Among the many privileges enjoyed by ruling party leaders in Punjab, now comes ‘right to instant service’ too. Beating the government’s own Right to Service Act at timely delivery of services, an application for addition of new weapon was allowed in Moga district even a day before it was submitted at the suwidha centre!
The exception was not for the “aam aadmi” but senior vicepresident of Moga district of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and president of nagar council of Kot Ise Khan, Ashwani Kumar, a selfprofessed supporter of agriculture minister Tota Singh on his Facebook page.
As per records of the Suwidha centre, Kumar had applied for addition of a .12 bore gun on August 27, 2014. But the then district magistrate of Moga, PS Gill, allowed the addition on August 26 on a letter written by Kumar to him. The noting on the file says “addition of .12 bore is allowed” with Gill’s signatures. This when Kumar’s application was received and stamped by the DM’s office a day later. Gill, now municipal commissioner of Patiala, says the date on his signatures of August 26 was “just a mistake”. “No favour was granted. Addition of a weapon is usually prompt and no police verification is needed as the person already has a weapon,” he says.
In case of yet another Akali leader Devinder Singh Rania, his arms licence was renewed the same day. Rania, whose brother is member of the SGPC, had applied at the suwidha centre for renewal of his licence on September 9, 2014. The letter issued by the office of the district magistrate lists same date for delivery of service, including inspection by a ACG of his two arms, a .12 bore gun and a .32 bore revolver. In both the cases, the DM used his prerogative of dispensing with need for police verification. The RTS Act allows 22 days to the home department for renewing the licence, including 15 days for police verification and seven days for addition/deletion of a weapon.
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These two are among the few who got more-than-prompt delivery of service. In the list of 47 cases submitted by the Moga additional district magistrate (ADM) to the Punjab Right to Service Commissioner SM Sharma who had sought a report on pendency of armsrelated cases during hearing on complaint of RTI activist HS Hundal, a majority had delay way beyond the timelines set by the commission. It was even 119 days in one case and in 10 other, above 60 days. Hundal had applied for addition of weapon in March 2014 but it was done after 5 months in August against a timeline of 7 days. In its order, the commission had even imposed a penalty of Rs 5000 on Moga ADM Arvinderpal Singh Sandhu.
“Licences are issued and renewed at whims and fancies of DMs and ADMs. It smacks of favouritism and corruption. In seven other cases, I have written to the commission that the service has not been delivered or there is an inordinate delay of even up nine months. Most government offices do not maintain a register for services applied and disposed. So how are pendency figures of services being calculated,” questions Hundal.
Chief commissioner of Right to Service commission, SC Agrawal, agrees issuing of arms licence and its renewal does have an element of discretion. “The DM uses his judgment to decide on these cases. A parliamentary committee is looking into the matter but no guidelines have been framed. There are 5 lakh arms licences in Punjab. Nearly one-third licences come up for renewal every year. Overall, 3 crore services are being delivered to people of Punjab in a year by various government departments. Of these, 99 percent are meeting the timeline. As for maintaining of registers, most of the work is computerised and each application received at suwidha centre, fard kendra or sanjh kendra is received by the system and it continues to calculate the delay till the service is delivered. The system is by and large fairly reliable. Had it not been so, our list of pendency and appeals for nondelivery of services would have piled up,” Agrawal said.
According to the commission, the current pendency is less than one percent. The total number of applications received in April this year were 25.33 lakh and the pendency of cases beyond timeline just 51170. The rest are all within the timeline, says the commission.