Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Enact Soon

Updated: April 27, 2013 4:22 pm

The Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011

 

The Union Cabinet has just recently on March 7, 2013 given its final nod to “The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011”. It is basically aimed at providing time bound delivery of services like pensions, passports, birth, caste, death, ration cards etc among others to the citizens without being made to sweat it out and still being made to wait endlessly. It is certainly a big boost forward in making the babus more accountable to the public.

Once this Bill comes into effect, the babus and other working class will not be able to hold the citizens to ransom and will have to do their job in a fixed time frame. If they fail to do so, they would have to pay the stipulated penalty of Rs 250 per day, subject to a maximum of Rs 50,000. This is most likely bound to act as a deterrent and keep them on their toes because if they fail to act in time, they will be compelled to pay through the nose. It would be pertinent to mention here the editorial in The Indian Express dated March 8, 2013 with the heading “Bill of rights” stating, “Significantly, the penalties will be borne by officials responsible for tardy delivery of services, not by their departments or a faceless government. The fixing of blame is a game changer, casting aside the mythical cloak of governmental inefficiency, which conceals the real problems of callousness and corruption.”

I would also like to quote here the editorial in the Millennium Post dated March 11, 2013, reading, “In a welcome development, the Union Cabinet has given its approval to a draft Bill to ensure the delivery of services such as passports, birth and death certificates and pensions in a time bound manner. The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 outlines the responsibilities of government departments towards citizens. This new Bill will put in place a citizens’ charter for each department specifying the goods and services to be supplied as well as the names of the officials designated to supply them. Provisions have also been made in this Bill to initiate criminal and administrative proceedings against officials in case of non-compliance. So far it has not been easy for the ordinary citizens to obtain these documents or avail of similar services from the government. He continues to face immense harassment at the hands of the authorities whenever he applies for some service. There are immensely long queues in government departments and the officials dealing with the paperwork involved are unfriendly and do not help and the ordinary citizen has to return many times before his work is done. In accordance with the new Bill, the officials responsible for the delay in the service can be fined anything from Rs 250 per day up to a maximum of Rs 50,000. The fear of fines may certainly expedite the paperwork that is done in government offices. This Bill is also expected to have a salutary effect on the corrupt practices that prevails in such offices. A large part of the delays that take place are because of organised efforts of the employees to extract illegal gratification from their clients. Corruption has, indeed been a bane of those offices of the government that are involved in public dealing and in providing the services. However much would depend on the implementation of the scheme.”

The Bill obligates every public authority to publish within six months of the commencement of this Act, a ‘Citizens Charter’ specifying therein the category of goods supplied and services rendered by it, the time within which such goods shall be supplied or services be rendered. I must also state here that the Bill makes it clear that the ‘Citizens Charter’ shall provide for all or any of the following matters, namely:-

  1. The details of goods supplied and services rendered by the public authority and the name of person or agency through which such goods are supplied or services rendered and timings during which such services are supplied or services rendered;
  2. The conditions under which a person becomes entitled for goods or services, and the class of persons who are entitled to receive such goods and avail services;
  3. The quantitative and tangible parameters (including weight, size, frequency) of the goods and services available to the public;
  4. Complaint redressal mechanism including the time within which the complaint be disposed of and the officer of the public authority to whom such complaint may be made;
  5. The name and addresses of individuals responsible for the delivery of goods or rendering of services mentioned in (1) above;
  6. Any other obligation, responsibility or duty of the public authority is required or reasonably expected to provide;
  7. Any other information relevant to delivery of goods or provision of services or such other information as may be prescribed.

The Bill in no uncertain terms obligates the Head of Department in each public authority to be responsible for updating and verifying the ‘Citizens Charter’ every year and the accuracy of the contents thereof and to ensure that it is widely disseminated to the public. Not stopping here, it also entrusts every head of department to ensure to the extent possible that the ‘Citizens Charter’ is made available at the website of the public authority and in other electronic forms free of cost and that a copy of it duly certified by him is submitted to appropriate bodies, including appropriate Central and State Public Grievance Redress Commission, when it is published and subsequently, every time it is modified, updated or amended. It also envisages that every public authority shall establish information and facilitation Centre for efficient and effective delivery of services and redressal of grievances, which may include establishment of customer care centre, call centre, help desk, people’s support centre etc.

