Making every citizen an auditor


  • “A good auditor is a good listener” said President Ram Nath Kovind during his recent speech at the 29th Accountants General Conference. “You will not only see the accounts in their books, but also listen to their accounts,” he said. It is only when this conception is accepted that audits will return to their democratic roots, and social audits in India will get the space and attention they deserve in becoming an integral and robust part of the formal audit process.

Social audits in India

  • Social audits show how people’s participation in the planning, execution and monitoring of public programmes leads to better outcomes
  • They have strengthened the role of the gram sabha
  • Social audits were first mandated by law in 2005 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)
  • Subsequently, Parliament, the Supreme Court and many Central ministries mandated them in other areas as well
  • Following a sustained push from the Rural Development Ministry, the CAG and civil society organisations, social audit units (SAUs) have been established in 26 States (Rajasthan, Haryana and Goa are yet to establish them)

Shortcomings in implementation

  • The governing bodies of most SAUs are not independent
  • Some SAUs have to obtain sanction from the implementation agency before spending funds
  • More than half the States have not followed the open process specified in the standards for the appointment of the SAU’s director
  • Some States have conducted very few audits and a few have not conducted any
  • Several do not have adequate staff to cover all the panchayats even once a year
  • The action taken by the State governments in response to the social audit findings has been extremely poor

What needs to be done?

  • In 2017, the Supreme Court mandated social audits under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to be conducted using the machinery that facilitates the social audits of MGNREGA
  • Social audits of the NFSA have failed to take off due to lack of funds
  • Like the Rural Development Ministry, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution should give funds to the SAUs and ask them to facilitate the social audits of the NFSA
  • Social audit units should have an independent governing body and adequate staff
  • Rules must be framed so that implementation agencies are mandated to play a supportive role in the social audit process and take prompt action on the findings
  • Also, a real-time management information system should track the calendar, the social audit findings and the action taken, and reports on these should be made publicly available
  • The CAG as an institution could partner with local citizens and state audit societies to train them, build capacities and issue advisories on framing of guidelines, developing criteria, methodology and reporting for audit

Way forward

  • Social audit processes need mentoring and support as they expand into newer programmes
  • Social audits in India need to become an integral and robust part of the formal audit process


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