Relevance : GS Paper II
(Polity and Governance/Development and Welfare)
Theme of the article
Various steps need to be taken to strengthen social audits.
Significance of social audits
- Social audits show how people’s participation in the planning, execution and monitoring of public programmes leads to better outcomes.
- They have strengthened the role of the gram sabha.
Origin and evolution of social audits
- Social audits were first mandated by law in 2005 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
- Subsequently, Parliament, the Supreme Court and many Central ministries mandated them in other areas as well.
- Social audit units (SAUs) have been established in 26 States .
- More than 5,000 full-time staff have been appointed.
- A 30-day rigorous training programme has been designed, and more than 4,200 people have been trained.
Shortcoming in the social audits programme
- The governing bodies of most social audit units (SAUs) are not independent.
- Some SAUs have to obtain sanction from the implementation agency before spending funds.
- More than half the States have not followed the open process specified in the standards for the appointment of the SAU’s director.
- Some States have conducted very few audits and a few have not conducted any.
- Several states do not have adequate staff to cover all the panchayats even once a year.
- The action taken by the State governments in response to the social audit findings has been extremely poor.
- Adequate disciplinary action against people responsible for the irregularities are not being taken.
The way forward
- Social audits of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) have failed to take off due to lack of funds. Like the Rural Development Ministry, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution should give funds to the SAUs and ask them to facilitate the social audits of the NFSA.
- Social audit units should have an independent governing body and adequate staff.
- Rules must be framed so that implementation agencies are mandated to play a supportive role in the social audit process and take prompt action on the findings.
- A real time management information system should track the calendar, the social audit findings and the action taken, and reports on these should be made publicly available.
- Social audit processes need mentoring and support as they expand into newer programmes.
- CAG as an institution could partner with local citizens and state audit societies to train them, build capacities and issue advisories on framing of guidelines, developing criteria, methodology and reporting for audit.
As efforts are being made to extend social audits to new areas, it is important to look at how well they are actually implemented based on parameters specified in the auditing standards jointly pioneered by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Ministry of Rural Development.