Information and livelihood rights activists in Rajasthan have shifted their emphasis from enactment of a transparency and social accountability law to an early introduction of the Bill on the subject, following a budgetary announcement in the State Assembly.
The ruling Congress had, in its manifesto for the 2018 Assembly election, promised to bring the legislation.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced the decision to bring a Right to Service Guarantee and Accountability Bill and launch the Indira Gandhi Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme to provide 100 days of employment with an outlay of ₹800 crore in his budget speech on February 23.
Activists participating in a jawabdehi dharna at Shaheed Smarak here have demanded early tabling of the Bill in the Assembly, followed by its enactment into a law. They have also announced that the dharna would continue until the statute is enacted, while pointing out that Mr. Gehlot had made a similar announcement in his budget speech in 2019.
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) leader and right to information activist Nikhil Dey said the enactment of the legislation on social accountability would not only help the people struggling to get the benefits of government schemes, but would also ensure effective implementation of other budgetary announcements at the grassroots level.
The jawabdehi dharna has devoted its deliberations to different themes each day since it started on February 22. The topics covered by the activists so far have included the right to health care, law for protection of whistle blowers and the legislation for allocation of funds for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes every year in proportion to their population.
Barmer-based right to information (RTI) activist Amra Ram Godara, who was kidnapped and assaulted in December 2021 after he complained about irregularities in the village panchayat, said at the dharna that he was still getting threats. State Information Commissioner Narayan Bareth extended support to Mr. Godara.
Chhaya Pachauli of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan said ignoring the Right to Health Care Act in the budgetary announcements had raised a question mark on the State government’s intention to bring the legislation. She said the health insurance scheme should be scrapped because it had put the patients at the risk of exploitation by unregulated private providers.
Satish Kumar of the Centre for Dalit Rights said the State SC & ST Development Fund (Planning, Allocation, and Utilisation of Financial Resources) Bill, for which an announcement was made in the budget speech, would ensure sustainable development of Dalits and tribals by creating an institutional mechanism for utilisation of funds in the focus areas. Mr. Kumar said the law should be implemented in its true spirit.
A committee on transparency and social accountability appointed by the State government had submitted its report on the subject along with the draft of the proposed legislation in 2020. It laid emphasis on evolving a legal framework to guarantee accountability to the citizens and highlighted the limitations in the existing administrative system which prevented timely delivery of services.
The draft Bill has incorporated the provisions for transparency in governance, citizens’ participation, public hearing, social audit, information and facilitation centres, decentralisation of the process, and establishment of an independent grievance redressal structure. The mechanism for redressing grievances will start from village panchayats and involve public hearings at the block level.
The activists had taken out a jawabdehi yatra, covering 13 districts in the State, to bring the issue of accountability to the forefront as an extension of the right to information, which had its roots in Rajasthan. The march was suspended after it reached Kota on January 7 in view of the surge in the COVID-19 cases.
Over 2,300 complaints were registered during the yatra and 1,903 of them were uploaded on the State Government’s Rajasthan Sampark portal. Most of the complaints in the rural areas pertained to social security pensions, public distribution system, health schemes, lease under the Forest Rights Act, silicosis relief and the rural employment guarantee works.