One of the most discussed welfare schemes ‘Internationally’ is India’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). The programmes focuses on infants, non-school going young children, expecting and nursing mothers and adolescent girls and implements its welfare scheme through Anganwadis.
Anganwadi is an important institution in villages of India, it is like a local maternal health clinics to cut maternal and infant mortality. Like all government funded welfare schemes ICDS too has been often criticized of corrupt involvements. This is the story of Rashi an Anganwadi worker (name changed), her village, their courage and a persuasive tool against corruption…. Social Audit.
What is Social Audit?
A grass roots organisation of Rajasthan, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) is believed to have started the concept of the social audit while fighting corruption in the public works in the early 1990s. As the corruption is attributed to the secrecy in governance, the ‘Jansunwai’ or public hearing and the right to information (RTI), enacted in 2005, are used to fight this secrecy. Official records obtained using RTI are read out at the public hearing to identify and rectify irregularities. Participation of informed citizens promotes collective responsibility and awareness about entitlements. Civil society organisation, NGOs, political representatives, civil servants and workers collectively organise social audits to prevent mass corruption.
It was not like any other day at the maternal health centre. Four hundred people were gathered – villagers, the media, senior staff, even the village panchayat. At the front of the crowd stood a woman with a microphone. She read the centre’s records aloud. One by one, women in the crowd stood up to verify they had received the items assigned to them. It’s what is known as a social audit, and one woman was behind it all.
Rashi, is the designated specialist at this “Anganwadi” centre – the social heart of a village, a hub for mothers and babies in communities across the country.
Responsible for running the centre since 2003, Rashi is a one-stop information point for all mothers and children in the village. She provides food and nutritional support, and women depend on her for care and advice. Yet, it looked as if her work might be cut short.
Every month, a regional supervisor visits the centre to confirm it is open and functioning, and should continue to receive food and funding. Yet Rashi says her supervisor would only sign if she was bribed first. When Rashi refused to pay, the supervisor refused to sign.
Despite being cut off from much funding, Rashi persevered in opening the centre daily. But without the monthly signatures, her work went unrecorded. On paper, it looked as if she had shut up shop.
Then a new supervisor started. She too offered Rashi an unofficial solution: pay Rs. 70,000 or US$1,550 and the centre would be re-registered, no questions asked.
But this time, Rashi says, the offer came with a threat. The supervisor claimed the payment was a penalty for Rashi’s “absenteeism” – the sum roughly amounted to Rashi’s salary during the months the centre had not been signed for. If Rashi refused this time, she would lose her job.
Rashi approached Transparency International India, they suggested she clear her name with a “social audit” – a public event where all those who had benefitted from the centre during the supposed months of closure could stand up and make their voices heard.
Hearing about the plans shocked her seniors in the office. They visited her centre and released the money due to Rashi for the running of her centre. Still Rashi went ahead with the audit. Together with Transparency International India, she gathered the women at the centre of the village, inviting the supervisor to watch.
As client after client confirmed Rashi’s honesty, the case closed with a public reconciliation between her and the supervisor. It’s an important step, says Ashok Kumar Singh of Transparency International India. “The Anganwadi centres are the government’s main means of bringing healthcare to India’s rural communities. We need to work together to make sure they succeed.” Transparency International.
Story courtesy: Transparency International