It is quite laudable to note that the Bill contains a mandatory provision that all complaints shall within one day of the making of the complaint, be acknowledged by a receipt, issued in writing or through electronic means or through text message or through telephone or through any other means as may be prescribed, specifying the date, time, place, unique complaint number and particulars of receiver of complaint along with the stipulated time frame in accordance with its ‘Citizens Charter’ within which the complaint will be redressed. Later, upon receipt of a complaint, it shall be the duty of the concerned grievance redress officer to ensure that

  1. The grievance is remedied in a time frame not exceeding fifteen days from the date of receipt of the complaint
  2. The reason for the occurrence of the grievance is identified and the responsibility of the defaulting office or individual is fixed and the grievance is redressed satisfactorily within one month from the date of receipt of the complaint by the grievance redress officer
  3. Where the grievance has occurred as a result of a deficiency, negligence or malfeasance on the part of an office or individual that the action is taken in accordance with conduct rules and departmental procedures
  4. Where the grievance redress officer is convinced that the individual responsible for the delivery of the goods and services has willfully neglected to deliver the good or service or there exists prima facie grounds for a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, the grievance redress officer can make an observation to that effect along with a recommendation for the penalty to be imposed to the head of the department of the public authority.

It is also provided that the grievance redress officer may seek the assistance of any other officer where required or may direct any other officer to take action to redress a complaint. In addition, the grievance redress officer shall ensure that the complainant is informed in writing the manner in which the grievance is redressed and shall give him a report in the form of an Action Taken Report. The Bill also makes it clear that the grievance redress officer shall immediately after the expiry of fifteen days report every complaint which has not been redressed along with the details of the complainant, nature of complaint and reasons for non-redressal of complaints to the head of the department of the public authority.

The Bill also contains remedial provisions. Any individual who is aggrieved by a decision of the concerned grievance redress officer or who has not received an Action Taken Report in respect of a complaint filed by him, may, if he so desires, within thirty days from the expiry of such period or from the receipt of such decision, prefer an appeal to the head of the department of the public authority who shall duly acknowledge it. But here there is a proviso also. The head of department of public authority may admit the appeal after the expiry of thirty days if it is satisfied that the complaint was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time and shall have all the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 in all such matters as may be prescribed.

It is also made amply clear in the Bill that the head of the department of public authority shall have original jurisdiction to adjudicate upon every application made to it and shall not be bound by the procedure laid down in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 but shall be guided by the principles of natural justice and shall have the power to regulate its own procedure. No ambiguity has been left in making it plain that every appeal filed or complaint deemed to by way of an appeal shall be disposed of by the head of the department of the public authority within thirty days from the date of receipt of such appeal but it has also been provided that an appeal of an urgent or immediate nature shall be disposed of within the same day of the receipt of the appeal or before the date on which the cause of action may cease to exist, which shall not be later than thirty days from the date of receipt of the appeal. The Bill also makes it clear that the head of the department of public authority shall arrange to deliver copies of the decisions to the parties concerned within a period of five working days from the date of such decisions.

Any person who does not receive a decision within the stipulated time or feels aggrieved by a decision of the head of the department of public authority may prefer an appeal within thirty days from the expiry of such period or from the receipt of such a decision prefer an appeal to the State Public Grievance Redressal Commission. The State Public Grievance Redressal Commission shall consist of a Chief Commissioner and such number of Commissioners, not exceeding five, as may be prescribed, out of which at least one each shall be from amongst Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Women. It is also provided in the Bill that the Chief Commissioner and Commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of a Selection Committee consisting of the Chief Minister who shall be the Chairperson of the committee, the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and a sitting judge of the High Court to be nominated by the Chief Justice of the State who shall select out of a panel of five eligible candidates for each vacancy which shall be finalised by a search committee consisting of such members as may be prescribed.

The Bill also makes it clear that a person shall not be qualified for appointment as a Chief Commissioner or a Commissioner of the State Public Grievance Redressal Commission unless he is or has been a State Level Officer or has been a District Judge for at least ten years or has been a judge of the High Court of the State or is an eminent person recognised for his work towards public service in the area and who has worked for at least fifteen years in the social sector with a postgraduate degree in a relevant subject but the State Government is empowered to prescribe additional criteria also for the appointment of the Chief Commissioner. The Chief Commissioner and the Commissioners shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which they enter upon office or until they attain the age of sixty five years whichever is earlier and shall not be eligible for reappointment.

