Public service guarantee not effective across J&K

Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Guarantee Act (JKPSGA) which was aimed at bringing more transparency and accountability in the system has failed to make an impact. From the top offices in civil secretariat to the Panchayat level administration, act makes no difference to the sufferings of common man. It has failed to make a resounding impact on the system where corruption still rules the roost and where corrupt still have their way.

Act has provision ensuring that each layer of the bureaucracy becomes accountable but it appears that instead of making them more accountable, it has resulted in information and documents of vital importance being denied over frolicsome reasons. Though the departments have been receiving hundreds of application under the act but citing manpower shortage, lack of funds and irrational time-frame for delivery of various services, bureaucracy in Jammu and Kashmir stonewalls all attempts of commoners for getting right kind of information.

The act could have reformed the entire system of delivery of services but there is not only delay in delivery of notified service but the officer deliberately delaying the information is not even reprimanded when the provisions are clear that he has to be penalised. The act clearly states that there should be no deficit in the service provided to the citizen but it seems that the neither the applicant pursues the matter nor the officer fears being penalised.

People do not know that they can approach appellate authorities against those officers who deny them service delivery within specified time-frame. They are completely unaware about the stringent provisions of this act. Though the act has made appellate authorities accountable by asking them to decide the appeals in a time bound manner but knowing well that the commoners do not know much about the act, the appellate authorities care little about following the act in letter and spirit.

An awareness drive should be launched so that people come to know that if they are denied service delivery within specified timeframe, action could be initiated against the concerned officer as well the appellate authorities if they take no action. They should be told that the appellate authorities can also attract penalties and the citizens who have suffered any loss due to delay in receiving any service or deficit in service; he has the right to seek compensation from the officers.

Those aggrieved by the grievance redress officers’ orders could appeal before a Designated Authority. Further appeals to the State and Central Commissions were provided for. Orders by these two Commissions could be appealed against before the Lokayukta and the Lokpal respectively. A Parliamentary Standing Committee, which went into the provisions of the Bill, felt that there was one appeal too many provided in it.

It did not favour the Lokpal and Lokayukta, conceived of as anti-corruption agencies, being burdened with grievance redressal, and wanted this final tier of appeal to be dispensed with. While implementing laws related to the ombudsman against corruption, the government would do well to give statutory guarantees for the right to delivery of services. As a citizen-strengthening package, it should also fast-track proposals for a whistle-blower protection law and electronic delivery of services as well.

Government should immediately seek report from the public services management cell about how effective the act has been since the day of its implementation in Jammu and Kashmir. It should ask the officer incharge of the cell to explain in detail reasons for people not getting delivery of services on time and being made to suffer deliberately. The management cell has been tasked with evolving

mechanism for third party monitoring of the implementation of the Act but it has made little or no progress in this regard. There is no such vibrant mechanism around.

The government should take to task those civil society groups and NGOs who had taken up the task of creating awareness among people about the implementation of this act as to why their claims fall flat when the situation is reviewed on ground. It should penalise all those officers who shield their juniors when the commoners reach them with complaint of non-delivery of the service. The new government under Mehbooba Mufti should not allow the officers to play truant in the delivery of services to the common man.  Onus of improving the administrative machinery in the state solely rests on the shoulders of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

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