Sonia rushes to salvage MGNREGS

Expedite social audit rules: NAC to Centre

Sonia rushes to salvage MGNREGS

The National Advisory Council of the UPA, headed by Sonia Gandhi, on Wednesday asked the Manmohan Singh government to expedite notification of the much-awaited rules that would allow public scrutiny of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme’s (MGNREGS) implementation.

Now into the sixth year of implementation, MGNREGS is the UPA’s single-largest social spending programme, and in the latest budget it has allocated Rs 40,000 crore for the scheme.

The scheme is widely perceived to have helped the ruling UPA to reinforce its “aam admi” plank and win a  second term in office two years ago. However, reports of widespread irregularities in its implementation have had the UPA leadership worried.

The NAC’s social audit recommendations also came in the backdrop of a recent Supreme Court directive to the Centre to inform it within eight weeks how it planned to guide the state governments to prevent recurrence of irregularities and corruption in the scheme’s implementation.

The apex court’s directive came while it also ordered a probe by the CBI into the alleged misappropriation of funds under the scheme in 100 villages in Orissa in 2006-07.

In a recent report, the World Bank noted poor adherence to transparency safeguards and some evidence of leakage of funds and delays in transfer of funds to panchayats in MGNREGS implementation.

“There is some leakage of funds. Several field studies indicate evidence of leakage and report several ways through which accountability mechanisms are being subverted, including through fudged muster rolls, misuse of job cards and account pass books, wage payments below the programme wage,” the Bank said in its report, ‘Social Protection for a Changing India’, said.

For quite some time, civil society groups have been alleging widespread misappropriation of funds meant for MGNREGS and have demanded that social auditing should be allowed as a measure of transparency in its implementation.

The NAC asked the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) to hasten the process of framing rules for the social audit of MGNREGS. It also recommended setting up of a mission at the MoRD to oversee implementation of the scheme across the country.
The MoRD, in consultation with the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, had framed the draft rules for audit of the MGNREGS and sought feedback from public.

Draft rules

According to the draft rules, gram sabhas and resource persons from civil society facilitating the social audit shall have the right to demand the production of books, accounts, vouchers and other documents in connection with the implementation of the scheme.

They will verify the muster rolls, entry and payments made in the time period specified, if necessary, by contacting the wage seekers enlisted in the muster rolls, will visit the worksites and assess the quantity and quality of the works done.

Besides, they will also check cash books, will go through bank statements and other financial records to verify the correctness and reliability of financial reporting, scrutinise the invoices, bills, vouchers or other related records used for procurement of materials to ascertain if such procurements were economical and fully utilised.

According to the draft rules, “the labourers and village community shall be informed about gram sabhas conducting social audit by the social audit resource persons as well as the administration to ensure full participation. Creation of awareness amongst the labourers about their rights and entitlements under the Act will be an important part of the social audit facilitation.”

CAG certification

The accounts of MGNREGS of every state government will be certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General or any other person appointed by him “together with the audit report thereon” will be forwarded annually to the Union government, which will present them in both Houses of Parliament.

The NAC finalised its recommendations on MGNREGS in a meeting chaired by Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday.

Social activist Aruna Roy, who has been pressing for a mechanism to throw open MGNREGS for public scrutiny, made a presentation at the meeting.

The NAC—the Congress-led UPA government’s own mechanism for interface with civil society—on February 26  asked its Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance to study some ‘critical issues’ related to MGNREGS, particularly delayed payments, mechanism for redressing grievances and quality of assets created by the programme.

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