Over the last two years there have been heated debates at the National level around the kind of institutions which need to be created to fight corruption and bring about accountability in governance. These debates have encompassed issues ranging from large monetary corruption through scams to the abuse of power which affects the existence of millions of citizens unable to redress their day to day grievances. In this context it is useful to learn from existing processes, or new innovations which are trying to address some of these same issues. The Rajasthan ‘Right to Hearing’ Act and its demonstrative implementation through camps is one such example, which could have huge implications in positively impacting a national framework for redress of citizen’s grievances.
Rajasthan is the only State so far to have enacted a ‘Right to Hearing’ Act, and Rajsamand District, the only district where this Act has been implemented through an appropriate implementation system. The ‘Right to Hearing Camp’ being organized in Togi Gram Panchayat is the latest in a series of camps in which MKSS and the district administration are working together to help institutionalize a system of redress of grievances. Under the Act, citizens –
1. Have access to a single window system across government departments at every Panchayat for complainants to submit their complaint in writings. Every Panchayat should be open daily for 3 hours to allow complainants to register their complaints/ applications. In Rajsamand, Rozgar Sahayaks have been made the designated official assigned to collect complaints. This should also make it easier for them to take MGNREGA work applications at the same time. This single window system has been institutionalized in Rajsamand District.
2. Are provided with dated receipts upon submitting complaints. The receipt also must have details of when and where the hearing for the complainant is to be held and with which government department. This provision of dated receipts has been institutionalized in Rajsamand District.
3. Are having a fixed hearing date, and are entitled to a public hearing which is held on a fixed date at the Panchayat and District level. Government officials from each department are required to be present, and the hearing is held in the open, in public, so that people can complaint as a part of a collective. The process of a public hearing has been institutionalized in Rajsamand District.
4. Are entitled to a written response within 21 days of having submitted the complaint. This has been institutionalized in Rajsamand District.
5. Are entitled to an Appeal Process where erring officials are penalized. Automatic action should also be taken concerned officials who do not comply with sending a written response within 21 days. This has not been worked out in Rajsamand District yet as the Act has been implemented only recently.
6. Not in the Act – Proactive disclosure – Proactive disclosure through wall painting and flexes of the names of beneficiaries, and summary of benefits with regard to services from every department. This creates awareness about entitlements, allow beneficiaries to monitor delivery themselves. This has been institutionalized in Rajsamand District even though it is not a part of the Act.
In implementing the Act through Camps (including registering every prashasan gaon ki aur applications under the Right to Hearing Act) where government officials from each department are required to be present, several complaints are sorted out immediately, at the first stage of submitting a complaint. However, some complaints are more time taking as they are locked into the system. The RTH receipt ensures that the matter does not lapse with the camp. The requirement of producing a written response in 21 days pushes the bureaucracy to work to correct its systemic flaws, and become more accountable.
The camps have had dramatic results of hundreds and thousands of individual and collective grievances coming to light. These have been in relation to electricity and water supply, ration and pension delivery, failed construction of roads, problems in schemes such as the Indira Awaas Yojna (housing for the rural poor), and the Janani Suraksha Yojna (monetary benefits for pregnant mothers). Even complaints regarding issues such as the illegal occupation of land have surfaced in the camps.
These are lessons from Rajsamand for proper implementation of RTH all over Rajasthan and for the Grievance Redress Bill pending passage in Parliament:
The ‘Right to Hearing’ camp has shown that effective redress of grievances is a natural and necessary next step from the Right to Information Act in pushing government from transparency to accountability. The experiences from Rajsamand show that this system can ensure a degree of accountability where the vast majority of daily expectations and problems ordinary people have with government can be addressed. The grievance redress bill which is to be brought for passage in the coming budget session of Parliament has the potential to substantially and dramatically improve governance. It is thus absolutely essential that the bill which is passed be implemented immediately and put in place an effective system where people have the individual and collective power to demand their rights and push the State to deliver. This is a slow and persistent process, but brings about change with dignity.
Note: The essentials of an accountability mechanism are Soochna/jankari, sunwai, karyavahi, bhagidari aur suraksha
The ‘Right to Hearing’ camp is not only about ‘Sunwai’ or ‘Hearing’ though that is a basic preliminary step in a process of grievance redress. By combining proactive disclosure through wall painting, the camps have become platforms for creating awareness about rights and entitlements (soochna/ jankari), and have also become spaces for participation (or bhagidari) in holding government accountable. As the camps are being held by the administration and representatives from each department are present, the camps provide an opportunity to correct certain actionable wrongs on the spot, and to initiate longer processes of mending flaws in the system (karyavahi).
We must ensure that complainants are given adequate protection because often the ones who make complaints are the first to be intimidated and get physically attacked.