For lawmakers there may not be any link between two central laws — the Right to Information Act (RTI) and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). But for thousands of people in our villages there is a vital connection — the RTI Act can help expose leakages in works carried out under NREGA.
The method is simple. Once the information is obtained, villagers use it to conduct social audits to verify if work shown as completed in official records was actually done. If flaws are detected, the villagers lodge complaints with senior government officials.
Magsaysay Award winning social activist Sandeep Pandey said that while the RTI Act empowers citizens to seek information in the public interest, NREGA allows them to conduct social audits of the work carried out. "Using both the Acts in tandem can help expose corruption," said RTI activist Aruna Roy who had used the two laws to bring out irregularities in implementation of NREGA in Rajasthan.
In some areas of Rajasthan, social audits on the basis of information obtained under RTI has proved to be of help to villagers. "Using the two laws, villagers have been able to get their legal right to wages and the minimum 100 days of work (as mandated in NREGA)," Roy said.
This week Pandey and his colleagues started social audits on information provided to villager Yashwant Rao in Miyaganj block in Unnao district of UP 18 months after he had filed an RTI application. Rao was asked to deposit Rs 1.58 lakh by the block development officials for information about development works in 66 gram sabhas under NREGA. He finally got the information on the orders of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Information Commissioner.
In Delhi, another Magsaysay Award winner, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, is using the RTI to expose corruption in road construction. "Through RTI we have picked samples of a road in Model Town, north Delhi, in the presence of municipal engineers to find out if the quality of material used in road construction was right. Such attempts by us earlier had exposed corruption in road construction," he said.
With the success of the RTI in exposing leakages in government programmes, Roy, Pandey and Kejriwal want social auditing to be made mandatory for every government programme. "It not only helps in exposing corruption but in NREGA we have found it also acts as a deterrent," Roy said.