The pandemic has hampered social auditing of MGNREGA

The pandemic has hampered social auditing of MGNREGA

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published Published on Mar 4, 2021   modified Modified on Mar 6, 2021

When a massive sum of public money is spent on a programme like Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA)--a demand-driven programme, there is likelihood of financial misappropriations and mismanagement. Thankfully there are checks and balances in the rural employment guarantee legislation to counter such malpractices.

It is worth noting that the total allocation under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA) for 2020-21 was Rs. 1,11,500.00 crore (R.E.), up from Rs. 61,500.00 crore (B.E.) which was initially announced in the Union Budget 2020-21. In comparison to the Union Government's spending on MGNREGA to the tune of Rs. 71,686.70 crore (actual) in 2019-20, the R.E. figures related to MGNREGA spending in 2020-21 was higher by nearly 55.5 percent. So, there are concerns among public-minded individuals about the possibility of financial embezzlement in MGNREGA against the backdrop of a higher budgetary allocation.

Social audits allow rural citizens to assess for themselves whether programmes that are meant to be benefiting them are serving the purpose with which they have been designed. The training manual for village resource persons on MGNREGS informs us that it is the only programme in the rural development sector where an autonomous structure for social audits has been envisaged and an institutional set-up has been established in most states. However, MGNREGA Social Audit Report: Analytical Overview of the Public Information Available on NREGA MIS (released in November, 2020) that has been prepared by civil society activists mention that apart from MGNREGA, some Social Audit Units (SAUs) in certain states are facilitating social audit of other schemes, including Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G), National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Mid-day Meal (MDM) and Public Distribution System (PDS).

Social audit is a citizen-centric tool to check corruption and malpractices and to address grievances in MGNREGA. Administrative data from the MGNREGA website www.nrega.nic.in shows that social audits could not be conducted properly in 2020-21 (as compared to a normal year) because it has been a pandemic year and there were norms related to maintenance of physical distancing that were laid down by the Union and State Governments from time to time. On top of that, the COVID-19 induced lockdown did not allow for conducting of MGNREGA social audits.  

Social audits in Gram Panchayats (GPs)

Section 17(2) of the MGNREGA says that the Gram Sabha shall conduct regular social audits of all the projects under the scheme taken up within the Gram Panchayat (GP). In addition to that, Section 17(3) of the MGNREGA states that the GP shall make available all relevant documents including the muster rolls, bills, vouchers, measurement books, copies of sanction orders and other connected books of account and papers to the Gram Sabha for the purpose of conducting the social audit.

Management Information System (MIS) data of MGNREGA indicates that in only 10,415 GPs (i.e. around 3.88 percent, as on 1st March, 2021) out of 2.69 lakh total GPs, MGNREGA social audits (R9.1.3 Social Audit Calendar vs Audits Completed) have been undertaken at least once in the financial year 2020-21. The total number of GPs social audited at least once in 2020-21 as a proportion of the total number of GPs planned for social audit at least once during that year has been nearly 17.8 percent, as on 1st March, 2021. The top 5 states/ UTs where most number of GPs have been social audited for MGNREGA at least once in 2020-21 are Andhra Pradesh (3,808), Karnataka (3,196), Haryana (1,253), Jammu and Kashmir (969) and Tripura (510). No social audit happened at least once during 2020-21 in states/ UTs like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Ladakh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry, as on 1st March, 2021. Around 8,985 GPs have been social audited once and almost 1,424 GPs have been social audited twice in FY 2020-21, as on 1st March, 2021.
 
In 1.59 lakh GPs (i.e. nearly 59.93 percent) out of 2.65 lakh total GPs, MGNREGA social audits (R9.1.3) were undertaken at least once in the FY 2019-20 (accessed on 1st March, 2021). The total number of GPs social audited at least once in 2019-20 as a proportion of the total number of GPs planned for social audit at least once during that year was nearly 88.41 percent. The top 5 states/ UTs where most number of GPs were social audited for MGNREGA at least once in 2019-20 were Uttar Pradesh (46,456), Gujarat (13,288), Madhya Pradesh (13,122), Tamil Nadu (12,516) and Andhra Pradesh (11,612). No social audit took place at least once during 2019-20 in states/ UTs like Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Kerala, Ladakh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. About 1.39 lakh GPs were social audited once and 19,453 GPs were social audited twice in FY 2019-20.

