Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam: Paper - IV (General Studies – III) - 18 December 2018


Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam


UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-IV: General Studies -III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)

Q. Social audits are significant but the social audit process is mired in challenges and thus requires strategies to improve it. Discuss with reference to India. (250 words)

Model Answer:

Approach:

  • Why in news?
  • Introduction
  • Significance
  • Challenges
  • Strategies to improve
  • Conclusion

Why in news?

President Ram Nath Kovind during his recent speech at the 29th Accountants General Conference, stressed on the importance of social audits.

On March 19, 2018, the Supreme Court once again reminded us of the importance of social audits in improving government practices. In its final judgment on the National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour (NCC-CL) petition on the implementation of the Building and Other Constructions Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, the Court directed the Ministry of Labour and Employment, State governments and the UTs to “conduct a social audit on the implementation of the BOCW Act so that in future there is better and more effective and meaningful implementation of the Act”.

In April 2017, Meghalaya became the first State in the country to pass a social audit legislation, the Meghalaya Community Participation and Public Services Social Audit Act. This Act mandated social audits across 21 schemes and 11 departments.

Introduction

With its roots in rural Rajasthan, social audits refer to a legally mandated process where potential and existing beneficiaries evaluate the implementation of a programme by comparing official records with ground realities. The public collective platforms of jan sunwais or public hearings that social audits conclude with remain its soul.

Social audit helps to narrow gaps between vision/goal and reality, between efficiency and effectiveness. In a layman’s language, it refers to the steps that are taken to ensure that the work done by the government is actually benefiting the people whom it is intended to benefit.

Significance

  • The social audit places accountability in the centre of its frame, and transfers the power of scrutiny and validation to the people: a citizen-centric mode of accountability.
  • In the course of a social audit, individuals and communities get empowered and politicised in a way that they experience the practical potential of participatory democracy.
  • The audits were deliberately positioned to be a platform for sharing information about schemes, and enhancing awareness amongst people about their entitlements; detecting beneficiaries who were eligible, but had been left out; recording people’s testimonies; identifying priorities for inputs for planning; registering of grievances; and pinpointing systemic shortcomings.
  • Where social audits have been able to take place effectively, they have served as an important tool to detect corruption and influence redress. Nearly Rs 100 crore has been identified as misappropriated funds through social audits under the MGNREGA, out of which nearly Rs 40 crore has been recovered. Nearly 6,000 field personnel have been implicated/removed from duty based on findings of social audits. The impact of continuous cycles of social audit in deterring potential corruption is beyond quantification.
  • They help in identifying and bringing about evidence-based policy changes.
  • In India today, there is a growing acknowledgement of social audits as a credible means of institutionalising citizen oversight.
  • The experience of Meghalaya has taught us how social audit is intrinsically related to processes of community participation and grievance redress.
  • Following the recommendations of 14th Finance Commission in regards to expansion in the role of PRIs, ULBs and other agencies, social audit becomes crucial as the CAG’s audit jurisdiction over such entities is nebulous.
  • It involves scrutiny of both financial and non-financial used by public agencies for development initiatives.
  • Social audit is much more than just a tool of “good governance”.
  • It promotes collective decision making and sharing responsibilities.
  • It helps in developing human resources and social capital.

Challenges

  • The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was the first law to mandate social audit as a statutory requirement. However, even within the MGNREGA, social audits made painfully slow progress.
  • There is reluctance of most government establishments to share power or become accountable.
  • There is weak state responsiveness to social audit findings. The monitoring through social audits is informal and unprocessed with limited follow-up action.
  • There is a lack of support from senior officials to social audits.
  • There is an absence of an independent agency to investigate and act on social audit findings.
  • Institutionalisation on the ground has been inadequate, and has faced great resistance from the establishment. The lack of adequate administrative and political will in institutionalising social audit to deter corruption has meant that social audits in many parts of the country are not independent from the influence of implementing agencies.
  • Social audit units, including village social audit facilitators, continue to face resistance and intimidation and find it difficult to even access primary records for verification.
  • Inadequate access to data and lack of expertise are other obstacles.
  • Lack of focused media attention and scrutiny to social audits.
  • While formal social audit arrangements have been provided for in NREGA, other programmes like PDS, NRHM etc. have varying arrangements for grass root level monitoring, limiting their utility.

Strategies to improve

  • Imposing a stringent penalty on authorities for not implementing social audit.
  • Establishment of a group of trusted local people including elderly people, teachers and others who are committed and independent, to be involved in the verification and to judge if the decisions based upon social audit have been implemented.
  • Implementation of training Programmes on social auditing methods - conducting and preparing social audit reports, and presentation at Gram Sabha
  • It is important to ensure that rural poor are given due protection, through legal framework like the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, when they wish to stand up to speak against any misconduct.
  • Knowing the reluctance of most government establishments to share power or become accountable, this initiative is unlikely to spread or become robust, unless driven by citizens groups. Civil society needs to shape the social audit campaign, be a watchdog, and staunchly protect the independence of the process.
  • Social audits must become part of the demand for effective legislation for the whole country.
  • Social audit compliments the CAG’s audits and therefore it should be mainstreamed into our processes for audit of all social sector programmes.
  • Learning from the progress made by the civil society groups and Gram Sabhas in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan in setting up separate directorates for social audit, other states can also introduce such measures.
  • There must be a formal framework of cooperation and coordination for mutual communication of various audit plans and their synchronization.
  • Uniformity of social audit at the village level for all social sector programmes can be taken up so that arrangements for community participation are better institutionalised.
  • Education and awareness of Gram Sabha should be initiated to enable them to comprehend and understand their rights better.
  • NGOs can help in strengthening social audits such as MKSS in Rajasthan.

Conclusion

Social audit is no longer a choice but a demand of the changing society. The interest and support of the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and the orders of the Supreme Court towards recommending and strengthening the social audits is welcome step.

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