Random Reflections

Jawabdehi Yatra organised by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) along with 80 other organisations in Rajasthan is making history.

Rajiv Gandhi once said that only 30% of the government funds reach the ultimate beneficiary.  The government machinery in many states is seen as uncaring and unaccountable.  There are various reasons, mainly shortage of staff poor training, large-scale outsourcing and also insensitivity among a section of the employees and officers. Political interference is another major reason.

If the government funds for all schemes are utilised correctly, it can make tremendous changes in the economy of the nation.

Right to Information Act, spearheaded by MKSS is an example of certain accountability.  Unfortunately, the present Union Government is continuously trying to make the Act weak by diluting many clauses, delaying replies and also exempting certain agencies from giving replies.

This new effort for an ‘Accountability Act’ is unique and if passed in the State Assembly, the employees and officers of the State Government departments can be fixed for accountability of their decisions or indecisions.

Soochna Evam Rozgar Abhiyaan (SR Abhiyaan) the network conducting the yatra, has already drafted a bill on accountability and pressurising the State Govt to pass the bill.

The draft accountability Law provides,

  1. Legally binding statement of the obligation of public officials and departments (which lays down minimum standards of implementation of schemes and performance of public officials).
  2. Time-bound redressal of grievances for violation of laws, policies, programmes, schemes and orders.
  3. A penalty can be imposed by an appellate structure, among other provisions.
  4. Social audits that cover all social sector programs with the legally sanctioned outcomes of the findings.

This law is called the RTI.2.0 by RTI activists and those who campaigned for the Right to Information Act.

Congress Party in its manifesto for Rajasthan Assembly elections promised Accountability Law in 2018 but is now wavering. Though the Govt spoke about it in the budget speech of 2019, the bill has not seen the light of the day.  A Govt Committee was formed and a draft bill has been submitted to the Govt, the bill is yet to reach the assembly.

This has forced the activists to start Jawabdehi Yatra with around a hundred people travelling across districts, conducting rallies in towns, conducting grievance registration camps and meeting with the Govt administration in every district. The yatra has covered 10 districts already and also held a dharna in front of the state assembly.

One positive step by the Govt is that the grievances submitted to the District Collector are uploaded to the state-run Sampark Portal for follow-ups.

Though an Act by the Union Govt will be useful for the whole country, we have a Union Govt which is not transparent or ready to have any accountability law. It does not care for existing laws themselves. One example is the non-appointment of employee directors in public banks which was mandated by the Nationalisation Act, and isn’t implemented even today, after Delhi High Court directions 4 years ago.

Hence, if this Accountability Act is passed by the Rajasthan Assembly many other State Govts will follow suit and it will become an agenda for the Parliament Elections of 2024.  The effort by SR Abhiyaan is unique and as a witness to the yatra in Dholpur district where I had interaction with the activists and also the District Collector, I am sure history is in the making.

It is worthwhile to note that Kerala, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have an Urban employment guarantee scheme similar to the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand State Governments have restored the Old Pension Scheme in addition to West Bengal which did not switch over to the New Pension Scheme which is ‘No Pension Scheme’ because there is no assured pension.

Some state governments seem to take care of their people better than the union government. Mr. Ashok Gehlot should become the first to bring the Accountability Act immediately and become a role model for the country.

Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.

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