Chartered accountants may soon see their world expanding with the government considering a proposal deploying them in the countryside to audit the finances of sarpanches, block development officers and other officials handling the United Progressive Alliance’s flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP).

The government is actively considering roping in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to provide professional expertise for the purpose. Rural development ministry officials declined to comment on the matter. ICAI vice-president Amarjit Chopra, however, confirmed that a move to this effect was in the offing but excused himself from offering more detail. The move is being considered because the scheme was allocated about Rs 30,000 crore in the last financial year and several studies, including some by government departments, have suggested that it is plagued by problems like delayed payments of wages, subcontracting work meant for villagers to contractors, leakages and so on.

The scheme entitles every poor rural household with 100 days of work every year and the new government wants to ensure that the money meant for the rural poor is actually is paid rather than siphoned off.

Activist Aruna Roy, founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and promoter of the idea of jan sunwayis (public hearing) and social audits of the NREGP said the idea of chartered accountants assisting social audits by stakeholders was not a bad one in principle.

But audits did not necessarily detect or prevent them, she contended. “Most frauds are discovered after financial audits have been done,” she added.

“You need physical verification to see if the promises of the scheme match the outcomes and that is possible only with participation of the community,” she said. “If the social audits by the community are backed by the expertise of chartered accountants then there is nothing like it.”

Chopra said ICAI has already been involved in public service assignments — it has worked with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Kolkata to help them change from the single-entry system of accounting to the double-entry system.

“We are equally well equipped to work for a scheme like NREGP which is on a national canvas,” he said, adding that the idea was to ensure that money reached the people for whom it was meant. He said ICAI would look at officials involved in the scheme at all levels.

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