On the fifth birth anniversary of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) last Wednesday, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi admitted discrepancies in the biggest job guarantee scheme in the world.
Gandhi, who is also National Advisory Council (NAC) chief, was referring to fake job cards, forged muster rolls and funds swindled by village heads, officials, etc. She was quick to pinpoint the course correction — a strengthened social audit. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also underscored the need for transparency.
The observations are important at a time when there are questions over the ambit of the social audit of a programme of Rs40,100 crore this fiscal alone.
The audit question: Activists other than members of the NAC members and Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) too allege apathy on the part of the government in bringing about changes in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in introducing real transparency and accountability.
An amendment brought in December 2008 has meant "allowing the panchayats, which run the show, to also evaluate their performance, leaving the rural poor at the mercy of the village feudal system," said Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Sakthi Sangathan (MKSS).
However, Andhra Pradesh, with its own model of social audit, has exposed a swindle of Rs 88 crore and indicted 4,600 officials.
"Inquiries by state agencies, which uncovered colossal corruption, (show the government should) act on its statutory commitment of an open and inclusive social audit," Aruna Roy, heading the working group on transparency and accountability in CEGC, said in her letter to then rural development minister CP Joshi in 2010.
Following protests, the ministry of rural development in October referred a set of draft social audit rules to the principal auditing agency —the Comptroller and Auditor General —for consultation.
CAG also wants its say: Last month, the CAG office sent broadly what the CEGC and social activists have been calling for —an all-inclusive social audit under MGNREGA.
Even as the CAG supported broad-based public participation, the agency wants its own monitoring role up to village level, pointing out "social audit rules should cover audit arrangements in its entirety".
It prescribed a social audit forum, targeted constituting beneficiaries, access to documents and works, and time-bound conduct, follow-up action.
Delay concerns: A working committee under a joint secretary met on Tuesday and decided to put the draft rules of social audit in the public domain soon and wait a month for feedback.
"Where is the need for another committee when the draft rules are a result of committees like the CEGC and the CAG? A notification of the CAG suggested rules would give meaning to social audits," Ruchi Gupta of the MKSS said.