Last weekend, we got a chance to interact with Jammu & Kashmir Chief Secretary Dr Arun Kumar Mehta in Srinagar. This meeting was organised by the Govt in connection with Vigilance Awareness Week which is celebrated across the country between October 30th to November 5th. The Chief Secretary along with a battery of top officers in the Government held separate meetings in Srinagar and Jammu wherein he discussed and deliberated on issues related to good governance, implementation of Right to Information Act -RTI , Public Service Guarantee Act -PSGA and other welfare measures of the Govt. Almost a dozen activists from Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal who work on Right to Information (RTI) and its implementation, and I along with my associates representing the Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement, explained in detail the measures taken by the Government in the last 3 years on ensuring good governance in J&K.
I appreciated J&K for the digitization of Land Revenue records, providing adequate funding to village panchayats, organising Back to Village programmes, opening of Jan Aushadhi centres (subsidized chemist shops), introduction of electronic point of sale machines (e-POS) at Govt ration stores, providing financial assistance for ailing people under Golden card scheme PM Jan Arogya Yojna-PMJAY and providing 1075 online services to citizens. These public services have not only helped the disadvantaged communities but it has also reduced corruption in many Govt offices especially with the use of e-POS machines in the Food & Civil Supplies Department.
Suggestions put before CS
During interaction I put some suggestions before the Chief Secretary which would ensure more transparency and accountability in the functioning of our public authorities. I appreciated the work done by J&K Anti Corruption Bureau -ACB during the last 3 years wherein dozens of corrupt Govt officials were trapped red handed accepting bribes, however to take these cases to logical conclusion and to convict these corrupt officials it takes decades to convict them. I had explained this in detail during my previous piece. I suggested CS take the following steps to strengthen the work of J&K ACB.
Creating posts of Special Anti Corruption Judges
There are only two Special Anti Corruption Judges appointed in J&K which are working in Srinagar and Jammu and rest of the nine courts don’t have designated judges. The Anti Corruption cases in Rajouri , Doda, Udhampur, Kathua, Pulwama, Anantnag and Baramulla are looked after by the judges posted in local District & Sessions court who already have a lot of workload.
Due to the absence of separate special anti corruption judges, the corruption cases filed by ACB in these courts takes years to get judgments. As per the data provided by J&K ACB, recently, there were only 78 Govt officials convicted by the anti-corruption courts in the last 13 years i.e between 2010 to 2023 in J&K while as the acquittal was much higher. In addition, the prosecution work also needs to be monitored and strengthened. Many Prosecuting Officers are not familiar with the working of Anti Corruption laws and to mitigate this they need to be trained at regular intervals. It is an irony that persons caught red handed manage to get acquitted at the end of the trial.
Online RTI service
The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG) Government of India last month released a report on National e-services Delivery Assessment (NeSDA) wherein Jammu & Kashmir ranked One vis a vis e-services delivery. J&K Government is providing 1075 e-services and has thus surpassed Madhya Pradesh which provides 1010 e-services and Kerala which has 911 online services for its citizens. This is indeed a great achievement for the people of Jammu & Kashmir but as a long time Right to Information (RTI) campaigner, I feel dispirited when I don’t see RTI in the list of 1075 online/ e-services. We discussed this issue with CS Dr Mehta who assured that online RTI would be a reality soon in Jammu & Kashmir.
Transparency Audit of Websites
Some years back, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) directed all the public authorities, vide its order dated April 15, 2013, to ensure regular audit of mandatory disclosures under section 4 of RTI Act 2005 by a third party. This audit will ensure better compliance of section 4 of RTI Act 2005 and keeping all the public information on the internet so that people don’t have to seek all the details from Govt offices using RTI. Why shall an RTI application be filed to get the updated PM Awas Yojna – PMAY list or list of beneficiaries under the old age pension scheme? Why can’t Deputy Commissioners upload the PM’s Ujjwala, PMAY beneficiary lists on their websites?
We brought this issue to the notice of Hon’ble LG Manoj Sinha in January 2021 during our meeting with him. As a follow-up the GAD had issued orders for updating Govt websites and social media pages. Transparency audits of Govt websites and social media outreach of Govt departments (not individual Govt officials) should also be made part of the Good Governance Index (GGI). This will not only help updating the websites regularly but will help citizens to access information from their mobile phones.
Proactive disclosure on Janbhagidari portal
During the meeting with Chief Secretary which was attended by Divisional Commissioner V K Bhiduri , DC Srinagar Aijaz Asad, Commissioner SMC Athar Amir Khan, Director School Education Tassaduq Hussain, Director Health Kashmir Dr Mushtaq Rather and several other senior officers from divisional administration , some activists raised issues related to road projects of PMGSY wherein works were not done properly. The activists from Budgam raised the Chadoora-Susrayar road issue which is not getting completed and information was not provided to RTI applicants like Syed Farhat and Mushtaq Ahmad under RTI.
The Chief Secretary took a strong notice of it and asked the Divisional Commissioner to inquire into it. He also suggested the participating activists to access information from Janbhagidari online portal also wherein any Govt work can be seen along with details of the funds spent on it. This portal ( https://janbhagidari.jk.gov.in ) contains massive information about funds spent in Govt works . One can access work details from ward, mohalla, village , block and district level. There are little loopholes in the portal like not having updated details or certain information is missing or in some cases the funds are shown to have been allocated and released but expenditure is shown nil. But when we examine this portal in totality this is the best online portal I have seen in recent years where the Govt has made proactive disclosure of information which is mandatory under section 4 (1) (b) of RTI Act 2005 as well. I would suggest people to go through this portal.
The recent interaction between Chief Secretary and Transparency Activists in Srinagar and Jammu is a clear example of Participative Governance, as such meetings help the Govt understand the loopholes and lacunas in governance. The citizens on many occasions feel neglected due to a lack of public participation in governance and it makes them believe that decisions are taken behind the doors.
There are many lower rung officials who don’t allow PRIs to take independent decisions. Many BDOs, Panchayat Inspectors still play shots in local governance and this must end. Gram Sabha’s need to be held at regular intervals and better participation of people must be ensured in these meetings. It is encouraging that the Chief Secretary has initiated the debate with activists working on good governance and I believe that such dialogues and discussions must continue at district and block level as well. In Fact there is a public outreach programme of Govt held on every Wednesday called Block Divas, but it seems this programme has lost its sheen from the last 6 months to one year ? I would request the Chief Secretary to make Block Divas more participative and also direct the DCs to hold such roundtables with civil society , social activists and PRI members at least once a month.
- 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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