India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) aims to support the nation’s poorest citizens by guaranteeing a minimum level of employment for rural families — but the development funds are often lost to corruption. Officials fudge attendance rolls, pay out less than the allotted wages, and take bribes to allocate work. A study of a related development program declared the program to be a waste, finding that most of the program’s free food had failed to reach its beneficiaries.
Rajesh Veeraraghavan is analyzing the effects of an “open government” initiative launched by the state of Andhra Pradesh to combat NREGA corruption. The state has implemented technology-enabled surveillance of the day-to-day practices of low-level bureaucrats and conducts “social audits” of NREGA workers, to improve the quality of government records.
Veeraraghavan, a Ph.D. student in the School of Information, has been awarded a dissertation-year fellowship to support his research.
Veeraraghavan’s research seeks to understand how information and technology are used to regulate social and political relations. His past research has explored how technology is deployed to address agricultural development, how information and technology shape social and political institutions to foster collective action, and the contributions of technology in fostering participatory and democratic governance.
Before coming to the I School, Veeraraghavan designed technology for emerging markets as an associate researcher at Microsoft Research India. He also volunteered for the non-profit Association for India’s Development, working with activists and NGOs and supporting grassroots groups.
Veeraraghavan expects to complete his dissertation this year; its tentative title is “The challenge of ‘openness’ at the intersection of technology, participation, bureaucracy, and corruption: A multi-sited ethnography of the use and effect of information and communication technology to reduce ‘last-mile’ corruption in a public works project in rural India.”
As part of the dissertation-year fellowship, Veeraraghavan will be presenting two seminars on his dissertation research this year, one on the Berkeley campus and another elsewhere in California.