This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
Social audit refers to the on-the-ground evaluation of a program’s or scheme’s implementation and outcomes by the community at large, for whom the government’s welfare programme was introduced with the active participation of the key stakeholder groups. Social audit strengthens participatory democracy, facilitates direct social accountability through face-to-face audit by the beneficiaries/users and so enables beneficiaries and all stakeholder groups to determine the extent of the benefit of available resources reaching the earmarked source. It aims to assess the impact of a scheme undertaken by the government in terms of the benefits derived by the common people and acts as an eye opener for the implementer as well as the government to have a concrete idea of the ground reality of the implemented scheme. The Government of India (GoI) initiated the states to take up this audit for all flagship schemes and programmes and agreed to bear 100 percent of the cost incurred for such an audit. A survey of the literature on social audit showed that there was hardly any study on this sensitive issue by researchers or stakeholders other than some small comments issued by various audit entities of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) as well as state audit bodies. It is doubtful whether government directives are being followed everywhere to arrange social audits.
What is a social audit
Under the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, a finance commission for each state was established, and devolution of funds, functions, and functionaries shifted from the then government’s control to the full charge and authority of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and Urban Local Bodies (ULB). Efficiency and efficacy to effectively maintain and manage such a huge responsibility were actually tough tasks. Yet, the devolution added wings to the PRIs and ULBs to march in the direction the amendments intended. The concept of Social auditing came about at this point in time. Fund meant for the welfare of the masses, whether reaching grass root beneficiaries was the need of the masses to check the success as per their needs and measure on spot. Social Audit is thus the verification of the right implementation of a programme/scheme and its results by the community in general, for whom the welfare scheme of the government has been launched with the active involvement of the primary stakeholders. It aims to assess the impact of a scheme undertaken by the government in terms of the benefits derived by the common people and acts as an eye opener for the implementer as well as the government to have a concrete idea of the ground reality of the implemented scheme. Keeping this principle in mind, under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) 2005, relevant provisions for Social Audit were incorporated. As per Section 17 of the Act, the Gram Sabha would monitor the execution of works within the Gram Panchayat (GP) and conduct a regular Social Audit of all the projects under the scheme taken up within that GP. The GP shall make available all relevant records to the Gram Sabha for social audit.
Difference in between social audit and general audit
Over the years, CAG conducted performance audits of socio-economic developmental programmes of the Central and state Governments and gathered audit evidence such as beneficiary/stakeholder surveys, physical inspections, audio-visual recordings, statistical samplings, etc. As part of their audit. That means the performance auditing at so many places was not covering the principles associated with social auditing in all the modalities, government auditing does. There was actually no real/cent percent means to check all on the spot executed activities meant for the launched welfare schemes that differentiated CAG audit from social audit being intended to be done by the masses. There is synergy between CAG audits and Social audits. While social audits are considered a very powerful mode of ensuring people’s participation in the monitoring and evaluation of any scheme, the follow-up action based on the reports submitted to the government as well as the institutionalisation of the process is an equally critical aspect. The CAG audit, no doubt, brings all deficiencies to the attention of bureaucracy via media reporting in the form of audit paras that reach the Public Accounts Committee for wider information on various involved authorities in the line of Rural Development/urban Development administration. Under the Performance Auditing guidelines of CAG, social audit meetings may be attended by the audit team on the spot during the time of their prescribed audit. So social auditing is covered under CAG audit and not vice versa.
Concept of social audit
Since independence, the general public has had no access to how government welfare schemes have been functioning. As a result, millions of rupees spent on the schemes and projects for providing Awas (houses), Bijli (power), and Pani (water) to the rural/urban poor actually could not meet the needs of the target population, nor was the impact of the activities on the mass ever assessed. There was a lack of transparency and accountability in implementation during and after, which could not be forecast or foreseen. The general audit taken on the schemes by the CAG, either for financial or performance aspects, was only a check of post-implementation issues, and the only result was that there were much more pointed irregularities, which were seldom rectifiable.
