Claiming NREGA from below
Recently Satyamev Jayate aired an episode on the importance and role of participation and accountability to ensure a well functioning democracy. As the State Programme Coordinator of Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency (SSAAT), Govt of Andhra Pradesh, Akansha explains why social audits should see increased adoption across states and projects.
This article was originally published on the 28th Jan 2014 in the Indian Express Opinion column @ http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/claiming-nrega-from-below/99/
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 grass roots level and needs to be addressed on priority. The lack of involvement of beneficiaries, who are systematically dis-empowered 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 large scale 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.
Furthermore, prior to the public hearing, the scheme beneficiaries are trained to form a collective capacitated to voice and negotiate entitlements at the forum. This includes training in filing RTIs, accessing scheme-related records, verifying the records and conducting door-to-door beneficiary verification, alongside worksite verification. Here, the role of citizens in monitoring the enforcement of entitlements and in demanding public scrutiny and transparency, comes into sharp focus. It brings the local government and implementing agencies directly under the radar for provisions, such as the number of works completed, quality of work undertaken, expenses incurred on projects, appropriate facilities offered at worksites, etc, by bringing in credible and well-scrutinised evidence.
This is one of the few instances where the beneficiaries reflexively engage with issues of governance and power that play out at the field level and sharpen the political edges of participatory democracy. Alongside unearthing corruption related to labour and material, social audits offer the finer details of corruption, such as specific tasks where delays have been observed, tasks not recorded, or reasons for payment delays. Thus, social audits present firsthand ground-level challenges and policy-level issues that need to be addressed by the state.
It is true that social audit is an excellent community monitoring tool, but judging its effectiveness by looking only at corruption data is to overlook the process of gradual empowerment it brings about at the grassroots level. It provides a mechanism to those currently not getting served, or are under-served, and negotiate services meant for them. Field observations also suggest a phenomenal lack of awareness about scheme-related entitlements that social audits address. Particularly, in door-to-door verification, social audit gram sabha and public hearings, the auditors bring to light various MGNREGA guidelines not being adhered to. This creates awareness regarding rights and entitlements. It also serves as an empowering tool that encourages rural citizenry to participate in local governance and creates a sense of civic responsibility.
The full episode of Satyamev Jayate ‘Kings Every Day’ which discussed social accountability and participatory democracy, available here:
A follow-up discussion with representatives of various political parties was held by Aamir Khan asking them their intention to make Social Audits mandatory if they come to power and to make it part of their party manifesto on ‘Asar’ on ABP News . You can watch the responses of various party representatives here: