Rural Development dept mired in violations, no sign of Social Audit

Srinagar: Following complaints of irregularities and misappropriation in implementation of schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), Government of India, had in March last year directed Jammu and Kashmir’s Rural Development Department to constitute an independent Social Audit Unit (SAU) in order to bring transparency in its overall working. But so far, they haven’t.
Officials within the RD department told Kashmir Reader that following gross violations like funds embezzlement, bad performance and officials receiving commissions from contractors for early release of funds, an Empowered Committee under the chairmanship of secretary MRD, GoI, had directed Jammu and Kashmir to establish an SAU in its RD department.
The committee had recommended the appointment of a full-time Director and the recruitment of core staff comprising State Resource Persons (SRPs) and District Resource Persons (DRPs), apart from constituting Vigilance Monitoring Committees (VMCs)/Panchayat Audit Committees (PACs).
However a year and a half later, the SAU is nowhere to be seen despite surging complaints regarding scheme irregularities.
“A mechanism has been created within the working of the scheme such that contractors who have undertaken development works under MGNREGA have to give commissions to either village-level workers or block development officers for release of funds. As such, they (the contractors) manage to keep good relations with these officials,” says an insider within the RD department.
When contactors and NREGA officials share ‘good relations’ via the ‘commission system’, the official said, the quality and checking of on-going or completed NREGA work is “ignored” or “hardly monitored” by the concerned officials.
“Though it can’t be generalized, but at a number of places such irregularities are the norm without anyone from the (RD) department to raise a voice against it. The majority of these misappropriation cases, however, go unchecked as they are hardly reported to higher officials,” he said.
Rules and regulations for the MGNREGA Social Audit direct officials to take steps to recover the amount embezzled or improperly utilised and to issue receipts or acknowledgement for the amount so recovered.
Officials are also to “ensure that the appropriate action [including initiating criminal and civil proceedings or termination of services] is initiated against individual or class of individuals or persons who miss-utilized or embezzled the amount meant for the schemes under the Act”, reads the relevant sub-section of the SAU regulations.
Moreover, a notification was passed by the MRD under Order No: J-111011/21/2008 – NREGA, dated 7 September 2009, which says that an ombudsman should be set up within three months of the notification for transparent working of the NREGA scheme.
“We don’t have anyone here even as we are in dire need of an ombudsman, given the pile of mismanagement cases. It is only due to the non-seriousness of higher officials that initiatives, rather directions, from the Centre that aim to weed out corruption are being thrown into the dustbin,” says the insider.
RD department Commissioner Nirmal Sharma told Kashmir Reader that the department had initiated the process and the SAU would be completed “very soon”.
“I am aware about the problems arising due to lack of SAU in the department. But a good amount of work has been done regarding the SAU, and it will be completed very soon. Though we have a mechanism to address complaints regarding mismanagement or bad performance under NREGA, but an SAU would be a boost for accountability in our department,” she said.