The Citizens’ Charter is an instrument which seeks to make an organization transparent, accountable and citizen friendly. A Citizens’ Charter is basically a set of commitments made by an organization regarding the standards of service which it delivers.
BENEFITS OF CITIZEN CHARTER
• It enhances accountability by providing citizens with a clear understanding of service delivery standards, including timetables, user fees for services, and options for grievance redress.
• It increases organizational effectiveness and performance by making a public commitment to adhere to measurable service delivery standards.
• It creates a way for both internal and external actors to objectively monitor service delivery performance.
• It creates a more professional and client-responsive environment for service delivery.
• It fosters improvements in staff morale.
• It decreases opportunities for corruption and graft by increasing transparency and educating citizens about their rights.!
• It increases government revenues by ensuring that the money citizens pay for services goes into the government’s coffers (and not into employees’ pockets).
PROBLEMS FACED IN IMPLEMENTING THE CHARTERS
As pointed out, the Citizens’ Charters initiative in India had started in 1997 and the Charters formulated are in a nascent stage of implementation. Introduction of a new concept is always difficult in any organisation. Introduction and implementation of the concept of Citizens’ Charter in the Government of India was much more difficult due to the old bureaucratic set up/procedures and the rigid attitudes of the work force. The major obstacles encountered in this initiative were:-
1. The general perception of organisations which formulated Citizens’ Charters was that the exercise was to be carried out because there was a direction from the top. The consultation process was minimal or largely absent. It thus became one of the routine activities of the organisation and had no focus.
2. For any Charter to succeed, the employees responsible for its implementation should have proper training and orientation, as commitments of the Charter cannot be expected to be delivered by a work force that is unaware of the spirit and content of the Charter. However, in many cases, the concerned staff were not adequately trained and sensitised.
3. Sometimes, transfers and reshuffles of concerned officers at the crucial stages of formulation/implementation of a Citizens’ Charter in an organisation severely undermined the strategic processes which were put in place and hampered the progress of the initiative.
4. Awareness campaigns to educate clients about the Charter were not conducted systematically.
5. In some cases, the standards/time norms of services mentioned in Citizens’ Charter were either too lax or too tight and were, therefore, unrealistic and created an unfavourable impression on the clients of the Charter.
6. The concept behind the Citizens’ Charter was not properly understood. Information brochures, publicity materials, pamphlets produced earlier by the organisations were mistaken for Citizens’ Charters.
STEPS TO IMPROVE CITIZEN CHARTERS
Internal restructuring should precede Charter formulation: As a meaningful Charter seeks to improve the quality of service, mere stipulation to that effect in the Charter will not suffice. There has to be a complete analysis of the existing systems and processes within the organization and, if need be, these should to be recast and new initiatives adopted.
One size does not fit all: This huge challenge becomes even more complex as the capabilities and resources that governments and departments need to implement Citizens’ Charters vary significantly across the country. Added to these are differing local conditions. The highly uneven distribution of Citizens’ Charters across States is clear evidence of this ground reality.
Involve customers in the creation of guarantees, standards, redress policies, complaint systems, and customer service agreements: This is necessary to know what is important to the customer. It is prudent not to assume what the customer wants. Customer surveys are useful here, but face-to-face contact with customers is even more important. Customer councils and different types of customer voice tools can be used for this.
Educate customers about the services that an organisation provides, so they will have realistic notions of what is possible and will understand their own responsibilities: Often services won’t work unless customers uphold their end of the deal. e.g., tax agencies can’t send speedy refunds if taxpayers don’t fill out their returns completely and accurately.
Firm commitments to be made: Citizens’ Charters must be precise and make firm commitments of service delivery standards to the citizens/consumers in quantifiable terms wherever possible.
Redressal mechanism in case of default: Citizens’ Charter should clearly lay down the relief which the organization is bound to provide if it has defaulted on the promised standards of delivery.
