DNA technology against crime wildlife

Modern forensic science is making efforts to fight against international criminal gangs that kill and smuggle endangered wildlife.


A new laboratory in the Thai capital, Bangkok, is fully equipped to collect DNA from ivory, rhino horn and tiger skin – these encouraging efforts. The laboratory’s noble purpose is to provide evidence of the link between victims and suspects to prosecute, according to laboratory scientists.

Wildlife conservation groups say the killing of elephants, rhinos and tigers along with other endangered species has increased to an alarming level and there is only one large and sophisticated coordinated campaign available. Can help prevent this disaster in time. That is the judgment of CITES – the Convention against the exploitation and trade of endangered plant and animal species was signed in 1973.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho DNA technology against crime wildlife

Special laboratory in question – located inside the building of Thailand’s National Parks Authority (DNP) – was established with the enthusiastic support of the ASEAN Wildlife Protection Organization – WEN, a local environmental protection organization.

Dr. Kanita Ouitavon – female director of the Laboratory of DNP’s Wild Welfare Department (WIFOS) – said the first animal parts samples were analyzed for DNA from which a bank of gene data from Thai wild species will be established. Kanita Ouitavon laboratory is called DNP-WIFOS for short.

Kanita Ouitavon presented: “New technology is essential for our important mission. Thanks to data banks we can find species or subspecies or even know about the lineages relationship, origin, where they are exploited. The field of illegal business in the wild life does not require much investment, but the profit is lucrative so it attracts many people who are willing to commit the crime. Therefore, our Laboratory is a useful tool to combat this illegal business situation. Using DNA can prove a connection between suspects and wildlife”.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho DNA technology against crime wildlife

The laboratory, with 10 members, accepts specimens every day, including ivory sections, rhino horns, whole tiger skin and pieces of fur and bones from other animals. Each sample is then classified, photographed before conducting DNA testing. For animal parts outside Thailand, they will be inspected based on the international data bank. Therefore, female Dr. Kanita Ouitavon acknowledged her team of experts desperately needed patience.

Female Dr. Kanita Ouitavon is open about the challenges she faces: “From the beginning we knew very well the people behind the illegal wildlife trade are powerful people. and influence, but, despite all, we still work hard to fight against crime”.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho DNA technology against crime wildlife

According to Mary Rice, forensic science may be part of the fight for the protection of rare animals, but the first important thing is that governments must resolutely act to eliminate this kind of crime.

 

 

 

 

Miles to go for Lokpal

Rajya Sabha on December 17, 2013 and Lok Sabha on December 18, 2013 passed the amended Lokpal Bill.  Thus, the jinx has been broken after more than four decades.  The first Lokpal Bill was proposed and passed in the fourth Lok Sabha in 1969.  However, it did not get passage in Rajya Sabha.  Subsequent Lokpal bills from 1971 to 2008 also met the same fate. It is undisputed that Anna Hazare’s fast at Ramlila ground in 2011 and again from December 10, 2013  had forced the Parliament to deliver the Act.  The political strategy adopted by many political parties to sabotage the passage of the Lokpal Bill has finally met the dust.  Honesty and transparency has trounced over political inconsistency.

Measures to ensure probity and integrity in public life has been at the centre stage of national consciousness, particularly the scam and the tainted politicians only accentuated the widespread demand for an Ombudsman.  Lokpal though not a ‘cure for all ills” was embraced by masses as a significant step to deal with corruption at the highest levels of Government and political machinery.  It is recognized that the mere passage of Lokpal Bill is only first step for effectively addressing the deep rooted corruption.  The issue of black money, benamitransaction of property, seizure of illegally earned wealth and electoral reforms to curb the role of criminals deserve a very high priority in terms of legislation.  It would require a very informed and committed civil society to ensure that other measures also get adopted in the Parliament without further delay.  Perhaps the assignment would now be of new Parliament to be constituted in May, 2014.

The Lokpal Act has many follow-up steps in order to be functional. First, it requires the Presidential assent. The Government would need to declare the date of the effectiveness of the Act.  Concurrently, the Government has to frame and notify the rules as envisaged under the Act.  Only then the selection of the Chairman and the Members can be finalized.  The support staff and the rules of business will be taken up after the Chairman has been sworn-in.  With the best of intention, it may take about six months  to give a shape to functional Lokpal.  The manning of the staff position is not easy task as people with proven integrity to be recruited initially on the basis of deputation from Government followed by their absorption in case found fit to ensure the autonomy and independence of the Lokpal institution.  It calls for a huge organizational capacity, manpower and proven work culture.  Care has to be taken that the office of Lokpal does not become a parallel bureaucracy where the remedy would be worse than the disease itself.  It is important that the Government takes a pro-active stance in providing initial staff and budget to the office of Lokpal.

The jurisdiction of Lokpal is not restricted to senior bureaucracy and political functionary.  The powers of the Lokpal extend to Group A and B level officers, senior staff of public sector undertakings as well as Government assisted non-governmental organizations.  Apart from coordination and supervision with CBI and CVC, the responsibilities of Lokpal would require close coordination with highly decentralized administrative framework in the Government.  It is a logistical challenge for a centralized institution like the Lokpal to handle all cases from high profile scams to complaints of speed money in procurement of goods and delivery of services.  The most serious is the plethora of complaints which would have to be screened and then properly graded for further investigation.  The experience of the functioning of Lokayukta, Central Information Commission and the State level Information Commissions is a great lesson for the office of Lokpal.  There are a number of Lokayukta institutions who have not published their annual reports in spite of clear mandate.  There is a huge pendency of cases in terms of disposal of appeals and complaints.  In many Lokayukta offices, the institutions of new complaints have overshot the disposal and thus growing pendency.  Karnataka has one of the most effective functional Lokayukta.  The total number of pending cases upto 2012 in Karnataka are 15027, of which less than six months cases are 1632, six months to one year – 1360, one year to two years – 2707 and two years and above – 9328.  Other States also have similar periodicity and number of pending cases.  The Central Information Commission has a balance of 430425 appeals by the end of 2012, which makes a mockery of appeals and the citizens’ need for information has become a casualty.  It is reported that UP Information Commission has 35000 RTI applications pending with 250 applications/appeals filed everyday.

Unless the rules of Lokpal institution are carefully framed, proper staff recruited in a reasonable time frame and effective screening of the complaints is enforced, the institution would be unable to deliver the expectations and once again the spectre of blame game would cloud our objectivity.  The Lokpal institution need to ensure that specialized intervention and focused action is not compromised due to indiscriminate accumulation of complaints from various governmental organizations.  Awakened civil society which forced the birth of Lokpal is the best disinfectant to thwart the attempts of sabotage.

By Nripendra Misra, former Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India & Director, Public Interest Foundation.

(This article was published in the New Indian Express on 30th December, 2013)

Political apathy on Lokpal is shameful

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has once again threatened to take to the streets for the cause of a Lokpal. In view of continued inaction with regard to promises made and the midnight resolution of Parliament, what grounds do the parliamentarians have to claim that their authority to work on their own accord is being undermined through the hanging sword of Damocles?

It was around July-August, 2011, that the agitation for the institution of Lokpal, along with the other demand for grievance redressal, seized the national conscience — with citizens coming out in full support of the India Against Corruption-led campaign. The common view was that governance deficit was glaring, political will lacking and the Government just not serious about tackling the menace of corruption manifested in the form of black money, muscle power in politics, corruption in public procurement, slow administration of justice and lack of transparency in the working of institutions entrusted with the task of investigating corruption.

Mr Hazare’s fast at Ramlila Maidan had struck a chord with the citizens and the bulging support on the streets was an expression of their frustration with the growing corruption and ineffective measures to curb it. Rattled by the public outcry, the Government and the political functionaries put up the defence that exerting pressure on the Government through unsolicited mechanisms, like protests and street shows, to get an important legislation like the Lokpal adopted, was blatant undermining of the authority of Parliament and the Constitution.

Yet no one can deny the fact that it was this public outcry which pushed both the Houses of Parliament to emerge from their extended phase of inaction and adopt the ‘Sense of the House’ resolution on three key issues — citizen’s charter, lower bureaucracy under Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and establishment of Lokayukta in the States.

Two years on, the urgency shown by the Government and the Members of Parliament has gradually sunk into a state of torpor. With the next general election round the corner, unceasing attempts at maligning the image of rival parties and their leaders has taken centre stage.

Important legislative Bills like Lokpal and the Lokayukta Bill, 2011, and the Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievance Bill, 2011, have again been put on the back-burner, perhaps because the parliamentarians do not see these issues as game-changers in the forthcoming poll.

The Lokpal and the Lokayukta Bill, 2011, was adopted in the Lok Sabha on December 27, 2011. It was taken up for discussion and endorsement by the Rajya Sabha on December 29, 2011. However, the Bill was suddenly referred to the Select Committee for consideration. The Committee’s report is awaiting further movement since last eight months. This clearly demonstrates the lack of interest amongst lawmakers to take action on the report. Whether the Bill will be converted to an Act remains a moot question.

The Select Committee’s recommendations and the Bill as was presented in the Rajya Sabha, have very few issues of discord. The Government has to decide on the extent of Lokpal’s supervision of Central Bureau of Investigation; nature of investigation/prosecution wing under Lokpal; functional division of responsibility between Central Vigilance Commission and Lokpal and the nature of quasi-judicial powers with Lokpal, particularly on disciplinary matters. These issues can be addressed amicably and without any significant delay as there is commonality of views.

A similar indifference was meted out to the central version of the Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievance Bill, 2011. This Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2011, and referred to a Parliamentary Committee in January 2012. It is almost a year since the representation by the Parliamentary Committee got over, but as per the information in the public domain this very important piece of legislation is languishing and awaiting adoption in Parliament.

The continuing governance crisis and political apathy towards issues of larger public concern needs to be immediately addressed. The unanimous decision of all political parties to exclude themselves from the ambit of Right to Information Act is a clear indication of the reality that the campaign to free the electoral process from the shackles of muscle and money power is not over yet.

Indian democracy can ill-afford to continue with such a degree of insensitivity towards public welfare matters. As long as crucial issues, many of which have a bearing on the nation’s socio-political well being, continue to be ignored, street protests will remain the last resort of an angry people.

(By Nripendra Misra, Director, Public Interest Foundation)

(This article was published in The Pioneer on 9th September, 2013 and Dainik Bhaskar on 11th October, 2013)

A Guarantee without Accountability Right to Public Services

As if involuntarily acting on account of pressures from civil society and various other counters, the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services Bill, 2011 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2011.  It was referred to the Parliamentary Committee in January, 2012.The Committee sent its report in August, 2012.  About a year’s time has elapsed since the representation by the Parliamentary Committee was presented, and still the final version of the Bill, in light of the recommendations of the Committee, has not been tabled in Parliament.  This very important piece of legislation like all other critical bills may not get enacted in the 15th Lok Sabha.  Perhaps, it would require another push from the civil society to impart that sense of urgency at the right quarters.

The States have been pro-active in enacting and adopting the Act, facilitating for justiciable rights- based claim of public services within a specified time bound delivery.  Till now, 17 States have enacted this Act and are in various stages of implementation.   Madhya Pradesh was the pioneer which enacted this law in the year 2010; the year 2011 saw the Act getting adopted by 10 more states (namely Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi); in 2012 four states of Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala and Assam also enacted the Act; whereas Gujarat and Goa have enacted the law only very recently in April and May 2013 respectively and thus have not even notified the first phase of government services covered under the Act yet. And the remaining 12 states which are still to enact this legislation are Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and the seven north-eastern states of Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Manipur.

In order to find out the ground realities of the implementation of the Act in various states, Public Interest Foundation (PIF), a NGO, filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to all 28 states, asking for basic details of whether this act had been adopted in that particular state, and in case the answer was in affirmative then the rate at which the complaints were being received and processed.  An assessment based on notification of specific services for delivery was undertaken to evaluate if the enactment meant any appreciable improvement in the delivery of services and thus bringing about relief at the cutting edge level.

Most of the replies received to the RTI query shared only the details of whether this Act had been enacted by the State Government or not, and the number of services notified under the Act till date. The number of services covered range from 153 in Rajasthan to 13 in Uttar Pradesh.  Certification on health, birth, death, SC/ST status; issuance of BPL/APL ration cards; state-aided pension provision of various kind; power department and driving licences are some of the other services which have popularly been covered by most states for time-bound delivery. Other important basic public services yet to be covered uniformly by other states are services like labour -rights guarantees and coverage of Urban Development Department for property related settlement of various kinds like property transfer certificate, no objection certificate for building construction etc.

However a careful reading of the replies together shows up distinctly that notification of essential services is incomplete in most of the States. Majority of the States have left out the subjects of land revenue, land record, police administration, rend control, power supply and administration in decentralized local bodies.  The farmers face maximum harassment while seeking justice from the revenue courts.  There are ways of manipulating information to suppress records of frequent adjournment and delayed justice.  The same is the story of police stations in terms of registration of FIRs, speedy police intervention in cases of atrocities towards Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  The complaint of wrong billing and erratic power supply is endemic.

Another important feature and conclusion is that the system has not attained critical mass.  The citizens are not aware of their rights and there is no hand-holding procedure to cut the red tape.  Some of the states like Madhya Pradesh in denying information on monitoring practices went on to the extent of stating that under RTI replies it is not possible to furnish such information which is not already present with them in an collated form as a part of their usual record-keeping exercise. But a careful reading of the Rules accompanying this Act clearly states the requirement as well as provides the standardized format for record keeping of all complaints registered, time prescribed as well as taken to handle the case, and the final status of the complaint to be maintained on a regular basis separately by designated officer, first appellate authority as well as the second appellate authority. Even the pending Central legislation Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievance Bill, 2011, underlining this need for strict monitoring , in its Chapter X on ‘Reporting of Grievance Redressal by Public Authority’ of the Bill under section 46 (1) clearly states that, ‘Every public authority shall ensure that every Grievance Redressal Officer keeps a record of complaints made to it or appeal therein and the decisions on such complaints and appeals.’

Out of 28 states only four states shared monitoring records on number of cases received and disposed under the Act since conception. Moreover the monitoring data reveals only a very sketchy picture with no basis for conclusive analysis. Delhi and Karnataka both despite having provisions for punishing of erring public officials in case of delays beyond sanctioned time in handling of complaints have 3.6 lakhs delayed cases with no penalty imposed on defaulting officer in case of Delhi; and around 7.4 lakh cases pending beyond the sanctioned time with merely 06 officers brought to book in case of Karnataka.

Monitoring exercise of the implementation of this Act at ground level forms an important aspect of this Act, without which there would be no built-in accountability, and thus no way of knowing whether this highly acclaimed public welfare oriented Act is actually bringing about that change in the lives of the common man, which was the most important goal and promise of this very Act.

The Central legislation if passed without any further delay can provide that reference framework for the states to emulate underlining the importance for incorporation of in-built mechanism for monitoring of the rights guaranteed under the Act. Moreover, this record regarding the smooth functioning and the delivery of the promises made under the Act should be open to public scrutiny by being placed in the public domain. Infact the truth of the matter is that this very important enactment has yet to become part of district administration in the country, which can be achieved only when e-governance is adopted both at the level of request for services as well as its final delivery. For without this in-built mechanism for monitoring and accountability, there is a pertinent danger of this Act doing nothing more than a lip service to welcome change that it had envisioned and claimed to bring to the lives of the common citizenry.

By Nripendra Misra, Director, PIF and Tannu Singh, Research Associate, PIF

(This article was published in The New Indian Express on 26th August, 2013)

Citizen-centric public services

The delivery of public services in a time-bound manner at the level of States and the Centre, if implemented efficiently, could become a single most revolutionary step imparting relief at the cutting edge level. The citizens, particularly our rural brethren, are shunted from one office to other for procuring documents relating to birth, death, caste, income level and other forms of entitlements. An incognito visit to revenue offices at block and taluk level would highlight the problems and consequent harassment suffered by an average citizen in resolving issues relating to his own land record rights. Evidently, there is significant petty corruption in the delivery of services. Even opening of a bank account is almost a life time achievement. The innumerable information sought by the bank in a complicated application form is beyond an average rural person. Hand holding is the only solution where the touts flourish unchecked.

In the UK, “Putting People First” was a radical departure from the traditional top down approach of the bureaucracy. The cardinal principles were avowed standards of services with a commitment to quality, transparency, information giving, courtesy in the delivery of services and above all, an incentive to exercise a choice whenever necessary to meet the expectations of a common citizen. The objective being to suit the convenience of the user measured in terms of relief offered to the citizen.
More than a dozen states have already enacted laws guaranteeing the delivery of public services within a specified time-frame. Although the lists of public services notified under the Act are not exhaustive, it certainly sets in tune a positive beginning. Based on information given by a few States through an application moved under RTI, the Government of NCT of Delhi, Punjab, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand have notified 44, 67, 84, 124 and 63 services under their respective State Acts. The states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, who were pioneers in enacting such a law, have specific and exhaustive lists as an outcome of periodic review of implementation. Most of the State Acts have a provision for grievance redressal, imposition of fine on erring officials and provision for performance audit.

The majority of citizens are yet not aware of their rights under this Act. In our analysis, it came to light that there were 12,887 cases in Government of NCT of Delhi in 2011 where penalty was leviable and citizens could rightfully claim relief. But the citizens concerned did not make any claim. To help citizens exercise choice wherever possible and raise their voice when necessary to ensure that quality of service is reasonable and timely, it is important to specify delivery standards easily understood by the public. The citizens still suffer under the impression that there is no such legal right available to them for getting high standard time-bound services. The Government of NCT of Delhi as per the information given under RTI processed 93 per cent applications of a total of 4,06,609 applications in 2011 within a specified time. The efficiency in the case of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in terms of applications processed was 98 and 99 per cent respectively. The success rates in other states could not be evaluated as the Act has been made effective 2012 and the notification of services to be rendered is being continuously expanded. There is a degree of cynicism amongst the citizens regarding such high rate of efficiency. There is an element of disbelief. It emanates from the fact that majority of citizens are not yet aware of the provisions made under the Act regarding the type of services being rendered and the time table for delivery. The notifications are not publicly available and is mostly confined to the website of the department. The states have made very limited publicity regarding their commitment of time-bound delivery of services. Clear information widely shared about processes and procedures to access the services/benefits should be provided with particular reference to the levels at which they can be sought. Moreover, its integration with e-governance is a must. Evidently, the departments would have to provide community internet kiosks for the effective and widespread use of e-governance facility.

In response to widespread demand and mass mobilisation, the Union government tabled a Citizen’s Charter Bill, 2011. The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee which submitted its report in August, 2012.
It is now awaiting nod from the Parliament to be declared effective. The Standing Committee had recommended that the charter should clearly specify the function of a public authority, time frame for the delivery and the conditions for entitlements of the goods and services.

The Indian Institute of Public Administration had suggested an over-arching legal framework which would identify services, time-frame for delivery and procedure and avenues of public grievance redressal. The role of NGOs and civil societies at the field level is critical at the initial stage to ensure that the promises given to an average citizen are being fulfilled. In the state of Punjab, the government has constituted the Punjab Right to Services Commission whose responsibility is to ensure proper implementation of the provisions of the Act as well as to facilitate and enlarge the scope of public services within the state. It is expected from the commission that it would recommend additional notifications which would bring more government departments under the ambit of the Act. Further, the commission is required to propose changes in the procedures for service delivery to make them more transparent and citizen-friendly. The commission has over-arching powers to recommend action against the erring government officials. It also enjoys suo moto powers to take up cases of administrative failure and carry out inspections of the offices entrusted with the delivery of services as well as the offices of the appellate authorities.

Both the central and state governments are taking steps to bring about accountability, transparency and sensitivity in the administrative culture. The emphasis on developing public services as a professional, merit-based and accountable instrument of good governance — one which fulfils the promises made and bring information in the performance and delivery of services to citizens is dream yet to come true. However, it is distinctly within the realm of possibility.

