Govt fails to appoint Municipal Ombudsman even 9 months after conclusion of ULB polls

Selection Committee yet to make any recommendation to Guv

Several complaints about irregularities pending for disposal

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, July 13: Despite being aware of the pendency of numerous complaints about irregularities in the functioning of the Urban Local Bodies, the State Government has failed to appoint Municipal Ombudsman even nine months after the conclusion of Urban Local Bodies elections. Astonishingly, no recommendation has so far been made by the Selection Committee to the Governor for making this important institution functional.
Official sources told EXCELSIOR that while Ombudsman for Panchayats has started functioning to achieve the mandate of the law enacted in 2014 and even recently briefed Governor Satya Pal Malik about the functioning of grass root democratic institutions in the rural areas of the State, such an arrangement to ensure transparency in the functioning of the Urban Local Bodies has not been made till date.
“It is a matter of concern that Housing and Urban Development Department has not projected before the Government the urgency of making institution of Ombudsman functional even nine months after the conclusion of elections to Urban Local Bodies (Municipal Corporations, Municipal Committees and Municipal Councils)”, sources said.
They further said, “the dilly-dallying approach is notwithstanding the fact that Governor Satya Pal Malik has on numerous occasions emphasized the crucial role of Ombudsman in making Urban Local Bodies accountable and function in a fair and transparent manner”.
Had the Municipal Ombudsman been appointed soon after the conclusion of elections to Municipal Corporations, Municipal Committees and Municipal Councils in the month of October last year, all the complaints about irregularities and illegal appointments etc, which are pending for disposal during the past many years, would have been dealt with and disposed off in a time bound manner, sources said.
It is pertinent to mention here that in order to pave the way for appointment of Ombudsman during the Governor’s Rule, amendments were carried out in Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Ombudsman Act, 2010 on December 12, 2018.
Moreover, by way of amendment eligibility criteria for the Ombudsman was enhanced and besides Judge of the High Court or a person eligible to be appointed as Judge of the High Court, provision of appointment of a person who has held the post of Commissioner/Secretary to the Government or equivalent rank was also incorporated.
“This step has failed to yield the desirable results in view of the slack approach both at the level of Housing and Urban Development Department and a Selection Committee which as per the amended Act has to make recommendation to the Governor for the appointment of Municipal Ombudsman”, sources said.
The importance of institution of Municipal Ombudsman can be gauged from the fact that under the Act the Ombudsman has been given the powers to investigate into any allegation contained in a complaint or on reference from the Government; enquire into any complaint in which corruption or maladministration of a public servant or a Municipality is alleged; pass an order on the allegation where the irregularity involves a criminal offence committed by a public servant, causes loss or inconvenience to a citizen; direct the Municipality to give compensation and to reimburse the loss from the person responsible for the irregularity.
Moreover, the Ombudsman can pass orders in the cases where the irregularity involves loss or waste or misuse of the fund of the Municipality, realize such loss from those who are responsible for such irregularity and where the irregularity is due to omission or inaction, cause to rectify the mistake.
The Act further states: The Ombudsman shall, for the purpose of any investigation or enquiry, have the same powers as are vested in a Civil Court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure. Moreover, the Government may, on the request of the Ombudsman, make available the services of officers and employees including police personnel to assist Ombudsman in the conduct of investigation.
“If, after any investigation or inquiry, the Ombudsman finds that there is a prima-facie case against the accused involving in a criminal offence, the Ombudsman may refer the complaint and the findings to a competent authority with recommendation to initiate prosecution”, the Act further read.