Periodic evaluation of Citizens’ Charters: Every organization must conduct periodic evaluation of its Citizens’ Charter preferably through an external agency. This agency while evaluating the Charter of the organisation should also make an objective analysis of whether the promises made therein are being delivered within the defined parameters.
Benchmark using end-user feedback: Systematic monitoring and review of Citizens’ Charters is necessary even after they are approved and placed in the public domain. Performance and accountability tend to suffer when officials are not held responsible for the quality of a Charter’s design and implementation.
Hold officers accountable for results: All of the above point to the need to make the heads of agencies or other designated senior officials accountable for their respective Citizens’ Charters. The monitoring mechanism should fix specific responsibility in all cases where there is a default in adhering to the Citizens’ Charter.
Include Civil Society in the process: Organizations need to recognize and support the efforts of civil society groups in preparation of the Charters, their dissemination and also facilitating information disclosures.
Sevottam is a Service Delivery Excellence Model which provides an assessment-improvement framework to bring about excellence in public service delivery. The need for a tool like Sevottam arose from the fact that Citizens’ Charters by themselves could not achieve the desired results in improving quality of public services. Besides, the absence of a credible grievances redressal mechanism within organizations was also becoming a major impediment in improving service delivery standards. Thus, it was felt that unless there is a mechanism to assess the outcomes of various measures, the reform initiatives would not yield the desired results. The Sevottam model works as an evaluation mechanism to assess the quality of internal processes and their impact on the quality of service delivery.
The Sevottam model has three modules. The first component of the model requires effective Charter implementation thereby opening up a channel for receiving citizens’ inputs into the way in which organizations determine service delivery requirements. Citizens’ Charters publicly declare the information on citizens’ entitlements thereby making citizens better informed and hence empowering them to demand better services. The second component of the model, ‘Public Grievance Redress’ requires a good grievance redressal system operating in a manner that leaves the citizen more satisfied with how the organization responds to complaints/grievances, irrespective of the final decision. The third component ‘Excellence in Service Delivery’, postulates that an organization can have an excellent performance in service delivery only if it is efficiently managing well the key ingredients for good service delivery and building its own capacity to continuously improve service delivery.
An organization which meets Indian Standard 15700:2005 will be entitled for “Sevottam” certification, “Sevottam” being the Indian name for excellence in service delivery. This is known as Charter Mark Scheme. Given the largely negative opinion prevalent about the quality of government services in the country, the implementation of “Sevottam” is going to be a challenging exercise.
The role of government is changing from a controller to an enabler but still is responsible for providing certain services to the citizens, just like an organization is responsible for managing a value chain that leads to output.
The use of Information technology can make the provision of services to the citizen more efficient and transparent and can save costs and lead to a higher level of efficiency. Thus the e-governance has come up as a new buzz world in the service delivery mechanism of the government.
E-Governance is in essence, the application of Information and Communications Technology to government functioning in order to create ‘Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent (SMART) governance.
The goals of e-Governance are:
a) Better service delivery to citizens
b) Ushering in transparency and accountability
c) Empowering people through information
d) Improved efficiency within Governments
e) Improve interface with business and industry.
TYPES OF INTERACTIONS IN E-GOVERNANCE
E-Governance facilitates interaction between different stake holders in governance. These interactions may be described as follows:
• G2G (Government to Government) – In this case, Information and Communications Technology is used not only to restructure the governmental processes involved in the functioning of government entities but also to increase the flow of information and services within and between different entities. This kind of interaction is only within the sphere of government and can be both horizontal i.e. between different government agencies as well as between different functional areas within an organization, or vertical i.e. between national, provincial and local government agencies as well as between different levels within an organization. The primary objective is to increase efficiency, performance and output.
• G2C (Government to Citizens) – In this case, an interface is created between the government and citizens which enables the citizens to benefit from efficient delivery of a large range of public services. This expands the availability and accessibility of public services on the one hand and improves the quality of services on the other. It gives citizens the choice of when to interact with the government (e.g. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), from where to interact with the government (e.g. service centre, unattended kiosk or from one’s home/workplace) and how to interact with the government (e.g. through internet, fax, telephone, email, face-to-face, etc). The primary purpose is to make government, citizen-friendly.
