Right to hearing A Pioneer Human Rights Law
Proper and timely hearing facilitates expeditious disposal of public grievances. If the hearing is provided at the point where they originate then it saves time and expense of citizens
Transparency and accountability are current buzzwords of governance being used unsparingly not only in India, but by governments and international institutions all over the world. They have been a part of the debate on so called political reform in India for a long time.
Rajasthan has been the nursery of propagating human rights. The idea of the Right to Information (RTI) was floated by Aruna Roy-Nikhil De’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) with a people’s movement in Rajasthan demanding disclosure of concealed government information and legislation for the People’s Right to Information. The voice raised in a small village Bhim in Rajasthan has become one of the biggest democratic weapons.
One of the biggest problems facing democratic institutions in India today is the dwindling interest and participation of people fuelled by the sense of helplessness citizens face when relating to institutions of governance. It is in the context of this prevailing atmosphere of cynicism, apathy and despair that the story of the collective efforts to bring about political change by ordinary people in a small part of Rajasthan, becomes remarkable and significant.
Rajasthan has pioneered another human rights legislation with the passage of the Rajasthan Right to Hearing Bill, 2012, in the State Assembly. The legislation, first to be enacted by any state in India, provides citizens the right of hearing within a stipulated time on any grievance or complaint related to governance.
A public welfare government is tested on the basis of its responsive behaviour along with its achievements. Proper and timely hearing of the grievances and problems of the citizens related to the governance by the government enhances its credibility further. With this thinking, the state government first enforced the Rajasthan Public Services Guarantee Act 2001 and included 153 services of 18 departments under the Act. The basic objective of this Act was that common man had not to run door to door for his work and the work is completed in the stipulated time period. In the situation of work not being done, he should get the right to complain against the guilty.
The Right To Hearing is not an outcome of any struggle or people’s movement but it came into force because of the political will of the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government.
The Act would lead to an array of provisions including appointment of Public Hearing Officers. The First Appellate Authority, the Second Appellate Authority and a Revision Authority, setting up of an Information and Facilitation Centre, which includes citizens’ care centre, call centre and help desks.
The state government offices were flooded with the applications from people who sought hearing under the provision. Now the state government has set up “Lok Sunvayi Kendra” at the panchayat level and people can submit their grievances on every working day in these kendras. The hearing would take place on each Friday and the offices would devote three hours on Friday hearing the complainant.
Non-compliance of the provisions of the Act, including delay in responding, would lead to penalties ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5000 for the lax official.
The penalty amount would be recovered from the official’s salary. The Act also has a clause for protection to the officer concerned for actions taken in good faith. Chief Minister Gehlot claims that the Right To Hearing is a major step towards facilitation and good governance and is yet another effort to serve the people. The government has already introduced a series of legislations including one that guarantees timely delivery of services to the public from the government machinery and an Act to facilitate confiscation and attachment of wealth amassed beyond their known source of income by public servants, including ministers.
“Right to hearing is an opportunity provided to the individual citizens and groups for a time-bound response. The Public Hearing Officer on receipt of the complaint can either grant the demand or resolve the grievance or refer it to any competent authority,” said former IAS officer RP Jain, who worked and drafted the Bill.
“Proper and timely hearing facilitates expeditious disposal of public grievances. If the hearing is provided at the point where they originate then it saves time and expense of citizens,” he pointed out. The provision of appeal allows the complainant to approach the First Appellate authority against the decision of a Public Hearing Officer. If the person is not satisfied with the decision of the Appellate Authority he/she can approach the Second Appellate Authority. The civil courts have been barred to hear any matter under the Act.
But the “Right To Hearing” an empowerment scheme that the Gehlot government has initiated is unique and first of its kind in the country. Under the Act, there is a provision of imposing penalty on the officer and the employee, if the work is not completed within the fixed time period. It is because of this reason, that out of more than 57 lakh cases registered in the short period after the enforcement of the Act, over 56.33 lakh cases have been disposed of successfully.
The Act being introduced to fulfill the commitment of responsive, transparent and accountable administration, would now ensure a great relief to the common man at the nearest place of residence in the whole state. This arrangement of providing relief at the point where the problem originates would not only save time and expenses of the citizens, but would also develop a feeling of providing relief to the common man in the administration. Besides, the number of the applications being received at tehsil, district and at the state level would also come down.
Under the Right to Hearing Act, all types of government services other than the services included in the Rajasthan Public Services Guarantee Act 2001, works, welfare schemes and programmes of the state have been included and the common man has been given the Right to Hearing in a fixed time period on any complaint lodged or dissatisfaction in these services and schemes. Under the Act such arrangement has been made that person lodging a complaint gets the opportunity of Right to Hearing at nearest place of his residence, such as gram panchayat, tehsil, sub-division or district level.
Highlights of the Right To Hearing
► Under the Act, Public Hearing Officers and Appellate Authorities would be appointed to provide Right of Hearing to the complainant at the nearest place of his residence at gram panchayat, tehsil, sub-block, district and divisional level and his complaint would be heard in a stipulated time limit of 15 days.
► Under the rules, provision has been made to get a receipt of the complaint filled in a prescribed format by the complainant. Along with this, it has been made mandatory to give information about the decision made in the hearing of complainant in a time period of seven days in a prescribed format.
► If the hearing is not done in the fixed time period or if the complainant is not satisfied with the decision of the Public Hearing Officer, provision has been made to file an appeal. The first appeal would have to be disposed of within a period of 21 days. Alongwith this the sub-committee of Public Complaint and Vigilance Committee constituted at sub-block and district level have been given the powers of Second Appellate Authority.
► Under the Act, provision has been made to display information on notice boards in a prescribed format along with the provision of penalty on guilty officers and employees. The officers and employees have been given the right to request for revision in respect of the imposed penalty against them under the Act.
► Provision has also been made for establishment of information and facilitation centres including citizens care centre, call centre etc. for the effective implementation of the Act. Public authority has been given protection of action taken in good faith under the Act. There is no doubt that this Act would become a medium to provide relief to the common man.
By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur