Meghalaya has become the first state in India to operationalise social audits of government schemes and programmes. Earlier this week, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma initiated ‘The Meghalaya Community Participation and Public Services Social Audit Act, 2017,’ at a convention in Shillong, reported The Indian Express.
This is an essential step towards institutionalising democratic local governance with the consent and understanding of all concerned citizens.
The law, which was passed in April 2017, was implemented on a trial basis across 26 schemes in 18 villages of the state. After the success of the pilot project, the scheme will apply to 21 government schemes cutting across 11 departments.
Once the preserve of civil society organisations, social audits of government schemes did not receive any sanction from the state. What these social audits do is detail the gaps between the objective of a particular scheme and how it is implemented on the ground with direct inputs from concerned stakeholders, among other functions.
“First, it will make it easier to correct course as the scheme is rolling along. Second, it gives people a direct say in how the money will be spent and fills an information gap for officers as they are directly in touch with the ground. Third, social audits have been civil society initiatives rather than government-mandated. They are now part of the system,” said K N Kumar, the Principal Secretary of the Department of Programme Implementation and Evaluation, to The Indian Express. This department is the nodal agency implementing the social audit law.
As per the provisions of this new social audit law, a government-sanctioned facilitator will be appointed to operationalise the audit with the direct participation of the people. The facilitator will present the audit’s findings to the local Gram Sabha, which will further submit their inputs, and finally, the report will be taken to autonomous auditors.
“The legislation provides a legal framework for allowing citizens’ participation in the planning of development, selection of beneficiaries, concurrent monitoring of programmes, redress of grievances, and audit of works, services, and programmes on an annual basis,” said some activists. The true objective of this entire process, they said, is “quick corrective action.”
Aruna Roy, one of India’s leading democratic rights activists, said, “Social audit puts into practice the signature slogan of the Right to Information movement in India—‘Hamara Paisa, Hamara Hisab.’ This is the institutionalisation of participatory democratic governance.”