Have you heard of money embezzled from public schemes being returned to its rightful owners? Incredible as it may sound, the feat is evident in 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh where the poorest of poor are monitoring welfare schemes through "social audits".
Records maintained by the Rural Development Department and some local NGOs show that in the past five months, more than Rs 70 lakh have been 'returned' by the culprits, mainly contractual officials, panchayat leaders and other people entrusted with the task of implementing welfare schemes. The recoveries range from a few hundred rupees to lakhs.
Social audits involve high drama where books and ledgers are opened and hundreds of documents verified in front of the entire village, often in presence of senior district officials. At Nizamabad in Karimnagar district, an official placed wad after wad of currency notes on a pedestal set up on the dais, turned around somewhat grandly and apologised to the crowd, recalls Sowmya Kidambi, a social development specialist who has witnessed several audits in the past five months. The official, a contractual assistant in the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) in Karimnagar, lost his job on the spot.
Karuna Vakati Aakella, a director in the Rural Development Department, says in the space of about a year, about 40 lakh official EGS records have been scrutinised publicly and over 400 RTI applications have been filed by the villagers. The unofficial nature of audits ensures that the recovery is not cumbersome and time consuming, she says.