In 1.19 lakh GPs (i.e. nearly 44.74 percent) out of 2.65 lakh total GPs, MGNREGA social audits (R9.1.3) were undertaken at least once in the FY 2018-19 (accessed on 1st March, 2021). The total number of GPs social audited at least once in 2018-19 as a proportion of the total number of GPs planned for social audit at least once during that year was nearly 89.65 percent. The top 5 states/ UTs where most number of GPs were social audited for MGNREGA at least once in 2018-19 were Uttar Pradesh (20,602), Gujarat (13,937), Andhra Pradesh (12,753), Tamil Nadu (12,523) and Madhya Pradesh (9,736). No social audit took place at least once during 2018-19 in states/ UTs like Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Kerala, Ladakh, Manipur, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. Around 93,542 GPs were social audited once and 24,917 GPs were social audited twice in FY 2018-19.

Issues addressed in social audits

According to the MGNREGA Social Audit Report: Analytical Overview of the Public Information Available on NREGA MIS (released in November, 2020), there are four main types of issues that arise during the social audit of the rural job guarantee programme:

a. Financial Deviation: Broad issues include

- Work selection: work taken up without Gram Sabha approval
- Work execution: significant difference between measurement at worksite and recorded values in MB (measurement book)

b. Financial Misappropriation: Broad issues include

- Payment to person who did not work: payment to non-existent person
- Material procurement concerns: material procured at high rates

c. Process Violation: Broad issues include

- Transparency and Accountability: job cards aren’t with workers
- Work Selection: Shelf of work isn’t available
- Denial of entitlements: Non-payment of unemployment allowance, people eligible to work denied work, separate schedule of rates etc.

d. Grievance: Broad issues include

- Job Card related: unable to get job card
- Work related: Unable to get work
- Aadhaar/ bank related: unable to get aadhaar card, unable to open bank account, unable to get passbook, unable to link aadhaar with bank account etc.

Financial deviations

In 10,416 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was found from the Financial Deviation Schedule (R9.3.1 Action Taken Report) that out of 34,958 cases of financial deviations in 2020-21, 3,204 (i.e. 9.17 percent) number of such cases could be closed (as on 1st March, 2021). The total amount of financial deviations found through social audit of MGNREGA in 2020-21 (as on 1st March, 2021) was Rs. 340.88 crore in the entire country. In 2020-21, the maximum amount of financial deviation has been found in Karnataka (Rs. 2,11,19,06,290), followed by Andhra Pradesh (Rs. 96,75,58,775) and Tripura (Rs. 25,39,02,890).

In 1,54,178 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was observed from the Financial Deviation Schedule (R9.3.1) that out of 1,56,642 cases of financial deviations in 2019-20 (accessed on 1st March, 2021), 42,162 (i.e. 26.92 percent) number of such cases could be closed. The total amount of financial deviations reported through social audit of MGNREGA in 2019-20 was to the tune of Rs. 2,783.7 crore in the entire country, which is about 8 times higher than the amount of financial deviations found in 2020-21 (as on 1st March, 2021). This is because social audits of MGNREGA could not take place properly in the pandemic struck year. In 2019-20, the maximum amount of financial deviation was found in Karnataka (Rs. 12,55,92,54,635), followed by Tamil Nadu (Rs. 5,89,53,08,959), Bihar (Rs. 3,53,44,43,923) and Andhra Pradesh (Rs. 2,38,35,63,413).  

The various categories of financial deviations (R9.2.3 Issues Reported Category-wise) that occurred in 2020-21 (accessed on 4th March, 2021) are: Work Selection (Number of issues reported: 19,869; Amount: Rs. 70,23,88,631); Work Execution (Number of issues reported: 5,738; Amount: Rs. 1,33,99,04,704); Work Records (Number of issues reported: 8,148; Amount: Rs. 1,10,09,49,431); and Records Not Produced (Number of issues reported: 1,923; Amount: Rs. 26,90,78,942).

Financial misappropriations

In 10,566 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was found from the Financial Misappropriation Schedule (R9.3.1) that out of 24,216 cases of financial misappropriations in 2020-21, 3,127 (i.e. 12.91 percent) number of such cases could be closed (as on 4th March, 2021). The total amount of financial misappropriations found through social audit of MGNREGA in 2020-21 (as on 4th March, 2021) was Rs. 66.28 crore in the entire country, out of which only Rs. 14.93 lakh (i.e. 0.23 percent) could be recovered. In 2020-21, the maximum amount of financial misappropriation has been detected in Andhra Pradesh (Rs. 47,20,99,828), followed by Karnataka (Rs. 17,13,37,605).

In 1,54,178 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was found from the Financial Misappropriation Schedule (R9.3.1) that out of 1,41,008 cases of financial misappropriations in 2019-20, 43,323 (i.e. 30.72 percent) number of such cases could be closed (accessed on 1st March, 2021). The total amount of financial misappropriations found through social audit of MGNREGA in 2019-20 (accessed on 1st March, 2021) was Rs. 316.09 crore in the entire country, out of which only Rs. 4.27 crore (i.e. 1.35 percent) could be recovered. In 2019-20, the maximum amount of financial misappropriation was detected in Andhra Pradesh (Rs. 1,39,04,28,528).

