By Neha Mahal (CDHR)
(From our Bulletin archives: originally published in June 2013)
Petty corruption experienced by people in accessing basic and day-to-day public services from the government largely forms the basis of anti-corruption sentiments among people in India. A survey conducted jointly by Transparency International India and Centre for Media Studies in 2008 pointed out that below the poverty line households had paid a total of $ 177 million as bribe in 2007 alone to avail of basic public services such as public distribution system, education, water supply, electricity, health.
Despite making several public policies for bringing progress to people what fails them is inefficiency and corruption at the level of delivery. Lack of accountability and reliability in delivery of public goods and services poses problem for citizens who as a result fail to avail themselves of basic amenities and standard of life and hence lose out on development. Therefore, in response to tackle such widespread corruption and lethargy in public service delivery across India, the government had tabled ‘The Rights of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and redressal of their grievance bill 2011’ in parliament in 2012.
The bill is a step forward in the direction of removing the sluggishness which infests the public delivery system in India by introducing accountability and responsibility in governance. It will establish a mechanism in every department, organization or scheme having public interface under centre, state or Union Territory for timely delivery of public goods and services. In case of non-delivery and other malpractices, the bill allows the citizen to seek grievance redressal through making complaint at several levels thus creating the onus on public officers to assure provision of services and goods.
This bill makes it a right for citizens to demand goods and services meant for them from all the state and central agencies involved in any kind of public delivery system. Hence it incorporates the concept of right to development, which comprises availability, accessibility, and acceptability of goods and services and state’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill these rights. Therefore it has the scope of bringing in equity and accountability in allocation of resources the lack of which is the basic cause for high inequality in India.
This bill was introduced by the government in 2011 when anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare had demanded that a citizen’s charter with compulsory penal provisions be introduced to curb pervasive corruption that citizens experience at the level of delivery of resources. However, the concept of Citizen Charter is not new in India. It was first introduced in India in 1997 during a meeting of Chief Ministers of states and Union Territories presided over by then PM I.K Gujral when an ‘Action Plan for Effective and Responsive Government was adopted. Under this initiative, citizens’ charters were brought in by several public service and goods delivery sectors such as railways, public distribution system and posts.
At present, more than 600 Citizens Charters have been introduced by various central and state government agencies. Although, the existing Citizens charters of many agencies and department generally act only as the information provider regarding their functions. They have no guideline on accountability in case of non-compliance or violation in delivering services to people. Hence, they do not fulfill the criteria of enforcing accountability in governance which is the basis of introducing citizens charter.
Therefore, the introduction of redressal of the grievances in this bill gives some teeth to the charter which can set the tone for an improved delivery system. However, this bill cannot in itself pave the way for revamping the system. Such policies are made at the highest level of government without much participation of the departments or agencies at the end of the chain which actually have public interface. Therefore, they may not relate with the values and spirit behind the initiative which can hamper its performance and implementation because it could be taken as just another direction from above.
Hence, even when this bill is passed by the parliament; it may not miraculously solve the problem of accessing public resources. Its implementation will have to be accompanied with persistent efforts to change attitudes among the bureaucracy and citizens alike about the significance and value it holds in providing the benefits of development to people. The lax and complacent mindset of public officers in public interface sectors breeds corruption and causes immense difficulties to the people in maintaining even basic standard of life. Therefore enhancing their skills and gradually removing their resistance through intensive training and awareness creation initiatives would as important as the bill itself in bringing effective results. Equally important is the empowerment of other stakeholders i.e. citizens. Relentless and continuous efforts at increasing the public knowledge about such initiatives can go a long way in creating a sense of entitlement for rightfully claiming and accessing what is due to them. This last milestone can thus invigorate the very last and the most important tier of responsible governance plan by creating an environment of assertiveness on the part of people and enforcing responsiveness on government.