Bihar steps to rid itself of corruption
Amit Kumar Pandey
Three cheers for new Bihar. Rights are asserting. Fortification is on. Right to information, right to education, right to service and right to recall elected people in local bodies are there in place.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has promised to provide the right to recall MLAs and MPs soon. He said that people can now experiment this right to remove representatives in the grassroots democracy. “The JP movement had demanded right to recall the MPs and MLAs also. Being an active member of the movement, I too had supported this demand”, he added.
Bihar is plagued by perennial corruption. Mounting corruption and open public criticism of his government seem to have shaken Nitish Kumar. “Red-tapes nag me when I go to the bed at night”. He has made this confession in public. Since development funds are being pumped on large scale, graft rats are also active. More funds, more corruption.
The state government plans to give more teeth to Vigilance machinery and is toying with the idea of creating separate and independent cadres for it, on the pattern of the country’s premier investigating agency, CBI. Fast track courts are being strengthened and laws have been amended to confiscate immovable assets of officials held guilty by courts.
The Right to Service Bill, unanimously passed by both houses of the legislature, provides for fines on government officials who do not do common man’s work, like issuing of caste, income and character certificates as well as driving licences, within a stipulated time frame. It is expected that the step would check rampant corruption and red-tapes in the state. When the bill becomes an act, it will provide a big relief to people who now run from pillar to post and are forced to pay bribes to get their work done. According to the bill, it will be mandatory for officials to get the work of the people done within a stipulated time frame or face a penalty of up to Rs.5, 000.
During campaigning for the 2010 Vidhan Sabha polls, Nitish Kumar had promised voters that the corrupt officials would be sent to jail and their property seized. The Bihar Special Courts Act, 2010, which allows the government to seize property of the accused during trial with the court’s permission, is already in place. Speaking on the bill, Nitish Kumar said: “It will help uproot corruption in providing public utility services”. And he termed it as yet another revolutionary step taken by his government to check corruption.
The Right to Education Act has already been implemented. Among others, the Act makes it mandatory for private educational institutions to admit 25 per cent children of extremely backward people. The state government has also initiated steps to minimise agonies of village people. LRDCs have been given power to settle land problems within 45 days. The district magistrates have been unburdened of land problems. In a major development the state government has virtually redefined the role of bureaucracy at the district level.
The Bihar government has freed the district magistrates (DMs) of their authority to sign cheques for drawing funds. The measure has been described as a part of the government’s efforts to lessen the load on ‘overburdened’ DMs. It is getting difficult for a DM to do justice with a plethora of work he has at his table. Now they can concentrate on monitoring the execution of the work related to infrastructure, development and law and order. In the past DMs were supposed to be the executive and financial heads of all departments, including infrastructure, education, health and law and order.
The district magistrates, however, are not happy over this change. A section of them feels it’s an ‘infringement’ on their power rather than ‘more freedom’ to work for the districts. The government has already barred them from hoisting the national flag in their district headquarters on Republic Day and Independence Day. There is every reason for DMs to be sore over the decision. Presently, all ‘rivers and drains’, carrying money have to pass through the DMs’ doors. Sources said that even an ‘honest DM’ earns in lakhs, over and above their pay and perks and quoted the Patna flood relief scam to buttress his claim.
It is reported that the government is in the process of putting in place a mechanism to assign the cheque signing work to the respective departmental heads in the districts. “The process will make more people accountable rather than confining the financial power to a district magistrate”, a senior official said.
Meanwhile, the state government has planned to raise a separate engineering-wing under the state planning and development department for execution of schemes and the district magistrates would monitor and supervise the works. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, while addressing a meeting of district magistrates and divisional commissioners in Patna, had asked DMs to ensure people-oriented administration with focus on law and order, social and communal harmony, besides maintaining zero-tolerance on corruption.