Ignorance is Not Bliss: The Condition of the Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA)

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By Sohail Khan

Recently, the Governor’s administration approved the inclusion of 88 new services under the J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA) . The approval for including the new services was given by the State Administrative Council (SAC) under the chairmanship of Governor Satiya Pal Malik. With the inclusion of new 88 services, the number of public services brought under the ambit of PSGA has reached to 183.
The PSG Act was enacted by NC-Congress coalition Government in the year 2011. More than 7 years have passed since Government passed this law, but its awareness and implementation is not up to the expectations of people. Hardly any people use this law. The Act, in contention , is supposed to provide timely and hassle free delivery of services to people across various departments or agencies within a stipulated time frame. It is believed that not even a single designated officer has either been penalized or punished under the provisions of this law since the enactment of this law.

Lack of awareness
The PSG Act gives powers of a civil court to designated officers who, in turn, have the power to impose a fine up-to Rs 10,000 on a defaulting government employee who either fails to provide services or provides deficient services. (The Act also provides for initiating of departmental action against the defaulting designated officer). People have neither been made fully aware about the provisions of this law; nor a single case of imposition of penalty in any department has been reported till now. The irony is that even Government officials, especially the designated officers under the PSG Act 2011 , are also unaware about their role and duty under this law. When people approach them, they have no idea about the law which is supposed to be implemented by them.

My Personal Experience
With the aim of knowing what Government has done to create awareness about Public Services Guarantee Act in my home district (Ganderbal), I employed the Right to Information Act (RTI) to know these details. I filed an RTI application in the office of the Deputy commissioner, Ganderbal some time back. The ill-informed Public information officer (PIO) in DC office Ganderbal, instead of checking his own office record or collecting the same from all districts officers, forwarded the RTI application to all Tehsildars of the district. In response, only one officer (Tehsildar, Gund) sent me a letter wherein the officer, instead of providing the actual figures , sent me details which were irrelevant &inadequate. Not even a single other officer has responded to my RTI vis a vis the PSGA implementation. This indicates that Government officials are also unaware about the provisions of Right to Information Act (RTI).

How to Use the PSG Act ?
There is a full list of services approved under PSGA within its stipulated time present in a tabulated form on various Government websites. The official website of General Administration Department (GAD) www.gad.nic.in has uploaded full details of PSGA. If any eligible person applies for any public service say for example to get a water connection, an electricity connection, income certificate, PRC’s, caste certificate, RBA certificates and so on or, the service is being delayed to him and not being provided within stipulated time, then he or she can file an application on a plain paper before the designated officer under the subject line ‘Application under J&K PSGA,2011
On receipt of the application, the designated officer shall within the specified time limit either provide service or reject the application and in case of rejection of application, the designated officer shall record reasons therefore and intimate the same to the applicant.
Under the Act, any person, whose application has been rejected or who has not received the public service within the specified time limit, may prefer to file an appeal to such officer as may be notified by the Government to be the first appellate authority (FAA) in within 30 days from the date of such rejection or expiry of the time limit or receipt of deficient service.
The FAA shall dispose of an appeal within a period of 45 days from the date of presentation of appeal like in case of J&K RTI Act 2009. The FAA has to direct the designated officer to provide the public service within such time as it may specify or to remove the deficiency in the service provided to the appellant.
Any person aggrieved by the order passed by first appellate authority (FAA) can prefer an appeal to the second appellate authority (SAA) within 60 days from the date on which the order appealed against has been passed provided that the second appellate authority may admit an appeal after the expiry of the period of 60 days, if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time.
The second appellate authority (SAA), within forty-five days , from the date of presentation of appeal, can pass an order directing the designated officer to provide the public service within such time as it may specify or to remove the deficiency in the service provided to the appellant or may pass such other order including the rejection of appeal, as it may deem fit.
The appellate authorities, while deciding an appeal under the Act, have the same powers as are vested in the Civil Court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, in respect of the following matters: like requiring the production and inspection of documents , issuing summons for hearing to the designated officer and appellant and any other matter which may be prescribed. The Act clearly mentions that if the designated officer does not comply with the orders or directions given to him, the person aggrieved may file an application before the second appellate authority and the second appellate authority shall direct the designated officer to show cause, within specified time, for not complying, with the aforementioned orders or directions.
After considering the cause, if any, shown by the designated officer and if no cause is shown within the time specified, the second appellate authority may, if it is of the opinion that the designated officer has not complied with the orders or directions without reasonable cause, can impose a fine on such designated officer which shall not be less than Rupees 500 but may extend up to Rupees 5000.
Whereas the second appellate authority if, is of the opinion, that the designated officer has failed to provide service to the eligible person or has caused delay in providing the service or has provided a service which is deficient in any manner, may impose a fine on such designated officer@ Rs 250 for each day of such delay or Rupees 5000, whichever is less, in case of non-providing of service or delay in providing services and Rs 2000, in case of deficiency in service provided that before imposing such fine, the designated officer shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

Conclusion
If people are not at all made aware about PSG Act 2011, how can they use this law? The designated officers, First Appellate Authorities (FAA’s) and second , Appellate Authorities (SAA’s) are also unaware of PSG Act. Under these conditions, who will implement the law? Why does the legislature enact laws for public when people can’t even use these? The Government must wake up and sensitize its officers on PSG and other pro people laws like RTI Act and so on.

The author is associated with the Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. He can be reached at: khansohail9730@gmail.com