The grievance redressal system for 23 rural development schemes has been reduced to just four since October 1 in Telangana. With this move, those availing government schemes will have to visit the Mandal Revenue Officers or the District Revenue Officers to register their grievances.
Although the officials within the department are uncertain what led to the shutdown, they say it has caused great hardship to those availing themselves of the services and allege the cancellation of the service is a violation of Model Code of Conduct.
Some of the 23 schemes, for which the centre provided services, including NREGA, disabilities pensions, Aasara old age pensions and Streenidhi scheme. Many of the schemes were under the ambit of the Society of Elimination of Rural Poverty under the Rural Development Department.
According to the 2011 census, those with disabilities in Telangana alone amount to over 10 lakh persons, while according to the socio-economic outlook 2017, those availing Aasara pensions in the state is over 9 lakh. Apart from a non-disabled person friendly website, the centre was the only means for those availing the 23 schemes in Telangana to register their complaints.
“The sheer number of schemes being handled by this call centre makes it a crucial part of service delivery. In rural Telangana, the accessibility to offices is difficult due to poor road connectivity. The people availing these services are poor and will have to spend a lot of money to get to the office to register a complaint,” said Chakradhar Buddha, a program manager with Libtech India, a group of team of engineers, social workers and social scientists working with tribals in Telangana. “And once they reach the office, there is no surety that the official will be present there,” he added.
The department, since October 1, has reduced the number of persons at the call centre from 10 to five. As a result, the volume of calls being handled has also dropped from 800 calls per day to hardly 150-200 calls, according to officials.
The services that are still being provided by the call centre are for NREGA, watersheds activity, Indra Jala Prabha scheme, Shyam Prakash Mukherjee rurban mission scheme.
TNM spoke to two programme officers, who handled different schemes, for which the service has been stopped.
“The call centre had made grievance redressal a transparent process, where the complaint used to get resolved. The data for this used to be updated onto the website every day,” said a programme manager on the condition of anonymity. The complaints to the call centre could be registered by an individual or a group and a complaint number would be generated that the complainant could track. The officials concerned with the grievance used to get an auto-generated email, he added.
Another programme manager for a state scheme, on the condition of anonymity, said, “Since the last three days, I have been calling six people to know the time and date of a camp. Till now, I don’t have a clarity. If the call centre was functioning, I could have called them and they would have given me the information. If I, a government official, am facing the problem, then one can imagine the number of hurdles a common man has to go through for getting information.”
“This is also a violation of the moral code of conduct in a state that is going to elections. The department cannot start a scheme or service nor can an existing activity be stopped during this period. The officials are not supposed to do this. This is an election time, the action by the department amounts to curtailing information to the public.”
The “do's and dont’s” under the MCC of the Election Commission of India say that its restrictions apply to the launch of new schemes and also scrapping of ongoing schemes, however, the call centre is only a service.
Both the officials, told TNM, that they believe the call centre service was not stopped due to lack of funds as the service costs just Rs 30 lakh per month to function.
When contacted, Praveena Prabha, the director of finance and pensions, who oversees the functioning of the call centre, refused to comment on the matter.