Rural jobs scheme needs independent social audit, say activists

April 6th, 2008 - 1:41 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi
New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) may fail to reap the anticipated results from a slew of developmental schemes unless their implementation undergoes social auditing, warn activists. “We want to reap the best harvest from the government’s development programmes like NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) before we go to the next Lok Sabha poll,” Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Veerappa Moily told IANS in an interview.

But activists say independent social auditing of the scheme is the key to its proper implementation. Given the present state of poor implementation, the NREGS is not living up to its expectations of a voter-friendly scheme, they warn.

Corruption, lack of manpower and little awareness among the people about the scheme are the main irritants bogging down the scheme. A social audit by an independent agency is expected to check corruption and ensure the proper distribution of jobs.

The government ordered implementation of the NREGS in all the 604 districts of India from April 1. A sum of Rs.16 billion has been earmarked for the scheme in the current budget.

“The government should encourage social audit, that is, audit by the local people. Participatory evaluation is better than involving external agencies. What do they know about the local problems?” asked Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), an NGO working in Rajasthan.

Roy, a Magsaysay award winner, has been working closely with the people on the NREGS.

The UPA government is hoping that its slew of programmes and legislation like the NREGS, the National Rural Health Mission and the Right To Information Act will translate into votes in the 2009 general election. But the NREGS, especially, has been faulted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for its poor implementation in a majority of states.

The debate for external auditing began after the CAG made the report public.

The report underlined discrepancies in the implementation of the NREGS, the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission and other flagship programmes of the UPA.

Acting on the report, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered exploring of options to get the schemes audited by external agencies in order to bring transparency.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in his budget speech, said independent research institutions would execute the auditing. The government will soon have in place a Central Plan Schemes Monitoring System, sources said.

The move has been welcomed by NGOs.

But they want only Indian institutions like IIMs and universities to be roped in and international agencies kept out. “They (foreign agencies) will charge huge amounts for a job that can be done better by the Indian agencies,” said Nikhil De, also of MKSS.

Some within the activist fraternity are even apprehensive of involving Indian institutions on the grounds that they are not familiar with rural India.

Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), asked: “Do you think the IITs and IIMs are ready to work in the remotest villages? Are they aware of the ground realities?”

The government is still to get cracking on independent auditing. Highly placed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said no progress has been made so far.

Rural development ministry sources said though the list of auditors is yet to be finalised, there are indications that Indian agencies will be given preference.

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