by Manish Kumar
“Ain’t no power like the power of youth cos the power of youth don’t stop!”
This article represents my views and thoughts and is based on my own personal experiences. In 2010 after completing my 1st year of college I was interested in doing an internship, when I came to know that social audits of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) were going on in Araria, Bihar whose organisers were Jan Jagran Shakthi Sangathan (JJSS), then a people’s organization ( a trade union since 2011) in Araria. I applied to them and suggested this to few of my friends too, but my friends rejected the idea of applying for these audits at first stating that it’s in a remote area without usual comforts and is not a paid internship.
Finally after pursuing, I got a call from JJSS for a month’s audit work. I was excited by the selection as I had a keen interest in the mechanism of social auditing. I went there and worked for one month along with people from different streams of life, including a few research scholars, students from other colleges and most importantly, some known people from JJSS, who work at a grass root level for the sake of the poor and extremely oppressed people who are unaware of their rights. Working there exposed me to the policy making and ground level work structure of MNREGA.At the same time making new friends who were equally enthusiatic about improving the social scenario, specially a few who were participating in such audits for the past several years. It was my first real introduction outside the textbook to the policies of the Central Goverment of India towards rural development.
I had a first hand experience in auditing which revealed several irregularities and corrupted modifications in the administration at the Panchãyat level. From fake signatures to incidences where the normal wages meant for workers were paid in much less amounts and through diverted channels. The audit exposed these and many other such irregularities and causes of grievances from the villagers in terms of catching officials red handed while indulging in corruption. We organised several public hearings and presented every detail of the report of our audit to the people of the concerned village. After the audits, Araria administration acted very well and fired some of the officials who were involved in corruption. Motivated by this experience, in 2011, I, along with 40 more students from different universities and some research scholars participated in Public Distribution System conducted by Dr. Jean Dreze, an eminent Development Economist and Dr. Reetika Khera (Professor, IIT Delhi). We surveyed nine states and gathered information about the status of PDS and also the possibility of a new policy of cash transfer at the rural level. According to this new cash transfer policy, Government will provide the money to buy food instead of the food itself, and fair price shops which are providing ration (and comes under the Government) will be shut down. We interviewed several families, visited many fair price shops and did some related activities and found that cash transfers are not possible in most of the states beacuse there is hardly any infrastructure and electricity, banks are very far away from residential regions, people are illiterate. The survey was conducted in a remote location, in a village mostly unheard of even in the state its in, devoid of even the basic luxuries like regular water and electriclity, but it took me by surprise that rather a large number of students who conducted the survey came from cities like Delhi and Mumbai, making it a fun, productive and emotionally satisfying experience.
That was some light thrown on my experiences regarding auditing and surveys. Now what is a Social Audit? And how can the youth contribute to the society through social audits and surveys?
Social Audit refers to the steps that are taken to ensure that the work done by the government is actually benefiting the people whom it is intended to benefit. It is based on the principle that the local governance should be carried out, as much as possible, with the consent and after completely understanding the requirements of the people concerned. It is a process and not an event. Thus, Social Audit is nothing but understanding, measuring, reporting, and most importantly improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the local governance.
Social Audits and Surveys can be carried out only upon active participation, which an enthusiastic bunch of young people and students can provide abundantly. There are so many reasons for partcipating though. Firstly, Audit/Survey is a very hectic and time consuming work, often carried out in locations whose weather and circumstances are physically and mentally harsh for the participants from better off towns and cities, and thus can be handled better by the generation in 20-30 years of age group. Another thing is that they are at the age when they are pursuing their studies and are open minded and full of ideas. There is also a moral and ethical responsibility on the youth to uplift our country’s social situation. As we know, India is facing so many scams and cases of corruption. In fact MNREGA is facing corruption charges upto 2000 Cr. rupees itself; hoarding and leakage of ration from PDS stores is quite usual too.
Lastly, I just want to appeal to the youth of this country to take an active interest in such activities, not only for betterment of the country’s wretched social scenario (which is a realisation that comes only after a true first person experience) but also for grasping a sense of responsibility, identity and personal role in the large scheme of things that runs, and runs throughout, the nation. Internships like these are not, and can not be paid ones, by their very essence, and money shouldn’t be an objective at all for the participants. You are the only one who will take charge in future and run this country, so for once, let just the dream of seeing India on par with the developed nations drive our enthusiasm.
Manish Kumar is a 4th Year student of Integrated M.A. at IIT Madras. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org