Akansha Yadav is a Bangalore based welfare policy analyst. Here she narrates her experience of witnessing how knowledge can act as a powerful catalyst of change and beneficiary empowerment as she goes door to door with her team painting informationon their walls.
Mambapur village in Rangareddy district of Telengana State. One is greeted by picturesque scenery that quickly gives way to a busy market place and the main bus stop of the village. Like all other villages, here too the government implements the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) which is India’s seminal rights-based policy. Intended to create crucial linkages between entitlements and accountability to rural citizens. While the Act entitles 100 days of manual unskilled work to anyone who ‘demands’ it, it has also put in provisions of accountability to ensure that the policy is actually implemented by those concerned. Ofcourse, this is no assurance of scrupulous, corruption free implementation. One of the many lessons I have learnt having monitored and evaluated this programme over the years is that the people towards whom the policy is directed have to reflexively engage and sharpen the political edges of participation to ensure successful implementation of this policy.
When my team and I carried out these paintings on the wall or concurrent social audit (as it came to be known) in this district, our chief aim was information dissemination to all wage seekers and their families. The information comprised number of household members registered per job card, people who have worked, days worked by them and the amount earned (in the last three financial years). Along with this, a toll-free number was provided where the villagers could call and find out more information related to their job cards. All this was painted on 350 house walls by my team over three days.
Relevant information written in local Telugu language
As it turned, information is indeed the first step towards participation which in turn is the key to empowerment. People quickly discerned what was painted and were quick to point out the inconsistencies in case there was any between the official data and what had actually taken place. Many such as Smt.Amruthamma came forward, she who had worked for 22 days and received payment for only 10 days and Bhaskar who had worked for 16 days but received Rs. 1376 less than what he was actually entitled to.They enquired with the Community Service provider (CSP) who is responsible for disbursement of wages and received a coherent explanation and a commitment that the pending amount will be paid to them at the earliest.
In many cases, it was also revealed that even though wage-seekers worked for lesser number of days, the mates have registered increased number of working days in the muster rolls. Some wage-seekers’ families such as M. Laxmanna’s were shown to possess two job cards but the writing on the wall disclosed that he had only one! Similarly, many such discrepancies came to the surface and many wage-seekers were able to relate to the advantage of this exercise.
Enthusiastic Youth from Wage seekers’ families Helping My Team Paint & Write relevant MGNREGS Information
Under MGNREGS, decentralised planning and implementation through local self-government i.e. Gram Panchayats (GP) takes cares of operational autonomy and principal-agent problems. This is an important mechanism of accountability. The other mechanisms include proactive disclosure on GP walls and social audits. The display boards and paintings of all the information regarding work sanctioned and accounts under MGNREGS have to be mandatorily disclosed on GP walls for everyone to see. This provides access to regular, reliable and relevant information by acknowledging the right of citizens to know what the implementing agencies are doing and how government funds are being spent. Social audit, on the other hand, is a process in which the local people work with the government to monitor and evaluate the planning and implementation of the scheme themselves. Under the Act, it has to be carried out once in six months.
The concurrent social audit in Mambapur GP combined both proactive disclosure and regular social audit except that rather than wall painting on the GP wall, it was on every job card holder’s house. The team carried out work measurement, audited muster rolls etc., alongside. Participation of those towards whom the policy is directed is equally important. Ten youth including three women belonging to wage seeker families in the village participated in painting information door to door along with my team.
Under regular Social Audit Actual Work Measurement is done along with auditing muster rolls and other document to understand field realities
The activity started with a special Gram Sabha convened to apprise wage seekers about benefits of proactive disclosure, understand their concern sand gain their consensus to carry out the same.
The special Gram Sabha
The response from the entire village was tremendous and up-beat. Many of them moved around with the team, held stencils and paints, brought their job cards and insisted that the team paint information on their walls first. Within one day of the exercise, many wage-seekers came to the regular social audit team and shared concerns of discrepancy between the actual amount they received and the one painted on the wall. They wanted to know more about the reasons for the same, delay in payments and next steps to receive the actual amount that they are entitled to. They felt that the wall-painting exercise and information on individual household is very useful for them and insisted that painting of information about other government schemes should be carried out too.
A Wage seeker couple overseeing wall painting in their houses and quite happy to do so!
The members of the village panchayat were equally optimistic, if not more. H. Ananthayya, a panchayat ward member considers that putting days and work information on the wall is an empowering and helpful exercise. One can just look at the wall and know their days worked and amount earned.In-case of discrepancies, they can straight away enquire with the village field assistant and seek an explanation from the person responsible for the same. Anand, the field assistant, is unruffled with the possibility of wage-seekers chasing him for their pending payments. On being asked, he calmly responded that this is a good exercise and contends that there is no discrepancy in payments. Wage-seekers receive the money as per work done by them and measurement taken at the end. He quotes records and evidence of right payments and asserts that all records as per him are clean.
Mullah Bibi, a wage seeker disagrees with Anand and insists that she has not received the full payment as mentioned on the wall. She plans to discuss the same with him and present her case in the Social Audit Gram Sabha. Another wage seeker, Sheik Mahmood, cannot read and write but when the team informs him about the days he has worked and amount earned, he gladly concurs and asks the team to re-visit, to update the same. The village youth who participated felt a strong sense of ownership, as they later shared with me. They felt they have made a significant contribution in the village and mentioned that they learnt a great deal about various entitlements under the Act.
My team, I and the village youth march along in our endeavour to carry out wall paintings in the entire Gram Panchayat with tremendous energy.
Thus, while MGNREGS creates mechanisms to ensure accountability, the possibility of engagement of citizens with the state cannot be taken as a given. It requires awareness-raising and building the capacity to mobilise and create necessary pre-conditions for creating the ‘voices’ that the State can develop receptivity towards. The aim of the concurrent social audit is to do same and be an effective anti-corruption measure. Developing capabilities of citizens and creating institutions that facilitate the process of demanding accountability has the potential to create agency of citizens, who can use accountability measures as a catalyst and hold the state to account for delivery of public services.