NEW DELHI: The rural development ministry has termed as “bogus” the findings of a social audit of the government’s flagship rural job guarantee scheme, saying none of the states, except Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim, complied with the audit guidelines.
The social audit of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which entitles millions of workers enrolled under it to Rs 100 a day for a minimum of 100 days of work in a year, was taken up three years ago to check allegations of misappropriation of funds.
Since then, over eight lakh social audits of the scheme have been carried out at the grassroot level, costing the government over Rs 1,500 crore. The government spends about Rs 30,000 crore a year on the scheme.
“The social audit of MGNREGS has been on paper for quite long, but 99 per cent of the data is bogus as almost all states, except Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim, are not following the guidelines laid down for conducting the audit because of lack of enough political and administrative will,” a senior rural development ministry official told ET, adding that the ministry is contemplating taking off the data from its website.
The official, who did not wish to be identified, said the ministry is planning to set up an expert body at the national level to set standards for social audits and provide trained personnel at the state as well as district level to assist the social audit units.
“The cost of the expert personnel, which is estimated to be Rs 100 crore, would be funded by the Centre while the estimated Rs 800 crore would be spent by states in conducting the social audit on the ground,” the official said, adding that he hopes the expenditure finance committee would approve the proposal.
Social audits are generally supervised by autonomous bodies consisting of government and non-government representatives. It’s a five-step process under which beneficiaries verify the government data with the help of trained youth specialised for the purpose and lodge complaints.
The report is then presented to the gram sabha where issues concerning malpractices related to the scheme are discussed and a final report is prepared for the government to take appropriate action.
Unlike financial and performance audits carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), social audits seek to ensure that the audit process is not restricted to documentary compliance with the guidelines of the programmes and that it includes output and outcome aspects, too.
“Hoping that these or similar schemes will continue in India over the next two to three decades to help the poor, we need to strengthen our audit process, so that it actually helps in reducing the leakages,” said DK Pant of India Ratings.
The relevance of social audit has increased in recent years due to the steady shift in devolution of central funds and functions relating to socio-economic schemes to the local tiers of government, namely panchayati raj institutions, urban local bodies and other special purpose agencies set up for implementation of specific schemes.
Moreover, the CAG’s performance audits remain, in most cases, processes within governmental agencies, with the actual verification of outputs and outcomes being only of secondary focus because of audit methodology, evidence requirements and manpower constraints.