Till a few years ago, the common person faced several difficulties in getting simple services like income certificate, caste certificate and vehicle or land registrations. Complicated government processes, unreliable timelines, difficulties in contacting the right officer were the common pain points. Middlemen and alternative channels created corruption and reduced faith in government processes and systems. Then came the Right to Services (RTS) Act, which changed everything.
Public service delivery has moved from ‘what Government can offer’ to ‘what citizens’ expect from government. The government now views citizens as ‘clients or customers’. This is a paradigm shift from the earlier approaches wherein citizens were viewed as beneficiaries of the government.
Today, nearly 20 States and one Union Territory have enacted the RTS Act. The Act empowers citizens to get time-bound services that are notified by State government departments. It enables citizens to take legal recourse and hold officers accountable for failure or delay in providing services within stipulated time limits. The erring officer can be penalised (Rs 20-10,000 depending on the legislation) and a compensation (as decided by competent authority) is paid to the citizen for the hardships faced.
The Act aims at providing ‘Government to Citizen Services’ from different departments in a time-bound manner leading to greater government-citizen accountability, eliminates corruption, and ensures transparent processes and effective use of public resources.
With the introduction of new public management systems in India during the 1990s, the Central government adopted a series of reforms to bridge the gap between citizens and government. The Right to Services Act, thus, has its genesis in the Citizen’s Charter introduced by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG), Government of India, in 1997.
The Citizen’s Charter envisaged excellence in governance through transparent and accessible services while reducing red tape and delays. Till April 2006, 111 Citizen’s Charters had been formulated by the Central ministries/departments/organisations and 668 by various agencies of State governments and administrations of UTs.
This was followed by the implementation of ‘Sevottam,’ (Seva: Service, Uttam: Excellent; translated as excellence in service delivery) – a Quality Management System (QMS) adopted by Central and State governments in 2005. Powered by Indian Standard (IS) 15700:2005, by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Sevottam is a combination of Citizen’s Charter of the UK and Malcolm Baldrige quality system of the US.
The service delivery framework of Sevottam is characterised by Citizen’s Charters – their implementation, regular monitoring and review; delivery capability enhancement – customers, employees and infrastructure; and a mechanism for public grievances – receipt, redress and prevention. Forty-one Central organisations were certified from 2010 to 2013.
Citizen’s Charters and Sevottam thus created a ‘Citizen First’ approach and sensitised government officials towards timely delivery of services. However, the core aspects of good governance – accountability, responsibility and transparency – were clearly not fixed. As a result, a need for a legal system was felt to ensure excellence in public service delivery.
The RTS Act creates a synergy with public disclosure legislation, grievance redressal system of Central government (CPGRAMS), Right to Information Act (2005) and Lokpal Bill.
Right to Services Act
Madhya Pradesh became the first State to enact the path-breaking Madhya Pradesh Service Guarantee Act, 2010 followed by Bihar. Punjab, Karnataka, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Assam, Goa, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Mizoram and Jharkhand followed suit.
Karnataka became a pioneer in devising an effective service delivery mechanism, ‘Sakala – No more delays – We deliver on time,’ which won the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration in 2014. Riding high on the innovative initiatives by the State governments, the Right to Services Act has emerged as a game-changer in public service delivery.
The success of RTS Act can be attributed to the leadership powered by technology, business process engineering backed by change-agent human resources and effective information and communication campaigns.
Leadership: States, which have received proactive support from the respective Chief Ministers and driven by senior officials of State administrative and legal departments continue to perform remarkably.
Technology: Investment in IT-enabled infrastructure, use of e-governance platforms like e-districts and development of custom-made software forms the cornerstone for effective service delivery. Karnataka and Maharashtra pioneered service delivery through mobile platforms. Karnataka has a call centre, which ensures a feedback loop from citizens (including illiterate citizens).
Business Process Reengineering: Most of the States enforcing the RTS Act shifted from system-centricity to citizen-centricity through the introduction of robust business process reengineering. The traditional file-based systems were replaced with ERP-based systems.
Human Resources: Capacity-building programmes for officials are an essential element for process training as well as computer skills upgradation.
Information, Education and Communication: Awareness on the RTS Act, its significance and role have to be communicated through various mediums to improve citizen participation.
An underlying success has been the enactment and implementation of the RTS Act in letter and spirit, impacting greater service delivery in major departments such as revenue, home, tax, rural development and panchayat raj. Evaluation studies in MP, Karnataka, UP, Rajasthan and Bihar have indicated that the implementation of the Act has improved accountability, transparency; timeliness of public services besides reducing the role of middlemen.
Despite the Citizen’s Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill 2011, piloted in the Lok Sabha in December 2011, not being enacted, States could record considerable progress in efficent public service delivery.
(Dr Shahaida P is Associate Professor – Marketing and Ramya Chitrapu is Research Fellow, Administrative Staff College of India)