After 1.5 Years, Right-To-Information Act Provides Relief to Unnao Residents
After ten hearings at the Uttar Pradesh (UP) State Information Commission and 1.5 years from first filing the Right to Information (RTI) application to seek documents related to National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Miyaganj block of Unnao district in UP, the people of Miyaganj are finally relieved to get those documents pertinent to the NREGS work done in their block.
The RTI application asking for information (like muster rolls and measurement books) under the RTI Act, 2005, was filed on 4 December 2006 by Miyaganj block resident Yeshwant Rao at the local Block office. He received a reply after more than six months (June 2007) asking him to submit Rs. 1,58,400 (at an arbitrarily fixed rate of Rs. 2,400 per village panchayat for 66 panchayats of the Miyaganj Block).
This followed a long battle in the State Information Commission of UP where after more than ten hearings ultimately an order was passed directing the Block officials to provide information free of cost. The people of Miyaganj finally started getting the documents on 6 April 2008.
After a year and a half of struggle residents of Miyaganj Block of Unnao led by Asha Parivar local activists Yeshwant Rao and Virendra Singh, have been successful in obtaining documents related to implementation of NREGS in their Block.
Now the people of Miyaganj block are going a step further. During 20-28 May 2008, they will be conducting a social audit based on the information provided by the block authorities on NREGS implementation. The people will go to each one of the 66 village panchayats, document and verify the NREGS records themselves. Earlier similar social audits of NREGS have been conducted in Bharawan, Sandila and Behender Blocks of neighbouring district of Hardoi.
Social Audit is a process where in an open meeting of the village physical verification of the records is done with the help of officials, people's representatives and the people. In fact, the citizens of the Gram Sabha are supposed to perform this audit. In addition to the verification of financial details it is also ensured that other provisions of the NREGA are being followed. It is an opportunity for the people to evaluate the entire scheme and also determine the quality of development works in their village. In a new democratic culture building up in the country since the Right to Information Act has been implemented, it is a chance for citizens to intervene and check the rampant prevalent corruption and irregularities in the system.
Also in February 2006, the Rural Development Department of the Andhra Pradesh Government had conducted the social audit of the Andhra Pradesh Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which was being implemented under the NREGA which had come into force from 2 Februray 2006.
Andhra Pradesh was probably the first state in the country where such a process took place and the credit for this goes entirely to the then Principal Secretary of the Rural Development Department, K. Raju. It is normally unheard of that any government department would subject its performance to public scrutiny, especially a department dealing with development works where huge siphoning off of resources has become the norm rather than exception. Fake muster rolls are one of the biggest sources of corruption in this country.
"By mentioning fictitious names, names of upper caste people who never perform manual labour, names of people who have migrated to cities long time back, names of people who are too old to work or exaggerating the number of days of work for labourers who have performed work, it is a common practice to withdraw huge sums of money from the government exchequer. In addition to the abovementioned discrepancies, it might also be the case that the work being shown on paper was never actually performed. In Hardoi District of U.P., recently is was discovered that a canal was being de-silted on paper in 2004-05 by using the funds of Bharawan Block Panchayat whereas the Irrigation Department had taken a decision five years back not to release water in this canal. Over Rs. 3 lakhs were embezzled in this instance" said Dr Sandeep Pandey, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) for emergent leadership and National Convener of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM).
"However, if the initiative of social audit remains in the hands of the government or administration, there is a danger that ultimately it'll be subverted. How many cases of corruption do we know where an enquiry was set up and because the individuals who were conducting the investigation were from the same class of people as they were investigating, the results of such exercises did not yield the desired result and the matters were covered up? We would not like to see the social audit process currently being undertaken in A.P. to degenerate to a state where the social auditors develop vested interests shared with the people responsible for implementing the APREGS. Hence it is very important that the initiative of the social audit process remains in the hands of common people. The Gram Sabha is the appropriate body to conduct this exercise and not some externally chosen professionals" cautioned Dr Sandeep Pandey.
Those interested in seeking part in this social audit exercise (20-28 May 2008) in Unnao district of UP, are welcome to contact Dr Sandeep Pandey at: ashaashram at yahoo dot com.
Citizens Conducting Social audit of Government Schemes in India
The Seoul Times
Citizens Conducting Social audit of Government Schemes in India By Dr. Sandeep Pandey
Special Contribution Unnao district office in Uttar Pradesh, India
The preparations are underway to conduct the social audit of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Miyaganj development block of Unnao district in UP.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 bestows the rights to citizens to conduct a social audit of the work carried out under the act.
