Bringing more services under this law is absolute mockery
JAMMU & Kashmir Government recently brought eighteen more services of seven departments under the ambit of J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA). The departments whose services have been brought under the ambit of this act include School Education Department, Health and Medical Education Department, Home Department, Public Works (R&B) Department, Co-operative Department, Revenue Department and Housing and Urban development department (HUDD).
The new order has brought several services of the school education department under PSGA. This includes approval for setting up and operating a play school, registration of schools under Right to Education Act (RTE) and obtaining a no objection certificate (NOC) for setting up of CBSE School.
Services of health and medical education department like registration of clinical establishment under Clinical Establishments (Registration & Regulation) Act, 2010 and its renewal, registration under PC & PNDT Act has been brought under PSGA.
The NOC required for setting up of explosives manufacturing, storage, sale and its transport have been declared as new services to be provided by the home department within a stipulated time. The NOC required for setting up of petroleum, diesel and Naphtha storage, sale, transport, license for sale of crackers and cinematograph license and license for screening films has also been brought under the purview of this act.
The services of the public works department (PWD) include road cutting permission and registration of contractors for works and services, while services of the Revenue department include encumbrance certificate and measurement, demarcation of land. The services of the co-operative department brought under PSGA include registration of co-operative societies.
In the past as well, many services were brought under the ambit of PSGA. In 2017, Government made it mandatory for the police to complete the verification of a passport applicant within 30 days under the PSGA. Earlier, the period for completion of verification for both the services, which were brought under the ambit of the law in 2012, was 60 days. In 2016, the ministry of external affairs had revealed that only one percent of police verification (PV) requests, initiated by the Regional Passport Office Srinagar, were completed within the 21-day deadline—the MEA timeframe for completion of such verifications. The average time taken for police verification in Kashmir was 109 days in 2015-16, the ministry had disclosed. Under the PSGA, an applicant has the right to appeal before the designated authorities if the government departments fail to provide notified services within the stipulated time-frame.
Around 2017, fifteen more services including property certificates, revenue formalities relating to bank loans were brought under the PSGA. As per a notification issued by the GAD some years back, the property certificates have to be provided by concerned tehsildars (upto Rs 20 lakh) and deputy commissioners (beyond Rs 20 lakh) within 21 days. The tehsildars, under the SRO, have to complete revenue formalities for bank loans within 21 days.
As many as nine services of the Horticulture department were also brought under the ambit of law. These include grant of license for registration/renewal of fruit nurseries (35 days), advisory service on plant nutrition through leaf analysis (20 days), issuance of horticulture passbooks (15 days), soil sample analysis and issue of health card (35 days), grant of license to fruit growers and dealers in fruit markets of the state (21 days), state permission for construction of shop sites and issuance of the site plan (30 days), transfer of lease-hold rights (legal heir)/sale (45 days), issuance of lease deed/conveyance deed (30 days) and issuance of NOC (15 days).
Now the question arises if people do get benefits under PSGA or not? Do people use PSGA? How many awareness programmes have been held to sensitize the designated officers under PSGA?
Background of PSGA
After enacting a progressive access to information law i.e J&K RTI Act 2009 (now repealed post 370 abrogation), Omar Abdullah led National Conference -Congress coalition Government in 2011, had come up with one more pro-people legislation namely J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA-2011). After J&K enacted this law in 2011 , the Governments of Assam , Bihar , Orissa , West Bengal , Maharashtra and many other states too enacted state level Right to Public Service laws. The provincial Government of Khyber Pakhtookhwa (KP) in Pakistan also enacted a law on the pattern of J&K PSGA 2011 in 2014 known as Haq e Hasool e Khidmaat ka Qanoon. The Govt of KP went a step ahead by creating a separate Right to Public Service (RPS) Commission as well. RTI Movement had been demanding a similar commission in J&K under PSGA when the law was enacted in 2011. Govt of India did not repeal PSGA after abrogation of article 370. Like many other laws this erstwhile J&K state law also got a legal protection under J&K Reorganization Act 2019.
What is PSGA ?
Under J&K Public Services Guarantee Act 2011 (PSGA), any citizen of J&K has the right to public service within a specified time. If the service is not provided the officer is liable for punishment. More than 200 services come under the ambit of PSGA. When it comes to implementation of this law, the situation is pitiful. People continue to suffer due to inefficient public services. Corruption is rampant in Govt offices. Citizens are looted during issuance of economically weaker sections certificates, caste certificates, ration cards etc. The Government’s own machinery (officers and supporting staff) who are supposed to implement PSGA are themselves not well versed with this law. Not a single training workshop has been held in the last 3 years.
Even a few years before the article 370 abrogation, I hardly heard about a sensitization programme being held for the designated officers in implementing PSGA. The situation took an ugly turn post article 370 abrogation when this law was almost sent into deep freezer. The law is intact but not operationalized on the ground. I am unable to understand why more and more services are brought under PSGA when people don’t get the public service within a stipulated time ?
People don’t know who are the designated officers or first or second appellate authorities under PSGA. Their details are not available on official websites. The lack of awareness among officials at helm and citizens is making PSGA redundant. We have hardly heard about a government officer who has been penalized for non-implementation of this law post article 370 abrogation. As per my information, not even a single virtual workshop was held in the last 3 years for designated officers on PSGA in J&K. I sought information from the Government several times about workshops held to train officials on implementing PSGA .The officials at helm always avoided responding. Early this year, I sought information under RTI Act 2005 from the office of Deputy Commissioner Budgam about training workshops held for designated officers to implement RTI & PSGA. The Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) who is also the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) in DC office Budgam told me that information was not available in the repository of his office.
GAD denies info
More than 2 years back, this author sought details from the General Administration Department (GAD) under RTI Act about PSGA implementation and workshops conducted for Govt officers. The designated PIO instead of providing information, forwarded my application to all the Administrative Departments in Civil Secretariat by misusing the provision of section 6 (3) of JK RTI Act 2009 (now repealed). GAD is the custodian of this information and the PIO concerned should have provided the same to me.
Pertinently, RTI Act 2005 clearly states that the information which can’t be denied to a Member of Parliament or State legislature cannot be denied to a citizen.
The reality is that the General Administration Department (GAD) and other Administrative Departments as well as the DC offices have nothing to share vis a vis PSGA. Since the last 3 years, they haven’t even conducted three training sessions for Govt officials on PSGA. Not even 5 % designated Govt officers who have to implement PSGA have been trained. Adding new services to PSGA serves no purpose, as majority of the Govt officers don’t know how to dispose off a petition filed under PSGA .The Designated Officers (DOs) , First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) and Second Appellate Authorities (SAA) are ignorant about the basic provisions of this law.How can citizens get justice from them ? On the other hand citizens also hardly use PSGA as they too are ignorant about this beautiful legislation. Mere enacting laws or giving some erstwhile state laws legal protection post article 370 abrogation is not sufficient , authorities should also make these laws workable for public good.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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