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Q. What is meant by Social Audit? How is it implemented?

Social audit as a term was used as far back as the 1950s. In a nutshell, it refers to the steps that are taken to ensure that the work done by the government is actually benefiting the people whom it is intended to benefit. It is based on the principle that the local governance should be carried out, as much as possible, with the consent and in complete understanding of the requirements of the people concerned. It is a process and not an event. Thus, Social Audit is nothing but understanding, measuring, reporting, and most importantly improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the local governance.

India being a welfare state, several programs and policies are implemented for the benefit of people. Politicians and executives are usually the ones who control and implement these policies.  Some policies are common to all and some are special that are meant to benefit the weaker sections of the society.  To implement all such policies, funds are drawn from the state exchequer. The social control over withdrawal and usage of this fund is called Social Audit.

Definition by Prof. Ranjan Mohapatra of VISION foundation
Social Audit is a process in which the details of the resources, financial and non-financial, used by the public agencies for the development initiatives, are shared with the people, often through a public platform. It allows people to enforce transparency and accountability, thereby providing the ultimate users an opportunity to scrutinize the development initiatives.

Basis of social audit

The main reason for the push for social audit is the huge disconnect between what the people need, what the government thinks it needs, and what is actually done. This lack of communication is represented by the following diagram in figure . Figure 2 explains the situation with social audit.

Social Audit

Objectives of Social Audit
  1. Accurate identification of requirements
  2. Prioritization of developmental activities as per requirements
  3. Proper utilization of funds
  4. Conformity of the developmental activity with the stated goals
  5. Quality of service
Implementation of Social Audit

1.  Empowerment of people : Social audit is most effective when the actual beneficiaries of an activity are involved in it.  However, people can only get involved in the process when they are given appropriate authority and rights.  To this end, the 73rd amendment of the constitution has empowered the Gram Sabha to conduct social audit.  This is relevant only in the villages. In the cities, the Right to Information Act empowers the people to inspect public records.

2. Proper Documentation
Every thing right from the requirement gathering to planning to  implementation must be properly documented. Some of the documents that should be made mandatory are:
3. Accessibility of Documents
Merely generating documents is useless if they are not easily accessible. In this information age, all the documents must be put on line.

4. Punitive Action
The final and most important provision, about which nothing is being done yet, is to have punitive actions for non-conformance of the process of social audit. Unless there is legal punishment, there will be no incentive for the people in authority to implement the processes in a fair manner.

Generic Steps for Social Audit
  1. Clarity of purpose and goal of the local elected body.
  2. 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.
  3. Definition of performance indicators which must be understood and accepted by all. Indicator data must be collected by stakeholders on a regular basis.
  4. Regular meetings to review and discuss data/information on performance indicators.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Hindrances in Social Audit
  1.  Mindset of people. Even after 50 yrs of independence people do not understand the concept of govt. for the people, of the people, and by the people. Most of the people still think themselves as being ruled by the politicians, while politicians think that they are the rulers. Due to this reason, common people do not get involved in the developmental activities.
  2. Lack of any legal proceedings for not following social audit principles. Unless there is a stringent penalty on authorities for not implementing social audit, they will not give up control because it reduces their kickbacks and authority.
  3. Lack of education among the common masses. Since common people are not that educated, they do not know their rights, let alone get them enforced.
Benefits of Social Audit
  1. Involvement of people in developmental activities ensures that money is spent where is it actually needed.
  2. Reduction of wastages.
  3. Reduction in corruption.
  4. Awareness among people.
  5. Promotes integrity and a sense of community among people.
  6. Improves the standard of governance.