Shivanand Dwivedi, a noted social activist in Madhya Pradesh, had filed a Right to Information (RTI) application seeking information on action taken against corrupt officials of the panchayat at Rewa and a couple of other districts. However, he did not get any information even after filing his first appeal, which spurred him to lodge a complaint with information commissioner Rahul Singh.
In Madhya Pradesh, under the Panchayat Raj and Village Swaraj Act 1993-94, action can be taken under Section 40 (which has provisions to remove office-bearers of the Panchayat and punitive action can be taken within four months) and Section 92 (provides for the recovery of government money). However, in reality, such actions are consigned to files that gather dust, owing to political pressure.
In an unprecedented and historic order, Rahul Singh, information commissioner, Madhya Pradesh, has directed the additional chief secretary, general administration department (GAD), to order all the district collectors to proactively disclose information related to corruption in panchayats and information related to complete action taken to remove the guilty officers.
He has also directed the proactive disclosure of all the information about the recovery of government funds in these cases to the general public. States Mr Singh, “These disclosures will lead to empowerment of transparency and enable anti-corruption measures in the Panchayat Raj system.’’
Empowering citizens like Mr Dwivedi further, who play an important role in proactive citizenry in a democracy, Mr Singh elaborates on why his order is relevant.
“There is lack of transparency in the action under Section 40 and Section 92 across the state of Madhya Pradesh, which leads to a situation where information about the action taken in these cases is not accessible to the affected persons and general public. Several decisions were taken at the government level from time to time to make the Section 40 proceedings transparent but they are not being followed at the ground level,’’ he says.
Mr Singh also cited, in his order, the guidelines issued in 2016 by the additional chief secretary Panchayat and rural development department. The guidelines stated that “a monthly meeting should be held at the district level and instructions were given to ensure action under Section 40 within a stipulated time period of four months. Also, there were instructions to inform the Panchayat Raj ministry through email every month. The additional chief secretary also said in his order that if not resolved within four months, then it is a violation of law and disciplinary action should be taken against the officers of the district concerned. But this information is not being sent to the ministry by regular monitoring every month by the collector of any district. In the same cases in which action is taken by issuing orders at the ministerial level, there is often no action.’’
What will change by making this information public?
The order states that the information sought has two dimensions. One, that the panchayat official against whom action is being taken, also has the right to know on what basis action has been taken against him. Secondly, the citizens also have a right to know details of financial irregularities carried out by the elected representative and government employees and what action was taken to recover the taxpayers’ money from them.
Mr Singh believes that with this information in the public domain, the action related to corruption of any kind, would be available at the click of the mouse.
Mr Singh, the information commissioner, has further elaborated on how his order can be implemented. It is as follows:
• Under Section 19, the information commission can direct the public authority to release any information in a specific format. Mr Singh has released a format under which information could be shared on public platforms.
• He has given a three-month period for district collectors to make arrangements to make the information available in the public domain.
• In order to ensure compliance, Mr Singh has directed the additional chief secretary, general administration department, to send a copy of the order of the commission to all the collectors for compliance of the order, so that the public has access to information about corruption in the panchayat on the website.
• Mr Singh has also made it clear in the order that after three months if a complaint is made under Section 18 by a person that the above information is not available on the website, then the commission will hold the district collector responsible for the violation and the penalty will be imposed by the commission.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”