Fazalahmed B. Khan
Mumbai: For the last two decades or so democracy in India has been more dynamic and demanding. Civil society has rightly emerged in strengthening public voice. Curbing of power of money in elections, transparency in public affairs, accountability of government and its officers and an appointment of Lok Pal (an ombudsman) are the main issues that have engaged the attention of public, and government had to respond to them. The passing of the Right to Information in 2005 has been a beginning in this discourse. The law has become a tool in the hands of public and activists to unearth wrongdoings in the administration. The next step is related to remove the red tape in the working of the government and its machinery and make those charged with delivery of services accountable for delay. This is being achieved through the legislation called Right to Service Act. The Act provides for a guarantee of time-bound delivery of service by the executive machinery of public bodies. So far Nineteen States of India have passed Right to Public Services act in previous four years with a view to improve functioning and increase accountability of these services. Madhya Pradesh and Bihar take the credit for being the first and second states to pass this Act. With the enactment of this Act, Maharashtra in 2015, became the 20th State in India to have in place this Act. At Central Government such a law is proposed in the form of Citizen’s Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill 2011. Although this Bill has lapsed, there is likelihood of its re-introduction.
The Right to Service Acts passed in the States have a common framework. The recital of these Acts is on the lines of- to provide transparent, efficient and timely public services to the citizens in the State and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Notified Service: and Designated Officer: Services which the government departments, agencies, local authorities and other public authorities relate to the requirements arising from time to time like issue of birth and death certificates, driving licence, vehicle registration, water connection, power connection, changes of name in the records of respective authorities or on bills, trade licences, NOC for doing many things like use of loudspeaker, organizing a function, issue of caste certificate, character verification from police, police clearance for passport, registration of sale deeds, registration of leave and license agreement, building permissions, extracts from revenue records, issue of ration card, marriage registration so forth and so on. There number varies a little from State to State and goes up to about 150. These are notified in the rules or notifications issued under the Act. The Public Authority is required to display or cause to be displayed on the notice board of the office, the list of the notified services offered by it along with the details of the Designated Officer, who is responsible to deliver the service.
Right defined: Right to get any of the notified service is clearly stated in a section of the act like- Every eligible person shall have right to obtain notified services in the State in accordance with this Act, subject to technical and financial feasibility, within the stipulated time limit specified in the notification issued under section (stated). Once an application is received duly completed with fee (if any), a unique identification number is given to it, it is acknowledged accordingly and time starts to run for that application. The Designated Officer dealing with the delivery of that service becomes responsible for completing the action and delivering the service within the specified time. A disclaimer here: It is not that he is bound to deliver that service in every case e.g. if the application is for issuance for some license, and if the applicant falls short of eligibility criteria, he must communicate decision within the specified time. The intent is that decision should be taken within the specified time.
Appeal: What if the service is not delivered in time? The Public Authorities are required to appoint and display names of the First Appellate Authority and the Second Appellate Authority to hear appeals in cases of non-delivery of service. The applicant has a right to appeal to the First Appellate Authority in such case who can direct the Designated Officer to deliver the service. If the matter is not resolved at this level, of if the appeal is not satisfied with the decision of the First Appellate Authority then there is provision of appeal to the Second Appellate Authority against the decision of the First Appellate Authority, who can direct the Designated Officer to deliver the service and can even impose penalty on him and the First Appellate Authority. The Appellate Authorities are armed with the powers of court in their working and inter alia, required to follow the principles of natural justice. The Ordinance issued by the Governor of Maharashtra contains a provision of fine of minimum Rs.500/ to maximum Rs.5000/ to be imposed on the errant officers.
Use of IT: Under the Act the Government is enjoined encourage and aspire all the Public Authorities to utilize Information Technology to deliver their respective notified services within the specified time.
Monitoring of the Implementation of the Act: The Acts provide for constitution of a State Public Services Delivery Committee, in order to (I) to recommend steps to be taken by the Public Authorities for efficient delivery of services and (ii) to monitor working the guarantee of delivery of notified services by the Public Authorities.
(The author is retired as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Urban Development, Maharashtra)