For lawmakers, there may be not be any link between the Right To Information (RTI) Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NGERA). But, thousands across India’s villages have found an essential connection — RTI can help expose discrepancies in NREGA and ensure developmental schemes are on track.
Villagers are using information sourced through RTI to conduct social audits to see whether the work shown as completed in official records is actually done. If flaws are detected, villagers lodge complaints with senior government officials.
Magsasay Award winner social activist Sandeep Pandey said that while RTI empowers citizens, NREGA allows social audits of the works undertaken. “Using both Acts in tandem can help expose corruption,” said Aruna Roy, an RTI activist who used the two laws to bring out irregularities in Rajasthan.
In some areas of that state, the social audit has helped villagers get rightful wages and 100 days’ work, as mandated in NREGA. “Villagers got their legal rights using the two laws,” Roy said.
This week, Pandey and his colleagues started a social audit on the information provided to a villager Yashwant Rao in Miyaganj block in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, one-and-a-half years after he filed an RTI application. Rao was asked to deposit Rs 1.58 lakh by the block development office for information on development works in 66 gram sabhas (local self-governments) under NREGA.
Rao finally got the information on the orders of the state’s chief information commissioner.
Now, Miyaganj residents and social organisations are conducting an audit to verify the information provided. “This kind of democratic and empowering activity in this region was never heard of before,” Pandey said.
In Delhi, Magsasay Award winner, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, is using the law to expose corruption in road construction. “We picked samples of a road in Model Town, north Delhi, in the presence of municipal engineers to find whether quality of the material used was of the required standard,” he said. Now, Roy, Pandey and Kejriwal want social auditing to be made mandatory for each government programme.