The sarpanches of Rajasthan who have been opposing social audit by NGOs in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) now have a supporter at the Centre.
Union minister for rural development and panchayati raj, C P Joshi on Thursday said the Act governing the scheme had provisions that the audit be done by the gram sabha.
"Section 13(B) of the Act provides that the gram sabha have a social audit committee comprising local residents for auditing the work. There is a provision for independent observers too," Joshi said, at the PCC headquarters.
Sarpanches from across the state demonstrated in Jaipur early this month, objecting to the state government's decision to allow NGOs to conduct social audit of the MGNREGS work. With the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) eagerly cashing in on the sentiment of village-level leaders, the state's Congress government sent out signals that it was favourably considering the sarpanches' demands. The state is, however, yet to take a decision.
Stating that corruption complaints at the panchayat level could be addressed to the district ombudsmen, Joshi said the issue of independent observers for social audits would be discussed at the meeting of National Employment Guarantee Council scheduled on October 10.
Meanwhile, he reiterated that appointment of a "trained and dedicated" staff at every panchayat will only help realise the aim of empowering the village bodies and achieving the goal of decentralisation of power.
Referring to the provision of gram sevaks appointed for maintaining records of the panchayats, Joshi said, "In Rajasthan the gram sevaks are working on a contractual basis. This should change."
The minister elaborated that every panchayat ought to have at least four "functionaries", including a development officer (an MBA degree holder), an accountant for data entry, an engineer and an extension officer for dissipating information. "After 60 years, we have enough talent and qualified people, so there should no problem in having MBAs taking up the job of development officers in panchayats," Joshi said.
The states agreeing to phase out the gram sevaks working on contract would have to sign MoUs for Centre's assistance. "The Centre will provide funds for eight years to the state government concerned in establishing a structure of dedicated staff among gram panchayats," Joshi said.
"Initially the Centre-state ratio of funding will be 80:20, but it will gradually be reduced and finally the financial responsibility for maintaining the staff would be on the states," he said.