Topic- General Studies Paper-2; Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There can be no effective audits if the auditing agency is not independent. Following a sustained push from the Rural Development Ministry, the CAG and civil society organisations, social audit units (SAUs) have been established in 26 States (Rajasthan, Haryana and Goa are yet to establish them)
- But on the other hand, the governing bodies of most 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 do not have adequate staff to cover all the panchayats even once a year.
- Most of the SAUs do not register grievances or detect irregularities which is a major cause of concern. 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 has also not been taken.
- 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.
- The 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 and reporting for audit.