The State Public Grievance Redressal Commissioner shall arrange to deliver copies of the decision to the parties concerned within a period of fifteen days from the date of such decision. An appeal ordinarily shall be disposed of within the time frame prescribed but an appeal of an urgent or immediate nature shall be disposed of within the same day of the receipt of the appeal or before the date on which the cause of action may cease to exist, which shall not be later than fifteen days from the date of receipt of the appeal. It has also been provided that all proceedings before the State Public Grievance Redressal Commission shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 of the IPC and the Commission shall be deemed to be a civil court for the purposes of Sections 345 and 346 of the CrPC, 1973. In any appeal proceedings, the burden of proof to establish that a non-redressal of complaint by the Grievance Redressal Officer who denied the request.

The BJP has vehemently opposed the government’s move on the ground that it is an attack on the federal structure and once passed by Parliament, it would be binding on the state governments. BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said, “The Cabinet has given its nod to the Citizen’s Charter Bill for central services, but they have mandated and thrust this on the states also. This has been put in the Concurrent List but is an encroachment on state laws. Currently more than 10 states have already put in place their own Citizen’s Charters. We demand the Centre should enact a Citizen’s Charter for central services only. At the most, it can pass a model law which states can follow while passing their own law.”

However, here the enlightening views of Nikhil Dey and Anjali Bhardwaj in The Indian Express dated March 13, 2013 are noteworthy, saying, “It would be a shame if this Bill is sacrificed at the altar of federalism. Many grievances that affect the common person are in state government agencies and departments. It would be meaningless to create a GR mechanism that leaves out the majority of Indians, especially those most in need of its intervention. This legislation will serve as a complement to the public service delivery acts passed by the states. The Concurrent List of the Constitution authorises both the Centre and the states to legislate on ‘actionable wrongs’, which is essentially what grievances are. The concerns of those worried about Central interference in state policy could be addressed by making sure that the state commissions are, as in the RTI Act, appointed at the state level and not subordinate to Central commissions. Appeals against the orders of state commissions could go to the high courts. Also, disciplinary action could be a parallel process available exclusively to the department and the state government.”

Needless to add that the Bill puts an obligation upon every public authority to publish citizen’s charter, stating therein the time within which specified goods shall be supplied and services be rendered and provides for a grievance redressal mechanism for non-compliance of its provisions. In The Hindu dated March 11, 2013, it has been written, “Officials say this law will be more effective in tackling corruption at the grassroots than the Lokpal Bill. The Bill deals with government departments that deal directly with citizens, constitutional bodies, statutory authorities, public private partnerships, and NGOs substantially funded by government.” Only when it is implemented will we come to know how effective it is on ground. As Arvind Kejriwal, social activist-turned-politician says, “I do not agree with the BJP’s argument. But I cannot be sure whether it is a good bill till I get to read it.”

Finally, on a concluding note, I would like to dish out what Nikhil Dey and Anjali Bhardwaj wrote in their article in The Indian Express dated March 13, 2013, saying, “With the Union Cabinet having approved the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 (hereafter referred to as the GR bill), Parliament has an opportunity to enact a law that would give citizens a way in which to hold government functionaries accountable. An effective GR Act has the potential to transform the relationship between an ordinary Indian and the bureaucracy. It builds on the transparency regime of the RTI by encouraging citizens to use information to enforce accountability. We have no shortage of innovations in law, but our constant refrain is that we are unable to implement them. Beginning with the RTI Act, 2005, India has enacted a slew of rights-based legislations: NREGA, the Forest Rights Act and the RTE Act. In many states, there are public service guarantee acts that convert the delivery of every notified public service into an entitlement. The only law that has some effective redress mechanisms built into it is the RTI, and we must learn lessons from it. The GR bill should provide every person the right to make a complaint and create an architecture for them to receive a time-bound written reply. Failure to do so should, like the RTI law, attract a penalty to be paid from the concerned officer’s pocket. What makes this bill an important complement to the public service delivery bills of the states is its potential to hold both the implementing functionary and the supervisory structure accountable.”

One sincerely hopes that the government after addressing all the lacunae in the Bill would waste no time any more in implementing it at the earliest. This would be in consonance with preserving the supreme interests of the people in the longer run and I am sure our government too realises this too well. People will not have to wait endlessly to get their work done and this Bill when implemented would certainly put a big check on corrupt practices widely prevailing in our government offices.

By Sanjeev Sirohi

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