The big talk around good governance in Gujarat has taken a back seat. It is one of the last of 14 major Indian states which enacted a crucial legislation promising citizens time-bound delivery of public services, failing which government officials would face penalty. Gujarat enacted the Gujarat (Right of Citizens to Public Services) Act in the state assembly on April 1, 2013. Even after enacting the law, it is failing to notify it in the official gazette to ensure its implementation. Also called public services Act, it is a key administrative reform initiative in the country, built on the idea of citizens’ charter. It takes the citizens’ charter a step further by making citizens’ right to public services within stipulated time legally binding, failing which officials should be penalized.
Neighbouring Madhya Pradesh was the first state to start implementing the public services Act way back in 2010 – after passing an Act in the state assembly, the Madhya Pradesh government notified it in the official gazette on September 25, 2010, triggering its implementation. The states that followed suit were Uttar Pradesh (January 11, 2011), Jammu and Kashmir (July 21, 2011), Bihar (August 15, 2011), Rajasthan (October 5, 2011), Uttarakhand (October 28, 2011), Chhattisgarh (January 3, 2012), Karnataka (March 2, 2012), Punjab (May 14, 2012), Kerala (November 1, 2012), Odisha (December 7, 2012), Delhi (December 21, 2012), Assam (April 20, 2013), and Goa (June 28, 2013).
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad-based NGO, which is in the process of studying the Gujarat Act’s various provisions, has come up with a replica of draft rules Gujarat should have to implement the Act. It has observed while the law has been enacted to “make time bound delivery of services and redressal of grievances”, the “state government has not notified it for six months now.” It adds, even today, there are “no signs of notification in sight”. Only after the notification is issued that the Gujarat government would be able to “designate officers responsible for rendering services within specified time limits… Complaints against the designated officers would then be heard by grievance redressal officers, against whom appeals could be made to a designated authority, and then to the state appellate authority, constituted under the Act.”
Whether you are poor and need to be on the Below Poverty Line list, or wealthy and want a driver’s license, there is too often a bribe to be paid, and apathetic government officials to navigate. The idea of a public services Act would help overcome this factor. It mandates the number of days in which a government official must approve or reject an application for public service (like an income certificate or a ration card). And if a deadline is not met, or if the application is wrongly rejected, it allows for an appeal. Upon appeal, the official can be ordered to provide the service or fined for not providing the service in a time-bound manner, or for wrongly rejecting an application.
The right to public services Act is considered part of a broader rights-based approach to social policy that has rippled through India over the past decade and a half. Already, there is rights-based approach to food (through the latest national food security Act), employment (through the rural employment guarantee scheme), information (through the Right to Information Act, 2005), and right to primary education (through the right to education Act).
In the process of preparing model rules for the Gujarat government to consider and implement at the earliest for the right to public services, a CSJ document – currently at its preparatory stage – says, a designated officer should not only be appointed for receiving an application for the delivery of service, but he should, by order, “authorize any of his sub-ordinate officer or employee to receive the applications and to issue the acknowledgement.” Once the application is made, “the person authorized should give acknowledgement to the applicant in writing, or via e-mail, or text message”. It adds, “Computerized acknowledgement number should be given for each application and citizens should be annexed with the application”, where it should be mentioned that the applicant is “entitled to obtain and monitor status of the application online”. In case of denial or delay in providing a particular service, the “designated officer should communicate to the applicant about (i) the reasons for such denial or delay; (ii) the period within which an appeal against such denial or delay may be preferred; and (iii) particulars, including all available contact information of the relevant appellate authority”.
The document says, “Computation of stipulated time period should start from the date when required application for notified service is submitted to the designated officer or to a person subordinate to him authorized to receive the application.” In fact, the designated officer should, for the convenience of citizens, display all relevant information related to services on the notice board, including “all the necessary documents that are required to be enclosed with the application for receiving the notified services, checklist for documents to be enclosed, prescribed fees, the rule for obtaining acknowledgement letter, reasons for rejection of services, details as how to contact the appellate authority, and procedure for monitoring the status of an application.”
These details should be “exhibited in front of the office”, and “sufficient number of copies of the prescribed applications forms should be made available in the counters for receiving the applications. The notice board should be installed at a conspicuous place in the office.” In the event of non-display of such information in public domain, necessary action should be taken against officials concerned. The document says, “A time frame of 30 days should be fixed from the date of the complaint or appeal to the grievance redressal officer, the designated authority and the state appellate authority for deciding on complaints and appeals.”
It adds, “In complaint, first appeal, or second appeal, the complainant/appellant, as the case may be, should be intimated with the date of hearing, at least seven clear days prior to such date of hearing.” Following the hearing, “signature/thumb impression of both parties should be obtained on the order sheet. The order on appeal should be pronounced in open proceedings and should be in writing by the grievance redressal officer, designated authority or the state appellate authority, as the case may be. The copy of first appeal order should be given to the appellant, designated officer and the grievance redressal officer free of cost within seven days of the order.”
Referring to penalty for not providing service , the document says, “If the state appellate authority is of the opinion that the designated officer has failed to provide service to the eligible person, or has caused delay in providing the service, or has provided a service which is deficient in any manner, it may impose a penalty on designated officer to the tune of Rs 250 for each day of delay or Rs 5,000, whichever is less.” In case of deficiency in service, “the penalty should be Rs 2,000.” In case the designated authority or the state appellate authority is of the opinion that the grievance redressal officer has failed to redress the complaint even after this, “it may impose a penalty which should not be less than Rs 1,000 and may extend up to Rs.10,000.” On receiving the order of imposition of penalty, the drawing and disbursing officer should “recover the amount of penalty from the next salary of the designated officer, grievance redressal officer or the designated authority, and deposit the same in the government account.”
As for the state government, the document says, it should “introduce a system for centralized monitoring of the timely delivery of notified services, including service delivery through use of information and communication technologies, and for monitoring various provisions of the Act. Every public authority or local authority, as the case may be, should maintain status of all applications governing citizen related services online and should be duty bound to update the status of the same.” The state government should “issue directions, from time to time, for effective implementation of the provisions of the Act.” , It should provide “financial and other resources” to develop and organize campaigns and programmes to advance the understanding of the public, in particular of the disadvantaged communities, as to how to exercise the rights contemplated under the Act.”
*With the Centre for Social Justice