‘We want to know what does our legislator do’

November 18th, 2008 - 11:18 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 18 (IANS) Pushpa, a slum-dweller whose complaint about an overflowing open drain in her neighbourhood fell on deaf ears, was among the many who narrated their travails at a public hearing here Tuesday on transparency in the functioning of elected representatives. As the open drains spewed diseases around her shanty, Pushpa first approached the municipal office and then filed a petition questioning the responsibility of the area’s councillor and legislator.

Dismay followed her as she ran from one office to another looking for information on the duties of and fund allocation by the legislator.

Officials bullied her, subjected her to taunts and told her that instead of poking her nose in administration she should look after her family like a “good Indian wife”.

Several others empathized with her as she unfolded her story at the public hearing held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation.

The hearing organised by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), a citizens’ group working to promote transparency and accountability, was to demand proactive disclosure of information related to the functioning of elected representatives.

Over 200 people from slums, residents welfare associations (RWAs) and a panel of government representatives like Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Sandeep Dixit, MP representing East Delhi, along with senior media representatives assembled to discuss the issue ahead of the Delhi assembly election Nov 29.

As her efforts failed, Pushpa turned to SNS for help. The organisation helped many others like her to get the full information about their rights as voters.

“I filed an RTI (Right to Information Act) petition a year ago to get information on functioning of elected representatives - councillors, MLAs and MPs. Till date the petition is doing its rounds at various government departments, where we are told that information is either unavailable or insufficient,” said Amrita Johri, a SNS campaigner.

There were some important and interesting findings though.

Delhi legislators are tasked with passing laws and monitoring functioning of the administration in their constituencies. In addition, each of them is given an annual fund of Rs.20 million for development works.

Of Delhi’s 70 constituencies, only 17 had records of having used the fund during 2004-07, the SNS indicated.

“The MLA is the chairperson of the District Development, Thana level (local police station level) and Public Distribution Circle Vigilance committees as well as member of the District Grievance Redressal,” Johri said quoting the findings.

Sadly, in a majority of constituencies, meetings for the same were not conducted in the past few years.

At the hearing, young Naushad Alam from the Indira Camp observed: “The elected representative in our area puts up flashy boards for Diwali, Holi and other festivals. Why can’t they put up information boards as to where and how our grievances will be addressed?”

There were other valid queries on the priority of projects and the legislator not meeting the public “up till the election time”.

A comprehensive complaint petition was given to Habibullah for further action. He promised to set up a bench specifically to take the matter further.

“Information and tools like the RTI make officials answerable. I am happy to see the effort being taken,” he said.

“I will consider all that I have learnt here. I cannot assure anything in terms of immediate action. But a special bench will sit on the complaint given to me, and some policy will be made,” he said.

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