‘The government’s Citizens Charter Bill is a great breakthrough’

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by ejazr, Dec 26, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    ‘The government’s Citizens Charter Bill is a great breakthrough’

    THE CABINET has cleared the Citizens Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill and tabled it in Parliament. Activist Nikhil Dey tells Shoma Chaudhury why this Bill is a historic opportunity and why it must not be held hostage to Jan Lokpal politics.

    The government has tabled the Citizens Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill in Parliament. What do you think about it?
    The Bill in Parliament is a great breakthrough and a really historic opportunity to push through a very progressive and crucial piece of legislation that will change the quality of our democracy in unimaginably positive ways. It is not a magic wand but a huge first step. It will mobilise many more people than even the RTI did and will force our administration face to face with the people not just in a million but a billion ways. People don’t have a full sense yet of how much this legislation has granted and our fingers are crossed that the bulk of it goes through, so we can concentrate on just getting a few necessary correctives pushed in.

    Team Anna is vociferously opposed to this Grievance Redressal Bill and insists the mechanism should be under the Lokpal. Why do you feel their approach won’t work?
    What people don’t seem to realise is that if we get the Jan Lokpal Bill, we are basically going to get a very powerful police and head towards becoming a police State. Even if we assume all of it works to perfection, what it will essentially do is triple our police stations from 13,500 to 40,000. You can imagine the number of staff that will require and just ask yourself why would Lokpal officers — or what will essentially be CBI officers at grassroot levels, with all the attendant powers that comes with that post — be any different from any other police station? Unfortunately, what could have been a very strong and focussed conception of curbing bigticket corruption — pushing to create a sharp CBI freed of government control — has instead ballooned into a campaign for an unfeasible catch-all institution.

    But to answer your question, our basic objection to clubbing corruption and grievance under the Lokpal is that the two are very different things and need different approaches. Team Anna has got trapped into one very big mix-up. They are saying that every case of non-delivery of service basically has an act of corruption behind it; that government functionaries don’t deliver services because they want a bribe. Let’s accept their premise to be true for a moment and place all the citizens charters under the Lokpal so they can investigate such crimes. The problem is crime has certain standards. There is a legal definition under the CrPC Act and you have to be able to prove it. Now in investigating that crime, the Lokpal cannot also double up as a redress authority because by its very nature it is a police office, a criminal investigative agency. (Tomorrow if you want to say the Lokpal must also perform medical operations or drive buses, that’s a different question. If that were true, why would we need district collectors, just SPs would have been enough.) Anyway, they are saying they will find out the corruption behind these omissions or if there is repeated violation, they will deem it corruption. I can understand a vigilance machinery within a department being empowered to do that but how a police force can do it is beyond my understanding.

    Also, even after you have gone through the laborious process of proving a crime, it still has to go to the judiciary. Do you know the CBI has 10,000 cases it has finished investigating that are still pending in court? Team Anna says the Lokpal will create special fast-track courts to take on the new cases. How many special judges will you need for that, where will you draw them from? But set aside all those challenges. Even if you assume a best-case scenario of everything working really well, the Lokpal may manage to put a whole bunch of people in jail, and there may be some confiscations, but people’s essential work will not get done. Punishment is not delivery. In an allegation of corruption, you have to prove the corruption; whereas in a case of grievance, from the moment you don’t get something you are entitled to, you are already an aggrieved party. So just ask yourself who in their right mind in this country will go to a police or Lokpal thana and write an FIR, give three witnesses, and go to court to get a ration card, passport, telephone connection or electricity bill? Why would they?

    This is why we are saying that the Citizens Charters and grievance should be under a separate institution. Logic requires one to separate them. And this is why we feel, with a few amendments, the current Bill is very robust. If any actual act or allegation of corruption does come up related to any delivery of public service or grievance, we have absolutely no objection to that complaint being investigated by the Lokpal, Lokayukta or any designated authority. In that sense, we are not opposed to the grievance redressal having links with the Lokpal. We are not even saying don’t have the Lokpal as the premier institution fighting corruption. But if they insist that grievances must be placed under the Lokpal altogether, we would call it fundamentalism.

