Consultancy firms that assisted the Maharashtra state authorities in drawing up feasibility studies for the delayed 43,000-crore Mumbai makeover plan made at least 37 crore in the last six years, according to a January 2012 report in Hindustan Times(HT).

Mint reported in July that the Maharashtra government got supplementary demands of 8,000 crore approved from the assembly in March without allowing any discussion in the House. The demands comprised nearly 4% of the 2.02 trillion budget presented by the government—comparative figures compiled by the Socio Political Analysis and Research Kendra (SPARK) show supplementary demands comprised 17.93% of the original budget in fiscal 2011, 9.31% in fiscal 2012, and 10.07% in fiscal 2013.

In both these cases, valuable information came from SPARK, a non-governmental organization that tracks government finances and budgets. Its founder Priya Khan told HT in January 2012 that “crores of rupees had been wasted over delayed or altered projects".

SPARK’s area of focus is the state budget. It uses data provided or compiled by government agencies, including material got under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and Census figures, to give legislators analytical information they can use in budget discussions. “So their discussions are more fruitful and are based on genuine information," says Khan, in the office of the three-year-old organization based in Mumbai.

Khan used to work with the non-profit Samarthan in Mumbai, which does similar work, but her current focus was only one aspect of that organization. Samarthan, she says, is a pioneering group in Maharashtra that started advocacy and lobbying, which she wanted to replicate at SPARK in some form.

Unlike the US, for example, where each legislator has his own office, staff and resources, the situation is different in India. Here, legislators cannot source the information on their own because they don’t have the resources or manpower, so they need outside help.

That’s where SPARK comes in. The idea is to challenge the government by using its own data, says Khan; a reason why they do not rely too much on newspaper reports. “If I use data from some organization like Pratham, or from the press," she says, “the government can contest the data. If we use Census data, they have no argument."

SPARK has a focused approach towards certain issues, like education and public health, owing to limited resources and manpower. It has a staff strength of three, including Khan.

She gives an example of the kind of work they do in the field of education. “If the government says the number of children out of school is a few thousand, we use Census data to find out how many children in the age group of 6-14 are in Maharashtra and what their enrolment in school is. When we subtract the figures, the number turns out to be in lakhs. These are the kind of gaps which we can highlight."

In the past, SPARK has helped draft the Private Member Bill of Maharashtra Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation), 2011—one that is presented by a legislator, usually from the opposition, to bring to notice an issue that s/he wants legislation on—on the subject of surrogacy. Though surrogacy is allowed in India, there are no laws regulating it. “What compensation should the mother get? What should be done in case of the death of the surrogate mother? So we drafted a Private Member Bill based on a Central government committee report," says Khan. State minister for education, health, women and child welfare, Fauzia Khan, appointed an experts’ panel to study the issues concerning surrogacy after a discussion on the regulatory draft Bill. The report is awaited.

Two of SPARK’s trustees are the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) legislative assembly member Devendra Fadnavis and Vinod Tawde, leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra legislative council. But Khan says the organization has no political inclinations and is willing to assist people across parties.

SPARK provides data to legislators and takes requests from them for information. Some of the people who have approached SPARK include Neelam Gorhe of the Shiv Sena (on children’s homes), Jaywantrao Jadhav of the Nationalist Congress Party (on the National Rural Health Mission) and Sudhir Tambe of the Congress (on disability health).

“There are a few legislators who know the importance of this work and use this data. But they need persuasion. It’s not easy. When a legislator is preparing his speech on the budget, he has a lot of issues to present concerning his constituency, like the condition of the roads, which are very local. Considering the political system we have, legislators generally prefer to talk about their constituencies, their MLA fund. We have to encourage them to find some space in their speeches for larger issues. We constantly give them data that may encourage them to bring facts on record of the assembly," says Khan.

Over the next few years, the organization would like to work on more sectors. Besides education, irrigation and health, it has worked on dairy development as well as woman and child welfare but would like to include others, like urban development issues relevant to Maharashtra. Khan says they would also like to do budget analysis for zilla parishads and municipalities in the future.

Hindustan Times is part of HT Media, which also publishes Mint.

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10,000 can help them to

• Buy good reference material.

• Develop the organization’s website.

• Print their publications.

If you volunteer, you will

• Study the Maharashtra government’s existing policies for a particular sector.

• Analyse the implementation of these policies and point out the lacunae.

To contact Socio Political Analysis and Research Kendra (SPARK), call (022-24901001/2).

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