KOCHI: The state government on Wednesday submitted before the Kerala High Court that the extension of tenure of the Ombudsmen for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) cannot be claimed as a matter of right and the prerogative lies with the government.
The state filed the counter-affidavit in response to a batch of petitions filed by K Chenthamarakshan, former ombudsman for MGNREGS, Ernakulam district, and ombudsmen for Palakkad, Wayanad, Kozhikode and Pathanamthitta districts challenging the government order not to extend their tenure.
Senior government pleader Viju Abraham submitted that the government was not inclined to extending the tenure of Ombudsmen beyond 65 years of age and the term of the other incumbents expires after two years from the date of joining duty. The tenure of appointment will be two years or up to the attainment of 65 years of age, if the state government so desires the tenure can be extended to one year. The petitioners have crossed the age of 65. The extension of tenure is optional and not mandatory on the part of the government as the petitioners were appointed by the state government, the affidavit stated.
The institution of Ombudsman was only a supplementary arrangement under the scheme to address the need for grievance redressal in addition to that of the district programme coordinators. It was evidenced by the fact that grievance redressal was entrusted with the district programme coordinator and not the Ombudsman under the Act of 2005. The institution of Ombudsman was only a supplementary arrangement to strengthen the grievance redressal under the scheme. The offices of ombudsmen are not part of the 2005 Act. “The action of the government, in placing District Collector in charge of the Office of the Ombudsman, in the interim period is not open to challenge. Needless to say, on the appointment of a new batch of Ombudsmen, the District Collectors will be relieved of their additional charge of the office of the Ombudsmen,” it submitted.
Bringing the office of the Ombudsmen under the control of the District Collector as an interim arrangement will not defeat any purpose of the Act or the scheme.
The District Collector is also the District Magistrate and holds an office of high integrity.
For relieving Ombudsmen on completion of appointed tenure, recommendation of the Selection Committee is not warranted, the state submitted.