    Isn’t it true that both Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have been open to placing the citizens charters and grievance redressal mechanism under a separate institution? Why has Team Anna changed that position?
    Yes, by and large, we were in agreement on a lot of this, so I don’t understand why they have changed their tune and are so vociferously against it now. Even the Sense of the House statement had said the issue of citizens charters has to be addressed; it did not specifically say it had to rest under the Lokpal. Besides, even if one quibbled that it did say that, isn’t it more important that a well-thought out and robust structure be created rather than insist on the fine print of the statement? The bottomline of the Sense of the House, the bottomline of Arvind, Prashant, Anna, or us is to deliver to the people. So why such polarisation? Putting grievance under the Lokpal will make both collapse. In fact, I worry that people who actually have cause to fear the coming of the Lokpal would jump at this opportunity to put it all in one basket and say, let’s watch the fun. Let the Lokpal derail itself and implode. Apart from that, it will be a real loss to this country if the Grievance Redressal Bill gets stalled now in the continuing crossfire of the Lokpal debate.

    So how do you read the citizens charters and grievance redressal landscape? What has this Bill got right?
    The Citizens Charters enumerates citizens’ rights across many departments and is a very important step towards better governance. It lays out what every citizen can expect and demand from every government department and in what time frame. Many state governments, in fact, have already gone ahead with passing Delivery of Public Services Acts. But there is a conceptual difference between charters and grievance. In listing what it will do, by implication, the charters exclude everything else. Now you may have a legitimate grievance that falls outside the purview of the charter. So charters will strengthen your hand in some circumstances and weaken you in others. Grievance redressal, on the other hand, flows from the idea that if any citizen has any complaint about the system, that complaint must be heard, addressed and replied to. It may turn out that the complaint was not feasible or not within the power of the government to act on but there still has to be a sunwayi-karowayi (hearing-given, action-taken) process. That is the basic premise of government. The real crisis of government today is not just that it has become corrupt but that it’s become deaf to ordinary citizens. This Bill goes a long way in correcting that.

    We recently did four grievance registration camps in Delhi and more than a 1,000 people turned up. They were complaining about ration cards, getting kids into school, demanding girls’ toilets in schools. But 90 percent of their grievances — even for the most ordinary things — did not fall under the Delhi Public Services Delivery Bill. This is why we need both the citizens charters and a wider concept of governmental obligation. The current Bill tabled in Parliament has a broad enough and good enough definition to cover much of this landscape. Some really radical definitions of public authority have come through in the Bill. Now one billion citizens can go and demand better delivery and action for themselves. The power has been put in their hands.


    You said the Bill still needs a few correctives to make it really robust.
    Yes, currently the Bill makes provision for a grievance redressal officer in every government department. We feel this will create unnecessary multiplicity and duplication; also the standard will never be the same and being within the same department, the complaint centre will not be independent. Our MGNREGA experience has taught us that for someone, putting in an application is the biggest hurdle. So what we are suggesting is to have a single platform or Janata Sahitya Kendra at every block. We have 6,000 blocks in the country and most of these already have spanking new Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendras, complete with computers and phone lines. Also, every welfare scheme — the MGNREGA, health, education, now food — already has existing officers. We are saying rationalise all this existing infrastructure and manpower into one single platform or window. This will be free of any department; it will just take a citizen’s application or complaint, register it, and give dated receipt, then track the movement of the complaint. Any citizen can then track the fate of their grievance over the phone or online through this office.

    One massive lesson the Lokpal has missed, which the RTI taught us, is you don’t need to create a new bureaucracy. Just use the existing structure and put an oversight mechanism over it. We did not create a single new PIO. But just putting independent Information Commissions over them has created a revolution. The RTI is not working perfectly but it is working incredibly well. Once this complaint has been made, the grievance redressal officer in every department will have to give speaking orders and file action-taken reports. If things are not resolved, they will have to escalate to the district level. This is where we feel the government Bill has made a mistake. It has jumped straight from within the department to the State Commission. This missing rung will be a big stumbling block. The State Commission is at too much of a remove from ordinary people and if that’s the only platform of appeal, it will derail the redressal mechanism. So we would like the phrase ‘designated authority’ to have just three more words added to it: “at the district level”.

