Social Audit

Mains Marks Booster     1st August 2023        
output themes
Social auditing is a process that allows for the evaluation and assessment of an organization's social performance and impact on various stakeholders. It is a way to measure, understand, and improve an organization’s social and ethical performance.

Evolution of social audit in India

    • Introduction of Social Audit: Social audit was first introduced in India in the early 1990s as an innovative approach to ensure public participation and accountability in rural development programs.
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA): The implementation of MGNREGA in 2006 marked a significant milestone in the evolution of social audit in India as it mandated the conduct of social audits. Recently, Kerala has become the first State to hold total social audit of MGNREGS after 15,962 grama sabhas and 941 janakeeya sabhas were organised for the task.
  • National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM): NRLM, launched in 2011, incorporated social audit as a critical component of the program to empower marginalized communities.
  • Legal Recognition and Guidelines: The importance of social audit was recognized at the national level with the inclusion of social audit provisions in various laws and policies.
  • Andhra Pradesh's Experience: In Andhra Pradesh, the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency (SSAAT) was established as an independent organisation free from intervention from the government. 
  • Expansion of social audits: The scope of social audit expanded beyond rural development programs to encompass other sectors, such as health, education, and infrastructure.
  • Institutionalization and Capacity Building: Efforts have been made to institutionalize social audit by establishing dedicated social audit units or cells within government departments. Meghalaya became the first state in India to implement a law that makes social audit of government programmes a part of government practice.
  • Use of Technology: Technology has played a crucial role in advancing social audit in India. Digital platforms and mobile applications have been developed to facilitate data collection, reporting, and dissemination of social audit findings.
  • Civil Society Participation: Civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations have actively contributed to the evolution of social audit in India. E.g. In Rajasthan and in Bihar, Social Accountability Forum for Action and Research (SAFAR) is engaged with the social audit units to institutionalize the process of dialogue and participation of civil society in the process of social audit in order to strengthen the audit as well as ensure monitoring of the processes.

Significance of social auditing:

  • Transparency and Accountability: Social auditing promotes transparency and accountability in the functioning of organizations, particularly those engaged in social and development activities. The Rajasthan government has established a Social and Performance Audit Authority (SPAA) for the first time to enhance accountability in the performance of government projects and programmes.
  • Reduces Corruption: The people of Dungarpur district of Rajasthan and Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh have collectively organized social audits to prevent mass corruption under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Social auditing involves the participation of various stakeholders and provides an opportunity for their voices to be heard and considered in decision-making processes.
  • Impact Assessment: Through social auditing, organizations can assess and measure their impact on different social, economic, and environmental parameters. It helps in determining whether the intended outcomes are being achieved and facilitates evidence-based decision-making for future interventions.
  • Enhancing Public Trust: By voluntarily undergoing social audits, organizations demonstrate their commitment to transparency, accountability, and social responsibility, thereby fostering public trust and confidence in their operations.
  • Policy Advocacy: Social auditing generates valuable data and insights about social issues, challenges, and successes. This information can be utilized to advocate for policy changes, reforms, and improvements in various sectors, including education, healthcare, environment, and poverty alleviation.
  • Learning and Continuous Improvement: Social auditing encourages organizations to reflect on their practices, learn from past experiences, and continuously improve their performance. It provides a platform for internal and external stakeholders to exchange knowledge and best practices, leading to enhanced effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Inclusive Development: Social auditing promotes inclusive development by ensuring that the needs and concerns of marginalized and vulnerable communities are addressed.

Impediments in reaping the benefits of social audits in India:

  • Lack of Independence of audits: Currently not all States in India have created independent social audit units as there is no obligation to institutionalization of Social Audits. 
  • No strict penalty: When Social Audit principles and norms are not followed, it does not attract any penalty or legal proceeding rendering it ineffective. 
  • Gaps in compliance: An analysis of real time social audits data shows weak state responsiveness to social audit findings and lack of support from senior officials as the two major obstacles to social audits.
  • Rules not followed: According to a CAG report, Social Audit Units (SAUs) don't seek record from Gram Panchayats regarding execution of works and expenditure in many states. 
  • Complacency and lethargy: Social audit process face resistance and lack of access to primary verification records. 
  • Linguistic barriers: According to a CAG report, social audit reports are either not prepared or not made available to gram Sabha in local languages.
  • No standardization of the Social Audit Mechanism for cross-district comparability: It becomes difficult to assess the social impact of government programmes without any consistent or defined criteria.

Steps to strengthen Social Auditing:

  • Legal Framework: Establish a robust legal framework that mandates social auditing for organizations engaged in social and development activities.
  • Capacity Building: Invest in building the capacity of auditors and stakeholders involved in social auditing. This includes training programs, workshops, and awareness campaigns to enhance their understanding of social audit methodologies, standards, and reporting processes. Social audit units must inevitably prepare themselves for auditing AI based governance systems. They must look for opportunities to adopt AI into their audit process to increase their efficacy.
  • Standardization and Guidelines: Develop standardized guidelines and methodologies for social auditing that are applicable across sectors. These guidelines should define the scope, process, and criteria for social audits, ensuring consistency and comparability of audit findings.
  • Independent Audit Bodies: Establish independent audit bodies or agencies responsible for overseeing and conducting social audits. These bodies should have the necessary expertise, independence, and authority to carry out audits effectively and impartially.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Encourage active participation of stakeholders, including community members, civil society organizations, and marginalized groups, in the social auditing process.
  • Whistleblower Protection: Implement mechanisms to protect whistleblowers who report irregularities, corruption, or non-compliance during social audits. This will help create a conducive environment for individuals to come forward with valuable information without fear.
  • Public Disclosure: Ensure that social audit reports are made publicly available in an easily accessible and understandable format. This promotes transparency and enables public scrutiny, allowing citizens to hold organizations accountable for their social performance.
  • Monitoring and Enforcement: Establish a monitoring and enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with social audit requirements. This can involve periodic checks, random audits, and penalties for non-compliance, thus incentivizing organizations to prioritize social responsibility.
  • Integration with Government Programs: Integrate social auditing processes with government programs and schemes, particularly those related to social welfare, poverty alleviation, and rural development. This can help in assessing the effectiveness and impact of these programs and drive accountability.
  • Awareness generation: Conduct awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts to promote the importance and benefits of social auditing among organizations, policymakers, and the general public for voluntary adoption of social audits.

Innovative Practices:

Chhattisgarh

    • In addition to the MGNREGS, the Social Audit Team collects complaints regarding other issues also and hands it over to the Sarpanch and Sachiv.
To ensure the active involvement of community in the Social Audit process, wall writing of muster rolls, bills and measurement books is carried out in the State.

Karnataka

After every three rounds of the Social Audit, staff are shuffled that contributes in effective Social Audit.

Conclusion

  • Social Audit is a powerful tool to promote accountability, which requires dedicated political leaders, administrators and resource persons with a strong commitment to work. It is a continuous, bottom up, process to understand the efficiency of services from the perspective of users. The focus of stakeholders, political leaders and officials should be on promoting higher degree of transparency, accountability and effective community participation for achieving the desired objectives through the Social Audit.
Samadhaan