Rajasthan's experiment with public grievances

Rajasthan’s Right to Hearing Act requires every grama panchayat to keep a seva kendra open every morning.

The initial shock of hearing reports of the malnourishment death of Meghala, a five-year-old girl, in our very own hi-tech city of Bangalore, seems to have worn off --  erased from memory as just another of the myriad catastrophes that one has become so inured to reading about daily. Activists report that the malnourished children are still being deprived of essential follow-up services and the governance failures that caused Meghala’s death are continuing uninterruptedly.

There are deep lessons one can draw from the single story of Meghala’s tragic death and the multiple failures of governance that led to it, if one has the will to introspect about them. Murugamma, the blind and single mother of Meghala, was made to run from pillar to post by every government department that she approached for her social entitlements, whether it was for pension, for a BPL card or for healthcare.

Trying to pin responsibility for Meghala’s death, activists have questioned: Was it the irresponsible pension department that made Murugamma run around for 5 years and still did not give her a pension? Was it the unscrupulous food department that had given her family of three an above poverty line  card though she was disabled, jobless, single and with a malnourished child?

Was it the indifferent women and child development department that did not care to enable Murugamma’s severely malnourished child to go to a Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre? Was it the apathetic health department that failed to treat Meghala despite her repeated visits to the PHC?  Was it the fault of the BBMP for not opening enough anganwadis in an area that had a staggering population of over 1 lakh?

Piller to post

Since no lessons have been drawn from Meghala’s death, one sees several hundred clones of Murugamma - the bedraggled poor, the dishevelled widows or the shrivelled elderly - seeking BPL, Aadhaar or pension cards, income, caste or other certificates - continuing to wind their tortuous way in queues from early morning to late evening, week after week, before window after window of various cramped and dingy government departments. 

Why did Murugamma get shunted from pillar to post by so many departments?  Why was there no grievance redressal mechanism functioning somewhere close to where she lived where she could get a face-to-face hearing with officials and get feedback on what, if any, were the reasons why she was being denied her rightful entitlements?

The Rajasthan government seems to have found a solution to these daily travails of Murugamma and her clones by making officials answerable to them with its Right to Hearing Act passed in August 2012.  This Act came about when the Rajasthan chief minister himself admitted that he did not know how many of the hundreds of grievances that he received during his janata darshan were actually redressed by officials.

Rajasthan’s Right to Hearing Act requires every grama panchayat to keep a seva kendra (single-window service centre) open every morning between 9 and 11 AM to receive grievances against any department from all the Murugammas living within walking distance.  They get a pink slip with a unique complaint number asking the complainant to be present for a personal hearing, held every Friday between 12 noon and 3 PM at the block level by the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) along with officials of all departments. 

After hearing the complainants, the SDM orders spot inspections or verifications by officials and the Murugammas get solutions or feedback about their complaints on the spot. A written reply either accepting or rejecting Murugamma’s application and giving reasons for the same is sent within 21 days. Matters not resolved at the block level are escalated to the taluk and district levels where too hearings are held every fortnight by the taluk and district heads.

Another unique instrument of transparency being used is that of wall paintings. For instance, every anganawadi displays the names and attendance of all children and the amount of food provided to each of them in a year.  The names of all those who have applied for ration cards, houses, pensions, etc., are painted  in the order of the applications received, with details of who among them has been provided or not provided the benefit, the order of priority adopted in sanctioning it, and the reasons for the same.  With the actions of all authorities open to public scrutiny and questioning in this manner, it becomes difficult for them to indulge in their usual chicanery of depriving the genuinely needy Murugammas of the world from getting their rightful succour from the state.

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