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Public Hearing also known as Jan Sunwai is a meeting of a house committee or subcommittee during which public problems may be heard and formal action may be taken on any measure or matter before the committee or sub committee. These hearings help the citizens affected by a reviewing board's decision an opportunity to have their views heard before decisions are made.
State statues require that public hearings be held regarding the application for a variance or a subdivision approval public hearing regarding site plan application and draft environmental impact statements may be required as a matter of local practice.
It is a formal meeting designed to provide the public with the fullest opportunity to express support of or opposition to a transportation project in an open forum where the oral interaction are recorded. In a public hearing issues relating to environment, related to displacement, eviction of persons or families and their rehabilitation. It is a way of giving powers to the public to ask any questions in effect making the government or the authority answerable in such hearings.
Such hearings are especially useful for people living in the rural areas who do not have easy access to courts. These people can avail the opportunity of being heard through the mechanism of public hearing, which definitely provides for speedy justice and instant resolution of problems. Public hearing becomes a useful tool in providing a voice to the voiceless who have faced injustice and who do not have the necessary resources to approach courts. These hearings are organized by the government and as well as by various Non -Governmental Organizations.
They give the people the right to participate, which is something that is rare. This mechanism not only gives the poor the chance of being heard but also gives them the right to inspect records, which might be necessary for the dispensation of justice. The Government has recently passed the Right to Information Act, 2005 which gives all persons the right to access documents and the mechanism of public hearing recognizes this as an important right by making it an integral part of the process. Thus, it can be said that the mechanism of public hearing is an important tool as it provides an opportunity of being heard to those who have been oppressed since ages and also those who don't have access to courts due to economic reasons. Through this project I shall try to bring out the various features of the mechanism and try and show how this mechanism has aided in securing justice for the poor.
Social Audit as a Method of Public HearingIndia is a democratic country. People are masters and Government exists to serve the people. It is the primary duty of any master to take a look at the accounts of the servant at regular intervals and hold the servant accountable. Social audit or public audit is a step in that direction. People use right to information to obtain details of the works carried out by a Government Department or the manner in which that Department spent the money. This information contained in records is compared with field reality. This is public audit or social audit and is a very important tool in the hands of the people to hold the Government accountable. Social audit assumes greater importance in the context of democratic decentralization since 1992-93. Structures for accountability are the weakest in panchayats and municipal bodies who are implementing anti-poverty programmes and providing basic social services. The people have gained unprecedented access to information about, for instance whose names were listed as workers in the muster rolls the amount of money stated to have been paid to them as wages the details of various materials claimed to have used in the contribution and so on.
During the audit of the documents large number of persons who were dead or migrated or non-existent, were listed as workers and shown to be paid wages. By such audits in the document innumerable stunning facts of the duplicity and fraud of the local official and elected representatives is visible.
It is not as if they were unaware in the past that the muster rolls are forged that the records misused and misappropriated. But they didn't say anything as they were under the influence fear and doubts and in the absence of the hard facts and evidence they were unable to take any preventive or any other action against them. As they thought that if they did anything against them they will have to repent and would have to loose their jobs. They won't get anything after doing so as compared to what they were getting till date. So they let it carry on without even speaking about it. Public Hearing changed it and ordinary people spoke out fearlessly and gave evidence against corruption and public officials are invited in such hearings to defend themselves. The social audit is not merely a platform for rooting out corruption; it is also an opportunity to have citizens participate in all aspects of self- governance.
Public Hearing Related To Right To Information Act, 2005Right to Information Act, 2005 has been made in order to help the people get their right, which is not possible otherwise. As their being political apathy and lack of awareness on the part of citizens such right had to be implemented. The effectiveness of this act depends on how they been used over time by the people and by officials and government who are bound by it.
Under the Right to Information Act (hereinafter referred to as the Act ), there is a statutory forum available for the public to demand information and there is also a Public Grievance Commission where they can further take up the matter, in the absence of receiving a satisfactory response. With the help of this act various public hearing could be taken up very easily as it forms the main crust of the arguments of the public. By right to information act the public could ask the authority to show them the records if they dissatisfy them Public hearing itself is a mode that works when it is ensured that people- in particular, the weaker sections of the society are given a complete opportunity to be heard, and are encouraged and supported in their efforts to speak out. Access to information is essential, for justice, as it is for survival. This helps the public to know what is happening behind them which could be named as corruption also but some other reasons could also be give to it rather than calling it as corruption.
Public Hearing As A Solution For CorruptionPublic hearing could be a solution for fighting against corruption that has been coming up very drastically in our society. For years, the people have been in their daily lives been victims of the unending tradition of corruption by the state authorities. Many individuals like political leaders, officials, social; activities have tried to fight against it and bring relief to the people. But the efforts made by them have gone waste, as the victims are not ready to participate in it. There have been various campaigns against corruption but it lasted for some time and was of temporary nature. The fundamental right of people to information has helped a lot to bring down corruption. By such right given to the people they could easily access the documents like muster roll, which tells about the attendance of the workers and wages due and paid, and bills and various vouchers which relate to the purchase of materials which has taken place.
