Social Audit in India
Performance of Social Audit in India
The public programmes in most of the developing countries often remains afflicted with corruption. So it has been emphasized that the local communities should be empowered to monitor the implementation of these programmes. In the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NGREGS) a provision of social audit has been made by the local communities on regular basis to ascertain whether the local governments are undertaking the expenditures on public projects or not. There is no upper limit allocation of funds to NREGS as it a demand driven scheme. It gives a legal right to every adult willing to do unskilled work to get work in a public project within 15 days of applying for the job. Hence the more the number of adults applying for the job more will be the expenditure by the local governments. In 2008-09 there was an expenditure Rs 16,000 crores on NREGS. Hence it becomes imperative to devise an effective mechanism of social audit to ascertain whether this expenditure is being actually made or not by the local governments or the money is being leaked out. In Rajasthan, the Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) has been doing a pioneering work both in the fields of Right to Information Act and Social Audit. First the MKSS applies for getting documents regarding the public expenditure from the Gram Panchayat under the RTI Act. Once the details of expenditures during a period are obtained by it then at random one project is chosen to see whether the shown expenditure has actually been made or not by the local governments or the money is being leaked out. In Rajasthan, the Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) has been doing a pioneering work both in the fields of Right to Information Act and Social Audit. First the MKSS applies for getting documents regarding the public expenditure from the Gram Panchayat under the RTI Act.
Once the details of expenditures during a period are obtained by it then at random one project is chosen to see whether the shown expenditure has actually been made or not. The members of MKSS, local & outside NGOs and the ordinary village volunteers take part in the social audit. They interview the labourers whose names appear on the muster roll to verify whether they were actually given the work or not along with the mentioned wage rate. This is checked with official records given by Gram Panchayat under RTI Act. The expenditures incurred on the materials used are also checked. For this onsite visits are planned to see the actual public projects undertaken. After all this information is collected by a team of social auditors, a "jan sunwali" or public hearing is organized in the village. Eminent persons, local officials and different activists are also invited. The findings of the auditors are publically declared and the villagers are free to contradict any point if they wish to do so.
In the state of Andhra Pradesh the process of social audit has been more organized and systematic. The state government engages the members of NGOs and civil society to train the villagers and Gram Panchayat Members. These members are called State Resource Persons (SRPs). These SRPs train District Resource Persons (DRPS) and the Villager Social Auditors (VSAs). The VSAs are the persons who get affected by the implementation of the programmes. This way they are the real stakeholders. They are usually below the poverty line members who are generally educated but unemployed. The DRPs are specially trained for conducting the audit of material used under NREGS while VSAs are trained for conducting audit of expenditure on labour. The state government pays honorarium to all the auditors and also the expenditure incurred in conducting the social audit. Documents regarding the expenditure are made available to the team of auditors of Mandal level. The team consists of two to three SRPs per mandal, one DRP per Panchayat and several VSAs. This team audits the details of expenditures made on materials and labour expenses. They take written statements of the labourers. The findings of the audit reports are published at the mandal level a public meeting is organized in which the local government officials, the villagers an dother activists are invited. The status is given Panchayat wise. Both in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan the reports of social audits are submitted to the distract administration for further action.
As is clear from the above discussion in Rajasthan, the civil society is taking a lead in conducting the social audit while it is the state government which is taking the lead in Andhra Pradesh. The former approach can be called as "bottoms up" approach while the latter as "top down".
Some of the states such as Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are taking commendable steps in making the villagers aware about their rights and entitlements. Still several lessons need to be learnt in taking process further down to the grass roots levels.
Some of these are:
- The active help of NGOs, civil society and the activists should be taken.
- The lead by civil society does not preclude the necessity of effective government machinery which facilitates the whole process.
- The stakeholders in the public programmes i.e. the local villagers should be trained about the official documents. The educated villagers could take a lead in this regard.
- The findings of each audit should be publicized as widely as possible through print and even electronic media.
The government should take strict action against the erring officials who are found culprit by the social audits. If this action is not taken then the legitimacy of the whole process goes. Villagers will not be interested to participate in such audits next time.
The social behavior of the citizens should be such that it discourages a culture of corruption e.g. at the village level the Panchayat members who are found culprit by social audit could be socially boycotted by the whole village.
Several studies have been concluded on determining the effectiveness of the community monitoring of public programmes in reducing corruption and increasing participation of the stakeholders. These studies point out the fact that if there is "political will" on behalf of the governments to trust the social audit process & to pubish the officials found to be corrupt on its basis and if local elites do not dominate in the societal matters than the community monitoring of public programmes is effective. Otherwise it proves to be futile.
Hence the state has a duty to make suitable laws for punishing corrupt officials on the basis of social audit reports as well as should endeavor to reduce the disparities in society.