Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
While the announcement of the National Rural Employment Guarantees Scheme (NREGS) was made after the enactment of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2005, the idea of having ombudsmen to oversee the rollout of the scheme to prevent corruption was also mooted after few years of enactment of this law in 2009 to oversee the implementation of this flagship program at the district level. NREGS has been extended to J&K as well almost 7 years back but till date, we do not find even a single Ombudsman appointed by the state in any of the districts. The ombudsmen were supposed to act as Lok Pal for NREGS at district level. As the complaints regarding misuse of MGNREGA funds are piling up in our state, there is an urgent need to appoint the Ombudsmen in all the districts.
Order to appoint Ombudsmen:
As per the notification passed by the Ministry of Rural Development under Order No: J-111011/21/2008 – NREGA Dated: September 7 2009, all the state governments were supposed to set up the office of the Ombudsman in all the districts within three months of the issuance of the order. Till date J&K has not at all abided by the order. The state government, in particular the Department of Rural Development, is already under fire from various quarters for their failure in not curbing the corruption and the unappointment of Ombudsmen in J&K had raised a big question mark on the credibility of the present government awarded last year in New Delhi for its efforts towards reducing poverty.
According to the guidelines, the selection of Ombudsman shall be made from among persons of eminent standing and impeccable integrity with at least twenty years of experience in public administration, law, academics, social work or management. No member of a political party shall be considered for appointment for tenure of 2 years extendable by one year based on performance appraisal or till the incumbent attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. Reappointment is banned. On unsatisfactory performance, the Ombudsman may be removed by the state government on the recommendation of the Selection Committee overlooking the performance.
The Ombudsman shall have the powers to receive complaints related to MGNREGA, consider such complaints and facilitate their disposal. In certain cases, the Ombudsman can issue direction for conducting spot investigation and to lodge FIRs against the erring parties. He can initiate proceedings suo motu in the event of any circumstance arising within his jurisdiction that may cause any grievance and engage experts for facilitating the disposal of the complaint, direct redressal, disciplinary and punitive actions. The Ombudsman will report his findings to the Chief Secretary and the Secretary, State Nodal Department for appropriate legal action against erring persons.
As the complaints regarding the misuse of MGNREGA funds are piling up in our state, there is an urgent need to appoint the Ombudsmen in all the districts of J&K. Right now, if people have any complaint regarding MGNREGA, they file the complaint with Block Development Officer, Assistant Commissioner Development, Deputy Commissioner or Director Rural Development but people allege that no justice is delivered from these offices and setting up the Ombudsmen offices is need of the hour.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Kashmir based RTI, Social Activist and the founder of J&K RTI Movement. He can be contacted at [email protected]