[Reader-list] Reg: Set - 3

Rakesh Iyer rakesh.rnbdj at gmail.com
Thu Jun 17 23:27:49 IST 2010

Hi all

This is exactly the kind of work we did, and I think this needs to be the
case for each and every scheme run by the govt. to force corruption out. I
remember somebody told me that Kautilya said that corruption can never be
completely removed from a system. Fair enough, but I wish to ensure that I
make it as difficult for someone to be corrupt as I can from my side.


Theme: NREGA (Right to Employment)

Source: Mint




NREGA review catches hands in the till
The first phase of the audit in Bhilwara district has revealed
irregularities and corruption relating to the use of sub-standard materials,
the use of machinery instead of manual labour and the non-issuance of job
cards, needed to ensure that the right people are being paid
Padmaparna Ghosh
Bhilwara, Rajasthan: Badliyas panchayat in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district has
a *sarpanch,* or headman, filled with contrition. Dashrat Singh not only
wrote a cheque of Rs1.3 lakh giving money back to the panchayat, but he also
swore an oath in writing that he wouldn’t ever make the mistake of trying to
pocket money meant for the government’s rural jobs programme.

The money had been sanctioned to the panchayat for road construction under
the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA), which forms the
centrepiece of the government’s welfare programmes and is considered key to
the success of the United Progressive Alliance in elections earlier this

Singh was caught because of one of the things that makes the programme
unique—social audits that allow non-governmental organizations to run checks
on the programme.

The audits, it would appear, actually seem to work.

The first phase of the audit in Bhilwara district that started on 1 October
has revealed irregularities and corruption relating to the use of
sub-standard materials, the use of machinery instead of manual labour and
the non-issuance of job cards, needed to ensure that the right people are
being paid.

As many as 12 first information reports or FIRs—filed by the police
department in crimes, these reports recognize that one has been
committed—have been filed in the district against government officials as a
result of the audit. Punishment will follow, says the state official in
charge of the programme in the state.

“There will be FIRs, charge-sheets, suspensions and terminations against
corrupt officials, whether at panchayat level, block level or state level,”
said Rajendra Bhanawat, Rajasthan’s NREGA commissioner. “We can’t really
hang them, but we will do what we can to undo what has happened.”

Panchayats and blocks are administrative units.

The results of such audits are put up for public display.

Villagers recently queued up for a chance to speak about similar issues at a
meeting at Baran village of Banera panchayat. The walls of the local school
were covered in posters made by the villagers listing the various
irregularities found in the social audit.

Ram Niwas Mehta, Rajasthan’s NREGA project director, who likened the Dashrat
Singh episode to a Bollywood plot, said the audit was forcing officials to
learn the programme’s stringent accountability rules.

Mehta showed *Mint* a letter in which a NREGA programme officer wrote that
he had no idea that he had to account for payments made for purchases. He
was also not aware that he couldn’t issue non-account payee cheques or that
he needed to put dates on all receipts.

The idea of an institutionalized social audit has been included as part of
legislation for the first time. Social organizations work alongside
government officials on the audit, involving grass roots groups and the
local people. Audits of government programmes are traditionally conducted by
government officials.

“When I joined, audits were exercises done behind closed doors, there was no
public participation, people didn’t know when it happened and, of course,
there were hardly any objections on how the scheme was implemented,” said
Manju Rajpal, Bhilwara district collector and a former NREGA commissioner.
“It was like just sitting and making note of what works were done at how
much cost and that’s it.”

In Bhilwara, teams of social auditors covered the district collecting
information about the scheme in the first phase of the exercise, which
spanned 11 panchayats out of the 281 in the district. They inquired into
complaints as well as the expenditure incurred and the materials used.

The two organizations that were involved in the process were the Mazdoor
Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a farmers’ group, and the Soochna Evam Rozgar
Adhikar Abhiyan, a Rajasthan-based federation of civil organizations.
The checks will continue until all the panchayats are covered in Bhilwara,
which is also the constituency of C.P. Joshi, who as the current Union rural
development minister is directly in charge of the programme, giving added
impetus to the exercise

“Joshi himself offered that Bhilwara be the first district to be covered by
a social audit, which is a good sign,” said Kiran Shaheen, an activist with
the MKSS. “Now, Bharat Singh, the state *panchayati raj* minister wants it
done in his constituency, Kota. It is a question of trust in the process.”

The whole exercise involves 2,400 people, including 800 government
officials, divided into 135 teams, which will cover the whole district at a
cost of Rs30 lakh to the state government.

State NREGA commissioner Bhanawat said that, all told, in less than one year
there have been around 300 FIRs against *sarpanchs*, block development
officers (BDOs) and state administrative service officials, 40 programme
officers’ contracts have been terminated and 30 *gram sewaks* have been

“We discovered embezzlement of Rs1 crore in Pali district five months back,
because of which the BDOs were suspended and the *sarpanchs *are still in
jail,” he said.

Officials were unable to put a number on the extent of corruption in the

“The social audit of all the panchayats will give the real picture,” Rajpal
said. “What we are looking at are the irregularities mainly in asset
creation, namely roads etc. and in employment and wages.”

Compared with the well-known problems of discrepancies in wages and job
cards, this audit’s results pointed mainly to procurement and shoddy
material, the auditors said. They added that they have also learnt to look
for signs of corruption.

“Some panchayats only have material sanctioned and some only get labour,”
Bhanawat said. “Money sanctions only for material are a cause for suspicion
and those who sanction more work without completion of previous jobs will be
taken to task.”

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, or CAG, a sort of super
auditor for the government, recently set up a taskforce on social audits
under the Act.

“Given the constraints, they are doing a commendable job,” said Niranjan
Pant, CAG director general for local bodies. “Social audits provide public
participation, which makes it better and more real. And CAG’s work will be
incomplete if it doesn’t have a promotional interest in these processes.”

Choosing the social auditor would also be critical, he said.

Rajpal allowed that there could be a possibility of bias since the social
audits were conducted by organizations chosen by the *gram* panchayats. But
the government would like to keep working with the groups they have picked,
as they include all the socially active organizations in the state, she

Rajpal plans to use the report’s findings to focus on the areas that need
the most attention. “After this report, I will find the most needy cluster
of villages in terms of investigation and follow up and work with the
officials,” she said. “Why do we have to do it once in a while when it can
be done every time?”

*padmaparna.g at livemint.com*

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