Make qualification of NREGA Ombudsmen Public?

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Due to lack of transparency during execution of works under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme also called MG-NREGA, state Governments were asked to appoint an Ombudsman at district level way back in 2009. The scheme is operational in J&K from last more than 12 years now, but the appointment of Ombudsmen always remained an issue as Government failed to adhere to the norms of NREGA Act. From last 6 years I had been raising my voice on this particular issue. I have written several articles on this particular issue in local newspapers as well. Daily Excelsior carried my piece “No NREGA Ombudsmen in J&K” on June 11th 2016. Finally after a long wait Government has appointed 11 NREGA Ombudsmen for 22 districts of J&K. Each Ombudsman will look after NREGA related complaints in two districts. It would have been advisable if an open advertisement  had been made by the Government before making these appointments. This would have ensured more transparency in the selection process. As of now people are not aware about the academic or work experience of these Ombudsmen and that is a matter of concern.
In order to curb corruption and mismanagement of NREGA funds Government of India in 2009 mooted an idea to appoint Ombudsmen at district level to ensure transparency and accountability in NREGA implementation. The job of these Ombudsmen is to oversee and monitor the implementation of this national flagship programme at the District level.  An Ombudsman is an independent authority who is selected by a committee of people identified by the Ministry of Rural Development which is headed by state Chief Secretary . Ombudsmen are supposed to act as Vigilance Officers / Lok Pals for ensuring transparency in MG- NREGA at district level. It is after almost 9 year these transparency officers have been appointed. Since the order to appoint NREGA Ombudsman was issued by Government of India in 2009 asking state Governments to appoint them, it took Jammu & Kashmir Government nine years to make these appointments. Ministry of Rural Development Govt of India under Order No: J-111011/21/2008 -NREGA Dated  7th September 2009 had directed all the state Governments to set up the office of the Ombudsmen in all the districts within three months of the issuance of the said order. The previous Government led by Omar Abdullah was already under fire from various quarters for his failure to appoint Ombudsmen and during the six year tenure of NC-Congress Government , Ombudsmen could not be appointed. It took present Government three years to finally appoint the Ombudsmen, but the process evolved is not at all transparent.
Appointment process ?
As per the guidelines provided by Ministry of Rural Development Government of India ,the selection of Ombudsman shall be made from among persons of eminent standing and impeccable integrity with at least twenty years of experience in public  administration, law, academics, social work or management.  No person who is a member of a political party shall be considered for appointment as Ombudsman. The persons selected as Ombudsman must be physically active and capable of conducting field tours, inspections and visits to remote rural locations in the districts.The guidelines further say that the Ombudsman shall be appointed for a tenure of two years extendable by one year based on performance appraisal or till the incumbent attains the age of 65 years or whichever is earlier. There shall be no reappointment.  Performance appraisal shall be made by the Selection Committee headed by Chief Secretary of State.  A copy of the performance appraisal report shall be furnished to the State Employment Guarantee Council which also is yet to be established in the J&K State. On unsatisfactory performance, the Ombudsman may be removed by the State Government on the recommendation of the Selection Committee. As for as appointment of 11 NREGA Ombudsmen is concerned people are not aware how these appointments were made ? It had been advisable if Rural Development Department had made their CV’s public so that people would know what kind of work they have done in past for public good. Except G R Ghani Retired IAS NGEGA Ombudsman for Budgam / Srinagar , nothing is clear about ten other Ombudsmen. Infact, section 4 of J&K RTI Act 2009 impresses upon the Government to make all the details public while making any appointments to various boards and councils. It would have been advisable that CVs of all the appointees should have been made public along with the order that was issued Vide Government Order No: 89-RD &PR of 2018 Dated: 10.04.2018.
As mentioned above State Chief Secretary is the Chairperson of the selection committee for appointment of NREGA Ombudsmen at state level. A representative from Union Ministry of Rural Development and an eminent Civil Society Person nominated by Union Ministry of Rural Development will be members of the committee . In addition to it Secretary of Rural Development at state level will be the Member / Convenor of the selection committee. Before making appointment of NREGA Ombudsmen in J&K  the details of these persons (members of selection committee) should have been made public.
People are not aware who was the representative from Government of India ? Who was the eminent Civil Society Person nominated by Union Ministry of Rural Development for making the appointments ? The Ombudsmen are the transparency officers at district level, but if a transparent process is not evolved in this whole process what kind of signals it will send ? How can these Ombudsmen be effective on the ground ? How can they expose nepotism and corruption during execution of NREGA works ?As per NREGA guidelines the upper age limit for appointment of NREGA Ombudsmen is 65 years, but as per the order issued by J&K Government the upper age limit has been enhanced by 3 more years (68 years). How can an Ombudsman  who is more than 65 years of age be physically active and capable of conducting field tours, inspections and visits in remote rural locations of a district that too in a hilly state of Jammu & Kashmir ? Being Physically healthy  is the basic criteria for the appointment but enhancing age by 3 more years violates guidelines for appointment of NREGA Ombudsmen. The age of each Ombudsman must also be made public by the Government.