Assam: Public grievance redressal system proves effective in Hailakandi

 

Hailakandi

The public grievance redressal mechanism has turned out to be an effective platform for scores of people, especially poor and needy in southern Assam’s Hailakandi district.

Having exhausted other options, people make a beeline to the Public Grievances Redressal Day on Tuesdays for help and support from the administration. Many filed complaints, some in desperation to get the much-needed relief.

Of the 371 cases, 73 have been disposed of, 20 rejected and rest are under process. They ranged from land disputes to payment of pension and allotment of houses.

Brainchild of present Deputy Commissioner, Adil Khan, the decision to form a public grievances redressal forum of this kind was predictably greeted with scepticism. But now even the most hardened critics are coming around.

 The buck is not passed any more. It stops here. The people’s response to it has certainly been enthusiastic in the past three months, with an average of almost 30-35 complaints coming every Tuesday.

Almost one-third concerned the Revenue and Disaster Management Department, relating mainly to problems of land acquisition, ownership disputes and storm related compensation. The other departments named frequently in the petitions were health, public health engineering, municipal board, panchayat and rural development, education and social welfare. It took the PGR between seven to 15 days on an average to attend to the grievances.

Allegations of corruption against government officials and employees were also probed into and action initiated in some genuine cases. Even complaints of swindling of public money in welfare oriented schemes and projects were also enquired into and appropriate action leading to filing of FIRs against the corrupt, including contractors were initiated.

The PGR did have a predecessor of sorts in the Public Grievance Cell similar. But the cell, as an official puts it, only acted as a “post office” – it received petitions and passed them on to the concerned departments, but had no provision or staff to follow them up. But now there is a dedicated team wholly for this purpose.

 “To make the mechanism truly effective, a certain set of rules and procedures are followed in dealing with public grievances. Adopting a zero tolerance policy against corruption, one of the objectives of the present government, the nucleus of the PGR team looks into the genuine complaints and adopts appropriate remedial measures.

Proper tracking of the grievances has been worked out. When a person handed in a grievance petition, it would immediately be registered and a letter sent to him on the status of his application, informing him of what action would be taken on redressing his grievance.

Marking a departure from the usual bureaucratic procedures, PGR officials were told to take up quicker alternatives to speed up the disposal of the petitions instead of just falling back on letters.

Deputy Commissioner Khan ably assisted by Nodal Officer cum District Development Commissioner FR Laskar reviews progress into cases of public complaints periodically. Says Laskar: “We have told all the officers and district heads of departments to give top priority to public grievances and to make sure there is no backlog of cases.”

Such measures have certainly helped. The corridors of the administrative headquarters situated on the first floor are thronged with petitioners on Tuesdays.

Officials attending to them go by the rule: “No grievances will go unread or unattended.” Laskar, says: “We don’t get suited and booted people here. The very poor and illiterate come here for help. We never raise their hopes and expectations. We go by the rule and pitch in to accelerate the grievance redressal process so that complaints are disposed of within a timeframe.”

Due to the peculiar requirements of individual cases, PGR officials have to bring unusual skills to their jobs – tact and understanding in solving cases. As for instance, Kumar Shankar Dutta, a retired dealing assistant with the Sub Registrar Office retired in 2017. His troubles began soon after – trying to get his pension commuted, he went to the Sub Registrar Office quite often for almost six months but the dealing assistant shrugged him off. But last April, the frustrated employee finally went to the PGR that finally settled his complaints, giving Dutta the much-needed respite.

On a complaint filed by Gourapada Roy for issuing fake No Objection Certificate pertaining to a land deed document, the PGR forum ordered for filing an FIR against the Sub Registrar and the mandal.

In yet another case, one infuriated lady barged into the conference room where PGR was going on despite the fact that her complaint submitted barely a week ago of not getting family pension after the death of her father and mother who both worked in the Education Department, was being examined by an official. But she was in no mood to relent and at the top of her voice ordered the Deputy Commissioner to redress her grievance immediately or else she would not move out of the venue. Calming down her frayed tempers, the lady was assured that her grievance would be redressed at the earliest.

As is inevitable with any nascent forum or organisation, the system still has some debugging to do before it can function with greater efficiency. Khan has made it unequivocally clear to the district officials that he would brook no delay pertaining to disposal of grievances and that action would be taken against recalcitrant officials.

Other problems, seemingly minor, still have to be tackled before the benefits of the system are passed on to more and more common man.

Such problems are easily sorted out, however, as Laskar succinctly puts it: “The PGR system has proved to be the surest way of quantifying and attending to public grievances. We now have a good ear for public complaints.”

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