Karnataka has set up an Administrative Reforms Commission to make administration more people friendly. But is the system really working?
How close is the seat of power to the people?
OF LATE, there is a growing concern about the quality of public administration. In the wake of economic liberalisation and conditions imposed by the lending agencies, the State appears to be moving towards making the administration more citizen friendly. There is a growing competition among various states to win over the multilateral-agencies in terms of people's administration. For instance, Karnataka did set up an Administrative Reforms Commission and it has already given its two-volume report.
Not to lag behind, Andhra Pradesh has established a separate Centre for Good Governance. Efforts are on to utilise information technology to take administration to the poor and the marginalised. But the question is how far have these initiatives been fruitful? How sincere are the governments in this exercise?
Ever since the Independence, efforts are being made, at least in theory, to make the administration people oriented. The various commissions of administrative reforms, such as those headed by Deshmukh, Santhanam, and Murarji Desai, have repeatedly made similar recommendations. And many more commissions may be set up in the future. The Conference of Chief Secretaries held in November 1996, adopted "an agenda for an effective and responsive administration". The action plan includes initiatives to make administration accountable and citizen friendly, ensuring transparency and right to information, and taking measures to cleanse and motivate civil services.
Six years after adopting this action plan, how does the administration look? Is the common man able to feel the difference in the quality of administration? Has he been able to get things done in a government office comfortably, without paying bribe? Is he getting the minimum information from a public utility? More than anything else, how do our bureaucrats and employees in government offices behave?
As part of the exercise to make the administration user-friendly, the concept of Citizens' Charters was introduced, inspired by the success of an independent ministry for formulating and implementing citizens' charter set up by John Major in the U.K.. In India, the concept of citizens' charter is yet to catch up. A large segment of the population, including the educated and elite, has a very vague idea about it. The Consumer Co-ordination Council (CCC) of New Delhi launched a campaign for creating awareness on citizens' charter. It conducted surveys, published leaflets, campaign kits, etc.. As on date, some 65 charters have been published by various government departments, banks, and public utilities. But the question is, has it percolated down to the level of the common man?
One of the key elements of a citizens' charter is information and openness. And this is what is missing. Those departments or institutions, which have published citizens' charters, have not taken steps to disseminate the contents to the public. In fact, many of the staff and employees themselves are not aware of its existence. For instance, the Transport Department of the Government of Karnataka has published its charter, yet the staff in RTO is blissfully ignorant about the document. Similarly, the BWSSB and the Police Departments have issued charters not known to many. It is essential that copies of the charter be made available free of cost. But they are not available even if you want to pay for. The contents of the charter are to be displayed on a notice board. Have you ever seen any office, such as the Passport Office, Railways, or oil companies doing so? They have published their respective charters. More than 30 nationalised banks have charters, but they are not available to the public. A review of the existing charters, done by C.N. Ray of the School of Planning, Ahmedabad, reveals that there is a great variation in terms of coverage, procedures, redress of grievances system, and the information necessary for the citizens. If some charters are brief, some are detailed. Many do not provide any information about the grievance redressal functionaries.
Most important, none of the charters has a provision for compensation. Recently, the Hyderabad Water Board issued a charter, which has such a provision.
The governments need not wait for a legislation. Information relating to details of allotment of land, property, criteria for assessment and levy of taxes, award of work tenders etc. could be made available, if at all administration is to be made citizen-friendly. Unfortunately, none of the departments appear to have taken this initiative. On the contrary, efforts are made to keep information away from the public. Take for instance, the recent Capital Assessment Scheme of the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike. Though this scheme is of public importance, neither was the draft circulated nor made public.
It was notified in the gazette in such a way that the public had no time to comment on it.
Compare this with other countries where efforts to make the administration people friendly have marched ahead.
The "Modernising Government" programme has been initiated in the UK. There is a move to look at long-term problems rather than short-term crises. Secondly, efforts are made to run the government in such a way that it meets the needs of those who use them, and not those who provide them.
A people's panel consisting of representatives of the people has been formed. If Italy has established "One Stop Shops" where all services are available, the Norwegian Government has launched a programme called "Simplifying Norway".
What is lacking is not the programmes or the policies, but the will to implement and the inability of some of the bureaucrats to shed their indifference to the needs of the public. Many simple changes could be brought about without any legal implications. For instance, deputing one person to provide information and to deal with the public, making it obligatory for the staff to wear name badges, and printing and supplying leaflets, brochures, etc. will go a long way in gaining the confidence of the public.
Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
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