In October 2020, Ratnu Devi of Bikaner completed 86 days under MGNREGA in her local panchayat in Bajju village in the Bikaner district. At present Ratnu has not received 14,000 rupees. After visiting the local Atal Seva Kendra she learnt that her payments were delayed as there was some issue with her papers. She again resubmitted her papers and raised the issue with the Panchayat Development Officer but to date, the money has not been credited.
"My husband has lost his work during the pandemic. I am the lone breadwinner in the family and have to support seven members. Even after hearing my ordeal, the panchayat officer tells me to forget about the money as there has been some technical glitch which might take some time to fix," 55-year-old Ratnu shared with Outlook.
Ratnu is not alone. She is one of the thousands of those demanding the passage of an accountability law by the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the state. In Rajasthan, activists and several social organisations are participating in a 45-day long ‘Jawabdehi Yatra’ across all districts from December 19, 2021. The yatra was kicked off in Jaipur and has returned to its origin on February 2, 2022, a day before the Rajasthan Assembly budget session kicked off.
The yatra, being organised under the banner of Soochna Evam Rojgar Adhikar Abhiyaan (SR Abhiyaan) is demanding the enactment of an accountability law by the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the state.
Speaking at the Shaheed Smark, at an indefinite dharna outside the Jaipur police commissionerate office, activist Aruna Roy said that MPs and MLAs are made by the public, and if the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister are chosen by the people, then their accountability should also be made public. Roy said, "The agitation will continue till accountability law is enacted by the state government. Congress had included a pledge of passing the accountability law in its 2018 election manifesto but it has not yet been enacted, despite a state-level committee constituted by the Gehlot government preparing a draft of the bill'.
Activist Nikhil Dey said if the law is not passed in this budget session, then the Jawadehi Yatra for accountability will be done in every village and in the cities too. "People are deprived of the basic information such as a number of pension days, employment scheme, etc. They have been kept in hanging. Unless Accountability law is brought and implemented, the Right to Information Act remains weak", Dey told Outlook.
At Shaheeds Smark, there are people protesting from across districts of Rajasthan including widows of silicosis victims who came from Bhilwara.
Why delay in bringing Accountability law?
Back in 2016, under the BJP, when the Congress was in the opposition, the government supported the accountability law, drafted by the activists who then also organised a 100-day Jawabdehi Yatra covering all 33 districts of the states.
The campaign in 2016 had witnessed seminars, clinics and workshops on Right to Information (RTI), Right to Education (RTE) and Right to Hearing Act (RTH), which was followed up with camps on RTI application, grievance submission and District Shiksha Sammelans in which ward panch and Panchayati raj representatives, among others, had participated.
The yatra touched upon several social issues under government programmes such as MGNREGA, ration, pension, health, social security etc. while pushing for an accountability law.
Interestingly, the then Congress state president, Sachin Pilot had said that Vasundhara Raje led BJP government should fix accountability and assured that the Congress party will raise the demand in the Assembly.
Just ahead of the state assembly elections in October 2018, the Congress party had promised to bring a social accountability law in the public manifesto for elections.
According to page 35 of Congress manifesto, "The Congress party will implement a Social Accountability Law because a Congress-led government will be committed to transparency, accountability, and the public"
After Congress came to power in 2018, in his first budget speech in 2019-20, chief minister Gehlot had said his government would bring in a Public Accountability Law. Followed by this in 2019, activists under The Suchana Evam Rojgar Adhikar Abhiyaan (SR Abhiyaan) came up with a comprehensive Rajasthan Public Accountability Bill, 2019. However, there has been no forward movement so far.
According to sources, some bureaucrats are opposing the Bill which is why the government is yet to draft it. "The draft 2019 Bill had proposed an independent District Grievance Redressal Officer. Some bureaucrats working in the system believe that it will undermine the authority of the District Collector and put a question mark on every move, which is why the bureaucrat lobby is against the billing and implementation of this law", a source in the government told Outlook.