“To implement laws, an accountability system has to be in place”

Aruna Roy, co-founder, MKSS, tells why accountability of bureaucrats and politicians is necessary for implementing any kind of law.

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Pratap Vikram Singh | August 2, 2016 | Jaipur


#jawabdehi yatra   #grievance redressal law   #grievance law   #Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti   #MKSS   #Aruna Roy  
Aruna Roy, co-founder, Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (MKSS)
Photo: Arun Kumar

Spearheading the cause of the poor and the marginalised for almost three decades, Aruna Roy recently concluded 100 days of the ‘jawabdehi yatra’ in Rajasthan, collecting grievances and complaints of people regarding government delivery of services. She tells why accountability of bureaucrats and politicians is necessary for implementing any kind of law. 


What was the idea behind the 100-day ‘jawabdehi yatra’ and the 21-day dharna pradarshan?
Political education is a continuous process. Given the kind of schooling and education system we have there is a deplorable, low level of understanding about the role of institutions and citizens in getting their rights through these institutions. This public education process benefits a lot from public intercourse whether you do it through yatra or dharna. Now these are the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid and their situation is getting worse because the minimum guarantees that we promised them through various legislation are receding quicker than you can imagine. It is also because we have bought false promises [from the government]. One is the glamour of technology – that by applying technology everything [all that is wrong with governance and service delivery] will cease, which is not true. In fact, it has multiplied the horrors of the poor. It has made them dependent on machine that doesn’t understand; dependent on the electricity which is seldom there. So we have a problem with technological interventions. 
 
The other problem is that politicians really do not believe in consultative processes and are limiting the whole political process. The exclusivity of the Rajasthan CM [who refused to meet MKSS members who wanted to discuss an accountability law and relate to people’s grievances] and the protection to Kunwar Lal Meena [who, allegedly, along with a bunch of goons, beat volunteers during the yatra] are a signal that Rajasthan’s elected representatives will begin to enjoy impunity. 
 
We disseminated information and collected grievances during the yatra. In total, we have collected over 9,000 grievances. Even people in the yatra didn’t understand the gravity of silicosis [a terminal illness caused due to mining dust], for instance. It is through this yatra that people have understood the gravity of silicosis and mining issues.  
 
We [Rajasthan] are a mining state. The state which is in mining has to prepare itself to provide prevention to the hazards of mining. The government seems to pay no attention to this fact. There are illegal mines – without any safeguards. Besides, mining affects the area around it, not just the people working there. People have not been educated about the hazards of mining. They take risks out of ignorance. They don’t have work. It is a chain process.  
Silicosis patients get Rs 3 lakh for treatment and Rs 1 lakh is given to the kin if they die. The state government has decentralised medical boards, which have powers to declare if a patient has silicosis. The patient has to get a certificate from these boards before they get money from the government for the treatment. The transfer of money is so complicated; it should be much quicker. Now most of these families can’t get compensation as the patient dies before anything is done. The transfer of money from the state to the district is slow even though the money has been sanctioned by the government. This is not something that you should delay. Despite a good number of silicosis cases, the board meets once in many days. It is all a bureaucratic malaise. 
 
What did you do with the grievances collected during the yatra? 
We have put the complaints on the Rajasthan grievance portal, sampark.rajasthan.gov.in. Since then we have followed up on every case. In many cases grievances have not been redressed. The non-redressal of grievances, for example, failure in providing compensation, is a result of an unaccountable bureaucratic machinery. Be it land, MGNREGA or silicosis, it doesn’t matter – they are a fallout of the lack of accountability in the bureaucracy. To implement laws we have to now get an accountability system in place. We need to have a law on accountability, which would provide legal framework for grievance redressal and a job chart of every government functionary including the prime minister. 
 
Why do you insist on having a job chart of public functionary? 
Can you tell me the job chart of the DoPT [department of personnel and training] secretary? Do you know? I don’t know. They [government officers] always tell you they are busy. But what are they busy with? A labourer’s work is well defined – digging a trench or well of specific size and area. If a labourer doesn’t complete work, he/she is fined, no matter how poor they are. So the persons who call themselves crème-de-la-crème, we would like to know from them what they are doing. Why is there so much pending work? Why so many laws are not getting implemented? 
 
 
And what about the PM’s job chart?
Why is there so much of centralisation? If you see the work of PM Modi or CM Raje, it is humanly not possible, even if you are God. Then why don’t you decentralise. It is a democratic country, which means that everyone shares power. Everyone should function. 
 
Many states have enacted time-bound service delivery laws. Have they been effective?
The trouble is we don’t do research, we are activists. But there is enough physical evidence that these laws don’t operate in many districts of Rajasthan [where MKSS is based]. We have ‘Suchna Rozgar Abhiyan’ which works in almost all districts of Rajasthan. More than 80 organsiations are its members. Now if it hasn’t worked in areas of these organisations, then it hasn’t worked. In many cases people don’t even know about the law. Moreover, these laws only look after a limited list of services. It doesn’t take a comprehensive approach towards a grievance or complaint. 
 
Though there was the Rajasthan Right to Hearing Act, 2012, but it functioned only when a huge amount of effort was put in. It didn’t automatically redress complaints. That’s why we need accountability of bureaucrats and politicians. You can’t just bring law and go to sleep. Once the law is in place, it won’t matter which government is in power, which officer is posted there – this system has to work.

pratap@governancenow.com
(The interview appears in August 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)

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