Social Audit: Empowering villagers to raise key issues

Social Audit: Empowering villagers to raise key issues
Image: WaterAid India/ Ishita Rampal

While village women are mostly not expected to take part in family discussions and decision-making, their involvement in the village level issues is a distant reality. Nevertheless, a drastic change in behaviour was observed when the Sarpanch of Lalakhedi Village, Madhya Pradesh, announced a social audit for all villagers to put forward their concerns.

It is rare to find a leader whose work is transparent for anyone and everyone to see, analyse, and question. While most of the leaders tend to showcase just the achievements, others keep their communication one-sided. However, Bhavani Shankar, Sarpanch (head of the village) of Lalakhedi Village, Sehore District in Madhya Pradesh is a rare example of the former category. He provided an open platform for the villagers to understand and know more about the various processes behind all the work being done in the village.

Lalakhedi village, home to over 300 families, witnessed a first of its kind social audit, something the village had never seen before.

I have been the Sarpanch of Lalakhedi since the last three years, and have often come across people wanting to know more about the expenses and other aspects of our work at the village level. I realised that a social audit would be an appropriate way to clarify a lot of such things,” shared Bhavani Shankar, Sarpanch, Lalakhedi Village.

Post discussions with WaterAid India and partner, Samarthan, a week-long social audit was organised in Lalakhedi. It focused on the implementation and execution of various schemes and programmes that directly or indirectly impacted the villagers. It was an attempt to mobilise the community to participate in the Gram Sabha (village council) and share their inputs. The main agenda was to bring out execution issues and verify the progress of different government schemes, primarily on water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Bhavani Shankar, Sarpanch, Lalakhedi village, addressing the gathering.
Bhavani Shankar, Sarpanch, Lalakhedi village, addressing the gathering
Image: WaterAid India

The village council meeting was scheduled for 15 August 2017. A team of seven adolescents was appointed to inform the villagers about the social audit, and the importance of attending the same.

To everyone’s surprise, the number of villagers who turned up was way more than expected, while almost 50 percent of the attendees were women. The participation of women was a remarkable change. Even though their faces were covered with a veil, they participated in the discussions and raised important questions.

At the onset, we arranged all the files of ongoing and past schemes and programmes that have benefitted the villagers. The villagers were asked to come forward and have a look to understand the process better,” shared Bhavani Shankar.

Expenditure verification by the villagers
Expenditure verification by the villagers
Image: WaterAid India

This team of seven adolescents from the village were also made responsible for checking the documents and ensuring a rational audit.

We went through all the documents and cross-checked by practically visiting the project sites. It was insightful, as there was not much that we could raise questions on,” shared 18-year-old Arvind Verma, a resident of Lalakhedi, and one of the members of the seven-member audit committee.

It was noted that the villagers had a lot of misconceptions that led to confusion, primarily based on the flow of funds and the level of implementation. Thus, they were asked to raise questions to have clarity on all such issues.

People questioned me, claimed false allegations, and even became rude at times… After all, it was about their rights and they needed to know what was going on. After providing proofs for all their queries and claims, the attitude of the villagers changed… Sometimes it is better to listen and then react,” remarked Bhavani Shankar.

During the Village Council, expenditure of household toilets was verified and it was decided to sustain the status of ODF. Discussions were also held on ensuring clean drinking water. Some decisions were taken to address the issue of solid and liquid waste management as well.

Evidently, the audit was not about verifying the work done at the village level, but also the process of empowerment of the villagers which enables the entire community to participate meaningfully in democratic spaces. Such a practice is expected to lead to an effective implementation of different schemes in the long run as well.