Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh recommended the Comptroller and Auditor General review the Rs 40,000 crore-a-year Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme fearing widespread swindling of funds and did not want his reputation sullied, HT has learnt.
"Ramesh did not want to be caught napping by adverse audit reports," an official said. The minister recently attacked Uttar Pradesh for largescale irregularities in implementing the scheme.
Rural activists, too, have alleged indiscriminate bungling of funds. "The scale of fraud being unearthed in Ajmer district is alarming," said Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a nonprofit that advised the government in preparing the programme.
Not only has Ramesh asked the CAG to check accounts under the rural job scheme, but he has also asked them to initiate a more rigorous process than was previously planned by the top auditors.
The model suggested by the minister involves checking of rural job plan scheme accounts across the country, down to the panchayat level.
The MGNREGA audit could be the toughest yet for the CAG, which suffers from a manpower crunch. CAG also proposes to recommend the government's recruitment authorities to hire more staff. Though this could be time-consuming, the CAG wants more staff because Ramesh has sought a twice-yearly audits from now on.
The CAG has already started pulling out its field officers to re-deploy them exclusively for audit of the scheme.
Ramesh's call for the first-ever audit of the social welfare programme had startled many inside the government, which has been rocked by scandals uncovered by damning audit reports from the CAG.
Since 2006, the landmark scheme has guaranteed 100 days of work a year for unskilled labourers. Initially, beneficiaries were paid R100 a day. The wages have since been indexed to inflation.