Before this Act came into place, the citizens had the only choice to lodge a complaint with concerned officer reporting the drawbacks or shortcomings. It was completely on the discretion of the officer whether to take that complaint forward and act upon it, or drop it. The citizens were mute spectators and the right to act upon a complaint or turn a blind's eye to it was the privileges of the officers.
From this perspective, the right of an ordinary citizen to conduct a social audit on development work under the NREGA is a revolutionary step forward in Indian democracy.
It is only a matter of time that the people of this country will begin demanding similar rights to conduct a social audit on other development schemes of the government.
The way governance functions in India, those-in-power doesn't feel accountable to the people. Those people who are part of the governance mechanisms feel that to act, to decide and to spend the public exchequer money are their special prerogatives. Therefore it is not surprising that when people are demanding information from the authorities about different schemes and government departments, the officials are under severe duress. They aren't used to this kind of accountability.
On 4 December 2006, when a native of Unnao district Yashwant Rao had demanded information from the Block Development Officer of Miyaganj using Right-to-Information Act (RTI) regarding the work carried out under the NREGS, he was denied. When Yashwant lodged a complaint about this denial of information at the UP State Information Commission, he then received a letter from the block development office informing him to deposit Rs 1,58,400 and take the documents he wanted copies of. Under the RTI Act, if the information is provided within one month, then the receiver needs to pay Rs 2 per page. But the block development office had stamped an arbitrary rate of Rs 2,400 per gram panchayat to provide information for the NREGS work carried out in 66 gram panchayats. After more than a year and 10 hearings at UP State Information Commission, the block development office was finally ordered to provide all the information free-of-cost to the applicant (Yashwant).
In April 2008, documents related to NREGS work in 65 out of 66 gram panchayats were finally provided to Yashwant.
Although under NREGA the information related to the work carried out under NREGS should be provided within 7 days on actual costs, but still it is a triumph of people's democratic rights even if they have received it after one and a half years! The officials tried their level best to delay or derail the process at every step, but eventually they had to adhere to the legal provisions under the NREGA and RTI Act, which strengthens democracy at the grassroots tremendously.
Now the local people of Miyaganj block and other citizens with support from social organizations are conducting a social audit for the next 6 days in each of the gram panchayats to verify the information related to development work which is provided by the authorities. This kind of democratic and empowering activity in this region is not heard of so far. In this social audit, citizens from other districts of UP like Lucknow, Hardoi, Kanpur, Varanasi, Gazipur and Ballia and some people from other states like Haryana and Rajasthan are also taking active part. Currently about 100 citizens who will be leading the social audit are being briefed and oriented at the Block Development office of Miyaganj block in Unnao. They are studying the muster rolls provided by the government and also planning on ways to sensitize people they meet to be more aware and proactive in protecting their own rights.
Gram Pradhans tried to disrupt the citizen's social audit
Gram Pradhans, the elected representatives at the village level, attempted to disrupt the ongoing social audit in Unnao (India).
This social audit is being carried out by the citizens on the development work done under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
The Miyaganj block development office had earlier provided documents related to NREGS after one and a half years struggle at UP State Information Commission under Right to Information Act. These documents are being verified by the citizens themselves in the ongoing social audit.
The Gram Pradhans had spread the rumour that high court has granted a stay-order against the social audit. In many Gram Panchayats including Bhadua, Barha Kala, Kulha Ataura and Korari khurd, the social audit work remained suspended for few hours owing to the rumour. However when people demanded a copy of the High Court stay-order, the Gram Pradhans couldn't produce any copy. The people thereby decided that unless they get to see a copy of the stay order, they will not stop the social audit.
The resistance put up by the Gram Pradhans in some gram panchayats on the pretext of a rumour to disrupt the social audit, slowly started giving way to the mounting public pressure to continue the social audit. Only in one gram panchayat, Korari Khurd, the social audit remained paralyzed for the entire day because of never-ending arguments between the gram pradhan and the social audit team. Interestingly enough, the people we could speak to in this village, reported that their 'job cards' are with the Gram Pradhan. Job cards under NREGS should be with the worker at all times.
Gram pradhans are resistant to the social audit because it will potentially expose the gross-irregularities, corruption and in-discrepancies in the work done under NREGS. NREGS is playing a phenomenal role in empowering the weakest sections of the society to hold the 'mighty' accountable. Many gram pradhans have accepted verbally that irregularities have taken place in the NREGS work. It is only a matter of few days now when findings of the social audit will expose them all in a public hearing on 28 May.
