According to data obtained through the Rural Development Ministry’s Management Information System (MIS), Social Audit Units (SAU) under Rural Development Departments (RDD) across India have discovered financial misappropriation of Rs 935 crore under various schemes of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) over the last four years. According to the statistics, just approximately Rs 12.5 crore (1.34 percent) of the total has been recovered thus far.
Although the data is public, accessing it is challenging due to frequent “network issues.” Since the data began to be uploaded in 2017-18, SAU audits have been conducted at least once in 2.65 lakh Gram Panchayats (GPs) throughout the country’s states and union territories. One of the audit’s main findings is financial misappropriation, which includes bribes and payments to non-existent people and suppliers for material purchased at excessive rates.
Social audits are seen as an effective instrument for enforcing responsibility. In a recent letter to all state chief secretaries, Union Rural Development Secretary Nagendra Nath Sinha emphasized this and inquired why state RDDs had achieved just “little recoveries.” “Yes, we’ve written to each and every state. One of the difficulties is a lack of attention to this element. Another issue is determining the responsibility of the individuals involved in the irregularities, which is difficult to do in the absence of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to manage such cases,” Sinha explained.
According to Sinha, there were frequently insufficient individuals to secure payment of sums listed as recoverable. Section 17 of the MGNREG Act requires gram panchayats to conduct a social assessment of all projects. In 2011, the Audit of Scheme Rules was published, and in 2016, the Auditing Standards for Social Audit were published.
The Ministry of Rural Development has produced a Financial Management Index, in which social audit is a fundamental criterion for assessing states’ financial management effectiveness. According to the 2011 Rules, the state government would enable a social audit of MGNREGA activity in each GP once every six months. Experts believe the actual theft may be three or four times the amount discovered, given many GPs only conduct audits once.
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“Also, in 2020-21, the data submitted are not relevant, as, in many states, including Jharkhand, a concurrent audit was done, and there is no facility to upload the data in the RDD MIS” said one of these specialists located in Jharkhand. When you consider that GPs in many jurisdictions have only been polled once, the total amount misused may be at least three to four times the amount identified.”