By Nripendra Misra, Director, PIF

(This article was published in the New Indian Express on 3rd April, 2013)

Why bureaucracy baulks at decisions, should omit draconian provisions in Prevention of Corruption Act

Our Prime Minister has time and again appealed to bureaucrats for taking fair and objective decisions based on sound evidence and designed to serve the national interest. Manmohan Singh exhorted civil servants to fight the tendency of not taking decisions because of the fear that things might go wrong and the civil servants might be penalised for that.

In his speech on Civil Services Day, 2012, he had observed, “It is our government’s commitment to put in place a system and create an environment in which our civil servants are encouraged to be decisive, and no one is harassed for bona-fide mistakes of errors of judgement. We stand committed to protecting honest and well-meaning civil servants who might have made genuine errors in their work. And I sincerely hope that these intentions of our government are shared by the state governments too.”

In order to appreciate the mindset of senior civil servants, both IAS and IPS, perhaps performance-tracking of both the central and the state government would be revealing. It would emerge that the central and state governments have not lived up to the commitments and the civil servants, both serving and retired, have been left to fend for themselves even where objective, fair and transparent decisions emerging from the deep analysis of the subject have been taken for the best interest of the country. More often than not, it is the political leadership that has yielded to spot expediency.

Our Prime Minister has great expectations from the civil servants in terms of contribution to the society.

There is a draconian provision, section 13(1)(D)(III) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, as one of the criminal misconduct by a public servant.

It reads, “While holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest.” It could be interpreted that a public servant could be prosecuted if he has taken a decision that results in pecuniary gain to an individual without any public interest.

In today’s scenario, most public servants are required to make a decision to facilitate growth. Private sector is often the key partner in most developmental endeavours. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where the key economic actors, i.e., private, public or both, that would not gain from any decision that encourages or sets in motion an economic activity.

Whether it is tax rationalisation, amendment in the duty, fee or any other form of tax levying, disposal of public assets including disinvestment, or incentives for making a trade competitive, they all have features that impact pecuniary gain while undertaking such activities. A day may come when tax exemptions announced with good intentions may also be interpreted as criminal misconduct.

Our Prime Minister has cautioned against a “mindless atmosphere of negativity and pessimism”. There is no certainty that the honest and innocent would be spared from harassment as long as such provisions exist in the Act. There is a fair possibility that many of the economic decisions could be interpreted differently with the dynamics of the rationale taking different shades at different times.

It is now left to an investigating officer to interpret a decision as one of criminal misconduct. It is also important to note that the public servant cannot only be prosecuted during the active service but any time after the retirement till death.

It was against this background that the Committee on Civil Services Reform ( Hota Committee) in its report has strongly recommended a review of the section 13(1)(D)(III) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The committee had observed that all the commercial decisions benefit one party or the other and it is often difficult for a public servant, even though acting in good faith and national interest, to ensure conformity with the aforesaid provision of law.

It observed that the easiest course for the civil servant is to avoid taking a decision or refer it to a larger body or committee to take a decision. This would largely explain the present atmosphere of safe play and lack of decision by pushing the file.

Unless this draconian provision is omitted, civil servants will always be inhibited from taking bona-fide commercial decisions. It is also important to note that the provision does not even require some kind of material nexus between the officer and the concerned pecuniary gainer.

(This article was published in the Economic Times on 3rd December, 2012)

Get cracking on corruption!

The issue of ending endemic corruption, including combating the menace of black money, needs to be addressed with both sincerity and speed. The government claims to have taken a series of measures to meeting the challenges posed by corruption in public life. However, the impression remains that it is ineffective in tackling the scourge of corruption, which is affecting all walks of our life and making the common citizen, who has no ‘Mai Baap’ (money or influence), its victim.

The United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi in December 2010 outlined a concrete 5-point agenda before the 83rd Congress plenary session that included fast-tracking of all corruption cases to restore people’s faith in the political system; full transparency in public procurement and contracts through a clear legislation and procedures; relinquishing discretionary quota by all Congress ministers at the Centre and in the states; and formulating an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources.

A review of the status of implementation of these action-points reveals that much more needs to be done. The new system of fast-track courts to handle corruption cases is yet to take shape and court proceedings continue as before. Even the demand for fixing a time-frame for deciding pending criminal cases against elected representatives has not materialised, with a number of public interest litigations being filed on the subject. There is a popular demand for electoral reforms, specifically to prohibiting criminals from contesting elections. The new public procurement law is facing stiff opposition from vested interests in the government. The issue of complete withdrawal of discretionary powers has happened sporadically at certain levels of government functioning but this is not being practised uniformly throughout the government set-up.

An open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources is still at the examination stage. The Chawla Committee has submitted its recommendations but this remains a complicated subject, requiring time and expertise to give shape to it completely. Even the simplest of the 5-point programme that requires an austere, simple lifestyle and refraining from indulging in a vulgar display of wealth has not been converted into an action programme. It is because of this slow pace of implementation that the Centre has received flak from the public.

Along with this, the Union government has addressed socio-political challenges of combating corruption as a law and order issue. Having been responsible for maintaining law and order during my career, I can say with some conviction that the police forces can handle the challenges of law and order effectively, if there is clarity of the mission to be accomplished. Socio-political challenges should have been addressed through good governance made possible by effective and timely processes of government decision-making. Unfortunately, law and order issues and socio-economic challenges intermingled in the government’s response to public agitations by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare creating confusion.

The Lokpal Bill has been finally introduced in Parliament and is currently awaiting the nod of the Rajya Sabha. Perhaps, it may not see the light of the day in its present form. One fails to understand the political attempts to complicate matters that can be kept simple. The institutions of the Lokpal and Lokayukta need not be set-up under an overarching law. Even if it is legally and constitutionally tenable, one needs to respect the federal character of the Indian polity, particularly when many states already have a state-level Lokayukta and only require upgrading their powers.

There is no need for the apex anti-corruption body of the Lokpal to have an organic link with the Citizens’ Right to Grievance Bill, whose objective is to reform the state of public service delivery by giving every citizen the right to time-bound public services. Why have an overarching Citizens’ Right to Grievance Bill, when many states have already enacted their own public services guarantee acts? At best, the government could have enacted a model Lokayukta and right to public services law for the states to adopt and emulate. Perhaps, the imperative to meet the challenges from Team Anna led to the series of measures which have not been examined thoroughly either in terms of its acceptability by states, or its administrative and financial feasibility and its effective implementation.

