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Any possibility of strengthening social audit in democracy amidst dirty politics?

By Harasankar Adhikari  

After every election in India, the leaders of the winning political party or alliance of political parties claim with a smile that their government would be the people’s government. They always respect people. The government would work with the people. But does it really work? It is the biggest saying about democracy in India. The functions of the government are restricted and limited within the realm of the will of the ruling parties that formed the government. In this people’s government, is there any scope for social auditing? Social auditing is the key tool of democracy and its functioning. It is a legal, moral, and democratic necessity for the transparency and accountability of any work. It bridges the gap ‘between vision or goal and reality, and between efficiency and effectiveness.' 
It is important because (i) it values the voice of stakeholders (including marginalised poor groups), (ii) it enhances local governance, and (iii) ‘in a democracy, the power of decision makers should be used as much as possible with the consent and understanding of all concerned'. Social auditing strengthens democracy, particularly in ‘prioritisation of developmental activities as per requirements, proper utilisation of funds, conformity of the developmental activity with the stated goals, quality of service, etc.' Social auditing ensures ‘involvement of people in developmental activities to ensure that money is spent where it is actually needed, reduction of wastages and corruption, awareness among people, promotion of integrity and a sense of community among people, improvement of the standard of governance, and many others’.
In practice, we observe that in our democracy (the people’s government), the people’s participation, excluding voter rights (which are also not free and fearless), is almost nothing or very thin in development planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. The ground reality is that all development planning and related matters are according to the will of the ruling party. People are rarely accessed in the social audit of any project. The risk of torture and threats denies social auditing. We observe that in the Panchayat Raj system, there is a Gram Shabha (village committee) for village planning and development. But any meeting rarely occurs. Village planning is according to the will of the local political leaders.
The majority of our development work is related to public works (road repair and maintenance, etc.) and public health engineering (drainage and water supply, etc.), where people could easily participate, prioritise work, and monitor it. But these works are generally being executed according to the choice and force of local political leaders of the ruling party in government. These projects usually begin when the next election is held. These works begin but never finish. Road repair, drainage, and other similar works start interestingly during the rainy season. People’s suffering is not being realised by the authorities. This broken work is a pain in the everyday lives of local people. They are voiceless because the local authority does not respect their opinion or out of fear of an identified opponent who is against the work of government. 
Further, there is no inter- and intra-departmental coordination because we observe that after repairing a road, the water supply department starts work on the drainage system within a short period of time at the same place. So, repeated pain and wastage of public money have become an event of so-called developmental works. Further, we observe that the DPR for MGNEGRA is workless work because local people’s needs are not honoured. Secondly, the work is large enough to engage the workers to meet the needs of the MGNEGR Act. The work fails to create public assets. It is limited to road repairing and cleaning, pond or local canal cleaning, and plantation maintenance, etc.
People in this democracy possess a quality of patience and tolerance. Because they have nothing to do or because they are afraid to raise their voices together against it. They have only the right to vote, which is enough to live in a country like India. Their elected government would determine their future if they expressed their opinion against it.
Is there any possibility of strengthening social auditing in democracy? Social auditing divorces people from our democracy due to our leaders and their ‘dirty politics’.
To save our democracy, we should raise our voice for the implications of social auditing in the everyday work of government, and it would also be good governance. Otherwise, democracy and good governance are a mouthful of a slogan.

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