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The State Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Hailakandi has initiated steps for recruitment of ombudsman for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) across 27 districts of Assam.

Observing that the recruitment of the posts “has not kept pace with the vacancies”, the Union Ministry of Rural Development (MRD) has asked the states to “ensure that the current vacancies are filled up in a time-bound manner”. Chief Executive Officer, Zilla Parishad, Hailakandi, NKSK Singha, pointed out that the appointment of ombudsman would create a lot of difference in the grievance redress mechanism and will prevent graft related to the Central Government’s Flagship Rural Jobs Programme. NKSK Singha said “One of the priorities as ombudsman would be to ensure that the benefits of the MGNREGA reached people from below the poverty line, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities as envisioned in the Act,”.

Hailakandi is among the 27 districts of Assam selected for filling up the post of an ombudsman and the process is under way. Besides Hailakandi, two other districts of Barak Valley selected are Cachar and Karimganj. The last date for submission of online application has been extended to July 15. Retired judges or persons with over 20 years of experience in public administration, law, academics or social work will be considered for the post of ombudsman.

Granting autonomy to the ombudsperson in his working, the MRD, in an official letter to the states, has said that “the state and the central governments shall not have authority to issue any direction or instruction to an ombudsman with regard to the discharge of his duties”.

After receiving complaints from MGNREGA workers on specified matters, the ombudspersons, the MRD has said, can “consider such complaints and awards within 30 days from the date of receipt of complaint”.

Over issues related to delay or non-payment of wages to the workers or against improper, fraudulent or corrupt practices in the implementation of the Act, the ombudspersons, as per the MRD, can initiate proceedings suo motu (proactive or pre-emptive), even without anybody filing a complaint. The ombudsman will be given administrative and technical support by the zilla parishad.