Now certain individuals from Team Anna have made unwelcome remarks on the proceedings and MPs. The issue is that Parliament need not take cognisance of every utterance made by a few organised groups. To protect the sanctity of Parliament, members could have passed a law similar to those uploading key national symbols like the national flag, protecting them from the onslaught of public outrage. By debating Team Anna’s utterances, Parliament has given undue recognition to a select group of social activists, enabling them to garner more political mileage than is due. Individuals and groups trying to weaken parliamentary institutions are no doubt hurting the cause of democracy. The institutions responsible for running the wheels of democracy have to respond with greater care. Let them not give undue recognition to those who are not mindful of propriety.

The real answer to Team Anna is through concrete actions taken on key demands made at different points of time, be it on electoral reforms or on curbing the role of black money in the economy. The government need not reinvent the wheel on these issues; instead it should refer to the useful suggestions and legislations made by various government-appointed committees like the Law Commission and Administrative Reforms Commission that lie in the public domain.

Parliament members would do well to debate these recommendations than to discuss the conduct of a few activists. With so many important Bills pending before Parliament including The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, The Electronic Services Delivery Bill, The National Food Security Bill, Citizens’ Right to Grievance Redress Bill, The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, etc, the time to act for the central government is now. With the clock ticking before the next public outburst on corruption erupts, Parliament cannot afford to delay the passage of the Lokpal Bill for want of time. As the old adage goes, action, not words, is the most effective tool to silence critics.

(This article was published in the New Indian Express on 9th June, 2012)

Fixing the ‘right’ to public services

The states and the Centre recently skirmished over federalism, following contentious legislation like the Lok Pal Bill, the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and a proposed amendment of the Railway Protection Force Act, 1957. Now, the Centre is planning to step into troubled waters once again by transgressing the federal structure of governance through its draft bill on the right to public services and grievance redressal.

The Central Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievance Bill, 2011 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2011. It has been referred to the Standing Committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice.

The present draft militates against India’s federal character by seeking to enforce cutting-edge public services from the state governments through Central diktat. In the Bill’s statement of objects and reasons, it has been argued that an over-arching structure is necessary, as the impact of various legislations by state governments has been diffused and limited. But it is difficult to appreciate that the rights-based approach being adopted by state governments in their various Acts has no or little merit, especially given the fact that while the Centre still drags its feet on the Right to Public Services bill, 15 states have already either enacted such a Right or have Bills at the proposal stage.

The main objective of this Central Bill is to regularise, simplify and make more transparent the receipt, by the common man, of public services as a right. Yet services due from state governments are very different from those the Centre is tasked with providing. Thus, it is very important that this Central Bill should abstain from strictly laying down rules for the delivery of services which fall within the purview of state governments.

Having the states adopt a similar bill on their own motivation will show up as a huge advantage in terms of ownership as well as the arrangement for the financial obligations the legislation will entail. In addition, a model advisory outlining the essential characters to be a part of all state laws guaranteeing the delivery of public services may be issued by the Centre; this can act as a guideline for all states.

Some other critical issues that require attention in this Central draft are its coverage, the appellate body (and links with a Lok Pal), an over-emphasis on uniformity, motivational-orientation, and financial viability.

Over-burdening the system from the very beginning, in terms of too many complaints due to excessive service coverage, or in terms of complications involved as a result of spreading the system’s coverage to all levels of government (like panchayats, blocks, municipalities etc.) through one integrated act, would impact its efficiency and transparency.

Rather than forming a parallel bulky system of grievance redressal, fixing the final accountability with the head of department of each public office, backing it up with a penalty for non-compliance, will prove to be an important catalyst for this system to function efficiently.

Moreover, the involvement of a Lok Pal/Lok Ayukta should be restricted only to forwarding of those cases where a case of corruption is being built out of some grievance. The intermixing of the roles of the Lok Pal/Lok Ayukta with the delivery of public services listed out in the citizens’ charter will only lead to jurisdictional conflicts.

All the various tiers of government are linked organically, and differ greatly in nature. Each level of government should be allowed the flexibility to work out finer procedural details on its own. An excessive emphasis on procedural and functional uniformity across levels threatens to take away the efficiency and dynamism that this institutional reform hopes to achieve.

Motivation-orientation towards the adoption of this Act, created through a culture of performance-related incentives, rewards and promotion will help create an environment in which attitudes change — which in turn will ensure the sustainability of the reform. Finally, the financial viability of the new system’s operations over time, both at the level of the Centre and the states, needs to be accounted for separately, as these are going to be important factors impacting its administrative workability.

If adopted without disrupting the federal nature of our governance, this Bill will mark a significant step forward, especially given that it assigns a large role to grievance redressal born out of complaints about any quantitative/qualitative aspect of public-service delivery. It is important to remember that, if the right to service encompasses only the timely delivery of services and penalties for non-compliance, then it leaves out a significant aspect for citizens’ welfare — the power to approach an appropriate authority about the quality of the service they have received.

Establishment of empowered commissions at both the Centre and the states, vested with whatever oversight powers are appropriate, would go a long way towards transforming the modus operandi of public service delivery. The power of these commissions should be broad-based to include the ability to recommend additional changes in the procedures for service delivery to make them more transparent and citizen-friendly.

(This article was published in Business Standard on 8th April, 2012)

Do we need Parliament to debate on the Team Anna Show!

A few months ago, Baba Ramdev demanded a time-bound commitment from the Union Government to bring back the black money stashed away abroad.  Sticking to his demand to end corruption in the Indian polity, he undertook a protest fast at Ramlila Maidan grounds.  After a series of clarifications made through its emissary, the Union Government decided to negotiate directly with Baba Ramdev, dispatching four senior ministers to address to his demands. What followed these events is widely known but the issue of how to retrieve the ill-gotten black money is yet to reach its logical conclusion.  The CBDT Chairman-led Committee on Black Money is due to submit its report on the matter, while the Hon’ble Supreme Court has asked Delhi Police to take appropriate action for the disproportionate use of force at the protest venue.  But there are clear lessons to be learnt from this episode.

To begin with, the Union Government has mixed up the serious socio-political agenda of curbing corruption with the challenge of maintaining law and order, which could have been left to the Delhi Police.  The issue of ending endemic corruption including combating the menace of black money needs to be addressed with both sincerity and speed.  The present Union Government has, no doubt, taken a series of measures to meeting the challenges posed by corruption in public life.  However, the impression remains that it is ineffective in tackling the scourge of corruption, which is affecting all walks of our life and making the common citizen, who has no ‘Mai Baap’ in terms of money or influence, its victim.

The UPA chairperson, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, in December 2010 outlined a concrete 5-point agenda before the 83rd Congress Plenary session which included fast-tracking of all corruption cases to restore people’s faith in the political system; full transparency in public procurement and contracts through a clear legislation and procedures so that there is no subversion of due process along with full protection to whistle-blowers; all Congress Ministers, both at the Centre and in the States and all Congress Chief Ministers, should relinquish discretionary powers, especially those involving land allocation, as this breeds corruption; formulating an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources; ensuring that all Congressmen and women holding high office should follow an austere, simple lifestyle and refrain from indulging in vulgar display of wealth.

