Topics: Gram panchayat, Local government, District Pages: 39 (5484 words) Published: September 23, 2013

Can Community Monitoring
Improve the Accountability
of Public Officials?
Farzana Afridi

This article discusses the
nature and characteristics of
monitoring the National Rural
Employment Guarantee Scheme’s
implementation with a focus
on the community control
mechanisms existing in the two
pioneering states of Rajasthan
and Andhra Pradesh. These two
states represent two relatively
diverse models. Elements of both
models need to be incorporated
in order to make the process
of community control of
public programmes effective
and sustainable.

The author is grateful to Karuna Akella, Jean
Dreze, Nikhil Dey, Sudhir Nath, K Raju, Aruna
Roy and Sujata Visaria for fruitful discussions.
The views expressed here are those of the
author alone and should not be ascribed to the
AP government, the MKSS or any of the
individuals acknowledged.
Farzana Afridi ( is
with the Economics Department, Syracuse
University, New York.
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   october 18, 2008


ublic programmes in most developing countries are notorious for b­ ing ineffective due to rampant
corruption. One of the oft-emphasised
mechanisms whereby they can be made
effectual is of giving control to local communities in the implementation and monitoring of such schemes. However, evidence on the effectiveness of community control
in improving the delivery of public goods
and services in developing countries is
conflicting. Some recent studies suggest
that community monitoring of public programmes can have only a small or insignificant impact on reducing corruption or i­ proving the accountability of public
o­ ficials [Banerjee, Deaton and Duflo
2004; Olken 2007]. This is likely to be the
case when the threat of legal punishment
of e­ rant public officials by the community
is not credible or there are free-riders due
to the public nature of the goods or
s­ rvices being monitored. In addition
when local authority or power has been
captured by a few elites [Bardhan and
Mookherjee 2000] community control can
be rendered futile. But on the other hand,
Bjorkman and Svensson (2007) find that
the initiation of a dialogue between public
health providers and local villagers improved the delivery of services in rural Uganda and pressures created by possible
social sanctions were effective in reducing
the errant behaviour of public servants in
rural China [Tsai 2007].
The recent spate of social audits of p­ blic
projects under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in India provides an opportunity to re-examine
the question of the impact of community
monitoring in the Indian context. Given
the increasing emphasis on decentralisation of administration to the grassroots level across the developing world, particularly in India, as a means of empowering

local communities, the findings of the
aforementioned research begs the question of whether audits of public programmes by local communities can be e­ fective and sustainable in improving
a­ countability of public officials. If proved
effective, answering this question can also
help in understanding the institutional
characteristics or the nature of community
participation that determines the success
of community monitoring.
Thus the aim of this article is to discuss
the nature and characteristics of the community monitoring of NREGS so far, with an emphasis on the community control
mechanism existing in the two pioneering
states of Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh
(AP). These two states represent two
r­ latively diverse models of community
partici­ ation and monitoring. This article
highlights the need for incorporating elements of both models in order to make the p­ ocess of community control of public
programmes effective and sustainable in
rural India.

Enacted by the central government as the
National Rural Employment Guarantee
Act (NREGa) of...
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