Author: Shankar Dev
Though much delayed, the cabinet had finally responded to People’s plight, by passing Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill. This is truly a move that deserves to be welcomed in principle. The bill lays down an obligation upon every public authority to publish citizen’s charter, and establish a time frame within which goods and services would be delivered .Secondly it provides for a grievance Redressal mechanism for non-compliance of its provisions.
- 1997, at chief ministers’ conference, an Action Plan was approved requiring the central and state governments to formulate citizens charters for enterprises with a large public interface.
- 2007, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission recommended that citizens charters should stipulate penalties for non-compliance.
- 2008, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice recommended giving statutory status to grievance Redressal mechanisms.
- 2009,Presidents address, Pratiba Patil stated that the government would focus on ensuring effective delivery of public services.
- The Central Information Commission also recommended that grievance Redressal systems should be strengthened to reduce the burden of Right to Information Act, 2005 to redress grievances.
- 2013, The cabinet approves the Bill.
1) Henceforth Public authorities are required to establish Information Facilitation Centres (like care centres, call centres, help desks) for efficient and effective delivery of services and redressal of grievances.
Definition of Public authorities:
- Constitutional authorities (UPSC, Election Commission etc).
- Statutory authorities (RBI, SEBI etc).
- Entities established under a notification .
- Public-private partnerships.
- NGOs that receives Government Funds (may be operated by Salman Khurshid’s Wife).
It also includes government funded and government companies (like GAIL,ONGC etc), and companies that provide services under a license or a statutory obligation (like TCS used in passport seva project).
2)The Bill establishes Central and State Grievance Redressal Commissions. The Commission would consist of a Chief Commissioner and up to 10 Commissioners.
- Commissioners should be any present or former Secretaries to the central (state) government; or present or former Supreme Court judges or Chief Justices of a High Court (district court judges for 10 years, or High Court judges); or eminent persons with at least 20 years (15 years) of experience in social sectors with a post graduate degree in a relevant sector.
- The Commissioners may be removed by an order of the President (Governor) under certain conditions.
The Commissioners would be appointed by the President (Governor) on the recommendation of a selection committee. Selection committee constitutes: Prime Minister (Chief Minister) + Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (Legislative Assembly) + sitting Supreme Court (High Court) judge.
3)Complaint Mechanism: Any citizen may file a complaint for following grievances:
- failure in delivery of goods or services listed in the citizens charter;
- the functioning of the public authority;
- violation of a law, policy, programme, order or scheme.
Complaints have to be redressed within 30 working days.
Process 1: Complaints have to be made to the Grievance Redressal Officer (GRO). GROs are to be appointed by each public authority at the central, state, district, sub-district, municipality and panchayat levels.
The GRO is required to:
- ensure that grievances are redressed within 30 working days;
- ensure that disciplinary action is taken against a defaulting officer if he has acted negligently;
- recommend penalties and compensation where an individual has willfully neglected to deliver services or there is a possible ground for a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The GRO has to inform the complainant about the action taken on the complaint.
Process 2: If either the complainer or the person on whom the complaint was filed, wish to appeal against the orders of the GRO, could be made before the Designated Authority (DA) ( some District authority like collector). The DA also should dispose of appeals within 30 working days of their receipt.
Process 3: Again if either parties aren’t satisfied with DA’s order, they can appeal before the Central or State Public Grievance Redressal Commission within 30 working days. The Commissions have to dispose of the appeal within 60 working days.
Process 4: Once again if either parties aren’t satisfied with commissions’ order, In relation to an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, an appeal against the decision of the Commissions shall lie with the Lokpal or the Lokayukta.
Process 5: The Central and State Commissions can act suo moto in matters related to non-delivery of goods and services to the heads of government departments. The Commissions may also initiate suo moto inquiry if they believe that there are reasonable grounds to inquire into the matter.
- GRO: The Bill requires the GRO to recommend penalties to the DA when: (a) he is convinced that the default was due to willful neglect by an officer; or (b) when there is prima facie evidence of corruption.
- DA and Commissions: The Bill empowers the DA and the Commissions to impose a maximum penalty of Rs 50,000 upon the defaulting officer and the GRO. Penalties may be imposed upon the defaulting officer.
- Parliament may not have the jurisdiction to regulate the functioning of state public officials as state public services fall within the purview of state legislatures = Parliament’s jurisdiction to regulate state public officials.
- Some existing and proposed laws provide their own grievance Redressal mechanisms, for instance, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, 2009, National Food Security Bill, 2011, and the Public Procurement Bill, 2012. There could be an overlap of jurisdictions in some cases, as grievances under these legislations may be covered under this Bill as well. It is unclear as to which mechanism may be approached first, and whether seeking relief under one law bars remedies under the other = Multiplicity of Grievance Redressal Forums.
- Certain services may be used by both citizens and foreign nationals. For example, a foreign national is eligible to apply for a driving license under Indian law. So excluding foreign nationals from the purview of the redressal mechanism looks unfair = Exclusion of non-citizens.
- The Bill provides for two levels of appeals by a complainant: first to the DA, and then to the Commission. There is an inconsistency between the powers of the two. If there is a prima facie indication of corruption, the DA may either refer the matter to the appropriate authority or initiate proceedings. However, if the complainant appeals against the DA’s decision to the Commission, it can only refer the matter to the appropriate authority. Unlike the DA, the Commission does not have the power to initiate proceedings = Inconsistency between the powers of the DA and the Commissions.
- In many states Lokayuktas are yet to be established.
- Maharashtra and several other states already have similar laws, but that has not improved the government functions = Question of effective Implementation.
Apart from everything ,The Union Cabinet’s nod is only the first step in concertizing the law. It will be a challenge for the government to get the requisite numbers in both Houses to get the legislation through.(lol)
For Further Study : Copy of Bill