February 2011

Institutionalising efficiency

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The proposed right to services legislation in some states of the country will make government officers pay for delay in service delivery. Will it really work?

By Pratap Vikram Singh

The experience of a common man while availing services to a government office, be it bank, utility departments or a local hospital, has not always been positive.  This is unlike the private sector companies, which understand and value their customers, and where the productivity and innovation are the key focus areas, One always wishes if the attitude of the person sitting on the other side of the desk will change ever. It hasn’t changed much in the last 63 years of independence.  The White conceded freedom to India and left the country after 1947, but their very seats were occupied by natives, who still continue to follow the legacy left by the British.

The genesis

In United Kingdom, Prime Minister, John Major initiated a political resolution for improving the public services in July 1991, which is popularly called as Citizen’s Charter. The Charter   aimed at making the administration accountable and citizen centric, ensuring transparency and easy access to information. It also puts forth measures to cleanse and motivate civil servants, besides adopting a stakeholder approach.

Like many other countries across the globe, India too adopted the Citizen’s Charter approach to reform the legacy of the Raj era. However, the public administration in India didn’t go far in transforming itself, as UK and many other countries did.

Proposed legislation

In a move towards institutionalising citizens’ charter and cementing it under a legislative framework in the country, the Executive in some of the Indian states are trying to push through legislation on ‘Right to Services’, which would guarantee the delivery of government services within a stipulated time frame.

It would be similar to some of flagship legislations, having a direct impact on governance [in terms of transparency and accountability], akin Right to Information and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme.  It would seek to weed out the inefficiency and delay in decision making and establish accountability and efficiency in governance.


Anurag Jain
Secretary to Chief Minister & Secretary, Dept of Information Technology, Govet of Madhya Pradesh

 ” Almost 691277 applications were received in November 2010 out of which 680611 were disposed on time. In December, 508047 applications were received & 493270 were timely
disposed”


Let us consider the law proposed by the states like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, as the basic structure of the right to services, deliberately ignoring the variations in one or the other provision. In a typical case of non compliance, where the designated official is not able to deliver the services in time, there are provisions under which an applicant can go to a ‘first appellate’ authority, which would look into the matter and take a decision within a fixed timeframe [the duration varies from service to services and state to state.

If the first appellate fails to do so, or if the applicant seeks to pursue his case further, he or she can make an appeal to the second appellate authority, who has to again dispose the case in a pre-scheduled duration.

Failing to deliver the service on time, the designated official would be liable to punishment The failing officers would be penalised with deduction of Rs 250 or Rs 500 (varying from state to state), each day from his/her own salary. If the first appellate officer fails to ensure delivery of services, without valid reasons, he will be liable for a fine of minimum Rs 500 per day, but the total fine would not to exceed the limit of Rs 5000.

For the over all administration and management of work under the legislation, the law also proposes to set up a Public Service Delivery Commission.

The legislation intends to sensitise the public officials towards pro-actively responding to the citizen’s demands.  It aims to bring a cultural transformation in the state-citizen interface. The enactment would stimulate the disposal of cases in a faster manner thereby saving citizens’ time and resources.

Pre-independence, the Indian Civil Servants (ICS) were not accountable to the elected representatives. Later, in the independent India, the civil servants were made accountable to the people’s representatives. However, over the years, the political masters and the civil servants have grown a quid pro quo like situation where both take good care of each other. The given legislative measure would provide the reigns into the hands of citizens, while dealing with   the nexus between political executives and the bureaucracy.

Speaking on the proposed RTS legislation, B Shadrach, Executive Director, Telecentre.org Foundation said, “This would make citizens aware of their rights. However, the institutions that practice right to services would need to re-engineer its processes to respond to active demand from citizens from that of a passive demand that exists today.”


 B. Shadrach
Executive Director, Telecentre.org Foundation

“The institutions that practice RTS would need to re-engineer its processes to respond to active demand from citizens from that of a passive demand that exists today.”


Its adoption

Unfortunately, at the Central Government level, even draft legislation on right to services is yet to see the light of the day. Nevertheless, taking one step ahead towards good governance, Madhya Pradesh has become the pioneer state to bring such the legislation on right to services, called as the Madhya Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Act / Lok Seva Adhiniyam, 2010.  It is followed by the state of Bihar, which claims to be working on a much more ‘comprehensive’ legislation that would cover as many as 15 departments and more than 60 services.  Punjab, too, is planning to bring an ordinance   on the same.

On the other hand, Maharashtra, is working on some what different legislations, in comparison to above mentioned states. It is planning to come up with ‘Mandatory Electronic Delivery of Services Bill’ to deliver the services within a stipulated timeframe but strictly through the electronic channel. The most recent draft IT Policy of the state government envisions to e-Enable almost every government department under the state authority and mandate them for delivering their services in an online fashion, a step which would be a boon for many people who have to do the rounds and rounds to a government office at the block or at the district level for availing basic government to citizen services.

Similarly, at the Centre, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication and IT too, is working on similar draft legislation on electronic service delivery.

