Sulekha - A web based tool for monitoring of plan projects of local bodies

The decision of the Kerala State Government to devolve 35-40% of the Ninth five year plan outlay, for projects and programmes to be implemented by local self governments, posed severe challenges to systems for plan monitoring and for reporting of plan information in the state, The Information Kerala Mission (IKM), entrusted with the task of computerising local bodies in the state developed a web based tool ‘Sulekha’ to handle the issues in plan project monitoring, data acquisition and consolidation. The application has been tried out in five select locations. The paper examines in detail the salient features of the application and the issues arising out of its field level implementation.


Following the decision of the government to devolve a sizeable chunk of the states plan outlay to the local bodies the government initiated a mass movement, popularly known as People’s campaign for decentralised planning to empower local self governments, and to prepare plans in a transparent and participatory manner. [Isaac, et. al (2000)]. The annual plans of local bodies involved preparation of project documents which were themselves visualised as participative local interventions to solve issues of public interest. These project documents were generated through structured interactions of the panchayat functionaries, functionaries in line departments, local development activists and beneficiaries. The documents were highly local specific and standardisation of objectives, achievements and targets was extremely difficult since this would infringe upon the creativity of local problem solving.

The project preparation was initiated through an intense training programme of the functionaries concerned. A variety of institutional and cultural changes were attempted in the project formulation and implementation. The vibrant environment of intense campaign activity, aimed at facilitating problem identification and problem solving, learning and un-learning, and system reengineering resulted in a state of flux where every thing was so dynamic. To devise a reporting system in such metamorphic and mutating environment was demanding and this was precisely the challenge of the Sulekha design. [Unnikrishnan, P.V.]

A system for plan monitoring for local bodies should facilitate

  1. A mechanism for data acquisition and local reporting which could facilitate strengthening the project management process locally.
  2. A mechanism for aggregation of the local body data at the various tiers which could facilitate vertical integration of local body plans.
  3. A mechanism for integrating the reporting system with the system of performance audit and plan evaluation studies, in order to provide checks and balances, and to evolve guidelines for plan expenditure, and also to facilitate changes in the macro policy framework, for taking advantage of the initiatives for economic development and social justice, at the local level.

A network architecture suitable for this approach was designed. (See figure 1). The option of linking the institutions transferred to the local bodies, which are also the implementing offices of the peoples’ plan themselves, and linking the Grama panchayats over dial up to blocks shall be taken up only in the phase 2. During phase 3 the state information network synthesises with the state information Infrastructure.

Fig 1. Network Connections in IKM an evolutionary perspective.

Network connection in IKM

Looking into the broad requirements of application software development for the local bodies, arrived at based on a detailed system study taken by IKM, which also incorporates recommendations of the committee on decentralisation of powers, a technology choice was also arrived at. The salient features of the technology choice shall be as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Technology choice for IKM

1. Hardware (Client and Server) Intels’ Pentium based system
2. Operating System Client : Microsoft’s Window NT Work Station 4.0
Server : Microsoft’s Windows NT Server 4.0/ Windows 2000 Server
3. Development Tool Microsoft’s Visual Basic 6.0 and ASP for Web applications.
4. Database Server Microsoft SQL Server 7.0/SQL Server 2000
5. Web server Microsoft’s  Internet Information Server 4.0/Internet Information Server 5.0

The design of Sulekha shall fit in with the network architecture and technology choice as outlined above.

The project management reporting tool ideally, should have seamlessly integrated with day to day accounting and overall financial management, right from the beginning, for reasons of better financial control. This should be so primarily because in all local bodies, the plan resources accounts for more than 40% of the total budget and further since accounting of the projects in the new local body context would have necessitated umpteen project cash books and ledgers. [Government of Kerala (2000)] However, it was decided to defer the integration of the plan reporting system with the local body accounting and financial management system to the next phase since the revised budget manual and the revised accounts manual for local bodies could not be finalised immediately.

Methods and Materials

Sulekha captures extensive project information which has been classified and categorised for the purpose of validation and standardisation for meaningful consolidation. The coverage of project attributes is shown in Annexure 1.

Sulekha consists of three application modules

  1. Sulekha (local body)
  2. Sulekha (District Planning Office)
  3. Sulekha (State Planning Board) The features are shown in table 2.