The various categories of financial misappropriations (R9.2.3) that happened in 2020-21 (accessed on 4th March, 2021) are: Payment to person who did not work (Number of issues reported: 11,464; Amount: Rs. 12,31,30,004); Bribes (Number of issues reported: 72; Amount: Rs. 12,87,441); Work Related (Number of issues reported: 10,755; Amount: Rs. 45,47,60,855); Material Procurement (Number of issues reported: 1,510; Amount: Rs. 6,11,23,769); and Others (Number of issues reported: 415; Amount: Rs. 77,10,860).

Process violations

In 10,416 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was found from the Process Violation Schedule (R9.3.1) that out of 10,779 cases of process violations in 2020-21, 685 (i.e. 6.35 percent) number of such cases could be closed (accessed on 1st March, 2021). In 2020-21 (accessed on 1st March, 2021), most cases of process violations have been detected in Karnataka (3,285), followed by Tripura (1,850), Manipur (1,298), Haryana (1,278) and Andhra Pradesh (1,008).

In 1,54,178 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was found from the Process Violation Schedule (R9.3.1) that out of 2,92,646 cases of process violations in 2019-20, 50,492 (i.e. 17.25 percent) number of such cases could be closed (accessed on 1st March, 2021). In 2019-20 (accessed on 1st March, 2021), most cases of process violations were detected in Uttar Pradesh (1,25,354), followed by Tamil Nadu (30,357), West Bengal (29,308) and Uttarakhand (23,290).

The various categories of process violation (R9.2.3) that emerged in 2020-21 (accessed on 4th March, 2021) are: Denial of Entitlements (Number of issues reported: 426; Amount: Rs. 20,08,096); Transparency and Accountability (Number of issues reported: 3,950; Amount: Rs. 4,96,50,605); Financial (Number of issues reported: 683; Amount: Rs. 4,15,58,623); Work Selection (Number of issues reported: 279; Amount: Rs. 5,67,17,179); Work Execution (Number of issues reported: 146; Amount: Rs. 17,29,968); Work Quality (Number of issues reported: 611; Amount: Rs. 5,25,02,993); Maintenance of Registers, records (Number of issues reported: 1,55,03,02,018; Amount: Rs. 23,96,47,825); and Administration (Number of issues reported: 319; Amount: Rs. 18,65,846).

Grievance redressal

In 10,416 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was found that out of 2,688 number of grievances reported in 2020-21, 227 (i.e. 8.44 percent) number of such grievances could be closed. The Grievances Schedule (R9.3.1) pertaining to 2020-21 shows that social audits did not find wages were due to any MGNREGA worker in 2020-21, as on 1st March, 2021. However, the Combined Schedule (R9.3.1) for 2020-21 shows that a total wage bill amounting to Rs. 85,59,386 was due to the workers, out of which Rs. 30,354 was paid (as on 1st March, 2021). The amount of wage bill due to workers in 2020-21 (as on 1st March, 2021) in Andhra Pradesh was Rs. 40,28,131, Karnataka was Rs. 36,42,328, Tripura was Rs. 4,50,907 and Sikkim was Rs. 4,15,419.

In 1,54,178 GPs, which were social audited at least once, it was noticed that out of 97,743 number of grievances reported in 2019-20, 16,178 (i.e. 16.55 percent) number of such grievances could be closed. The Grievances Schedule (R9.3.1) pertaining to 2019-20 indicates that social audits did not find wages were due to any MGNREGA worker in that year. However, the Combined Schedule (R9.3.1) for 2019-20 indicates that a total wage bill amounting to Rs. 17,02,85,575 was due to the workers, out of which only Rs. 82,90,007 was paid (i.e. 4.9 percent). The amount of wage bill due to workers in 2019-20 in Andhra Pradesh was Rs. 62,53,418, Chhattisgarh was Rs. 4,57,25,838, Bihar was Rs. 69,95,669, Jharkhand was Rs. 1,12,85,596, Karnataka was Rs. 26,54,556, Telangana was Rs. 3,64,93,233, Punjab was Rs. 12,40,063, Meghalaya was Rs. 4,17,35,095 to name a few.

Had there been more number of social audits of MGNREGA during 2020-21 as it happened in 2019-20, we could have found the actual extent of wages that are due to workers.

