subsidy. The remaining amount comes in their account after they post pictures of the completed toilets. “The rules have changed recently. Earlier, a beneficiary used to talk to the panchayat representative and the panchayat generally supported the construction. Once the toilet was constructed, all the papers were submitted to the panchayat block administration and then to the district administration,” says Mankaj.
To help NGOs and households with this submission process, all application forms and the format to upload pictures are pre-loaded in the app. The field worker just has to click pictures and the information is updated on the app. Every official at the panchayat, block and district level can then access the collected data from mDemand’s dashboard.
In this way, the app helps Samarthan save time and resources and it is much easier for authorities to trace applications right from the time they are generated till the time the toilet is finally constructed. The process further helps pinpoint areas where the delays are taking place.
The app has an in-built warning system to notify officers about pending applications after a specific timeframe, so they can act on them. Additionally, the NGO can also share real-time information with sponsors and stakeholders.
“Samarthan has registered more than 500 beneficiaries from 10 villages so far. We have reached a stage where we can introduce this technology to the government to replicate it in other parts of the country,” says Mankaj.
Swapnil and his friend Sunandan Madan co-founded Dhwani after studying at Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) together. They are now planning to add another feature to the app, which will help track whether beneficiaries have received their incentives after the toilets are constructed or not.
According to reports, more than 70 lakh households in rural Madhya Pradesh do not have toilets. Technology and apps like mDemand can help speed up the process of getting the people what they need by connecting them with the government schemes designed to benefit them.