Potential Problems in Citizen's Charter Bill

Justice delayed is justice denied. This axiom applies to the provisions in the proposed Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, commonly called the Citizen’s Charter Bill. This Bill has been prepared on the lines of the Right to Information Act (RTI). Under the provisions of this proposed Bill, a common person may have to appeal and knock at the doors of  three appellate authorities to avail Government service. The fate of such appeals can be seen at State Information Commissions, the Central Information Commission and the courts, where thousands of appeals remain pending for years.


lead-storyThe The incumbent United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government talks about ‘aam aadmi’, the common man. This Government claims it is a pro poor Government. But, recently this Government cleared a Bill called the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, commonly called the Citizen’s Charter Bill which, on closer scrutiny, does not qualify to be a pro people, especially a pro poor step. On the contrary, this new Bill will engage a common man in quasi judicial processes through a number of appeals. We have a range of courts from the District Courts to the Supreme Court.  But how many people are able to reach the Supreme Court to get justice?  Experience shows that to get information under the RTI Act is often almost as hard as touching the sky. There is no guarantee that you will get the desired information under RTI Act. Prepared on the same lines, will the Citizen’s charter Bill be able to solve the problems of the common man?  It would be foolish to think or even believe so. It is quite clear, for instance, that a common man will have the same problem in obtaining a new ration card even after this new Bill comes into existence. The question arises :  if the Citizen’s Charter Bill in its original format is applied, who will benefit from it? Indeed, who needs the Right to Service Act, enacted in various States, the most? Obviously, to avail Government services is not too difficult for the upper class.  The educated and urban middle class will gain something from this Bill, but the majority of the country’s population lives in villages, where there is a lack of education and awareness. How helpful and effective will this proposed Bill be for this section of society? It is a million dollar question which raises doubts.
It is being said the Citizen’s Charter Bill will be implemented on the lines of the Right to Information Act. In this context, it will be interesting to look at the RTI Act from a current perspective.  The Central Government considers the RTI Act as a significant achievement, but in recent years many RTI activists have been murdered after using the RTI Act. The Government has been silent on this issue. Information Commissioners usually do not impose fines on Public Information Officers. The Public Information Officers are reluctant to provide information within the prescribed time of thirty days.  Appeals are not being heard on time and remain pending in Information Commissions for months and sometimes years on end. According to figures available, till December 2012, 28,000 appeals were pending in the Central Information Commission alone.  Each Central Information Commissioner disposed off  2800 appeals per year. The number of cases pending at the State Information Commissions is a serious issue. In such a scenario, what will a common man do? Obviously, he or she has two options : either to keep fighting through the ‘appealing process’ or get his or her work done by bribing. The Government policies force a common man to choose the second option.
Take the case of  Salahuddin Khan. He is from Aurangabad  district in Bihar.  Salahuddin Khan says he had filed an application with the office of the District Registrar, Lucknow under the RTI Act. He had sought a copy of the deed of his house. He was ready to pay the required amount as per the rules of the RTI Act. But he did not get any answer, received no  information of any kind nor a letter from the Department even after six months. He should at least have been informed. He then went to the District Magistrate in Lucknow under the first appeal. Again, he did not get information. He then filed  a second appeal before the State Information Commission but got no information. So the question arises : what is the guarantee that the Public Grievance Redressal Commission under the Citizen’s Charter Bill will be able to dispose off appeals within the time limit?

“The Cabinet decision clearing the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 is a direct intrusion on the domain of States as it becomes mandatory for all States to adopt the same Act. More than ten States have already enacted a Citizen’s Charter Act or Public Services Guarantee Act in their respective States. The States of Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh have their own laws in place. Of these States, many have provisions that are much better than the proposed Central Act. The Constitution gives States a clear power to enact for the State Public Services. The Central Government can and should enact Citizen’s Charter for Central services but should not encroach upon the States’ domain”.
Prakash Javadekar, BJP National Spokesperson.

