For meaningful governance

Published : Sep 26, 2003 00:00 IST

The present government has laid special emphasis on aspects of governance such as economic well-being of the weaker sections, transparency of administration, and attention to citizens' grievances.

THE government of Rajasthan, the largest State in the Union today, accepts that development sans a special emphasis on the vulnerable sections is meaningless. It recognises that centuries of oppression and inequity have disallowed these sections of society to realise their individual levels of productivity.

Nearly 30 per cent of the State's population comprises members of the Scheduled Castes (S.C.) and the Scheduled Tribes (S.T). While the S.C. population is scattered all over the State, the S.T. population is located predominantly in the scheduled areas - 23 blocks of southern Rajasthan in Dungarpur, Banswara, Udaipur, Chittorgarh and Sirohi districts. There are some S.T. pockets in other parts of the State; the Sahariyas, for instance inhabit Kishanganj and Shahbad blocks in Kota district.

Realising the vulnerability of these groups, the government has doubled the pension amounts given to various categories. The government runs 32 old-age centres in 22 districts. Measures have been taken to increase reservation quotas for S.C., S.T. and Other Backward Class (OBC) students in the medical and engineering colleges in the State. As for the Sahariyas, who were particularly affected in the severe drought years, 25 per cent of government posts have been set aside for the local people among them. In an effort to increase the visible participation of women in government, the reservation quota for them has been increased from 20 to 30 per cent. Moreover, 3 per cent of the posts in the services sector and 3 per cent of the seats in educational institutions have been reserved for disabled persons. As a special measure for the victims of atrocities from among these groups, the government has doubled the compensation. The government has issued directions for the filling of all the vacant posts in the reserved category.

The State government has taken several steps for the welfare and empowerment of women and children. The current literacy rate in the State is 61 per cent, with female literacy at 44 per cent. Evidently, the State has to do a lot to catch up in the field of female literacy and education. But this has not deterred the government from taking some bold steps to ensure the participation of women in society in other ways. Apart from formulating a women's policy on March 8, 2000, the government has set up the State Women's Commission. At the district level, Zilla Mahila Sahayta Samitis have been constituted to provide immediate assistance to women in distress. Steps have been taken to ensure equal property rights under certain schemes such as the Indira Awas Yojana and the Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana. In a significant step, the government has implemented the Supreme Court guidelines on sexual harassment at the work place. It has set up committees in all departments and offices to deal with offences relating to sexual harassment at the work place.

Despite being the first State to formulate a women's policy and accord high priority for the health and family welfare sector in the State budget, Rajasthan has high infant and maternal mortality rates. Population stabilisation programmes, meant to improve the health of women and children, are also under way.

The government has established special courts in Jaipur, Kota, Bhilwara and Sriganganagar to deal with dowry harassment cases. Special schemes for deserted women and the empowerment of widows, are two of the progressive initiatives of the government. The Kishori Balika scheme, intended for the all-round development of the adolescent girl child, has been put in place in some 165 Integrated Child Development Scheme blocks. Scholarships for girl children belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, which will benefit some 100,404 girls, are also being implemented.

Rural insurance schemes, those targeted at women in particular, enable them to claim financial assistance to the extent of Rs.25,000 by paying a nominal amount of Rs.15 a year. The Rajrajeshwari Mahila Kalyan Yojana is currently run by the Oriental Insurance Company. Other institutional mechanisms for people in special circumstances include the setting up of orphanages, Mahila Suraksha Grihas for mentally challenged women, shishugrihas for deserted and orphaned children, and centres for juvenile offenders. In order to cater to the needs of the disabled, the government has set up the post of Commissioner for Disabilities.

According to a census for determining BPL families, conducted in 1997 (another one is due soon), about 69 per cent of the S.T. families and 45 per cent of the S.C. families in the State were BPL families. Most of the poor families live in rural areas, where farm and non-farm employment opportunities have a direct bearing on the welfare of these sections. To ameliorate the living conditions of the population living under the poverty line, the State has taken several steps, beginning with the raising of the minimum wage. While its implementation may be faulty at some places, the government maintains that by and large people were found to be receiving a minimum wage of Rs.60 for unskilled labour.

A medicare card scheme was introduced for BPL families in 1999 to ensure the availability of medicines for them. They can also avail themselves of funds from the Mukhya Mantri Jeevan Rakshya Kosh, set up by the government by allocating a sum of Rs.26.50 crores for the treatment of serious illnesses. According to government figures, in the last three years Rs.10 crores was used from this fund, benefiting 2,014 persons. Persons who have an annual income of not more that Rs.24,000 and who are not in the BPL list can seek assistance from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund for treatment of life threatening ailments. So far, 3,973 persons have benefited from the scheme.

In order to establish direct contact with BPL families, the government undertook two campaigns, one in the rural areas from October 2001 to January 2002 and the other in urban areas from January 2002 to February 2002. These campaigns were focussed on local problems and involved the departments dealing with the public. The idea was to reduce the gap between the administration and the common man in far-flung areas; creating a sense of faith in the administration by dealing with problems faced by the people; solving the land problems of the agricultural poor; creating an awareness about the various welfare schemes of the State government among the masses; reaching the benefits for the poor through social security schemes; and, above all, ensuring people's participation in the implementation of the schemes. Some 66 lakh rural families and 12 lakh urban families benefited during this campaign and the sections that directly gained from this were Dalits, tribal people, Backward Classes, women and members of other weaker sections.

Self-help groups (SHGs) as an alternative employment model have been set up and today there are 90,000 such groups in the State. More than a lakh of BPL persons have found employment under the self-employment schemes. The SHG experiment has taken off largely among women. The SHGs provide inter-loaning for small economic activities to the members of the group. These SHGs are also eligible for loans from institutions such as NABARD, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh and the nationalised banks. A related project has established marketing linkages for the SHGs. Rural markets or grameen haats are sought to be created in this project. Some of the SHGs were also in charge of preparation of the mid-day meals in schools across the State, which helps them earn an additional income.

Lack of employment opportunities is a serious problem, particularly because the State has just got out of the grips of a drought. An allowance of Rs.300 a month is given to every unemployed youth from BPL families. Initiatives such as the Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana, launched during the drought, attempted to give wage employment to the rural landless and poor. All the District Rural Development Authorities had been instructed to implement the scheme and provide maximum employment. Although this work needs to be continued despite the monsoon, the State government is already struggling to meet the demands of payments of wages as well as foodgrain. Important issues such as the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) have to be taken up with vigour and there is a need for Centre-State cooperation in this area.

One area in which the government has worked hard is transparent governance. It has realised that to gain the confidence of the masses, especially the rural poor, government schemes need to be transparent and government personnel responsive.

Citizens' charters of government departments have been released by key departments with a view to familiarising citizens with their rights. So far 35 departments have issued such charters - Revenue, Home, Medical and Health, Food and Civil Supplies, labour, Factory and Boilers, Transport, State Insurance, Registration and Stamps, Mines and Minerals, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development, Irrigation and so on. The State government also enacted and published the Rajasthan Right to Information Act, 2000. All members of the Cabinet gave declarations about their property. Apart from the government taking the necessary steps, non-governmental groups campaigned effectively for a piece of complete legislation on the right to information.

There is an effective public grievance redress system in the State. At the district level, the Collector and the Superintendent of Police have been directed to listen to public grievances and take remedial action. Also in place is a system for the monitoring of redress of grievances.

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