Objectives of social audit
- Promoting transparency and accountability in implementation of a scheme.
- Informing and educating people about their rights and entitlements under law during/for and after the scheme’s implementation.
- Providing a collective platform such as the Palli Sabha or Gram Sabha to redress their needs and grievances.
- Promoting people’s participation in the implementation through capacity building of all stakeholder groups.
- Finally, creating all opportunities to reach the masses without giving them feeling of neglect or otherwise.
The Action Plan prescribed auditing standards for conducting social audits, including detailed plans of action. Evidently, the coverage under social audit and the patterns were quite different from those of financial, performance, or compliance audits as prescribed under the authority of CAG, India, New Delhi. The auditing standard on social audit as a call of the time may be broadly described as follows.
Auditing standards of social audit
- A social audit should be held at least once every six months at the Gram Sabha. As per Section 6(1) of the MGNREGA Scheme Rules 2011, Social Audit Units (SAU) shall, at the beginning of the year, frame an annual calendar to conduct at least one social audit in each GP every six months.
- The date, time, agenda, and importance of such auditing should be widely publicised to ensure maximum participation. As per Section 4(2)(c) of the Rules mentioned above, labourers and the village communities shall be informed about the Gram Sabha conducting a social audit in the Jan Sunwai.
- The time of this auditing should be fixed in such a manner as to be convenient for all to attend.
- All officials responsible for the implementation of the project at ground level should be present in the meeting to answer the queries of any members.
- The minutes of the meeting that conducted the social audit should be recorded by a person other than those involved in the implementation.
- The register of minutes should contain two signatures as a token of attendance at the meeting and exit by all the attending members.
- As far as possible, the minutes of the last meeting may be read out at the beginning of the meeting, along with any action taken.
- Supervisors/observer nominated by the District Programme Co-ordinator should be available at the venue of the meeting and should observe the pro-active disclosure of information written on the walls of the Gram panchayat and finally the motto underneath.
Status of implementation of social audit
From various audit reports of the Government of India, it came to our attention that everywhere there were shortfalls in conducting this audit. India is the largest democracy in the world and has the highest population in the world. Corruption was thus rampant because there was hardly any strong system to combat and eradicate corruption at every stage. Vote bank politics is there with every ruling party. Freebies to be promised while an election is around the corner are very much there with the ruling government. A social audit was thus intended on paper to check a certain extent of pilferage and bad work on the spot of execution. The government is publishing widely the effectiveness of social audits on paper. But the reality is that no one in government is giving so much importance to this audit. There is no awareness. With the highest percentage of illiterate people, there is no awareness. Even in cases where some people are a little aware of this audit on the spot, their views are never taken into account for remedial action. Roads, bridges, and buildings built today with crores of people’s money are getting destroyed or damaged in a short period of time due to bad workmanship or bad planning. One should remember that a good plan if wrongly implemented is no plan, and a bad plan with the right implementation is similar. Women’s representation is not as strong as desired. Works are undertaken at the whims of bureaucrats without involving people from the village or without the requisite approval of the Gram Sabha. All these issues are indicative of the ineffectiveness of social auditing, which exists on paper but has no relevance, so to speak, to the people for whom the audit is being conducted. Thus, it may be concluded that social auditing is not a reality but a myth. The government should come up with the right guidelines for the implementation of this audit in the best interest of the country. Otherwise, the mandate for implementing this audit will never be fruitful, and corruption will increase on all fronts to swallow the people’s money.
Social audit strengthens participatory democracy, facilitates direct social accountability through face-to-face audit by the beneficiaries/users and so enables beneficiaries and all stakeholder groups to determine the extent of the benefit of available resources reaching the earmarked source. A social audit, needless to say, is a way of measuring, understanding, reporting, and ultimately improving an organisation’s social and ethical performance. But this may appear on paper as being conducted, but the ground reality is something different.
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