A review of the status of implementation of these action-points reveals that much more needs to be done by the Union Government to address the systemic issue of corruption.  The new system of fast track courts to handle cases of corruption is yet to take shape and court proceedings continue as before.  Even the demand for fixing a time-frame for deciding pending criminal cases against elected representatives has not materialised, with a number of public interest litigations being filed on the subject.  There is a huge popular demand for electoral reforms, specifically to prohibiting criminals from contesting elections.  However, the government has not managed to cleanse the political system by introducing a dynamic set of electoral laws.

Transparency in public procurement is under the active consideration of the Cabinet but the new public procurement law is likely to face stiff opposition from those with vested interests in the government.

The issue of complete withdrawal of discretionary powers has happened sporadically at certain levels of government functioning but this is not being practiced uniformly throughout the government set-up.  Whatever little progress has been made remains hidden from the general public, although the government can notify those key areas where these discretionary powers have been relinquished.

An open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources is still at the examination stage.  The Chawla Committee has submitted its recommendations but this remains a complicated subject, requiring time and expertise to give shape to it completely.  Even the simplest of the 5-point programme which requires an austere, simple lifestyle and refraining from indulging in vulgar display of wealth has not been converted into an action programme.  It is because of this slow pace of implementation that the Union Government has received flak from the public.

Along with this, the Union Government has addressed socio-political challenges of combating corruption as a law and order issue.  The police have worked hard to maintain peace throughout the country but it has not been given its due credit because of a few stray and unfortunate incidents.  Having been responsible for maintaining law and order during my career in civil service, I can say with some conviction that the police forces in India can handle the challenges of law and order effectively, if there is clarity of the mission to be accomplished.  The socio-political challenges should have been addressed through good governance made possible by effective and timely processes of government decision-making.

After Baba Ramdev, came the Team Anna-led movement against corruption.  Once again, law and order issues and socio-political challenges intermingled to create confusion for the government.  Even before he could begin his fast for a strong Lokpal, Anna was summarily jailed and then later released.  The media equated Anna’s stance with that of Gandhi’s, bolstering the demands for a strong Lokpal. The gathering of 1-2 lakh at Ramlila Maidan backing Team Anna’s demands added a sense of urgency for the government to act.

What followed was new precedent set by the Parliament, which debated for a full-day Team Anna’s demand on the Lokpal.  Back-door negotiations continued and some kind of political face-saving resolution was passed.  Emboldened by Anna breaking his fast, his team believed that they could now change the political face of the country, starting with the by-elections in Hisar.  Here, again, the same mistake was repeated— law and order challenges were mixed up with the socio-political challenge of establishing an effective Lokpal.

The Lokpal bill has been finally introduced in Parliament and is currently awaiting the nod of the Rajya Sabha.  Perhaps, it may not see the light of the day in its present form.  One fails to understand the political attempts to complicate matters that can be kept simple.  The institutions of the Lokpal and Lokayukta need not be set-up under an overarching law.  Even if it is legally and constitutionally tenable, one needs to respect the federal character of the Indian polity, particularly when many States already have a state-level Lokayukta and only require upgrading their powers.

There is no need for the apex anti-corruption body of the Lokpal to have an organic link with the Citizens’ Right to Grievance Bill, whose objective is to reform the state of public service delivery in the country by giving every citizen the right to time-bound public services.  Why have an overarching Citizens’ Right to Grievance Bill, when many states have already enacted their own public services guarantee acts?  At best, the Union Government could have enacted a model Lokayukta and right to public services law for the states to adopt and emulate.  Perhaps, the imperative to meet the challenges from Team Anna led to the series of measures which have not been examined thoroughly either in terms of its acceptability by states, or its administrative and financial feasibility and its effective implementation.

Now certain individuals from Team Anna have made unwelcome remarks on the proceedings and MPs of Parliament.  The issue is that the Parliament need not take cognisance of every utterance made by a few organised groups. To protect the sanctity of the Parliament, members could have passed a law similar to those uploading key national symbols like the national flag, protecting them from the onslaught of public outrage. By debating Team Anna’s utterances, our Parliament has given undue recognition to a select group of social activists, enabling them to garner more political mileage than is due.  Individuals and groups trying to weaken parliamentary institutions are no doubt hurting the cause of democracy.  But the institutions responsible for running the wheels of democracy have to respond with greater care.  Let them not give undue recognition to those who are not mindful of propriety.

The real answer to Team Anna is through concrete actions taken on key demands made at different points of time, be it on electoral reforms or on curbing the role of black money in the economy.  The government need not reinvent the wheel on these issues; instead it should refer to the useful suggestions and legislations made by various government-appointed committees like the Law Commission, Administrative Reforms Commission that lie in the public domain. Parliament members would do well to debate these recommendations than to discuss the conduct of a few activists.  With so many important Bills pending before Parliament including The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, The Electronic Services Delivery Bill, The National Food Security Bill, Citizens’ Right to Grievance Redress Bill, The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill etc. the time to act for the Union Government is now. With the clock ticking before the next public outburst on corruption erupts, Parliament cannot afford to delay the passage of the Lokpal bill for the want of time. As the old adage goes, action not words is the most effective tool to silence critics.

Suggestions on the Rights of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of Their Grievances Bill, 2011

1. In the Statement of Objects and Reasons enclosed with the Bill presently under the consideration of the Parliament, it has been stated that an over-arching structure is necessary as the impact of various legislations by the State Governments has been diffused and limited.  It is difficult to appreciate that the Rights based approach as enacted by the State Governments has been considered inadequate without proper evaluation.

2. The present draft militates against the federal character of the Indian polity and seeks to enforce cutting edge public services being implemented by the States through a Central diktat.  During the debate on the Lokpal Bill certain clarifications were given from the establishment for the inclusion of Lokyuktas in the draft Bill.  One of the stated reasons was the international commitment.  Even this reason is not applicable in the case of present Bill.

3. The Bill should be confined to the Centre as the cutting edge services due to a common man from the level of the State Government are different from the delivery of services by the Central Government.  Therefore, the Central bill should not lay down rules and norms for the delivery of services which fall within the purview of the State Governments.

4. The draft Bill has defined public authority under clause 2(n).  It is too wide with inclusion of panchayats, municipal bodies, licensed organizations which may have come into existence through State Acts and Rules and even NGOs.  Even the monitoring of compliance would appear to be an impossible task in the proposed dispensation.

5. The definition of complaint under clause 2(f) goes beyond the delivery of goods and services as it seeks to probe the functioning of a public authority in terms of violation of any law, policy, programme, order or scheme.  It will only end up generating more complaints than any relief to the citizens.