    The third aspect we are pushing for is to have a provision for at least a minimum penalty and compensation. The intention is to goad and cajole the system to perform. If you are not getting your wages or ration or gas on time, it will not help you to just land an erring officer in jail. You also need your work to be done. Further, you are suffering a loss because your job was not done on time, hence we are saying the citizen must be compensated, either by the system of the functionary concerned. It’s a gentle thing, within the norms of justice. As it currently stands, the government Bill has made provision for compensation, but it has tied the idea of penalties and compensation together. We want to separate it. We want it to be worth people’s while to follow up on their grievance and ensure accountability. In a sense, this decentralises power and puts it in the people’s hands rather than seek to create a crack force that will sort all your troubles for you.

    Finally, we feel the most effective way of dealing with petty corruption is again to decentralise it. For this, one of the best mechanisms is the public social audit. This is a brand new idea, which is a byproduct of the RTI movement and is one of the most heartening rays of hope to emerge out of India. To give you perspective on this, the CBI, with all the powers at its disposal and having investigated scams worth many thousands of crores, has recovered only about 20 odd crores in the past year-and-a-half. In Andhra Pradesh, social audits of the MGNREGA have recovered Rs 33 crore in the same time period by being able to act and follow through on tiny little sums. This scheme works in partnership with the Andhra government and in the past 2-3 years, more than three-and-a-half lakh complaints have been registered and almost a 1,00,000 people have been trained to volunteer for these audits. After two such audits, they are experts — they can ask all the relevant questions, whether they are inspecting a school or a water scheme. So a huge democratic human resource is being built and this is a great example of what is possible. We are also moving towards the creation of mobile courts that can deal quickly and effectively with petty corruption.


    For the rest, where the scale of corruption is higher, one can always file one’s complaints about corruption to the Lokpal.
     
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  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Shoma Chaudhuri is an agenda driven journalist.
     
  4. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    Sir, Tehelka itself a agenda driven journal and mouth piece of INC.
     
  5. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Govt gives more teeth for the grievances Bill - India - DNA

    The government on Friday tweaked the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, introduced just four days ago in Lok Sabha, by promising an independent authority at district and block levels instead of a government mechanism. Activists had protested the anomaly, saying the citizen may not get justice from a government officer and it would be difficult for him to approach independent central and state grievance redressal commissions.

    Minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy said an independent grassroots authority to redress bulk of the public grievances will be “incorporated” in Bill introduced by him only four days ago.

    The Bill actually proposes to create same kind of system as provided under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, starting with the grievance redress officers to be designated within six months in all municipalities, panchayats and administrative units of the government handling supply of goods and services and mandated to remedy complaints within 30 days or face penalty and disciplinary action.

    The redressal commissions will entertain complaints against these officers while the final authority of appeal under the Bill are the proposed Lokpal and the Lok Ayuktas.

    Narayanasamy, however, accused the activists deliberately creating confusion. “We have also received representations from a wide spectrum of stakeholders with recommendations and suggestions for amendments. All of these will be considered, but we would like to clarify it has always been our intention that the independent designated authority will be established at the district level,” he said.
     
  6. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    A fraud is being perpetuated!

    Nranyanswamy is a loud mouthed idiot in any case!
     
  7. amitkriit

    amitkriit Senior Member Senior Member

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    Now the babus will complain about it, about how these laws are hampering their capability of decision making, how such laws will hamper the growth of India. RTI and Citizens Charter are the two most uncomfortable thorns stuck in their feet.

    We gained our independence in 1947, but continued with the same system and bureaucracy in administration which was kept by the British to exploit us.
     