It is not that the people were not aware of the muster rolls being forged and that the documents are also forged. They were not able to take any preventive measures due to fear and absence of evidence. When public hearing was done, the people spoke out without fear and gave evidence against corruption that is very much prevalent these days. The people must be empowered to control and fight against corruption directly. By such hearings concrete evidence of corruption have to come into light. Armed with such evidence in their hands the people should be able to fight corruption and get their due back without any fear and live their life more easily. Every time the workers made a demand for minimum wages they were told that they had not done the work, as proved in the records.
The right to information is expected to improve the quality of decision making by public authorities. It would enable groups and individuals to be kept informed about the functioning of the decision making process as it affects them, and to know the kinds of criteria that are to be applied by government agencies in making these decisions. . By securing access to relevant information and knowledge, the citizens would be enabled to assess government performance and to participate in and influence the process of government decision-making and policy formulation on any issue of concern to them.
Drawbacks of Public Hearing Arranged by GovernmentThe Public Hearing arranged by the government has many drawbacks by which it is conducted. There are insufficient notice about social audit and no information about its function. Many times the Information is not even circulated before the meeting is to take place. The people need time to read the information and take their time to understand it and frame up their arguments against the authorities. But when the official only don't provide them with the information how can they take part in the hearing that is going to take place.
The officials of the government during the hearing only read out the total amount of money sanctioned for that work and the total expenditure, which is being incurred on it. The Labour, material components and its breakup are not mentioned in it. Bills, Vouchers, Muster rolls, and other documents were not displayed for the public to look into them. This being the main aim of the hearing that is to access to the documents but the government doesn't give them this right also. In the case where the muster rolls, only then the entire documents are read out and then could the public see them and then the picture behind the scene emerges which is really bad. It is through these documents anyone could know how many people worked at the particular site, how many days did he work and lastly how much did he get paid working there. In many cases it was found that names of dead people were also written in the muster rolls and were given wages also.
The names of various people who had migrated and various other government officials were also given wages. But the people who had worked day an night were not given sufficient wages. The process of social audit initiated by the state government failed in its main purpose and was nothing more than a face saving device.
Public Hearing: Case StudiesCase Study 1:
A Public Hearing organized by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) was being held in Janwaad in Rajasthan where social audit of the documents and analysis of the financial data was being performed. It was found that many people who came to work everyday were marked as absent and they were paid lesser wages and higher wages were being recorded in the documents. They examined approximately 65 out of the 98 odd works for which records are provided. Some works could not be examined because of missing records. It was found that the officials made wrong financial statements. A Rs. 4 crore scam was discovered at the grass root level of panchayat.
Case Study 2:
A social audit was conducted by Parivartan, a citizen's initiative, along with the local residents of two resettlement colonies of North East Delhi- Sundernagri and New Seemapuri- for the development works undertaken by the Engineering Department of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) . Only works pertaining to construction of roads, lanes and drains and installation of handpumps were taken up for social audit a total of 68 contracts worth about Rs. 1.42 crores. On 14th December a public hearing was organized in Sindernagri by Parivartan along with the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) and Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) of Rajasthan to discuss publicly the works audited. Out of the 68 works audited and discussed in the public hearing, calculations of estimated misappropriation of funds have been done for 64 works worth Rs 1.3 crore. In these 64 works the total amount of embezzlement found on account of missing items/works is approximately Rs 70 lakhs (i.e. items or works worth about 70 lakhs do not physically exist at all in these 64 works). Some examples of missing items are : 29 hand pumps with electric motor had to be installed. But the residents of this area report that only 14 hand pumps have been installed which is also without electric motor. The thickness of cement concrete layer in the street should be 10 cm, according to the bills. But thickness in most of the cases is 5 cm as found after digging. There are some roads, which exist only on papers.
Case Study 3:
A Public Hearing organized by Jan Shakti Dal and the Sahariya Jan Andolan, two local sangathan(union) at Shivpuri district which is 100km to south-west of Gwalior. The Madhav Lake in the Madhav National Park located on the outskirts of Shivpuri town has for the first time in 50 yrs gone almost dry. The government provides impressive figures of relief works, fodder and water provided to the drought-hit. The people living in the village have to trek kilometers to collect water and claim that they see no trace of government supplies of grain or fodder. Around 600-700 people attended the public hearing. Everyone told a tale of non-receipt of water/grain/fodder in their villages, of cattle deaths, late payments for backbreaking work done on relief sites, low payments of the work done. According to the government drought is a ?condition of deficient rainfall coupled with a significant fall in agriculture output, falling to below 37% of the normal output or production.? According to Madhya Pradesh Gazette, the state government declared a drought in all seven tehsils of Shivpuri district. This decision was based on the indicators established by the government.
The government has indicated a number of activities to tackle the situation and reduce misery and hardship of the people but such activities are of no use, as they are not been implemented. The government has been asked to take action without any further delay for providing relief to the people. Public Hearing is becoming one of the most important and effective means of justice in India. The importance of the public hearing can be traced as one of the means for justice in the contemporary society when there is a huge hue and cry about construction of large dams in India like the Sadar Sarovar Project, Polavasamhnb Dam as a result of which very large section of the people living in the area nearby the dams are getting displaced and if we see the data's and statistics it would be quite evident that the majority of these people are very poor and are living hand to mouth. So, for these matters public hearing can prove a beneficial method of seeking justice.
Public hearing also helps in making people believe in the delivery of justice in India, which would work in the field of legitimization of law in India, which has been a major cause of the crises in the Indian legal system.
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