Saturday, November 04, 2006

Celebrate West Bengal

Citizens of West Bengal have two causes to celebrate!

Members of the National Employment Guarantee Council (a council of Left party members and non-governmental organisations) who attended a public hearing in West Bengal last week have returned with a flurry of complaints about politicisation of the scheme, indifference and a lack of awareness about implementation procedures.

They said the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is following in the footsteps of most others, killing a scheme that could improve the lives of the poor if implemented properly.

Political bias is manifesting itself at every stage — from accepting application forms to issuing job cards and then allocating jobs. Instead of strengthening the scheme, political parties are pushing their own people, hurting other applicants. The districts where the scheme is faring the worst are Malda, Purulia and South 24-Parganas.

In many places, wages are not paid in time. “They have worked for seven days and have not been paid wages even after three months,” said a member. In some places the workers are not even getting the minimum wage of Rs 68.

One of the worst flaws is the lack of awareness among the people. The government has not taken steps to inform the people about their rights. Nor have the political parties.

Meanwhile, the Central Information Commission has said the West Bengal government is among the most reluctant in the country to disclose information under the Right to Information Act.

The Commission has also questioned the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s seriousness about the act. The govt doesn’t even feel the need to tell its citizens where the information commission is located. The telephone no. doesn’t exist!

The government is yet to ensure all ministries and departments have public information officers — the first person a citizen approaches for information. Neither is there an appellate authority, who the citizen goes to if denied information at the first stage.

Both were supposed to be appointed within 100 days of the information act coming into effect.

“The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has repeatedly refused to listen to the State Information Commission. It still has not appointed an appellate authority, which is a major problem as most cases are to do with the CMC,” a state commission official said.

According to the Central Information Commission, it had to intervene several times after the state commission’s orders were violated.“In one case, where an appellant had sought information about the sale of land at Singur, the Commission had to come into the picture after a district magistrate brazenly refused to comply with the State Commission's order,” a Central Commission official said.

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