  8. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    RTI and Citizens Charter are the two most important things that will make a difference in the life of the common people. While Lokpal will tackle high end corruption, the aam aadmi is more harassed by day to day facilities that are missing and the govt. doesn't provide. RTI was also said to be causing problems due to large number of requests to dept. but in the overall scheme it helped a lot in fighting corruption and making govt. officials accountable.

    To tackle corruption we need to decentralize everything and make it transparent as much as possible.The initial draft of the govt. bill didn't have district level officers and that was what Team Anna and NCPRI activists were protesting against. In the new amended draft, now contains the district level, panchayat level officers which was the demand by Team Anna and other activists. So the main criticism by Team Anna that the grievance bill is too centralized is taken care of in the new draft.
    Government ready for independent authority at district level
     
  9. Vyom

    Vyom Seeker Elite Member

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    I have some questions with regard to this bill.

    1. What provisions are present for the time frame of completion of work by a bureaucrat and what punishments are imposed on them in case they do not fulfill their commitment?

    2. Who would impose punishments on erring government officials?

    3. How would the citizen be compensated if their work is hampered or their precious time is wasted during the process?

    4. How can the lower officials fulfill their commitments if there is no adequate provisions available to them? Who would be responsible in that case and who would fix that responsibility?
     
  10. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    AFAIK, the only main point of contention with Team Anna as well as NCPRI team was that this should be decentralized. The first draft just had one state and one central commission. So a villager wold have to go to a state capital or Delhi to place a complaint. The other provisions were all acceptable. Now the amended bill incorporates this suggest by decentralizing and appointing an officer at every district, Panchayat and Muncipal level.
    ------------------------------------------
    These are the highlights of the Bill:

    Every public authority or government department has to publish a citizen's charter that clearly lists all the services that department has to render along with timelines. The bill also provides for a "grievance redressal mechanism for non-compliance of citizen's charter."

    The Bill sets up a central public grievances redressal commission - and an equivalent in every state.

    There is a designated authority i.e. an officer who is not from the department against which the complaint has been filed. This officer is selected by the government and has to be above the rank of the Grievance Redressal Officer.

    Citizen's charter has to clearly explain the complaint redressal system for that office - like which officer in that department the complaint should be registered with

    Every government department or public authority shall create an "information and facilitation centre" - that could include a customer helpline or helpdesk to deliver services and to handle complaints.

    Every public authority will appoint or designate Grievance Redress Officers whose contact information will be clearly shared with the public. The Grievance Redress Officer shall provide the public with all necessary assistance in filing complaints. Within two days of the complaint being registered, the citizen who has filed a complaint will receive - by SMS or mail - a unique complaint number and a time frame within which the complaint will be handled. That time frame cannot exceed 30 days from when the complaint was received.

    The Grievance Redress Officer has to ensure that the person who made the complaint is informed in writing with an Action Taken Report of how his or her complaint was handled. If this does not happen, the citizen can appeal to a Designated Authority. This officer can summon others and ask them to testify under oath.

    The Designated Authority has to ensure the appeal is acted upon within 30 days. He or she can fine the officer concerned and compensate the citizen, if appropriate.

    If a citizen is not happy with the Designated Authority's response or decision, he or she can take their complaint to the State Public Grievance Redressal Commission (assuming that the complaint is against a government department that is under the jurisdiction of the state government). Each state shall set up this body. It will have a Chief Commissioner and a maximum of ten other commissioners. They will be appointed by a committee consisting of the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in that state, and a sitting judge of the High Court. The commissioners will have a term of five years.

    For citizens who are unhappy with a service provided to them from a government office that is under the jurisdiction of the central government, they can finally appeal to the Central Public Grievance Redress Commission. This body with have a Chief Commissioner and a maximum of ten other commissioners who will be appointed by the President after they are chosen by a committee of the PM, the Leader of the Opposition and a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.

    If citizens are unhappy with the decision of the Central or State Commissions, they can appeal to the Lokayukta or Lokpal.
     

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