In one of the biggest mobilisations of its kind in the case of any government programme in the country so far, some 1,700 persons are at present carrying out a unique social audit of the implementation of the UPA Government’s much talked about Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Bhilwara, the constituency of Union Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister C. P. Joshi in Rajasthan.
Right to Information activists from 15 States, under the banner of Soochana Evum Rozgar Abhiyan (the campaign for information and employment) and representatives of the State Government, have joined hands to scan the job scheme going through records and speaking to the people at 1,740 villages in 381 panchayats in Bhilwara in the campaign that started on October 1 and is scheduled to end this Monday with a public function.
As the foot marchers, who set out in 135 groups to verify records in three panchayats each returned with the accounts after four days on Thursday, they claimed to have interacted with an astounding number of 1.5 lakh people! The teams were flagged off on Sunday by Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy and Rajasthan’s Panchayti Raj Minister Bharat Singh.
“It is in the fitness of things that such an exercise is taking place here. Rajasthan is the birth place of social audit. We did it first time back in 1994,” said Ms. Roy, who took a day off from the campaign on Monday to go to Mumbai to receive this year’s Nani Palkhiwala Award, on her return.
“It is like spring cleaning,” said Nikhil Dey of the Soochana Evum Rozgar Abhiyan, talking to The Hindu from Bhilwara on phone.
“There have been instances of corruption, non-payment of wages, non-compliance of orders and regulations but there are success stories as well,” he stated. “The impact is already showing as there have been many instances of corrective steps being taken on the spot as the volunteers detect a wrong doing or an instance of corruption,” he pointed out.
In one such instance the family of Nanu Lal, who died while employed at the NREGA worksite in Paldi, was paid their due of Rs.25,000 as relief. In Suvana block pending wages amounting to Rs.8 lakhs were paid up to the labourers immediately. In Badnore panchayat the work which was stopped abruptly some three months back showed signs of resuming. “Instances are too many. We find the ordinary citizens enthused by the activity,” Mr. Dey observed.
Unlike in the past when the previous BJP Government resisted any attempts by activist groups to undertake social audits of NREGA, the going has been good this time in Bhilwara thanks to the positive attitude of the Government led by Ashok Gehlot.
Despite stipulation in the NREGA for periodical social audits, during the previous regime the RTI supporters had a tough time battling an unfriendly district administration and a hostile pack of sarpanchs while attempting such “Samajik ankeshwans (social audits) through “Jan sunwais” (public hearings) in Jhalawar, the home district of the previous Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, and in Banswara. At both places activists were chased away.