6. Indian Institute of Public Administration and also the Public Interest Foundation have separately outlined the features to be incorporated in the laws concerning Rights to Services and Redressal of Grievances.  A model advisory outlining the essential characters to be a part of all State laws guaranteeing the delivery of public services may be issued by the Centre which could act as a guideline for all States to enact/amend their State bills in the light of the same.  This would ensure that there are no conflicts between the Centre and the State on the subject matter specified.  The present draft has many clauses which could end up in a conflict situation with the States Act.

7. The States while legislating a similar bill will have a sense of ownership as well as the assurance for the administrative and financial obligations entailed.  This learning has flowed out of initial failure to successfully take-off of many commendable welfare intended bills in the recent past like the RTE Act, 2009, where many states have still not come out with their state specific model acts, and the issue of generating the state-share of the fund towards implementing this act has become a big bone of contention between the state and the central government.  Yet another example of laudable act failing due to an element of imposition by the centre whereas lack of ownership by the state governments is the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act of 1996, where major defaulters on significant features were some very prominent states like Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh. The pace of implementation of this Construction Workers’ Cess Act was indeed so slow that even the Ministry of Labour and Employment also acknowledged its sluggish implementation through a reply to a RTI application.

8. There are 15 States which have either enacted Right to Services or the Bill is at the proposal stage.  Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Jharkhand have already notified the effectiveness of their respective Acts.  The States of Kerala, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Orissa have also presented their bill for final enactment.  Therefore, there is no justification for an overarching bill at the Central level.  The acts already adopted by the States need to be respected.  However, the State acts could be further revamped by including provisions on grievance redressal.  This should be included as an essential features of the State act for it is important to remember that if the right to service encompasses only provision of timely service delivery and penalty for its non-compliance, then it leaves out a significant aspect for citizens’ welfare – a provision for approaching appropriate authority about the quality of service received.

9. There are positive features in various States laws which could be appropriately legislated in the Bill under consideration.  The salient points are:-

(i) Given that e-governance is the way forward, the draft bill should contain provisions for the electronic delivery of public services and goods to citizens, one which is direct and easy-to-access.

Taking cue from The Delhi (Right of Citizen to Time Bound Delivery of Services) Act, 2011, the draft bill can set out for the establishment of a dedicated e-portal along the lines of the e-SLA Monitoring system, whereby citizens can track, check and monitor the status of their applications. This would help in cutting out the role of intermediary officials in the entire process of service provisioning.

Further, learning from The ‘Maharashtra Mandatory Electronic Delivery of Public Services Act, 2010 the draft bill can introduce enabling provisions for time-bound and online delivery of services that require a limited public interface.

(ii) The draft bill must also contain provisions for human resource management especially towards creating a culture of excellence in public services. Creating a results-oriented work culture in government offices should be an avowed policy goal.

The Delhi model has made the provisions of the Act a part of the service conditions for government servants. In other words, it has made responsive and accountable governance as the benchmark for service delivery and administrative action.

(iii) In addition, many state laws enshrining the right to public services including the pioneering Madhya Pradesh and Bihar legislations have certain progressive provisions that check official dilly-dallying, improve administrative efficiency and remove inordinate delays caused by government officials. These include: offering financial compensation to aggrieved citizens from the lump-sum penalty or fine amount charged per day on non-complaint officials responsible for delay or failure in the delivery of services, fixing administrative accountability by fining and penalising non-compliant and negligent officials through a deduction in their salary, and linking performance under case disposal with overall performance audit initiating disciplinary action against erring officials. These could be appropriately reflected in the Draft Bill.

(iv) Given that separate Commissions at the level of states and the centre is being proposed as an essential feature by this bill, it is important to learn from the Punjab Right to Services Ordinance, 2011, which envisages not only an appellate role for the Commissions but a much broader recommendatory role wherein the commission can also advise on the other procedural and functional improvisation for the better delivery of these cutting edge services.

10. It is important to regulate the coverage in terms of the defined services and also in terms of the tiers of grievance that it covers.  Firstly, it is important to clearly notify and restrict the extent of services which would qualify for redressal under this mechanism.  As stated earlier, it needs to be implemented and tasted for Central level functions.  Over burdening the system from the very beginning both in terms of too many complaints due to excessive service coverage, or in terms of complications involved as a result of spreading out the system to cover all levels of governance all at the same time through one integrated act would retard the system and impact its efficiency and transparency, the very goals that we have set out to achieve through this mechanism.

11. Even the state governments taking this model upto the level of panchayats and municipalities  should take appropriate care to test the system for efficiency as well implementation glitches before spreading it out too wide. In fact Lokseva Kendra models of Madhya Pradesh or the Integrated Citizens’ Service Centres of Goa can provide an important learning and insights if this system has to be extended uptil the block level by the respective state governments.

12. Too much emphasis on procedural and functional uniformity at all levels threatens to take away the efficacy and the dynamism which is one of the very important end-goal of this institutional reform. The organic link of all tiers of governance differs greatly in nature and thus flexibility in terms of determining the finer procedural and implementation details should be allowed for each level of governance separately. This flexibility will also facilitate in curbing costs both in terms of systemic requirements as well as man-power allocation. Like for example in case of change of Grievance Redressal Officer or any related such change it need not necessarily be advertised in a Hindi or English newspaper in addition to a regional newspaper; or the need for essential setting up of call/information-facilitation centre should be waivered depending on a real ground level reality analysis. This discretion of the choice of the best mechanisms for generation of public information regarding citizens’ charter, grievance redressal is best left to the discretion of the Head of the Department relevant to that level of governance.

13. Rather than forming a parallel detailed bulky system of grievance we should strive increasingly towards strengthening the already present post of Head of the Department. Fixing the final accountability with the Head of Department of each public office, as well as backing it up with additional clause of penalty in case of   non-compliance will prove to be an important catalyst for this system to function efficiently, and to not succumb to various complications and snail-paced activity due to increasing number of appeals flowing onto separate higher regulating institutions like Commissions and Lokpal/Lokayukta. Head of Department is most equipped with the know-how of the procedural details as well as the maximum time required for addressing of any grievance, thus if the position of the Head of the Department is sufficiently empowered, along with obligatory punishments in cases of failure, than only the rarest of the rare cases would be required to be sent out as appeals to other appellate bodies outside the department. This ways the need for creating a bulky parallel set-up for grievance redressal may be avoided thereby accounting for a lot of saving in terms of cost, time as well as man-power.

14. The organic linkage with the Lokpal/Lokayukta is absolutely unnecessary and would wily-nilly burden the office of Lokpal/Lokayukta with very poor returns.  The inter-mixing  of the roles of the Lokpal/Lokayukta with  delivery of public services listed out in the citizens charter would create avoidable jurisdictional conflict as well as may lead to over-burdening of both parallel arrangements distinctly created for corruption cases and redressal of grievances born out of non-delivery of citizen public services.  In cases where corruption is suspected it may be referred to Chief Vigilance Commissioner.