MP Public Services Guarantee Act 2010

In Madhya Pradesh, the delay in delivery of services related with education [like approval, non approval of scholarship], land records and mutation and trade licenses and the subsequent harassment of citizens sought the attention of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Taking an early cognizance of the citizen harassment and friction in the state – citizen interface, the state dallied forth for  MP Public Services Guarantee Act 2010.

Previously, as per some state government officials, the Chief Secretary of the state used to monitor the delivery of services offered by the various  departments. Eight years back, a citizen’s charter was set up for reviewing the performance of the various departments.This stock taking and monitoring by the then Chief Secretary was not continued further by his successors. The  introduction of legislation causing change in the status quo, was the result of  the conviction at the top most level in this central Indian state.

One of the most unique aspects of the MP Public Services Provider Guarantee  Act is that the amount by which the designated non compliant official would be  penalised, the same amount would be given to the concerned applicant in form  of compensation. “The process to deduct the fine amount from the guilty officers has been fixed and at the same time the applicant will get the  compensation within a period of 30 days,” Anurag Jain, Secretary, Department  of Information Technology said. The Act covers nine departments and 26  services across the state.

He added: “The legislation intends to create an ambience for speedy disposal of  applications and faster delivery of services to the citizens.” He further informed  that almost 6,91,277 applications were received in the month November 2010 out of which 6,80,611 were disposed of by providing services  on time. In December, 5,08,047 applications were received out of which  4,93,270 were timely disposed.

Bihar Right to Services Bill 2011

In Bihar, the  state government is quite serious for a transformation in the socio-political and  economic landscape of the state. Ashish Bose, the economic analyst, had coined  the term BIMARU for the under performing state which included the  states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. However, having  scored the highest GDP growth at 16.59 percent [in 2008-09] and taking  a series of initiatives in reforming governance in the state, one might  have to re-think the appropriateness of calling the state as BIMARU.

Following  a legislation to curb corruption among the public officials in the state – Bihar Special Courts Act 2009, which goes to the extent of confiscating the property  of arrested held public servant even in trial stage, the state government is  working on the draft bill on ‘Right to Services’ to establish accountability and  efficiency in the public administration. Government is planning to table the Bill  in the budget session of the state assembly.

The Bihar government plans to  widen the scope and coverage of service delivery Act, encompassing more than  15 departments and at least 60 services. Quite interestingly, the state government is also planning to include ‘tatkal services’ under the proposed  legislation. The Act will have provisions for delivery of services in a much  lesser time, charging higher fee from the applicant. For example, it could apply  on obtaining a new driving license or caste certifi- cate, much before the  stipulated timeframe.

It has also been learned that for an impartial overseeing  and monitoring of the Act, the state government is considering setting up  Public Service Delivery Commission, where in the Commissioner and other officials would be recruited  from outside the government, on the lines of the various State Information Commissions.

Deepak Kumar, Principal Secretary, Department of General Administration,  said, “Our agenda is zero tolerance while dealing with inefficiency and  corruption within the government.” He added: “Our ultimate objective is to  motivate officials to be prompt and deliver information and services well within  the deadlines.”

The umbrella of services would include, inter alia, distribution of certificates,  issuing of trade licenses, processing of police verification  for passport and caste certificates. The state is also deputing IT managers at the district level and  IT assistants at the block level to look after the delivery of services and its  subsequent monitoring.

We need to establish accountability in government

What does the proposedlegislation on right to Services aims to achieve in Bihar?

The Right to Services would accelerate the decision making process in the  government and would increase the administrative efficiency, since lot of  malpractices and corruption prop up in the system because of the late decision making in the government. The legislation will cover every government  department and public servant under its purview and it would go a long way in  establishing the accountability of the public servants.

can you tell us briefly about the state of proposed legislation on right to Services?

The draft of the right to services legislation will be approved by the cabinet and  then would be tabled in the state assembly in the coming Budget session. The  regulatory body and the nature of penalties are being prepared in the draft.  Various thoughts are under consideration varying from financial penalties  ranging from `500 to `5000 and could go up to re-consideration of official’s  promotion.

What would be the measurable impact of rTS?

During the British Raj, the work load was quite less. The public interface of the  government was too little as compared to these days situation. The rules,  norms and regulations need a lot of improvement. This Act would be milestone  in fixing accountability, since before you catch a corrupt official you need to  put in place such systems through which the accountability is clearly defined.

Punjab Right to Services Bill 2011

In queue, Punjab too is planning to bring an ordinance on right to services in  not more than a month. The state Administrative Reforms Commission, which  was entrusted to come up with recommendations on the same, has given some  “useful suggestions” to the state government.

Articulating the objective of the enactment, Dr Pramod Kumar, Chairman,  Punjab Administrative Reforms Commission said, “I think it is more than a tool  to fight corruption, it the tool to ensure some basic rights of the citizens- which  includes Right to Identity, Right to Dignity and Right to Efficiency.” He said it is  quite significant to put faith in citizenry. The state has already taken away the criteria of asking to citizens for affidavits to prove their identity and  authenticity of the documents. There are specific sections under the Indian  penal Code – IPC Section 199 & 200 – which deals with claims under the self declaration.