It is evident from the stiff resistance of Gram pradhans to the citizen's social audit that despite of the legal provisions under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and Right to Information Act (RTI) that empowers a common citizen with the right to hold those-in-power accountable and increases transparency, the ruling class is trying unsuccessfully to derail the process because of its vested interest.
The social audit team met 108 people in Gram Panchayat Kulha Ataura who wanted to get work under NREGS but their job cards were not made. Annat Ram (son of Bhola) said that he had submitted his photograph 3 times for the job card in past two years and the job card was finally delivered to him this morning. Upon further investigation, the social audit team discovered that just few hours earlier that morning, most of the job cards were distributed in this village. These job cards already show an entry for 10 days work to dig a water body 'Chaptenwa Talaab' further deep. Ram Baran (son of Madhav) said that although he didn't get a single day of work, still his job card shows 24 days of work. Muster Roll obtained through RTI application, didn't show his name even.
The job card of Bhaiya Lal (son of Ram Prasad) shows 68 days of work although in reality he got work only for 4 days. About 65 people in this gram panchayat are below the poverty line (BPL), possessing a BPL 'rashion' card to get food grains and sugar from the public distribution system (PDS). But in the last 5 years, none of these 65 people got even a single grain from PDS. Antyodaya 'rashion' cards do show some distribution but in reality it hasn't taken place.
Despite of the 'High Court stay order' rumour and stiff resistance put up by the Gram Pradhans and other vested interests, it gives me hope that the steely resolve of the people to conduct the social audit related to their own development and welfare, could prevail. The social audit, as expected, is exposing gross-irregularities.
Dr Sandeep Pandey
[Author is a noted social activist, recepient of Ramon Magsaysay Award (2002) for emergent leadership and heads National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) in India]
Finally, The Gram Pradhans Respect The Rights of The People
Finally, The Gram Pradhans Respect The Rights of The People
By Dr Sandeep Pandey in newsblaze.com
Two local residents of Miyaganj block, Unnao district (UP, India) Virendra Singh and Yashwant Rao, had written to Block Development Officer (BDO) of Miyaganj seeking support to conduct the social audit of NREGS. The BDO wrote to every pradhan in this block seeking their cooperation in submitting all documents pertinent to the NREGS.
On behalf of all pradhans, the president of the Pradhans' association, had filed a writ petition in the High Court demanding a stay order, which she did get on 22 May. It was this stay order which had spread the perception that the pradhans have obtained a stay against the social audit.
However the people's movements conducting the social audit have taken a position that the citizens are given the legal right to conduct a social audit of NREGS related work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). Conducting this social audit doesn't depend upon the support or permission of the BDO. The documents needed to conduct a social audit have already been obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005.
Therefore the social audit can be conducted even without the support of pradhans by directly talking to the labourers/ workers and verifying the work done under NREGS on-site. The people have decided to exercise this right and conduct the social audit in Miyaganj.
On fifth day of social audit, the work was paralysed by the ruckus created by the goons sent by pradhans in four gram panchayats, namely - sindhari khurd, makhdoompur shah safi, deepagarhi and mustafabaad. These goons of Pradhans were drunk, and wielded lathis (batons) to terrorise the citizens conducting the social audit. However by evening the resistance withered away and the people could resume the social audit process.
In presence of BDO, it was clarified to the pradhans that the motive of conducting a social audit was not to instigate some action on pradhans but to fully implement all the provisions of the NREGA. The real power in democracy rests with the people and therefore the struggle to safeguard, protect and exercise the rights of people to conduct a social audit, is fundamentally an empowerment process strengthening the rights of the most disadvantaged.
Most of the pradhans have understood the main objectives of the NREGS social audit, and expressing their respect to democracy and the rights of the people, they have assured of their cooperation in the audit.
In gram panchayat Nurulla Nagar, earlier it was reported that the photocopy of the bill shows a purchase of 3000 bricks for Rs 74,481.
Today the gram pradhan showed the original receipt and clarified that while doing the photocopy of the bill, the figure of '33,000' was copied as '3,000' because of a folded corner.
Earlier in social audit, gross inadequacies were reported from Gram Panchayat Aaseevan. The complete name of this gram panchayat is Aseevan Lok Man.
The number of local rights campaigners and activists leading this audit is increasing - including Yeshwant Rao and Virendra Singh. Local wing of Bhartiya Kissan Union has also provided full support.
[Author is a noted social activist, recepient of Ramon Magsaysay Award (2002) for emergent leadership and heads National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) in India] firstname.lastname@example.org