New Delhi: Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are among the Indian states that have failed to name an ombudsman to handle grievances and prevent graft related to the central government’s flagship rural jobs programme, even two years after they were directed to do so.
Only 15 of the nation’s 28 states have appointed the ombudsmen, according to the ministry of rural development. Assam, Haryana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu also haven’t appointed the watchdog.
Setting up an independent authority to redress complaints related to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was part of the 100-day agenda of the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government, when it was voted to power for a second term in May 2009.
Ground reality: Villagers at work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in West Bengal. Photo by Indranil Bhoumik/Mint.
“The government is not interested in addressing corruption and grievance redressal issues at any level, a major trigger of the anti-corruption agitation (led by Anna Hazare),” said Manoj Rai, director at the New Delhi-based Society for Participatory Research in Asia. “There are so many problems with the functioning of the scheme and an effective ombudsman in all states would have helped to rectify these problems.”
After facing allegations of corruption, the rural development ministry that oversees the job programme with the largest budget among government welfare schemes, had directed all state governments in September 2009 to establish an independent ombudsman within three months to address grievances.
The deadline had to be extended after states cited fund shortages, assembly and local government elections, unavailability of officials and confusion over guidelines as reasons for delays in implementation. The directive was based on the recommendations of an expert group on redressal of grievances constituted in 2008. Punjab, Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Nagaland and West Bengal are the 15 states where ombudsmen have been appointed either for every district or one for a group of districts, depending on their size.
“For the other states, the process is still on. It is a multi-tiered process which takes time, hence the delay,” said a ministry official familiar with the process who did not want to be identified. “Another reason for the delay is that there are very few applicants for the post since the remuneration is very low.”
Some states such as Kerala contend that since they already have ombudsman at local government level, a separate authority for MGNREGA would amount to duplication.
“Most states are just not interested in creating such a body. In some states, especially Uttar Pradesh, problems of decentralization, inefficient and incapable bureaucracy as well as lack of political will are hindering the process,” Rai said. “Another problem is that the specification of this scheme is implementation by panchayati raj institutions, but these institutions are in bad shape in a lot of states.”
MGNREGA, which was introduced in February 2006, promises 100 days of work every year to each rural household. It has provided employment to 15.9 million households so far this fiscal and has a budget allocation of Rs 40,000 crore for the year to 31 March.
Minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh recently said that he was in the process of drafting a public services grievances redressal Bill that would address corruption and grievance redressal at the lowest echelons of the government. The proposed law will draw on the experience of MGNREGA’s institutionalized mechanism, Ramesh said.