For any civil society intelligentsia team or for that matter for their vociferous supporters, it should be of utmost priority to see that citizen charters are in place in all government departments and public sector undertakings as an effective redressal mechanism. In fact, its importance was discussed over two decades ago in the Chief Ministers’ Conference presided over by then Prime Minister IK Gujral on May 24, 1997.
A plan for drafting the citizen charters on a priority was prominently included in the Nine-Point Action Plan of CMs Conference. It was mandatory for all government departments — Centre and State – to formulate citizen charters and initiate an effective public grievance redressal system.
In fact, when feedback was taken 15 years later in January 2011, 24 State governments and Union Territories were in the process of formulating charters. VK Agnihotri, former IAS officer of AP cadre and Rajya Sabha Secretary-General, was responsible for monitoring the implementation of charters as well as redressal mechanism as Secretary to Government of India in the Department of Administrative Reforms.
Formulation of Charters
Soon after the CMs meet of 1997, formulation of charters commenced in departments and offices, to begin with in those that had a large public interface. It was based on a consultative process, involving different stakeholders, specifying standards of service and time limits that the public can reasonably expect. This helped in improving the quality of administration and providing a responsive interface between the citizen and the public services from the government. The process also placed the citizen at the centre of administration instead of making her a passive recipient of services rendered indifferently with no concern for quality, timeliness or cost.
The citizen charter is a document prepared by the service provider in a clear and precise manner about the quality and method of delivery of services to the users (citizens). The purpose is to improve the quality of service to the public, give people more choices, tell them what kind of service to expect from government departments and make sure they know what to do if something goes wrong in the process of service delivery.
The six principles of citizen charter are Published Standards, Openness and Information, Choice and Consultation, Courtesy and Helpfulness, Redress when things go wrong and Value for Money. Provision for independent scrutiny of actual implementation with the involvement of citizen groups is the basic character of charters. The charter would carry a moral commitment of the government and provide a framework under which public services could be evaluated.
Values and Mindset
Implementation of charters by the respective organisations is a major task, covering vast areas and staff. It, therefore, needs a monumental and sustained effort at training, orientation, publicity and awareness building, as well as regular and honest evaluation to transform the charter from a piece of paper into an instrument for changing long-entrenched values and mindset. Creating a platform of interests between the service provider and its users is the first step, balancing the strengths and constraints of the former against the reasonable expectations of the latter is the next.
In the then united Andhra Pradesh, for a while, remarkable work was done in this regard. Formulation of charters and grievance redressal mechanism was a priority item. The Dr MCR HRD Institute, the premier training centre for capacity and capability building of State government employees, was the platform and coordinator to formulate charters. The institute was entrusted with the work of conducting departmental workshops for select departments to familiarise them with the principles and modalities of preparing citizen charters. It was the personal initiative of then Director General PVRK Prasad, a senior IAS officer, to put the plan into action.
The government considered the draft charters prepared in the institute and an informal consultation process was started by the minister concerned, secretary and head of department with the stakeholders. A follow-up workshop was organised in the institute within a fortnight where the minister concerned along with his senior officials interacted formally with the representatives of the stakeholders. The department firmed up the draft in the next one week. At this stage, the department concerned issued a public notification through print and electronic media indicating the contents of the proposed citizen charter and inviting suggestions from the public on the specific points to be covered.
Plans in Place
Simultaneously, the department (coinciding with the publication for suggestions from the public) informally started implementing the contents of the charter to get feedback on any practical problems faced in the implementation. Within three months of the original notification calling for suggestions from the public, the final draft was prepared, approved and issued by the government.
Citizen Charters were rolled out in several departments to begin with. Among them, Road Transport Authority, Department of Employment and Training, Hyderabad Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board, transco and four discoms, Registration and Stamps, Municipal Administration, Commercial Taxes and Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad implemented them initially. The Centre for Good Governance helped in preparing a roadmap for its implementation and was building awareness among user groups. It’s better if the process starts again and charters are in place in all the government departments and public sector undertakings in the State.
The real issue 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 grievances of the people. This is dependent internally on measures to improve the levels of motivation and morale of staff through rewards for good work and punishment for deliberate negligence. The senior officers should constantly supervise the staff to improve their performance consistently.
(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)