The Social Audit Units (SAU) under the Rural Development Departments across the country have assessed that in the last four years, ₹935 crore have been misused under various schemes of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). Only ₹12.5 crore of ₹935 crore has been recovered so far. The audit units carried out the audits in 2.65 lakh gram panchayats across 29 states and eight union territories at least once in the last four years.
In 2017-18, the Centre had released ₹55,659.93 under the national employment scheme. In 2020-21, it released ₹1,10,355.27 crore under the scheme.
Audits- A Tool For Accountability
The Indian Express reported that "financial misappropriation" is one of the audit's key findings, apart from bribery and payments to people who did not exist and to vendors for material acquired at a higher rate.
Union Rural Development Secretary wrote a letter to all chief secretaries and asked why the Rural Development Departments could only recover 'some' amount. He also said that social audits are one of the most powerful tools to enforce accountability in a democracy.
As per the findings, Tamil Nadu accounted for the highest misappropriation of ₹245 crore. Several states including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, and West Bengal have also made it to the list. Meanwhile, certain states such as Rajasthan, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Ladakh, and a few others have reported zero misappropriation.
Crucial Parameter To Judge Fund Management Efficiency
The Development Secretary said that there were not adequate people to ensure payment that could be recoverable. However, he added that "ultimately it boils down to lack of attention and lack of sensitivity in taking social audit to its logical conclusion".
Under Section 17 of the MGNREGA Act, social audits are mandated in all gram panchayats. The Audit of Scheme Rules was notified in 2011, while the Auditing standard for social audits was notified in 2016. Social audits are a crucial parameter to judge states' efficiency in managing finances under the Social Rural Development Ministry's Financial Management Index.
Several experts also believe that the actual number of the misused funds could be well beyond three to four times of ₹935 crore since most gram panchayats have undergone the audit only once in the last four years.