Table 2. Main features of Sulekha

Sl. No. Type

Main features

Data Aquisition

Data Validation

Report generation

Data transmission

1 Sulekha (local body) LB data entry, verification and approval Standardisationbased on masters and simple numerical and logical checks Local level reports and process audit reports, reports on local economy LB to DPO reporting and down loading of masters from DPO
2 Sulekha(District Planning Office) NIL NIL Consolidated district level reports with drill down, archive of model projects etc Supervision and control of transmission. Uploading data to the state and downloading masters from the state
3 State Planning Board Master table entries and updation   Consolidated state level reports with drill down Linkages to DPO for upward data transmission and report transmission of masters

Since the plan formulation and implementation guidelines were continuously evolving, it was extremely difficult to design a system for data acquisition, validation, consolidation and reporting. It was therefore decided to design the application based on the most stringent data requirements based on a simulated ideal process framework with provision for auditing process discrepancies and reporting them. The conceptual module of PMS takes the form of figure 1. As could be seen from the figure the four stages in the lifecycle of a project are plan formulation, evaluation, appraisal and implementation. The monitoring systems shall acquire information recorded in a project status registry as shown in the figure. The elements of the project registry and the state transition of the registry is shown in table 3.

Fig 2: Stages in the life cycle of PMS Module

Stages of Life Cycle

Table 3. Elements of project registry and state transition of the registry

Registry Cell

Registry Components State Transition levels
1 Physical targets Projected at formulation finalised at formulation Projected at evaluation finalised at evaluation Projected at approval finalised at approval
2 Time Schedule
3 Organisational Beneficiaries Institutional linkages Products, Processes and technology
4 Resources
  • Allocated
  • Financial
Human Resources
  • Mobilised
  • Financial
  • Human
Finalised at implementation

Communication between the various Sulekha modules, as outlined in Table 3 is achieved using the data transmission services of MS SQL 7.0. The application has been optimised to reduce common location overheads by using incremental transfer without compromising data integrity and synchronisation. The application uses a four-tier architecture based on active server pages technology – the presentation tier, the middle tiers and the data base tier (See figure 3). The presentation tier consists of the browser and report viewer AciveX component which handles user interaction and client side validations. The linkage of the presentation tier with the web server uses the ASP 5 object model with five intrinsic. The client side validation is taken care of by client side scripting in Visual Basic and Visual Java. Remote scripting is used for interactive downloading of masters relating to micro sector classification of projects.

Architecture of Sulekha

Fig 3. Architecture of Sulekha

To evolve a physical target scheme for the entire gamut of projects is very tedious. But leaving it adhoc would make aggregation of implementation performance impossible. A scheme of 736 physical targets with additional attribute information suitable for a second level classification of targets was evolved. Listing of such an extensive library of targets cannot facilitate their use. The only possibility to ensure their use is to categorise the targets into groups which could be remembered and applied conveniently based on the context. Two models one for productive sector projects and for infrastructure and service sector projects was formulated as shown below. Using the models all the physical targets and their attributes for a productive sector project could be classified into four classes viz

  1. Inputs
  2. Outputs
  3. Credit and market linkages
  4. Mechanisms and institutions for quality control

For infrastructure and service sector projects the targets and attributes could be classified as

  1. Evaluation mechanism related
  2. Infrastructure improvement related
  3. Delivery of services related
  4. Institutional linkages for improvement of quality of service
  5. Please see figures 3 and 4.

Physical targets

The methodology of software development of Sulekha, followed the human centred participatory software development strategy evolved for IKM (Unnikrishnan.P.V., (2001)]. A number of persons involved in the peoples’ plan campaign at the political, bureaucratic and activist level interacted in formulating the concepts. Prototypes of the reporting tool where developed to faciliate further interaction. The life cycle of the product with major changes has been shown in table 5.

Table 5. Life Cycle of Sulekha

PMS 1.0
  • Standalone  version  for  LB  based  on GN forms prepared by the SPB (1997-98)
PMS 2.0
  • Network version covering all type of LB’s Extensive masters
  • Provision    for    monthly    tracker    of achievements
PMS 3.0
  • Separate LB, DPO and SPB modules Extensive Scheme for physical targets linked with micro sectors
PMS 4.0
  • Multiple implementing officers
  • Mechanism of annual account closing introduced.
  • Reporting of achievements and targets implementing office wise
  • Scheme      to     track     allocations     to implementing officers
  • Full fledged Indian language version in 3 languages
  • Integration with implementing offices with a facility for generating periodic departmental level reports
  • Provision for maintaining a database on local economy
  • System for auditing and reporting of process discrepancies
  • Archive of model projects at the District level

The interactions at the conceptual level and in vetting the prototype where no doubt valid, but very few of the people who participated had good understanding of the variations in project documentation practice across the state and quality of data  being  documented.  Very  little  data  was  available  at  the  State Level,  and whatever data available was collected through specially  designed data collection prepared by the planning commission. After making evaluation of the data made available  by  local  bodies  through  these  forms.  IKM  designed  an  improved proforma which was used for data collection from the various implementing offices and  panchayts  in  Trivandrum  District.  It  was  based  on  these  inputs  that  the Sulekha  attribute  definition   covered  in  the  scheme of  masters  as  shown  in Annexure 1 was arrived at.

