RTI- An Instrument empowering Common people to fight out corruption at grass-root level
Apprehending corruption and irregularities in development projects undertaken in Marthapur Gram Panchayat of Balipatna Block under Khurda district of Odisha, a group of people submitted complaint to District Collector, Khurda in his Grievance Cell on 24th August 2015 and BDO, Balipatna Block demanding an enquiry into it. Following order of the Collector and subsequent request of BDO, Balipatna, the District Panchayat Officer, Khorda wrote a letter No. dt. 603/GP, dated 7.9.15 to the Sub-Collector, Bhubaneswar to depute Sub-Divisional Panchayat Officer to conduct an enquiry of Marthapur Gram Panchayat to detect details of funds misappropriated by the personnel and furnish a Report.
In the meantime, series of RTI Applications were submitted by Pandab Pradhan, Manoj Swain, grass-root RTI Activists associated with Odisha Soochana adhikar Abhijan ( a state-level forum of Activists sprearheading campaign for effective implementation of RTI Act in Odisha ) to the PIO, office of Marthapur Gram Panchayat, BDO, Balipatna to get the information about the following works undertaken, project sanctioned, fund utilized with copy of bill and vouchures under different schemes like fund sanctioned under State Finance Commission, Twelfth Finance Commission, Gopabandhu Gramin Yojana, GP Fund etc. from 2013-14 to 2015-16 .
i. Talapadia Harijan Sahi Drain & CC Road
ii. Construction of Cement Concrete Road at Badakuda Thakurani Pitha & Construction of Giri Gobardhan Pitha
iii. Cement Concrete Road from house of Antaryami Pradhan to Bharat Pradhan House.
iv. Cement Concrete Road from house of Laxmidhar Pradhan to Gangadhar Pradhan House
v. Renovation of Gram Panchayat Office.
It was assessed by the villagers that the entire sanctioned amount around Rs. 30 lakhs has been misappropriated by Panchayat executive Officer, Sarapanch and Contractors by making false Bill and vouchures.
However, though the information was provided by the concerned PIOs, it was found incomplete and RTI Application was also not responded in the absence of records. It was highlighted in media exposing huge corruption in Gram Panchayat which drew the attention of the authorities.
As per request of District Panchayat Officer, the SDPO conducted enquiry investing all the records and documents , making spot inspection of all the works shown in file as completed with cooperation of the villagers in October and November,2015 and produced the report 0n 24.12.16. with following note of observation and recommendation.
1. The amount of Rs. 43,000.00 and Rs. 23,000.00 withdrawn on 6.1.2015 and 19.1.2015 from SFC account has been expended in beautification of GP and purchase of furniture without any estimate, administrative approval, technical sanction. Both Sarapanch and Ex-PEO are jointly responsible for it.
2. The amount of Rs. 28,000.00 withdrawn on 14.11.14 from TFC account for payment of honourarium of Sarapanch and Naib Sarapanch & S.A., D.A. of members of GP. But no payment is done and the amount has been misappropriated.
3. The amount of Rs. 2, 75,154.00 has been illegally withdrawn from TFC account without any estimate, bill, measurement/ check measurement by any technical person. No administrative approval has been taken for the above three mentioned projects The projects have not been approved in the GP meeting. The Sarapanch and Ex-PEO are jointly responsible for such illegal withdrawal of money.
Recommendation for Action
1. Necessary disciplinary action may be taken against the Ex-PEO Sri Trilochan Nayak for his carelessness, negligence in Government duty and financial irregularities.
2. Necessary disciplinary action also may be taken against the Sarapanch Smt. Sandhyarani Pradhan for her negligence in duty, misappropriation of Government money, financial irregularities and without following guideline, non-discharge of the duty properly as provided under section 115 of O.G.P. Act, 1964.
Though the Report was produced to the Collector, no action was taken against the delinquent officials. On 21.1.12016, RTI Application was submitted to the PIO, Office of Collector, Khurda seeking copy of the Enquiry report and Action taken against the officials involved in misappropriation of report. On 27.2.16, the PIO supplied the copy of the enquiry report along with a statement that “no action has been taken against the delinquent regarding irregularities committed in the Gram Panchayat till yet”.
After obtaining the information, it was exposed in media highlighting the content of the report and Govt.’s dillydallying to take action against the delinquents. Then the villagers staged Dharana in front of Balipatna Block office demanding immediate action against Sarapanch and Panchayat Extension officer and recovery of the money. A delegation of RTI Activists and villagers also met Commissioner-cum Secretary, Dept. of Panchayat Raj demanding action against them as per enquiry report. This fight took three months to yield the result.
Being pressurized by the people armed with RTI information, the district administration suspended Sri Trilochan Nayak, Ex-PEO and issued show cause notice for disciplinary action. On 7.7.16, the Department of Panchayat Raj issued order dt. 7.6.16 under sub-section (2) of section-115 of Odisha Gram Panchayat Act, 1965 to place Smt. Sandhyarani pradhan, Sarapanch of Marthapur GP under suspension.
Though the people got small victory after a long fight with the administration, the problem has not been solved. The money misappropriated has not been recovered from them till yet. No disciplinary action has been taken against them.
Case Study Prepared by
State Convener, Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhijan