By Akansha Yadav
This article is in response to Farzana Afridi’s ‘Social audit isn’t enough’ (IE, January 22). Social audits have been enshrined as one of the transparency and accountability tools in the MGNREGA. Such accountability mechanisms aim to strengthen the otherwise weak institutions of delivery as they engage the beneficiaries in the process of implementation, who participate, measure and raise concerns related to the implementation. The mere provision of a scheme does not necessarily guarantee its access, and certainly not where the awareness on rights and entitlements is lacking. It cannot be truer than in the case of India, which has a set of well-designed social policies suffering from major implementation failure. Among other things, it is a stark manifestation of the existing top-down approach that has failed to deliver at the grassroots level and needs to be addressed on priority. The lack of involvement of beneficiaries, who are systematically disempowered and discouraged from questioning service delivery and holding implementing agencies accountable, is one of the key reasons for implementation failure.
It is important to differentiate between the structural- and the process-related barriers to implementation that lead to financial and non-financial irregularities and the scope of social audits to impact them. Structural barriers arise from within the social, economic and political contexts within which the scheme operates, which shape and define the constraints of implementation. On the other hand, process-related barriers refer to issues of awareness, access to information and overall participation that impact implementation. As a community monitoring tool, while social audit reveals largescale corruption in the implementation of MGNREGS, it also redefines and strengthens people’s engagement and participation. Thus, in assessing the credibility of social audits, it is imperative to look at these through a qualitative lens throwing light on people’s engagement with the state at the grassroots level, beyond measuring corruption.
The public hearing forum in the social audit process is one of the few platforms at the grassroots level where beneficiaries can voice their concerns and negotiate their entitlements directly with senior state officials. In Andhra Pradesh, where the process of social audits has been institutionalised, so far more than 6,000 public hearings have been held, related not just to MGNREGS but also other schemes, such as Social Security Pensions, Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana, Mid-Day Meal Scheme and the Integrated Watershed Management Programme. Through this, the state has reached out to more than one crore beneficiaries and trained more than 1.5 lakh village youth — of which approximately 20 per cent are women and the majority belongs to SC/ ST/ backward communities — in conducting social audits. In FY 2012-13 alone, public funds to the tune of Rs 50 billion have been audited in Andhra and 35,000 members from the families of beneficiaries continued…