Results and Discussion

The Sulekha application was subsequently implemented in five grama panchayats of Trivandrum District viz. Ambbori, Kattakada, Madavoor, Vellanad and Vilavoorkal. The implementation brought out strengths of the design strategy resorted to by Information Kerala Mission. Significant improvement in coverage of data could be achieved reflecting the effectiveness of the design. See table 6 below. The data collected and entered using the application, also showed higher levels of consistency.

Table 6. Improvement achieved through the application.

S.No Type of attribute % Improvement
1 Plan formulation 30%
2 Plan appraisal 85%
3 Plan approval 90%
4 Plan implementation 50%


The design of ‘Sulekha’ throws light into design strategies that could be used in systems with high level of transience. Integration of the accounting package ‘Sankhya’ the decision support system ‘Sakarma’ and the workflow system ‘Soochika’ with ‘Sulekha’ would go a long way in strengthening the system of project management further.


  1. Government of Kerala (1999), “The Final Report of the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers”, Chaired by Dr. Sutyabrato Sen, submitted to the Government of Kerala on 23 December 1997.
  2. Government of Kerala (2000), “The report of the State Finance Commission”, chaired by Dr. Prabhat Patnaik submitted to the government of Kerala in June, 2001.
  3. Isaac, Thomas and Franke, Richard (2000), “Local democracy and development”, peoples campaign for decentralised planning in Kerala, Left Word, New Delhi.
  4. Unnikrishnan P.V., (1999), “Strengthening plan monitoring systems (Malayalam)”, volume 3, Issue 12-13, Marxist Samavadam, April- September, 1999
  5. Unnikrishnan.P.V. (2001), “Information Kerala Mission: Unfolding of a silent revolution”, Information Kerala Mission, Trivandrum

Annexure 1. Coverage of project attributes

Type of the Attribute Name of the Attribute Mandatorily
Required or Not
Whether Quantified
against Masters or Not
Mode of Entry
Approval Amount approved by BLEC Yes No DET
Date of approval by LB,DPC,BLEC
Date of Approval of renewal of Project by LB, DPC, BLEC
Date of temporary Approval
Disputed Project Yes SCB
Reference Number of approval by LB, DPC, BLEC No DET
Reference Number of approval of renewal of Project by BLEC
Reference Number of approval of renewal of Project by DPC
Reference Number of approval of renewal of Project by LB
Reference Number of Temporary approval
Requirement of Detailed Project report SCB
Beneficiary Contribution (Current Year), (Previous Year) No DET
Beneficiary Contribution- Direct (Current Year), (Previous Year)
CSS Share (Current Year), (Previous Year)
Grant in Aid (Current Year),(Previous Year)
Loan from Cooperatives (Current Year), (Previous Year)
Loan from financial institutions(Current Year), (Previous Year)
Others (Current Year), (Previous Year)
Own Fund (Current Year), (Previous Year)
  SSS Share (Current Year), (Previous Year)      
Total Project Estimate (Current Year),(Previous Year) Yes
General Centrally Sponsored Scheme No Yes CS
Micro Sector Yes
Micro Sector Code AG
Project Category CS
Project Name   No DET
Project Serial Number
Project Serial Number (Last Year) No CS
Project Type Yes Yes
Sector Type
State Sponsored Scheme No
Sub Sector Yes
Women Development Project SCB
Implementation Approved Implementing Agency No CS
Date of commencement of the Project Yes No DET
Date of completion of Project
Implementing Officer Yes CS
Mode of Implementation
Other Implementing Agency No
Project discarded Yes No SCB
Scheduled End Month & Year DET
Scheduled Start Month & Year
Physical Targets Physical Target and attribute Yes AG
Physical Target Description No DET
Physical Target Quantity Targeted
Physical target Unit Yes AG
  • DET - Data Entry in Text Box
  • SCB - Selection in Check Box
  • AG - Auto Generated
  • CS - Selection in Combo Box