For first time, Ombudsman appointed for transparency in functioning of Panchayats

Aggarwal to be administered oath by Governor shortly
All cases of PRIs pending before Govt, Tribunal to be transferred
Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Mar 12: For the first time in Jammu and Kashmir, an Ombudsman has been appointed for investigating charges of corruption and maladministration in the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and all the cases presently pending before the Government or any other authority including the Special Tribunal will be transferred to the Ombudsman for disposal.
In exercise of the powers vested in him under fourth proviso to Sub-Section (1) of the Section 3 of the Jammu and Kashmir Ombudsman for Panchayats Act, 2014, the Governor Satya Pal Malik few days back appointed Krishan Ballabh Aggarwal, IAS (Retd) as the Ombudsman for Panchayats.
The retired IAS officer will be administered oath by the Governor shortly as per the provisions of the Act, which states: “The Ombudsman shall, before entering upon office, make and subscribe before the Governor an oath or affirmation in the prescribed form”.
It is for the first time that Ombudsman has been appointed for the Panchayati Raj Institutions as this provision of the Act of 2014 was never exercised by the Government in the past despite the fact that Ombudsman has to play key role in ensuring complete transparency in the functioning of these grass root level democratic institutions in rural areas of the State.
“Soon after K B Aggarwal assumes the charge of the post of Ombudsman all the cases of corruption and maladministration in the Panchayats presently pending before the Government or any other authority including the Special Tribunal will be transferred to the Ombudsman for disposal in accordance with the provisions of the Act”, sources said.
They further said, “no complaint against a public servant as defined in the Act shall be entertained by the State Accountability Commission after assuming of the charge of the post of Ombudsman by K B Aggarwal”.
As per the Act, the complaint means a statement of allegation that a public servant or a Panchayat is guilty of corruption or maladministration and includes any reference to an allegation in respect of which suo moto enquiry has been proposed or recommendation for enquiry has been made by the Government.
The Ombudsman enjoys the powers to investigate into any allegation contained in a complaint or on a reference from the Government; refer the matter to the appropriate authority for investigation where the irregularity involves a criminal offence committed by a public servant; direct the Panchayat to give compensation where the irregularity causes loss or inconvenience to a citizen and direct for realization of loss from those who are responsible for irregularity which involves loss or waste or misuse of the funds of the Panchayats etc.
The Ombudsman for the purpose of any investigation or enquiry under the Act enjoys the same powers as are vested in a Civil Court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure in respect of summoning and enforcing the attendance of any witness and examining him; requiring the discovery and production of any document; receiving evidence on affidavits and requisitioning any public record from any court or office.
The Act states: “The Government may, at the request of the Ombudsman, make available the services of officers and employees of the Government including police personnel to assist the Ombudsman in the conduct of investigation and inquiry. Moreover, if after any investigation or inquiry, the Ombudsman finds that there is a prima facie case against the accused involving a criminal offence, the Ombudsman may refer the complaint and the findings to a competent authority with recommendation to initiate prosecution”.
“There are sufficient provisions in the Act to check malafide complaints”, sources said while disclosing that every person who makes false, frivolous and vexatious complaints will be liable for imprisonment which may extend to one year or fine which may extend to Rs 20,000 or both.
The Ombudsman may dispose of the complaints other than those involving criminal offences by awarding compensation to a citizen in case of loss or grievance; order the recovery of loss caused to the Panchayat from the person responsible; order to make good any omission or rectification of defects due to inaction; order the recovery of loss from the accused failing which direct the recovery of such loss as arrears of land revenue and order other necessary remedial measures considering the facts and circumstances of the case.