15. The public service commission at the level of centre/state should be empowered separately with the highest appellate jurisdiction in the rarest of the rare case where the resolution and redressal of grievance could not be achieved within the department with Head of the Department being the highest authority.

16. The definition of complaints needs to be more specific in context of this central act. The fact that it encompasses in its purview everything ranging from complaints against compliance to the citizens’ charter to the functioning of a public authority, or any violation of any law, policy, programme, order or scheme, takes away the specificity and introduces a lot of ambiguity to the definition of complaints related to non-delivery of public services. If specificity in the definition of complaints is not brought about then there is very high probability that the nature of these complaints being too wide would lead to a situation of overflow of unwarranted number of complaints which cannot be handled at this level of governance thereby leading to high pendency rate of unresolved complaints which may ultimately adversely affect the overall functioning and the efficiency of the institution/legislation

17. The Definition of public authority needs to be more demarcated in terms of the fact that it is not necessary to cover NGOs substantially funded by government under this act, but what this act should very clearly spell out is the inclusion of those private companies which are in any ways involved in the delivery of essential public services for example BSES involved in provision of power supply.

18. This act at the level of the centre or state should restrict its jurisdiction only to delivery of public services and not to public goods. The parameters for the qualitative as well as the quantitative delivery of public goods would differ a lot from that of delivery of public services. Keeping this act specifically linked to the delivery and grievance redressal of public services only, would ensure that the institution does not get over-burdened from the very start and thus would enable its smooth and efficacious pick-up as well as functioning on a continual basis.

19. Within the coverage of this act, besides citizens, there should also be a provision for the time bound delivery as well as grievance redressal for NRIs/foreigners who have been residing in India/state for a minimum specified period of time. NRIs/foreigners living at a particular place are also entitled to an assured delivery of specific number of public services, thus this institutional set-up being made for assured delivery of public services should compulsorily provide for the inclusion of those NRIs/foreigners residing in a particular area for a specified minimal period of time.

20. In the appointment or filling up of vacancies regarding the post of Central Public Grivance Redress Commissioners the final decision making power needs to remain in the hands of a single appointing authority. A close reading of this draft act shows that two appointing authorities in the form of President of India/ Governor of the state, as well as Chief Central Public Grivance Redress Commissioner have been empowered with the decision-making power as regards the appointment or filling up of vacancies regarding the post of Central Public Grivance Redress Commissioners. This conflicting position needs to be resolved in favour of single empowered final appointing authority, for otherwise it would lead to unnecessary confusion and thus interfere with the smooth function of the act both at the level of the centre.

21. In light of the fact that certain government departments and programmes like the health ministry or NREGA, already has an elaborate well-worked in-built mechanism for complaints disposal and grievance redressal, in these cases this draft act for grievance redressal should not be superimposed on those systems which are already well-functioning oriented towards the same end-goal of grievance-redressal. Infact from the very beginning these elaborate systems being worked out separately at the level of the centre and the state should take extra care to not interfere with those government departments/programmes which already have a well-functioning grievance-redressal mechanism of their own. This system of public service delivery and complaints resolution should act as a binding only there where exists a vacuum in terms of no or a very tardy functioning mechanism for grievance redressal.

22. Online monitoring facility for delivery of services and grievance redressal would go a long way in increasing the accountability and accessibility of the service delivery system for the aggrieved common man and will also facilitate greatly in decreasing the work load on the public authority coming in the form of follow-up queries. Thus the Head of Department through the powers vested in him by this bill should strive towards providing for online monitoring facility towards the delivery of notified goods/services as well as the grievance online status-check provision for citizens to the extent possible. Online monitoring of services and grievance redressal will give a positive boost to the overall functioning and efficiency of the delivery system of public services aimed at through this bill.

23. The focus of this central bill should not limit itself to specifically reporting cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 but should be able to make reference in light of any serious negligence/deviation of duties enlisted in the citizens charter. This act as it lays down in Section 9 (1) (d), should rather than focussing specifically on identifying and reporting cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, should take a note and report all cases which involve any serious dereliction of duties including any offence committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988. And a reference/report on the same deviation from duties may be brought to the notice of the Head of the Department. In light of this reference made, then the Head of the Department would be authorized to make further reference on the same to the appropriate authority competent to take cognizance of such genuine grave offence for further action.

The Head of the Department of every Public Authority does not have the sanctioned executive powers and the required administrative machinery to look into or to initiate proceedings in cases involving serious corrupt practices for further action. Therefore it is important that the powers of the Head of the Department in these cases of offense under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, are restricted only to referring such cases of corrupt practices to appropriate bodies already in existence which are competent to take cognizance of such corrupt practice. Moreover there already exists specialized machineries at both central and state level to oversee, try and penalize such grave acts of corruption. Therefore in order to avoid confusion and to introduce specificity, simplicity and efficiency in the functioning of the system it is advisable to limit the role and the power of the Head of Department of Public Authority to only referring such cases of corrupt practices to appropriate bodies for further action on the matter.

24. Establishment of empowered Commissions separately at the level of centre and states vested with appropriate powers of oversight can go a long way in transforming the modus operandi of public service delivery. The central as well as the state grievance redressal commissions should be vested with suo-moto powers of cognizance and investigation on any matter arising out of the Act’s provisions and in the discharge of its powers and functions. The power of these Commissions should be broad based to include within its ambit the jurisdiction to recommend binding additional notifications bringing more government departments and ministries under the ambit of this law and can propose changes in the procedures for service delivery to make them more transparent and citizen-friendly.

25. There already exists the National/State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, with which there has been no attempt to build linkages through this draft act. For a long term smooth dispute-free existence it is important to clarify both at the level of the state as well as that of the centre the possible connections/continuity as well as the exclusivity of the role of the Central/State Public Grievance Redressal Commissions with that of the already existing  National/State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

26. This Act is constructed around the idea of the Citizens’ Charter, where the Citizens’ Charter defines the quality of public services, while the Public Service Guarantee Acts take this idea forward in the sense of making a citizens’ right to public services within the stipulated time legally binding, failing which the concerned officials can be penalized.

But it is important to take care that the central as well as the acts enacted on the same subject matter at the level of states are more motivation-oriented rather than penalty-oriented. Motivation-orientation created through a culture of performance related incentives, rewards and promotion, as has been attempted in the Delhi (Right of Citizen to Time Bound Delivery of Services) Act, 2011, will create an environment facilitating attitudinal change which thereby would ensure sustained reforms.

27. The financial viability of operations and its sustainability over time both at the level of the centre and the states needs to be accounted for separately, as these are going to be important factors impacting the administrative workability as well as the efficacy of this entire machinery being set-up.