• G2B (Government to Business) – Here, e-Governance tools are used to aid the business community – providers of goods and services – to seamlessly interact with the government. The objective is to cut red tape, save time, reduce operational costs and to create a more transparent business environment when dealing with the government. The G2B initiatives can be transactional, such as in licensing, permits, procurement and revenue collection. They can also be promotional and facilitative, such as in trade, tourism and investment. These measures help to provide a congenial environment to businesses to enable them to perform more efficiently.
• G2E (Government to Employees) – Government is by far the biggest employer and like any organization, it has to interact with its employees on a regular basis. This interaction is a two-way process between the organization and the employee. Use of ICT tools helps in making these interactions fast and efficient on the one hand and increase satisfaction levels of employees on the other.
This new paradigm focuses on the use of information technology to bring public services to the doorsteps of citizens and businesses on the basis of revolutionary changes in institutional structures, procedures and practices that would transform the relationships between our three levels of government, businesses and citizens.
MAJOR E-GOVERNANCE INITIATIVES IN INDIA
1. CARD (Computer-Aided Administration of Registration Department) of Andhra Pradesh
This project included the complete computerization of the land registration process in the state. It is being used to record the sale and purchase of properties, power of attorney etc. Within three years of the launch of this project, nearly 90% of all registrations have been performed electronically in AP. It has been well received by the citizens because it has helped them in saving their time and providing accurate and effective results.
2. Mahiti Shakti of Gujarat
It operates like a single window through which the citizens can access information related to all aspects of the government’s functioning, various schemes and services ranging from obtaining ration cards to getting sanction for old age pension. Citizens are required to submit the necessary documents at the Info Kiosk and fill the required form online to obtain desired service.
3. Bhoomi project of Karnataka
Bhoomi is a self-sustainable e-Governance project for the computerized delivery of 20 million rural land records to 6.7 million farmers through 177 Government-owned kiosks in the State of Karnataka. It was felt that rural land records are central conduits to delivering better IT-enabled services to citizens because they contain multiple data elements: ownership, tenancy, loans, nature of title, irrigation details, crops grown etc. In addition to providing the proof of title to the land, this land record is used by the farmer for a variety of purposes: from documenting crop loans and legal actions, to securing scholarships for school-children. These records were hitherto maintained manually by 9,000 village officials. Through this project, computerised kiosks are currently offering farmers two critical services – procurement of land records and requests for changes to land title. About 20 million records are now being legally maintained in the digital format. To ensure authenticity of data management, a biometric finger authentication system has been used for the first time in an e-Governance project in India. To make the project self-sustaining and expandable, Bhoomi levies user charges.
4. Friends project of Kerala
This project has been used to provide benefits of Information Technology to the day to day transactions of common man. It is a “Single Window Scheme” in which the consumer can pay for the utility services rendered to him by the various Government departments/ agencies, under a single roof.
5. PayGov India National Payment Service platform
DeitY along with NSDL Database Management Ltd (NDML) has created a common infrastructure that can be used by Center/States/Departments to offer various services through their National / State portals with a facility to make online payment using net banking, credit cards and debit cards. PayGov India offers a range of payment options through which a payment can be made by the citizen to avail a service. The different options available to a citizen are: Net banking (approx. 65+ banks); Debit card; Credit card; IMPS; Cash Cards/ Wallets and NEFT/ RTGS. This will provide One Platform for Payments and Settlement and Unified process across all channels (Net banking/ Cards – Debit+ Credit cards/ IMPS/ Wallets/ Cash Cards).
6. EBiz Portal
Ministry of Commerce and Industry has announced the launch of eBiz, India’s first Government-to-Business (G2B) portal which aims at transforming and developing a conducive business environment in the country.
The portal which has been developed by Infosys in a public-private-partnership model will provide a one-stop shop for providing G2B services to investors and business communities in India. The portal will also help in reducing the delays and complexity in obtaining information and services.
