Context: As per the statistics with the Union Rural Development Ministry in the ongoing financial year, less than 14% of the amount flagged by the social audit units has been recovered so far.
Rule 4 of Audit of Schemes Rules, 2011 stipulates that each State Government shall identify or establish an independent organization, “Social Audit Unit” (SAU) to facilitate conduct of the Social Audit of MGNREGS works.
- This Social Audit Unit may be either a Society or a Directorate, independent of the implementing departments/agencies.
- The work may also be outsourced to an outside agency, preferably an NGO which is not involved in the planning and implementation of the Scheme but possesses adequate experience of having worked in rights and entitlement-based programmes.
Effectiveness of Social Audit Units under MGNREGA
- Poor Recovery: As per the statistics available with the Union Rural Development Ministry in the ongoing financial year, less than 14% of the amount flagged by the auditors has been recovered so far.
- In 2022-23, the recoverable amount was ₹86.2 crore, but only ₹18 crore (20.8%) was recovered.
- In 2021-22, ₹171 crore was flagged, but only ₹26 crore (15%) was recovered.
- Financially Satrved Units: Social audit units which does not have adequate funds and are working without training or adequate personnel.
- Ineffective role of SAU: The social audit unit’s sole responsibility is to flag cases of malpractice. Recovering the money, and reprimanding the officials responsible, is up to the State governments.
- Weaponisation by Union: The Union government has weaponised the lack of social audits and low recovery rate to withhold funds for MGNREGS for the States. For example, units in Karnataka and Bihar have not got funds for nearly two years now.
- Credibility Concerns: The consistent low recovery rates and challenges in the audit process raise credibility concerns about the entire MGNREGS program.
- Imbalance in Monitoring: Certain states consistently report “zero number of cases” and “zero recoveries” e.g., Gujarat, Goa etc. While there are other States such as Telangana, where an active social audit unit has flagged several cases, but the recovery rate remains low.
‘Social Audits’ are a means of continuous public vigilance and to ensure public accountability in the implementation of projects, laws and policies.
- Social Audit examines the impact of specific governmental activities on certain sections of society.
- The objective of Social Audit is to ensure public accountability in the implementation of projects, laws and policies.
- It is a continuous process of public vigilance and serves as a forum for ensuring transparency in the process of administration and decision making, accountability of PRI representatives and officials and serves the purpose of grievance redressal.
- Social Audit has the following dimensions:
- As a continuous and ongoing process, involving public vigilance and verification of quantity and quality of works at different stages of implementation; and
- A process is to be conducted in every Gram Panchayat (GP) at least once in six months, involving a mandatory review of all aspects.
MGNREGA and Social Audit
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act provides for a central role to ‘Social Audits’ as a means of continuous public vigilance.
An innovative feature of the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA is that it has institutionalized ‘Social Audit’ as a means of continuous public vigilance (Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, Section 17).
Social Audits are periodic assemblies convened through Gram Sabhas where
- All the details of a project are scrutinized.
- Are a continuous process of public vigilance.
- Serve as a forum for ensuring transparency in the process of administration and decision making.
- Ensure accountability of PRI representatives and officials.
- And Serve the purpose of grievance redressal.
- The Government of India (GOI) notified new provisions of social audit in Schedule – I of the Act.
- The GOI through its order instructed the States for enforcement of provisions of social audit under the act.
- The order required the States to direct the District Programme Coordinators to complete the social audits of all the works undertaken in the Gram Panchayats of the districts as per the new provisions of social audit as notified in Schedule – I of the act and enter the information related to the social audits in the prescribed formats in NREGA MIS.
- The GOI also instructed the States to ensure that the districts prepare for conducting social audits in advance and put up their social audit calendar on the NREGA website.
Strengthening the independence and capacity of social audit units, addressing political pressures, and ensuring adequate funding are crucial steps to enhance the program’s effectiveness through social audit units and credibility. Additionally, greater transparency and accountability measures should be put in place to mitigate corruption within the scheme.