Public Audit Confirms Private Fears

Updated: Dec 22 2002, 05:30am hrs
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) undertook 185 projects worth more than Rs 2.5 crore in the slum colonies of New Seema Puri and Sundar Nagari in East Delhi during 2000-2002. The projects dealt with the construction of lanes, drains, toilets and the installation of hand pumps.

When locals examined the contracts, they discovered to their horror that many of the projects were ghost works and in others the quantity of material used was nowhere near what was mentioned in the contracts.

The disclosures were made by local residents during a Jansunwai, which was organised by Parivartan, an NGO committed to ensuring transparency and accountability in governance. This was after the volunteers of Parivartan and the local residents secured copies of all contracts under the the Right to Information Act (RTI), which came into effect in Delhi in 2000.

After hearing the government officials, the judges on the panel, Justice PB Sawant, Prabash Joshi, Aruna Roy, Vinod Mehta, Shekhar Singh and Arundhati Roy, pronounced the judgement in favour of the residents. K B Rai from the administrative reforms department, who was also present on the occasion, promised action against the guilty.

Jansunwai may be an exception today, but its set to become a rule with each passing day. In fact, it is already in practice in rural Rajasthan since 1994-1995. However, this is the first time that it was held in a metropolitan city. The RTI Act enables people to obtain information from any government department on payment of a nominal fee. The aim of the Act is to bring transparency in government operations. It does not provide for punitive measures, though. The Act provides for holding the Jansunwai, which is a public tool for checking misgovernance and corruption.

Arvind Kejriwal, founder member of Parivartan, adds, These public hearings can serve several important purposes like providing information on the poor performance of development works and programmes.

He adds, Ordinary people lack basic information and are deprived of access to public records. Many of them are unaware of their entitlement and unable to verify whether they are getting their dues. Even when they know that they are being cheated, very often they lack adequate means of redressal. At every step, lack of information dis-empowers them. Emphasising that the Act empowers ordinary people, Mr Kejriwal explains: It is an opportunity for people to realise that things need not continue the way they are. It gives them a sense of collective power, and of the fact that things can change through collective action.

Ms Renu Khanna, a member of Parivartan, sums it up like this: The aims of Jansunwai are three-foldreclaiming development, fighting corruption and building democracy.

But will this exercise really serve its purpose Says Mr Kejriwal, Yes, it has been seen that officials become very alert and action is taken against offending officials. He quotes the example of a public hearing held in Panchayat Janawad of Rajasthan last year, which led to action against a host of officials found guilty of corruption. More importantly, it has led to institutionalisation of social audits across Rajasthan at the Gram Sabha and Ward Sabha level.