Ombudsman for Panchayats

Functioning of Panchayats in a transparent, glassy and limpid manner and to pre-empt any chances of maladministration, for investigating of charges and disposing of complaints of corruption, appointment of an Ombudsman was felt earnestly immediately after concluding of recently held elections to these bodies, as never before. Through these columns, ‘Excelsior’ has more than once voiced concern for delay caused in appointment of this watch and ward authority in which are vested powers to settle disputes and redressing of complaints and award compensation. It is heartening to note that, now, an Ombudsman has been appointed and for the first time, in Jammu and Kashmir to oversee, monitor and adjudicate and dispose of disputes, regulate activities and functioning of Panchayats. In other words, it means that all the cases currently pending before the Government or any other authority including the Special Tribunal stand automatically transferred to the Ombudsman for disposal.
While the decision to this effect taken by the Governor in exercise of his powers under Panchayats Act is commendable, at the same time the institution of Ombudsman needs co-operation, trust and support from all stakeholders to ensure clean, transparent and developmental functions of the grass root level democratic institutions in Jammu and Kashmir State. The decision of this authority is bound to be accepted in the system, under ordinary course of business and under rules and procedures enshrined in the Panchayats Act 2014 which puts the powers of the Ombudsman at the same level as of a civil court. The IAS officer Krishan Ballabh Aggarwal, who has been appointed on this important post would be administered oath of office shortly. It is likely that with such a vast number of Panchayats spread over hundreds of rural areas across the State, many disputes, problems as also cases of irregularities and charges of corruption and corrupt practices arise which have to be settled and disposed of by the Government which otherwise should fall in the domain of the authority of the Ombudsman.
To make the grass root level institutions of Panchayats meaningful and effective, exposure to a checks and balances system mainly through the authority of Ombudsman is a prerequisite in the democratic fibre of the country. Not only should complaints be effectively redressed but payment of compensation, if warranted depending upon the concerned cases, too must be the part of the redressal system. Now, no complaint against a public servant as defined in the Act shall be entertained by the State Accountability Commission after the Ombudsman takes charge of the office. Unfortunately, instances of maladministration, irregularities in expenditures, quality of work undertaken and execution process thereof, instances of corruption etc have been rampant in the system and any reference to an allegation in respect of which a suo motu enquiry has been proposed or recommendation for enquiry has been made by the Government constitutes a complaint. The Ombudsman enjoying the powers to investigate refers the matter to the appropriate authority to look into the offence and dispose of the matter including the payment of compensation by the Panchayat concerned etc, was bound to discipline and regulate the functioning of these institutions effectively.
A slight delay in appointment of the authority of the Ombudsman by the Governor’s administration which took place, must have been there due to unavoidable reasons which must be appreciated as also the decision now taken in this regard. The fact, that funds at the disposal of Panchayats may not be misused or fritted away on unproductive and non- developmental purposes, has to be addressed in a serious way while the Act has sufficient provisions in simultaneously dealing with attempts of putting forth malafide, frivolous and untrue allegations and complaints.