Social Audit in India

The term social audit has been frequently in news. Few Years ago, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development had recommended strengthening of comprehensive Grievance Redressal Mechanism, Social Audit from grassroots with periodic reviews to be conducted for timely follow-up.  The committee has recently expressed dissatisfaction over the progress. The Government says that only ten states viz. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Mizoram, Sikkim, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh have operationalised social audit units as laid down in Social Audit Rules 2011 and states of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Manipur, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir are in the process of doing it. This monograph studies the Social Audit in detail.

What is Social Audit?

Social auditing is a process by which an organization / government accounts for its social performance to its stakeholders and seeks to improve its future social performance. The concept was pioneered by Charles Medawar in 1972.

A social audit helps to narrow gaps between vision/goal and reality; and between efficiency and effectiveness. It allows us to measure, verify, report on and to improve the social performance of any government effort or organization.

Social Audit is different from the development audit. The key difference between development audit and social audit is that a social audit focuses on the neglected issue of social impacts, while a development audit has a broader focus including environment and economic issues, such as the efficiency of a project or programme.

Implications of Social Audit

  • Social auditing creates an impact upon governance. It values the voice of stakeholders, including marginalized/poor groups whose voices are rarely heard.
  • Social auditing is taken up for the purpose of enhancing local governance, particularly for strengthening accountability and transparency in local bodies.
  • Social Audit makes it sure that in democracy, the powers of decision makers should be used as far as possible with the consent and understanding of all concerned.

Objectives of Social Audit

  • To assess the physical and financial gaps between needs and resources available for local development.
  • Creating awareness among beneficiaries and providers of local social and productive services.
  • Increasing efficacy and effectiveness of local development programmes.
  • Scrutiny of various policy decisions, keeping in view stakeholder’s interests and priorities, particularly of rural poor.
  • Estimation of the opportunity cost for stakeholders of not getting timely access to public services.

Social Audit in India

In India, social audits were first made statutory in a 2005 Rural Employment Act and government also issued the Social Audit Rules in 2011 under the MGNREGA Act.

Important Facts about Social Audit:
  • Social audits are generally supervised by autonomous bodies consisting of government and nongovernment representatives.
  • The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution empowered the Gram Sabhas to conduct Social Audits in addition to other functions.
  • Kindly note that CAG not empowered to conduct Accounting Audit of PRIs in the whole country.
  • No central policy or regulation making accounting audit and social audit mandatory.

The most appropriate institutional level for social audit is the Gram Sabha, which has been given ‘watchdog’ powers and responsibilities by the Panchayati  Raj Acts in most States to supervise and monitor the functioning of panchayat elected representatives and government functionaries, and examine the annual statement of accounts and audit reports. These are implied powers indirectly empowering Gram Sabhas to carry out social audits in addition to other functions. Members of the Gram Sabha and the village panchayat, intermediate panchayat and district panchayat through their representatives, can raise issues of social concern and public interest and demand an explanation.

The Gram Sabha should have the mandate to

  • Inspect all public documents related to budget allocations, list of beneficiaries, assistance under each scheme, muster rolls, bills, vouchers, accounts, etc., for scrutiny
  • Examine annual statements of accounts and audit reports
  • Discuss the report on the local administration of the preceding year
  • Review local development for the year or any new activity programme
  • Establish accountability of functionaries found guilty of violating established norms/rules
  • Suggest measures for promoting transparency in identifying, planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating relevant local development programmes
  • Ensure opportunity for rural poor to voice their concerns while participating in social audit meetings.

Social Audit Committees

Social audit can also be used for auditing the performance of all three PRI tiers with a social audit committee at each level. These committees should not be permanent, but can be set up depending on the nature of programmes/ schemes to be audited.

Social audit committee members can be drawn from among programme stakeholders. It is advisable to use the services of retired functionaries of different organizations, teachers or persons of impeccable integrity living in the Zilapanchayat/Block Panchayat/Gram Panchayat jurisdiction. Both facilitators and social audit committee members can be trained by social audit experts.

Steps in Social Audit in Local Bodies

  • Clarity of purpose and goa1 of the local elected body.
  • Identify stakeholders with a focus on their specific roles and duties. Social auditing aims to ensure a say for all stakeholders. It is particularly important that marginalized social groups, which are normally excluded, have a say on local development issues and activities and have their views on the actual performance of local elected bodies.
  • Definition of performance indicators which must be understood and accepted by all. Indicator data must be collected by stakeholders on a regular basis.
  • Regular meetings to review and discuss data/information on performance indicators.
  • Follow-up of social audit meeting with the Panchayat body reviewing stakeholders’ actions, activities and viewpoints, making commitments on changes and agreeing on future action as recommended by the stakeholders.
  • Establishment of a group of trusted local people including elderly people, teachers and others who are committed and independent, to be involved in the verification and to judge if the decisions based upon social audit have been implemented.
  • The findings of the social audit should be shared with all local stakeholders. This encourages transparency and accountability. A report of the social audit meeting should be distributed for Gram Panchayat auditing. In addition, key decisions should be written on walls and boards and communicated orally.

Key Factors for Successful Social Audit

  • Level of information shared with and involvement of stakeholders, particularly of the rural poor, women, and other marginalized sections.
  • Commitment, seriousness and clear responsibilities for follow up actions by elected members of the Gram Panchayat.
  • Involvement of key facilitators in the process.

How to Enhance Local Capacities for Social Audit?

  • Organization of a mass campaign to increase public awareness about the meaning, scope, purpose and objectives of social audit.
  • Establishment of a team of social audit experts in each district who are responsible for training social audit committee members (stakeholders).
  • Implementation of training programmes on social auditing methods conducting and preparing social audit reports, and presentation at Gram Sabha

Social Development Monitoring (SDM): A Social Audit Process

SDM is a periodic observation activity by socially disadvantaged groups as local citizens who are project participants or target beneficiaries. It could also take the form of action intended to enhance participation, ensure inclusiveness, articulation of accountability, responsiveness and transparency by implementing agencies or local institutions, with a declared purpose of making an impact on their socio-economic status.

To be effective, the social auditor must have the right to:

  • seek clarifications from the implementing agency about any decision-making, activity, scheme, income and expenditure incurred by the agency;
  • consider and scrutinize existing schemes and local activities of the agency; and
  • access registers and documents relating to all development activities undertaken by the implementing agency or by any other government department.

This requires transparency in the decision-making and activities of the implementing agencies. In away, social audit includes measures for enhancing transparency by enforcing the right to information in the planning and implementation of local development activities.

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