The state also aims to set up more than 600 community police stations – which  would have different teams for  counseling on    domestic affairs; economic offences [manned by chartered accountants and people from finance and  banking sector], non residential Indians, and women cell.

Besides, a citizen can file a complain online to a police station and the  concerned cop will be required to respond to it within seven days period, taking  a clear decision, whether the complain is being considered for First Information Report (FIR) or it has been just updated in the daily dairy report.  Since the decision taken by the cops would be recorded online, they will be  under constant scanner and can be held responsible for a particular decision,  non suiting in the best interest of the applicant. Moreover, ensuring the right to efficiency, the government is working upon reducing the response time and timely delivery of information and services to the citizens. In case of non  compliance, there is provision in the proposed state law of penalising the  official for Rs 250 per day. Additionally, the performance under the case  disposal would also be linked to performance audit of the civil servants.

Maharashtra Mandatory Electronic Delivery of Services Bill

Maharashtra’s Mandatory Electronic Delivery of Services Bill would take the  state ahead from the current model of providing ‘single window’ service  delivery to ‘no window’ service delivery, which means a citizen may not really  required to go to a particular government office or an outlet to avail G-2-C  services. Reportedly, although the focus of the Act would be more on providing  services to citizens in an electronic mode, there would also be some  provisions for setting up the accountability into the state government  functionary, as is the case with RTS in the respective states.

The state would  thus eliminate the human interface in the G-2-C interactions. Now, a person  living in rural area may no more be needed to come to a district head quarter or  a block office to avail basic government services. He can drop in to any of  the tele centres [the common services centre or to the Panchayati Raj kiosk-  powered by broadband internet] in his vicinity and avail the services while  paying a small amount of money.

“The legislation would change the way public   delivery of services function,” Vijayalakshmi Bidari Prasanna, Director,  Department of IT, Government of Maharashtra said. She explained that there  are three stages of e-Government advancement, which  includes: informative, transactional and integrated.
Currently, various departments under the state government are at different  level of e-Government.

Through this Act, the state aims to attain the third and topmost level of  e-Government – that is integrated level of e-Government, where in the state  departments can share and interact through a complete back end integration. She pointed that the state is also planning to constitute an Electronic Service  Delivery Commission for the effective service facilitation and monitoring.  Moreover, the IT Department is also working on to include provisions which would enable the authorities to be receptive on taking suggestions and requests  from citizens in terms of its online presence.

Besides, every government office [department] will have Electronic Service  Delivery Officer to look after the processing and disposal of the online  application requests. In terms of outcomes, Prasanna is quite confident that the Act would be much more impactful than the Right to Information. The Department of IT aspires to make available as many number of services online  as many other countries of globe like Singapore and South Korea do, where 300  to 400 online services are being availed by the citizens. “We are targeting to offer at least 100 services online in five years down the line,” she averred.

EDS Bill of Government of India

Kapil Sibbal, Union Minister for Telecom and Information Technology has  recently announced a hundred day action plan for its Ministry, which includes  drafting of the Electronic Service Delivery Bill by the Department of IT. The Bill,  when passed, would put an obligation on the various central government  ministries and departments to digitise and provide most of the services online,  in a timely phased manner.

ICT for right to services

The monitoring of the disposal of cases within stipulated time frame by the  designated official, disposal of cases on the level of the first and second  appellate authorities and generation of real time management information  system (MIS) reports, would be much more easier through leveraging the  information technology (IT). In MP, the state government is using IT for generation of MIS reports, however in an off line mode. As per the state IT  department, it will very soon start work on the real time data entry and MIS  report generation. In Bihar, the draft legislation on right to services also  envisages

Challenges

While there have been rounds of applause from many corners of the country on  having such a legislation, there is another school of thought which abstains  from advocating addition of one more legislation to the library of laws and  enactments in the country. Amita Singh, Professor & Chair, Centre for the Study  of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University put forth: “What  citizens need right now is simplification of regulations. More regulations in the  area of provisions for basic services is a symptom of a failing leadership even  though it appears on the surface as another right for empowering ordinary people.”

This school of thought cautions that the law might delay further, the already  constrained access to justice as the bureaucracy would now legitimately delay  as per the provisions of 30 and 60 days to appeal. A re-appeal would devastate  an ordinary citizen seeking, medical, livelihood, financial support, educational  assistance, inter alia. “The tendency to make laws should stop now and the  ability to lead within the enormous library of laws should now be enhanced to  save this Republic from the white elephant of governance,” she opined.

According to Shadrach, “The ‘actors’ themselves pose greater challenges.” He  points out to the nexus between the legislature, executive and public service  authorities that prevail across the country and which continue to pose a greater challenge. The moral deficit in the private sector too will be a huge challenge  when it comes to services, for a good majority of services are dealt with by the  private sector today. He added: To add to all these, if the media and the civil  society fail to respond to the needs, these efforts would only be futile exercises  conducted in a vacuum.

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