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How a social audit makes people accountable
October, 05th 2009

Social audit of rural jobs scheme promises to empower people with information about how they are being denied the benefits of the schemes meant for them.

Something comes between entitlements and beneficiaries when it comes to social sector schemes. It is not necessarily corruption or greed of the providers. It is the ignorance of the beneficiaries.

If one were to drive through villages from Raipur to the borders of Orissa, or for that matter any village in the central belt, one would find rickety-legged children looking severely malnourished.

A few kilometres away, an anganwadi with a government employee and food stocks would be there.

But the mother is either not aware of this or does not dare to approach the anganwadi, usually manned by "upper caste" women.

Two states, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, have set up directorates of social audit. These will have committees at the district level with representatives of government and non-government organisations and local groups whose job is to match the promised benefits with actual fulfilment, act against culprits, and inform the beneficiaries.

This information will lead to recovery of swindled funds, action against culprits and empowerment of the masses with evidence about denial of their rights. It makes them their own policemen, vigilant against those who steal their benefits.

The two social audit directorates, one in Rajasthan, set up this week, are, however, dedicated to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which has the largest funds backing it.

Other schemes are outside the purview of this mechanism in both states. Aruna Roy says information can work miracles in the hands of the people. It is not my view against yours. It is evidence that no one can ignore, she says.

Its effectiveness as a tool for social action was first demonstrated most effectively in Dungarpur district in Rajasthan by Roy when her organisation, the Majdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, along with local groups, fanned out in all gram panchayats with a check-list of what they deserved and came back with a list of what they got. Dungarpur has not been the same after that.

The samiti used the weapon later, though not on a district level, to expose wrongdoings in pension and healthcare schemes, said Shankar Singh, an office-bearer of the samiti.

Singh is now in the middle of a repeat of Dungarpur in Rural Development Minister CP Joshi's constituency of Bhilwara. The samiti and its associate groups have formed 135 teams of 10 people each and from tomorrow these will move into 381 gram panchayats .

Each team is to cover on foot three panchayats. On October 12, they would have covered all villages in the district and collected details of how much each village deserved and how much it got under the NREGP.

It will arm villagers with detailed information about the achievement of the scheme as well as betrayal wherever it has taken place. It's a bold step for a minister to expose the dirt in his constituency. But this would be confined to just one scheme while other schemes, with less funds but perhaps more significant, would remain covered in grime.

MKSS and several other groups are already doing a series of social audits in special economic zones in about 11 states.

Education Minister Kapil Sibal has said that he will use the unique identification number to track teachers and to stop absenteeism and sub-contracting. Maybe other ministers will soon follow suit.

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