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Punjab the only state to appoint ombudsman

Punjab the only state to appoint ombudsman

New Delhi: Punjab is the only state that has appointed an ombudsman to take up complaints against the Union government’s flagship poverty alleviation programme, even though the deadline lapsed in December, forcing it to extend the date.

The rural development ministry had directed all state governments in September to establish an ombudsman within three months to redress grievances about the execution of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Act (NREGA). Under NREGA, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has promised 100 days of work at minimum wages to at least one member of every rural household.

After facing allegations of corruption, the rural development ministry issued the September directive to enhance transparency in the implementation of the scheme. But a note prepared by the ministry shows only a handful of states had even initiated the process of appointing ombudsmen by January.

“The states were supposed to have set up an ombudsman office by December, but our review shows it hasn’t happened," said a ministry official on condition of anonymity. “Now the deadline has been extended to 31 March."

Only Punjab has completed the process, according to the ombudsman status of 27 states (except Jammu and Kashmir) mentioned in the background note prepared by the ministry for district rural development agencies. Gujarat has conducted an initial meeting and completed the nominations, but its empanelment is still in process. Karnataka, Kerala and Manipur have held meetings, but are yet to complete the empanelment process.

Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Uttarakhand have just started the process, with no meetings so far.

These are states with relatively better progress reports on NREGA implementation.

Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and other states have not initiated the process. They have cited reasons ranging from fund shortage to assembly or local government elections, unavailability of concerned officials and confusion over guidelines, among others.

The ministry official quoted above attributed the delay to the complexity of the process.

“It is a mutli-tiered process which takes time, hence the delay. A meeting was held last month to discuss problems related to setting up ombudsmen in order to expedite the process," the official said.

Setting up an independent authority to redress NREGA-related grievances was part of the 100-day agenda of the UPA government when it came to power for a second term in May 2009. The promise was included in the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament in June.

Instructions for NREGA ombudsmen were formulated under Section 27 of the Act. The establishment of the ombudsman under the Act should be done on the recommendations of a selection committee, to be constituted by state governments, with the state chief secretary as its chairperson.

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