The various categories of grievances (R9.2.3) that emerged in 2020-21 (accessed on 4th March, 2021) are: Job Card Related (Number of issues reported: 484; Amount: Rs. 22,224); Aadhaar/ Bank Account Related (Number of issues reported: 51,47,90,709; Amount: Rs. 88,449); Work Related (Number of issues reported: 323; Amount: Rs. 84,08,007); Work Site Facilities (Number of issues reported: 595; Amount: zero); Wage Related (Number of issues reported: 770; Amount: Rs. 57,78,559); Injury/ Death (Number of issues reported: 16; Amount: Rs. 19,671); Individual Assets Related (Number of issues reported: 12,51,90,264; Amount: Rs. 4,45,805); Public Works Related    (Number of issues reported: 2,85,62,072; Amount: Rs. 1,700); Gram Sabha Related (Number of issues reported: 283; Amount: Rs. 42,59,847); Complaint on Specific Individuals (Number of issues reported: 27; Amount: Rs. 1,11,621); and Others (Number of issues reported: 64; Amount: Rs. 34,85,965).      

Caution against using MIS data

The report entitled MGNREGA Sameeksha (2012): An Anthology of Research Studies on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (2005) Act 2006–2012 had pointed out the discrepancies in the data reported by Management Information System (MIS) and data provided by the National Sample Survey-NSS data (July 2009–June 2010). Discrepancies between MIS data and survey-based data arise usually due to either misreporting or reporting false figures. Discrepancies have usually been greater in states with more corruption in MGNREGA, lower level of awareness and weaker accountability systems. The MGNREGA Sameeksha report, released in 2012, had suggested that more national level, survey-based studies are required to verify the authenticity of MIS i.e. administrative data.

MIS is preferred over paper-based Monthly Progress Reports (MPRs) since the latter could not be drilled down beyond the district level, which makes it difficult to monitor Gram Panchayat-wise performance, issues and expenditure during a particular year. MIS, which provides real time online data can be used for the purpose of monitoring because of its reliability. It is assumed that MIS makes data transparent and available in the public domain to be equally accessed by all, thus ensuring Right to Information. In India, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) has developed the MIS for MGNREGA. The web-based MIS can be accessed from http://nrega.nic.in. MIS places all critical parameters such as shelf of projects, sanctioned works, wage payments, number of days of employment provided and works under execution online for easy public access.

Aside from MIS data, data collected through surveys, interviews, focussed-group discussions and social audits can help one to check whether the intended benefits are reaching the beneficiaries in case of a particular programme.   

References

Management Information System (MIS) website of MGNREGA, please click here to access the data

Note on Demand for Grants 2021-22, Department of Rural Development, Budget Documents, Ministry of Finance, please click here to access

Social Audits In India Today and An Agenda for Action: National Seminar and Workshop, 5th November 2020 to 7th November 2020,
https://socialauditin.wordpress.com/

MGNREGA Social Audit Report: Analytical Overview of the Public Information Available on NREGA MIS, prepared by Khush Vachhrajani, Anindita Adhikari and Rakshita Swamy, November 2020, please click here to access 

Proceedings and Recommendations of the National Seminar on Social Audit of Rural Development Programme, 13th & 14th November, 2019, prepared by Centre for Social Audit NIRDPR, Hyderabad, Ministry of Rural Development, please click here to access

Social Audit Units in India: Current Status, January, 2018, Prepared by Karuna M and Dr. C Dheeraja, National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, please click here to access

Training manual on social audits of MGNREGA for village resource persons, released on 21 April, 2017, please click here to access

MGNREGA Sameeksha-II: An Anthology of Research Studies (2012-14), United Nations Development Programme, please click here to access

Final Report: Social Audit-Gram Sabha and Panchayati Raj, Submitted to Planning Commission by Vision Foundation for Development Management, October, 2005, please click here to access

News alert: Karnataka excels in social audit coverage of both districts & GPs under MGNREGA in 2017-18, Inclusive Media for Change, Published on May 11, 2018, please click here to read

News alert: Unreliable MGNREGA data raises doubts & questions, Inclusive Media for Change, Published on Aug 26, 2012, please click here to read

Keep a close eye: Social audits in India -Santosh Kumar Biswal and Uttam Chakraborty, The Telegraph, 6 November, 2020, please click here to access

In first, Jharkhand gets social audit team to boost NREGA work demand -Abhishek Angad, The Indian Express, 18 September, 2020, please click here to read

In Jharkhand, social audit finds nearly half the people didn’t get full lockdown ration -Abhishek Angad, The Indian Express, 28 June, 2020, please click here to read

‘MGNREGS allocation should be no less than 1 lakh crore’, The Hindu Business Line, 25 February, 2020, please click here to read
 

 

Image Courtesy: Inclusive Media for Change/ Shambhu Ghatak



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