What will a common man have to do to avail of a Government service according to the provisions of the Citizen’s Charter Bill? It can be easily understood by giving  an example. If a not too well educated and poor man of a village has to make a ration card, he will apply for the ration card at the Block level. Ideally, the ration card should be made within a maximum  of 30 days, but due to the Government official’s unwillingness or negligence or any other reason this man fails to get a ration card within 30 days. After that, he will appeal before the concerned Departmental Officer. Again, when he does not get justice, he will have to appeal before the State Grievance Redressal Commission.  But it cannot be said with certainty whether the appellant will get justice from here either. Once again, this man will appeal before the Lokayukta. Will he now get justice ? There is still no guarantee. If a case is related to a Central Government Department, then the appellant will have to appeal before the Central  Public Grievance Redressal Commission. What will happen if he needs to go to Delhi or the concerned State’s capital for a hearing ? What will a poor man do in such a situation ? It can be easily guessed.
According to a Government report, nearly 70 per cent of the country’s population is subsisting on an income of less than Rs. 20 a day. A worker who needs to go to the Block or District office for one day to try and obtain the benefit of a Government service will lose a day’s wages.  It can be easily understood that this new Bill is not going to be useful for the common people who form the largest segment of our country’s population.
It becomes clear after reading the provisions of this Bill that it has been prepared in a hurry and without understanding the real situation of this country. It is clear that the problems and needs of the poor, of workers, and of uneducated persons have not been considered in this Bill. The law makers did not bother to think how this section of society will use this Bill.
However, the Citizen’s Charter Bill is being considered by the Government as the panacea for solving all problems.  But in reality it is not so. When the RTI Act was enacted, the same laudatory things were said about it but the reality today is very different. Now we have the Citizen’s Charter Bill. And once again the same claims are being made by the Government.
It is said that the Bill will reduce corruption in Government offices, people will be able to avail of the Right to Service Act, and all the Government services will be provided within a fixed time. But the main problems in the Citizen’s Charter Bill will remain the same even after it becomes  law. If a person is not able to avail of a Government service within a time frame, he will have to appeal thrice. This process will definitely take a long time.  It will take at least three to four months to get the final decision. Even after that, there is no guarantee that the person will get justice. All this will happen in a normal situation, but when the number of appeals will increase in country, the pendency of appeals in the Public Grievances Redressal Commissions will also increase.  Consequently, the appeal that should be settled within thirty or sixty days will take years after pendency. That is why it is the need of the hour that the Government should do an urgent rethink. If the Government does not bring in important amendments in this Bill, the Citizen’s Charter Bill will certainly be considered as an attempt to deceive the people.

Why the Citizen’s Charter Bill May Fail

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  1.  Under  the RTI Act, there are two appeals while a person may appeal three times under the Citizen’s Charter Bill. Obviously, it will take a long time to appeal so many times. Clearly, it is very unlikely that the common man will be able to avail of   the Government service within thirty days.
  2.  As per the experience of the RTI Act, generally an applicant does not receive information within thirty days. Most applicants have neither the time nor the money to come to Delhi or the capital of the State to get justice.
  3. Information Commissioners do not impose a minimum penalty under the RTI Act. Consequently, the authorities do not have any fear and are reluctant to provide information. What is the guarantee that under the Citizen’s Charter Act a penalty will be imposed?
  4. India is a big country. The RTI experience shows that the number of pending appeals are increasing day by day and on the other  hand the number of Information Commissioners are so few or the work style is so slow that it takes years to dispose off an appeal. Under the Citizen’s Charter Act, is there any guarantee that the same thing will not happen?

Some Amendments Required in the Bill

  1. Number of Appellate authorities should be reduced. The complaints should be disposed off at the District level.
  2. To get justice, no one should need to go to Delhi or to the State capital.
  3. Integrated Grievance Commission and the Departmental grievances system should dispose off the appeal within the shortest time.
  4. It must be made compulsory that a penalty be imposed on negligent officials and that amount should be given to the appellant.

 CITIZEN’S CHARTER AND GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL BILL 2011 : WHAT IT OFFERS

The Government has introduced in Parliament a Bill that is intended to prove its commitment to fighting corruption among Government officers. The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 clearly outlines the responsibilities of Government Departments towards citizens – and how someone who is denied the service due to them can take action.

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 the 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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