Duties and Responsibilities

Two news-items published in this newspaper have caught particular attention of our esteemed readers in the past few days. While one is about a newly-appointed minister in Assam going around Guwahati city as a food inspector, the other is about a Union minister pulling up officers of his department for their failure to complete certain developmental projects within the given time-frame. It is commonsense that it is not the duty of a minister to go around inspecting godowns and bazaars on a daily basis. An occasional surprise visit is okay, but doing it day after day does not speak well both of the particular individual as well as the department he holds. The state health department has a huge team of inspectors whose primary and basic duty is to keep an eye on whether basic health standards have been maintained or not in bazaars, restaurants, hotels, and all other places where eatables – including fruits and vegetables – are both stored and sold. If a minister has to go around and inspect these things then it sends out two signals: one, that the minister’s post is relegated to that of an inspector, and two, that the inspectors and other officers in the concerned department have not been discharging their assigned duties and responsibilities sincerely. A minister repeatedly doing this same thing of inspecting bazaars and godowns may also lead common people to surmise that he is actually indulging in some publicity gimmick to occupy space in the media.

Likewise, as has been said in the other news-item, a Union minister pulling up officers of his own ministry for inordinate delay in completion of certain developmental projects in the Northeast, also holds significance from various aspects. Firstly, which project – whether of the central government or of the state government – has been completed within the original deadline? Almost every project in Assam – and across the North-eastern region – has seen repeated extension of deadlines. The Saurashtra-to-Silchar East-West Corridor has remained incomplete for years, if not decades, together; and this is not just in the Dima Hasao district where work was stuck because of so many reasons including insurgency and an issue relating to environmental clearance, but also in bits and piece all through from Srirampur to Silchar. The JICA-funded ambitious water supply project for Guwahati has not only been inordinately delayed, but also smirks of scams. The Bogibeel Bridge project connecting Dhemaji with Dibrugarh across the Brahmaputra is running much behind schedule. The second Saraighat Bridge too had the same story. The numerous railway projects – including the Jiribam-Imphal project and the Guwahati-Tetelia-Byrnihat project – have chances of finding a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the “most delayed projects” on earth. And secondly, is it for the first time that a Union minister has discovered that completion of developmental projects is running much behind schedule? If so, then either the Union minister is not aware of how numerous developmental projects involving thousands of crores of rupees are all running behind schedule, or he too is trying to get a media headline.

Why do government officers fail to discharge their duties and responsibilities? Isn’t it the duty of the government to hold officers accountable and take punitive action against officers who are responsible for inordinate delay in projects, or for that matter the arrival and sale of vegetables and fruits in the markets that have high dose of dangerous chemicals which can cause death to the consumers? Isn’t it the duty of the government to penalise officers whose inaction and inefficiency has led to immense sufferings of the common people? The people have every right to ask these questions to the government, and the Right to Information Act can come in handy in this matter. It is important for educated people to use the RTI Act and seek information about officers responsible for delay in completion of various projects, about officers who are responsible for letting traders — suppliers, wholesalers and retailers – go scot-free for having brought in and sold poisonous fruits and vegetables (and fish) to the common people? It is also important for educated people to use the RTI Act to ask the government what penal or disciplinary action has been taken against erring officers, and if not taken, then why. The people have a right to know. After all, it is not just that these officers are paid with the tax-payers money, but also that they have been standing between the people and the fruits of various development projects, or standing between the people and good health.