Businesses that are already operating in India or planning to start operations can use the portal to obtain licences, approvals, clearances, no objection certificates, permits and even for filing of returns.
It has an in-built payment gateway that will also add value by allowing all payments to be collected at one point and then apportioned, split and routed to the respective heads of account of Central / State / parastatal (a quasi-governmental organisation, corporation, business, or agency) agencies along with generation of challans and MIS (management information systems) reports.
7. MCA 21:
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has implemented the MCA 21 Mission Mode Project under the NeGP in September 2006 and presently the project is in the post implementation phase. The project aims at providing easy and secure online access to all registry related services provided by the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs to corporate and other stakeholders at any time and in a manner that best suits them. The goals of this project were formulated keeping in mind different stakeholders. These were:
a. Business: to enable registration of a company and file statutory documents quickly and easily.
b. Public: to get easy access to relevant records and effective grievances redressal.
c. Professionals: to enable them to offer efficient services to their client companies.
d. Financial Institutions: to easily find charges for registration and verification.
e. Employees: to enable them to ensure proactive and effective compliance of relevant laws and corporate governance.
8. Maharashtra Crime & Criminal Tracking Network & Systems
Crime & Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) aims at creating a comprehensive & integrated system for enhancing efficiency & effectiveness of policing through creation of a nationwide networked infrastructure for evolution of IT-enabled state-of-art tracking system around “investigation of crime & detection of criminals” in real time, which is a critical requirement for ensuring security.
9. Khajane Project in Karnataka
It is a comprehensive online treasury computerization project of the Government of Karnataka. The project has resulted in the computerization of the entire treasury related activities of the State Government and the system has the ability to track every activity right from the approval of the State Budget to the point of rendering accounts to the government. The project was implemented to eliminate systemic deficiencies in the manual treasury System.
Thus it has contributed in bringing efficiency in the government and aids the decision making process.
• Lack of technology and infrastructure
• Poor Identification of beneficiary
• Digital divide
• Lack of last mile connectivity
• Lack of indigenous technologies for cyber security
The right to information is implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. For the transparent functioning of the democratic political system, the founding fathers of the Constitution included the provisions of the right to expression in part three of the Constitution in the fundamental rights. While there is no specific right to information or even right to freedom of the press in the Constitution of India, the right to information has been read into the Constitutional guarantees which are a part of the Chapter on Fundamental Rights. However, with a view to set out a practical regime for securing information, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act, 2005 and thus gave a powerful tool to the citizens to get information from the Government as a matter of right.
The basic objective of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, to contain corruption, and to enhance people’s participation in democratic process thereby making our democracy work for the people in a real sense. It goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed. The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.
Salient features of the Act:
• Information that can be seeked under RTI
A citizen has a right to seek such information from a public authority which is held by the public authority or which is held under its control. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. It is important to note that only such information can be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. The Public Information Officer is not supposed to create information; or to interpret information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
The Act gives the citizens a right to information at par with the Members of Parliament and the Members of State Legislatures. According to the Act, the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person.
A citizen has a right to obtain information from a public authority in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through print-outs provided such information is already stored in a computer or in any other device from which the information may be e-mailed or transferred to diskettes etc.
• Information Exempted From Disclosure
Sub-section (1) of section 8 and section 9 of the Act enumerate the types of information which is exempt from disclosure. Sub-section (2) of section 8, however, provides that information exempted under sub-section (1) or exempted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 can be disclosed if public interest in disclosure overweighs the harm to the protected interests.
The information which, in normal course, is exempt from disclosure under subsection (1) of Section 8 of the Act, would cease to be exempted if 20 years have lapsed after occurrence of the incident to which the information relates. However, the following types of information would continue to be exempt and there would be no obligation, even after lapse of 20 years, to give any citizen-
(i) Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the State, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence;
(ii) Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature; or
(iii) cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other Officers subject to the conditions given in proviso to clause (i) of sub-section(1) of Section 8 of the Act.
