Ombudsman for Urban Local Bodies and Panchayats

It is beyond comprehension that after nearly three years of the elections to and establishing of the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), appointment of Ombudsman for both the institutions has remained either on papers or mired in uncertainties. This is despite the fact that the legislation in respect of appointment of Municipal Ombudsman being already there since 2010 in Jammu and Kashmir and that for the Panchayats right from 2014 in the shape of an Act each for them and both duly amended by the Union Home Ministry under J&K Reorganisation Act 2020. Still, nothing concrete has so far been done which denotes absence of seriousness of the concerned authorities. The importance of Ombudsman hardly needs any elucidation or laying of stress, especially its role in overseeing things being done in quite transparent and procedural forms. The concerned Housing and Urban Development and Rural Development Departments , it seems, have taken the matter quite casually despite instances of allegations of irregularities having already started surfacing like in SMC where many projects were ”executed” without even floating tenders which is in the knowledge of the Anti Corruption Bureau as well. There are similar apprehensions about some more ULBs . Gone are the days when these bodies used to complain about paucity of funds in the past but after the elections to these bodies in late 2018, funds position has not only been augmented but the same is maintained at consistent pattern so as to keep developmental activities and other routine functions going on without any disruptions.
The reasons , if not any alibi, for such appointment not made on the basis of non availability of eligible candidate in the Union Territory having been considerably relaxed vide the aforesaid amendments , there should have been no problem in doing so but the continuous lackadaisical approach by the concerned departments having recently even been viewed seriously by the Chief Secretary, it must now be hoped that steps shall be taken in the direction of appointment of the Ombudsman for both the ULBs as well as for the PRIs. It needs to be appreciated that there must not only be accountability in respect of the end use of the huge funds provided by the Union Government to ULBs and PRIs for overall development and to start new projects but the fact that no corrupt or other irregular practices were being resorted to, have got to be ensured and complaints and even allegations related thereto duly enquired into and action taken suitably. Only then, can the functioning and the working of these grass root democratic institutions be considered to be going on smoothly.
Taking the case of constituting the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), nothing so far has been done and only now, directions have been issued by the Government for appointment of members on the said Authority as also more importantly, appointing its Chairman too. It is worth noting that the functions and the objective of the RERA being equally important in that monitoring issues regarding estates , housing projects etc constructed by and through these institutions etc and to adjudicate disputes thereto, are non optional hence important. Besides, there being enough scope under relevant developmental projects for raising real estates and to have regulatory control on builders etc, RERA should not only be properly staffed but made functional too. What happened to the initiatives reportedly taken early this year by the Housing and Urban Development Authority is not known. However, in order to ensure effective implementation of the requisite law, Real Estate Appellate Tribunal must be properly constituted with members and the Chairperson appointed for which , again a similar exercise was initiated in April this year which , however, proved half hearted. We hope, looking to the importance of appointment of Ombudsmen for the ULBs and PRIs for which fresh directives have been given , there would be no further delay caused.