According to the Vision Foundation's (2005) Social Audit-Gram Sabha and Panchayati Raj-document, submitted to the Planning Commission, GoI, October,
• In the Panchayati Raj set up, the Gram Sabha, the general assembly of villagers, has a key role for effective functioning of Panchayats. In the Gram Sabha meeting, the rural poor, the women and the marginalised people would now get an opportunity to join in decision making on matters affecting their lives.
• Active functioning of the Gram Sabha would ensure a participatory democracy with transparency, accountability and achievement. Gram Sabha has been given ‘watchdog’ powers and responsibilities by the Panchayati Raj Acts in most States to supervise and monitor the functioning of panchayat elected representatives and government functionaries, and examine the annual statement of accounts and audit reports.
• These are implied powers indirectly empowering Gram Sabhas to carry out social audits in addition to other functions. Members of the Gram Sabha and the village panchayat, intermediate panchayat and district panchayat through their representatives, can raise issues of social concern and public interest and demand an explanation.
• In order to supplement the Panchayati Raj Act, the Government of India, in 1996, passed another Act known as Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, which extended the provisions of the Constitution (73 Amendment) Act of 1992 to the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan. This came into force on 24 December 1996.
• Social Audits are mandatory as per the 73rd Constitutional Amendment in 1993, through which the Village communities are empowered to conduct social audit of all development work in their respective villages and the concerned authorities are duty bound to facilitate them. The social audits are expected to contribute to the process of empowerment of the beneficiaries and generate demand for the effective delivery of programmes. The instructions require that special Gram Sabhas be arranged to conduct Social Audits in every ward and that Social Audits of all ongoing development works be included as an item of discussion in every Gram Sabha meeting.
• The provisions of Panchayats (extension to scheduled areas) Act 1996 lays down that the completion certificate for all villages development works can only be accorded by the Gram Sabha.
• Rajasthan (India) Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act 2000 vested on the Ward Sabha on “getting information on the detailed estimates of works prepared to be taken in the area of the Ward Sabha, exercising “Social Audit” in all works implemented in the area of Ward Sabha and awarding utilization and completion certificate for such work
• In the state of Madhya Pradesh (India) the process of Social Audit has been specified in the order No. 18069/22/JRY/vi - 7/96 dev. October 30th 1996.
• In the state of Orissa the Social Audit in rural development works has been mandatory with the issuance of Govt. order in the month of September 2002.
What the government has to say?
ïƒ˜ Some international agencies have rated India among nations with a high degree corruption. For example, the Transparency International Index for 2006 ranks India at 70th position along with Brazil, China, Egypt, and Mexico.
ïƒ˜ Corruption in public services has today assumed serious dimensions. In the last few decades, its scale, growth and spread have significantly increased. Different levels of governments have become implicated in corrupt practices in mutually enforcing ways. At each of these levels, corruption has tarnished the image of government functionaries.
ïƒ˜ Corruption not only undermines the moral fabric of the society but can have serious and irreversible practical consequences for politics, economic development and governance. In an overwhelmingly corrupt society, value-based politics loses its meaning. The legitimacy of government based on impartial application of the rule of law no longer holds.
ïƒ˜ Resources, which ought to be available to the exchequer for welfare and development, are diverted into the private coffers of certain individuals. Honest public servants are demoralized while the corrupt are rewarded. Corruption is a major factor in the wastefulness, inefficiency and inequities we find in public administration today.
ïƒ˜ It particularly affects the poor who cannot afford to pay. The burden of corruption saddles the private sector, and ultimately the consumer, with high costs and an inefficient infrastructure. Many more ramifications of corruption can be identified, but what is important to appreciate is that as corruption intensifies and accelerates, it tends to perpetuate itself in even widening and deeper forms. No time can, therefore, be lost in efforts to arrest and roll back this pernicious process.
ïƒ˜ There is widespread concern in India about the scale, spread and consequences of corruption. However, the daunting nature of the problem has generated a feeling of helplessness and apathy in the public mind, resulting in cynicism, fatalism or in arguments that rationalize corruption.
ïƒ˜ Alternatively, escape is sought in sweeping solutions such as, for example, radical constitutional changes, wholesale deregulation and privatization of the economy and decentralization of most governmental activities. An agenda for removing corruption will thus far have to be worked upon in the Plan.
Some suggestions, which need to be seriously worked upon are:
ïƒ˜ The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and other related laws need to be reviewed with an effective role assured for the Central and State Vigilance Commissions.
ïƒ˜ Strengthening the ‘watch dog’ role of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India and its establishment in order to ensure probity, transparency and accountability in all public financial transactions.
ïƒ˜ Tackling corruption in public utilities and in municipal and other services provided by the State and its agencies
ïƒ˜ Formulation and enforcement of a code of conduct to regulate relations between government and private enterprises, domestic and multi-national.
ïƒ˜ Appropriate self-policing arrangements should be developed by independent authorities and professions such as the judiciary, lawyers, doctors, media persons,chartered accountants, architects and contractors.