Interactive policy-making, citizen panels, citizen charters, public facilitation centres and other forms are being used to enhance public interface. In Telangana, several welfare programmes such as Kalyana Lakshmi, Shaadi Mubarak, Aasara pensions, Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Bima, sheep distribution, residential school education and KCR Kits are public interface measures.
The Panchayati Raj Act aims to ensure people’s participation to bring the desired qualitative change in village administration. The Municipal Act envisages that all certificates as required from the municipalities such as birth, death, land use, child name inclusion in birth certificates and corrections in the certificates must be issued online in a time-bound manner. All these require the public to get in touch with public servants at least once in a while. The proposed Revenue Act aims to reduce corruption that is widely prevalent today in the revenue department.
The conference of Chief Ministers on May 24, 1997, presided over by then Prime Minister IK Gujral discussed effective and responsive government. The conference recognised the growing doubts about the accountability, effectiveness and moral standards of administration and the need to move together to justify the trust of the people in governments both at the Centre and States.
As resolved in the conference, the government envisaged citizens’ charter, redressal of public grievances, review of laws, regulations and procedures as well as people’s participation and decentralisation and devolution of powers. Transparency and Right to Information envisaged a legislation for Freedom of Information. As part of improving the performance and integrity of the public service, the conference noted that people-friendly and effective administration depends on cleansing of civil services at all levels.
It also realised that there was considerable frustration and dissatisfaction among the people, especially the weaker sections, about the apathy, irresponsiveness and lack of accountability of public servants. There was increasing anxiety about growing instances of corruption and criminalisation in public life and administration. Against this background, two decades ago, the State and Central governments were involved in some manner or the other, in providing public services. We may take a cue from the conference.
Apart from an overall lack of transparency and accountability in the system, most government delivery systems in the country suffer from ad hocism and delay. It is, therefore, important to identify and publicise the standards of services and time limits that the public can reasonably expect, particularly in critical activities with a public interface.
One of the important means of ensuring accountability and transparency in the agencies engaged in providing services to the people, or enforcing laws and regulations, is to organise their actions around the concept of Citizens’ Charter. This is part of a national movement in countries like the UK and Malaysia where it lays out the citizen’s entitlement to public services and responsive administration of regulations. It places the citizen at the centre of administration instead of making her a passive recipient of services rendered indifferently.
The Citizens’ Charter is based on the principle of wide publicity of standards of performance of public agencies and local bodies; assured quality of service; access to information and helpfulness of staff; choice and consultation with the citizens; simplified and convenient procedure for receipt and acknowledgement of complaints; time-bound redressal of grievances and provision for independent scrutiny of performance with the involvement of citizen groups.
While it is not justifiable, it represents the moral and democratic commitment of the government to the service of the public. To accomplish this task, each government department should work out its own Citizens’ Charter and related actions in terms of the nature of work and, more importantly, the groups of clients or members of the public, geographical concept, nature of regulatory function and paid-for services.
It should also evolve a plan containing both long and short-term targets for improved public satisfaction and efficient performance through systems’ improvements, technological and information inputs, staff orientation, workplace changes, partnership with citizen groups, voluntary agencies and the corporate sector. An in-built machinery must be set up in each department for auditing and periodic monitoring of performance with reference to the charter principles and to attend to the capacity-building and orientation of the staff.
Public grievances primarily arise out of the inaccessibility of officials’ failure to even acknowledge applications, non-enforcement of any kind of time limits and unsympathetic attitude of officials at various levels. Adequate facilities are often not available in public offices for reception of the public seeking various types of information or with various queries and demands of services. Arrangements for seating and waiting, water supply and sanitation, protection from rain, sun, etc, are insufficient or non-existent in public offices.
There are often no display boards relating to information desired by the public on the location of offices and facilities, various procedures involved, fees, submission of forms, time taken in disposal. The names of grievance redressal officers are not often widely published, and these officers are also not accessible as stipulated to meet the public. In big cities, citizens are often required to travel long distances to visit offices due to lack of decentralised locations at the ward level for providing information on dealing with complaints. Villagers face great problems in approaching the tehsil and district offices for getting copies of records, licences, payments and applications under various government schemes.
Measures for Improvement
A number of measures could be considered for immediate improvement. The language and tone of application forms should be user-friendly and they should widely available, including at post offices. Every public servant should be available during working hours to respond to the public in person or on phone at least at a specified time. Every application or petition should be acknowledged. They should also carry such a slip for future response. Time limits should be fixed for approval or rejection of applications.
The real issue, however, is the need to bring about a total change in the attitude of public servants towards redressal of public grievance at all levels and to pinpoint responsibility for action on the grievance of the people. An effective way of ensuring prompt redressal of public grievance would be establishing citizen information centres and public facilitation centres. Steps to promote widespread and easy access of people in rural and urban areas to information on public services, government schemes have to be initiated. This will ensure administration is more effective and responsive, and will also help in preventing corruption and harassment to the common people.
(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)