Expressing concern over lack of clear guidelines in compliance with RTI Act under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) since 2013, the Madhya Pradesh State Information Commission (MPSIC) directed the state officials to appoint Public Information officers and appellant officers in three months.
The rural development ministry had instructed MGNREGS Lokpals appointed after 2012 in divisions to oversee complaints regarding implementing the job guarantee scheme. However, despite a portion of the total budget earmarked for ensuring transparency, the set up has failed to bring in RTI compliance into its system.
The matter came to fore after RTI applicant Pushpraj Tiwari moved an application with the MGNREGS Lokpal office in Rewa and was subsequently informed that there wasn’t any Public Information Officer (PIO) in the office. Tiwari complained to the MPSIC in July over the absence of a PIO official appointment in Rewa.
His queries were moved between Rewa Lokayukta Office, Lokayukta Office Bhopal. The MGNREGS Lokpal even sought guidance from the Panchayat and Rural Development Department for further consultation. The department, in turn, forwarded the query to Rozgar Guarantee Council in October.
State Information Commissioner (SIC) Rahul Singh took strong objection to the lack of response from various authorities to the RTI query.
The SIC in an order issued under section 19 (8) A of the RTI act on Wednesday cited the example of Bihar where Lokpal orders and court verdict information being available on the web portal. He also underlined the importance of the RTI in implementing the rural infrastructure development scheme amid amounting corruption allegations.
“It’s highly unfortunate that Panchayat and Rural Development Dept has no clarity on RTI act’s implementation post year 2013 and also did not set up any mechanism,” the order observed.
The State Information Commissioner has instructed the Principal Secretary, Panchayat and Rural Development department to get information about the MGNREGS Lokpal on the portal.
The order also instructed the department that redressal status and details of the complaints/applications should be shown on the department portal in a proper accessible format. He also ordered appointments of Public Information Officers and First Appellant Officers in the MGNREGS Lokpal set up.
The Panchayat and Rural Development department will be required to appraise the General Administration Department about the action taken under the order.
RTI activist Ajay Dubey said the recent order is a welcome step to bring in divisional vigilance committees under RTI ambit. “The committee seeks to fight corruption which is the basic mandate of the RTI act," he said. He demanded State Lokayukta authorities be made accountable to the RTI act’s implementation in divisional vigilance committees.
However, Dubey observed that these committees primarily worked to dent anti-corruption laws instead of rooting out corruption in MGNREGS.