• Right to Access
Any citizen, including overseas citizens of India and persons of Indian origin, can ask for information under this law. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records, taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or under its control.
• Procedure for filling
The RTI process involves reactive .Each authority covered by the RTI Act must appoint their Public Information Officer (PIO). Any person may submit a written request to the PIO for information. It is the PIO’s obligation to provide information to citizens of India who request information under the Act. If the request pertains to another public authority (in whole or part), it is the PIO’s responsibility to transfer/forward the concerned portions of the request to a PIO of the other authority within 5 working days. In addition, every public authority is required to designate Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) to receive RTI requests and appeals for forwarding to the PIOs of their public authority. The applicant is required to disclose his name and contact particulars but not any other reasons or justification for seeking information.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests to a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer refused to receive the application for information.
The Act specifies time limits for replying to the request.
I. If the request has been made to the PIO, the reply is to be given within 30 days of receipt.
II. If the request has been made to an APIO, the reply is to be given within 35 days of receipt.
III. If the PIO transfers the request to another public authority (better concerned with the information requested), the time allowed to reply is 30 days but computed from the day after it is received by the PIO of the transferee authority.
IV. Information concerning corruption and Human Rights violations by scheduled Security agencies (those listed in the Second Schedule to the Act) is to be provided within 45 days but with the prior approval of the Central Information Commission.
V. However, if life or liberty of any person is involved, the PIO is expected to reply within 48 hours.
• Duty to Publish
The Act, in particular, requires every public authority to publish 16 categories of information. This includes the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties; powers and duties of its officers and employees; procedure followed in the decision making process; norms set for discharge of its functions; rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions; etc.
If an applicant is not supplied information within the prescribed time of 30 days or 48 hours, as the case may be, or is not satisfied with the information furnished to him, he may prefer an appeal to the first appellate authority who is an officer senior in rank to the PIO. If still not satisfied the applicant may prefer a second appeal with the Central Information Commission (CIC)/State Information Commission (SIC) within 90 days from the date on which the decision should have been made by the first appellate authority or was actually received by the appellant.
• Sanctions and Protections
Where the Information Commission at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the PIO has without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or not furnished within the time specified or denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading or distorted information it shall impose a penalty of RS.250 each day till application is received or information is furnished subject to the condition that the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed Rs. 25,000.
• There is a growing realization within the bureaucracy that it can no longer be opaque in its functioning. The tendency to hide information and take refuge under the Official Secrets Act 1923 is being slowly eroded. For the first time, officials are being forced to be accountable to the citizens.
• Even though the nature of implementation of the Act varies widely across states, most states have largely complied with the provisions of the Act by (a) appointing PIOs and Appellate Authorities in public authorities (b) framing appropriate rules as specified under the Act (c) setting up Information Commissions (d) taking up training programmes for supply side functionaries etc. At the central level, RTI has been tagged into the NREGA and this has further helped the cause of accountability and transparency.
• Although many of the Information Commissions have lacked much needed resources, by and large they are functional authorities and increasingly playing the role envisaged for them.
• There is evidently a slow but steady increase in the awareness of people of RTI. While there may have been limited state level initiatives, many proactive district administrations have undertaken public awareness drives to spread the message of RTI.
• The civil society has played an important role in ensuring the implementation of the Act. There have been pressure groups which have constantly advocated better implementation. At the local level, many NGOs have done great work to build awareness and capacity among people. NGOs have also led by example by filing RTI applications in important areas.
• Simultaneously, the media has complemented the efforts of NGOs by devoting much reporting space to RTI. While some have undertaken high publicity campaigns, others have run dedicated columns.
• While the usage profile is skewed towards the urban middle class segments, there are a increasing number of reports of RTI being used in the rural context by the poor and the vulnerable segments to demand information, with a view to realize their entitlements for jobs, education, health care, pensions etc.
• Lastly, institutional mechanisms and capacities have been developed at national, state and local levels which continue to aid and assist the implementing agencies and demand side institutions in the implementation of the Act.