Redress pending grievances

In September this year, J&K Lieutenant Governor (LG) Manoj Sinha launched the Jammu and Kashmir Integrated Grievance redressal and monitoring system or JK-IGRAMS. While addressing a press conference LG Sinha said the revamped system will decentralize the handling and redressal of public grievances by making District Collectors/Deputy Commissioners the primary level of receiving, disposing, and monitoring grievances. The new system would be available round the clock with applicant OTP authentication, acknowledgment to the applicant at each stage, and feedback by complainants. It also provides for grievance submission by making a phone call between 9.30 am and 5.30 pm on all weekdays, except Sundays. The Lt Governor also said that the administration is committed to undertaking radical reforms to put in place a people-centric good governance structure with an institutionalized grievance redressal mechanism. “Every month, we will call two persons from each district to find out whether their grievances have been redressed or not,” he said during the press meet.

However, the already functional grievance cell was introduced by the former chief minister J&K Omar Abdullah led government in the year 2009 and subsequently carried forward in 2015 by then PDP-BJP led government under CMs secretariat for Jammu and Kashmir. On April 2019, I filed a grievance bearing no. 999001140050 related to non-disposal of my file which was in possession of Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Uri. Now, almost one year and eight months have passed and the grievance is yet to be disposed of. My application is moving from grievance cell to DC office Baramulla and then back to SDM office, but the grievance is yet to be redressed by the concerned authorities and grievance cell.

The SoPs which the grievance cell has been adopting is of 15 days time period for the redressal of grievances, but in my case, it is my second year and my case is still lingering. I see no hope of redressal. Although the issue has been brought to the notice of deputy commissioner Baramulla they have turned a deaf ear to my plea. I have even written emails to senior officers in the civil secretariat but all in vain.

This year in the month of August, a group of Pahari youth aggrieved over pick and choose policy in issuing Pahari Speaking People category (PSP) reservation certificate was adopted by Tehsildar Uri and in this regard, I met the advisor to LG with this complaint seeking redressal of the complaint and action against the concerned official. When the complainant didn’t get any response for a few days from the concerned authorities, they approached the office of the Advisor via phone where they were informed that their application was forwarded to the Principal Secretary revenue for necessary action and also provided the number and date.

But with the COVID outbreak, public was not allowed to enter civil secretariat and there was no office working number available on the website of the department of Revenue. Then I filed the RTI application to know the action taken report on the complaint and so far I haven’t received any response nor was any enquiry initiated against erring officer.

The major short comings of already functional grievance mechanism is unwillingness to take action, administrative bias, lack of sanction, penalty or disciplinary proceedings against erring officer and same was revealed when I filed an RTI application with the PIO grievance cell asking him about details related to action taken on any erring officer and PIO replied, “This office has no mandate for such an action: does not pertain to this office”.

I believe that there will be no change in this new grievance redressal mechanism as it would run on the same pattern as previous one because Deputy Commissioner Offices were already having the nodal officers which were working under the aegis of J&K Grievance cell. If government is serious in bringing institutionalised grievance redressal mechanism, it’s then high time to create an independent body headed by the retired judge or social worker. The body should have powers to penalise the erring officers. Also, government should introduce administrative hierarchy in this mechanism before going to commission, there should be the administrative redressal process and every redressal should happen in a time-bound manner.

Author works on the issues related to transparency, accountability, and good governance.