Social audit ‘unsatisfactory’ in all states, Indian government says
Civil rights group NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, which advocates the successful implementation of India’s first rural job guarantee program, lamented that the standards of social audits for the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Law Guarantee (MGNREGA), which should be based on the Controller and Auditor General Guidelines (CAG), “are largely unsatisfactory”.
In a letter to Union Minister of Rural Development Giriraj Singh, with a copy to Nagendra Nath Sinha, secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development, Morcha said most social audit units (SAU) have ceased regular audits since April 2021.
NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM) is a popular campaign for the right to work with dignity and social security, a collective of rural people’s organizations, women’s organizations and labor unions. The campaign has a strong local presence and works daily on NREGA. We observe the program closely in different states and advocate for improved and transparent implementation of it.
We are writing to share our observations on the state of social audits and offer recommendations for carrying out social audits with letter and spirit across the country.
Our observations are as follows:
- Social audit units (SAU) have been set up in all states of the country. However, the SAUs in most states are not independent, under-staffed and under-funded. In some states (eg Uttar Pradesh), officials from program implementation agencies (PIAs) are responsible for the supervision and payments of local officials of the UAA.
- The quality of audits varies considerably from state to state. In addition, no appropriate and timely follow-up action was taken and posted on the website. It has often been observed that issues are closed by PIA without any independent oversight.
- Most SAUs have stopped regular audits since April 2021. A few SAUs have undertaken simultaneous audits but on a smaller scale. However, the conclusions of these simultaneous audits are placed in the public domain because the management information system (MIS) has not been extended to allow the entry of simultaneous audit data.
- Not all social audit reports are hosted in the public domain. During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, while audits were carried out in 51% of general practitioners, the findings of the audit were only disclosed in the public domain for 37% of the audits. In addition, the Ministry’s Action Taken Reports (ATRs) that identify actions taken on the findings of the social audit are not disclosed in the public domain.
- Several media have reported significant misappropriation of NREGA funds, as reported by various SAUs over the past four years. However, our observations are that the volume of diversion is much higher than what is reported in audits, as audits are not conducted regularly, in most states every gram panchayat goes through the audit process once every every three years and in some states audits do not take place. at all.
The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha therefore requires:
- The central government should ensure the provision of adequate funds to the UAS to ensure that social audits take place on schedule.
- Central and state governments should ensure that all directors and staff of UASs are appointed in accordance with social audit auditing standards to ensure the independence of the unit. The program executing agency should have absolutely no interference in the operations of the UAS.
- The ministry should step in to ensure that the UAS upload the social audit schedules to the public domain and that the social audits are performed according to the same. Independent oversight is needed in this regard.
- The ministry should ensure that social audit reports are uploaded to the public domain within seven days of the end of the public social audit hearing. The conclusions of the simultaneous audits should also be uploaded to the website and the Center should make mandatory arrangements on the official website for the same.
- The central government should instruct and ensure that state governments complete ATRs on social audit findings within 30 days, and that these are released in the public domain. The Center should have a rigorous follow-up mechanism to ensure timely action on irregularities.
We expect swift action from you on these issues to ensure that independent social audits are regularized in all states, that findings are made public and that timely action is taken against each irregularity.