November 08, 2011

Jairam brushes aside objections, backs Gujarat NREGS audit model

Ravish Tiwari Posted online: Wed Nov 09 2011, 00:40 hrs

New Delhi : Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday gave a thumbs-up to the independent social audit mechanism adopted by the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government for the NREGS.

He brushed aside reservations expressed by a member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC), the apex monitoring agency for the rural job guarantee scheme, while endorsing Gujarat’s model.

“Let there be multiplicity of mechanisms. They need to be independent and transparent. It can be an agency selected through a transparent process. Let it be,” Ramesh told Nikhil Dey, CEGC member and a close associate of National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy, during a national conference on social audit of NREGS organised by the Ministry of Rural Development in the Capital.

Apart from turning down Dey, Ramesh also overruled objections by a representative of the Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh on the Gujarat model after the BJP-led state had presented the same before representatives from all states.

Unlike Andhra and other states, Gujarat has adopted a unique approach of outsourcing social audit to a third party agency selected through open bidding. Last year, it picked UNNATI, an NGO based in Ahmedabad, to coordinate social audit of NREGS across the state for one year.

Unnati Director Binoy Acharya told The Indian Express that his agency coordinated social audits in over 12,000 panchayats across the state during which it identified about 8,000 irregularities of various kinds and referred the same to the state government.

Unnati has set up a toll-free helpline (1800-233-4567) to register complaints, which are forwarded electronically to the concerned district-level officer, who in turn inquires into the same. A hard copy of the complaint is sent to the complainant through post for follow-up.

Unnati has trained about 1,800 members to facilitate and train persons for social audits across 225 talukas in the state, who are collectively called the Taluka Resource Group (TRG) .

Dey as well as the representative from Andhra, however, criticised this model, saying the selected NGO would be dependent on state government funding that might compromise the independence of its audit coordination. The other reservation was that the social audit may be one of many areas of operation of the NGO, which in turn may not pay the desired attention to this task.

Ramesh immediately asked the Gujarat representative about the affiliation of the NGO selected by it and the fact that it was selected through open transparent bidding took him by surprise.

He asked the other states about their mechanisms for social audit. While Andhra has a society registered specifically for conducting social audit, a directorate within the government department does the function in Chhattisgarh. The fact that the Andhra society was chaired by the secretary of the Rural Development Department seems to have settled matters in Gujarat’s favour.

The Andhra representative then sought to impress that rules provide for a registered society to undertake the job of auditing. However, senior officials from the Rural Development Ministry clarified that this was not the case and the rules provide for any “independent organisation”.

This year, Gujarat has invited bids from civil society organisations for conducting social audit for the next two years. “The process of selection of the agency is underway through open bidding. We will soon finalise an agency,” A K Ansari, Deputy Commissioner of NREGS, Gujarat, told The Indian Express.

While endorsing Gujarat’s model, Ramesh lamented the record of the Congress-ruled Rajasthan in putting in place an effective social audit mechanism.

The Rural Development Minister also sought to explore possibilities of setting up mobile NREGS courts as is being planned by the Andhra government.

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