CITIZENS’ & CONSUMERS’ PERCEPTIONS
The Consumer Coordination Council of India, of which Director of COMMON CAUSE, had the privilege of being the Founder Chairman, recently held a Conference on the subject of “CITIZENS’ & CONSUMERS’ PERCEPTION OF EXPECTATIONS FROM CIVIL SERVICES IN INDIA”. This is obviously a subject of wide interest and importance. Conclusions and Recommendations arising from the Conference have been published by CCC. We are presenting hereunder these Conclusions and Recommendations which have relevance to the subject of Administrative Reforms and
removal of Public Grievances. Our readers may like to glance through these Conclusions and Recommendations :–
1. At the outset, it was agreed that Civil Services, as an Institution is essential for ensuring smooth functioning of the Governmental Machinery and for systematic and effective implementation of Government’s Policies. In fact the Civil Services is an important instrument for Development, Planning & Execution. Even in regard to the findings of the Survey, which did not paint an over all favourable picture of the Civil Services, it should be remembered that the perceptions are of individuals reflecting their experience with individual officials.
2. Nevertheless, the Perceptions and Expectations of the Citizens from the Civil Services as quantified perhaps for the first time, through the Survey conducted by CCC, showed that there is urgent need for Civil Services Reforms, to bring about a change in their mindset, motivation and attitude.
3. Civil Services Reforms alone will not change matters since the Civil Services are bound by Rules, Regulations & Procedures. There is therefore need to make a thorough time bound review of Rules, Regulations & Procedures and for taking other measures of Administrative Reforms, to enable the civil Services to function more effectively.
4. Looking at the need for bringing about a fundamental change in the present regulatory mechanism of the Civil Services, it was noted that though more than 50 years had passed since the Constitution of India had come into force, no legislation as stipulated in Article 309 had been enacted for governing the Conditions of Service etc. of the Civil Services, both in the States and the Centre. It is therefore recommended that a comprehensive legislation should be enacted in this regard without any further delay.
5. Consistently with the above, there is need to have a re-look at Article 310 of the Constitution of India, containing the pleasure doctrine of the President or the Governor, which is archaic and colonial in its approach and wording.
6. Likewise, the protection provided under Article 311 is not only feudalistic, but also, somewhat excessive and is not conducive to the present day requirement of Civil Services of being an instrument of Development and Social change. On the other hand, there is need for incorporating the Obligations & Responsibilities of the Civil Services in implementing Governments’ Policies and in establishing an effective and Citizen Friendly Governmental Machinery. There was also need for providing that reasons should be recorded for all decisions, as is stipulated in the South African Constitution. Similarly, “Administrative delay” must be considered as a specific misconduct for disciplinary action.
7. The procedure for recruitment to Civil Services should be improved and streamlined for selecting the best talents in the country. Suitable training programmes should be devised to bring about motivational, attitudinal and behavioural changes in them. The Civil Services should also be trained and motivated to adopt the Principles of the Citizens’ Charter and effectively ensure Accountability, Transparency, Availability of Information, Standards of Service and an Effective Grievance Redressal Mechanism.
8. It must be made mandatory for every Civil Service Official to not only serve at the cutting edge level for some time, but also to visit and study every area of public contact, within his purview, periodically, at least once every 4 to 5 years of his carrier of about 35 years and give a report of his findings to his superior officers, suggesting remedial action wherever necessary.
9. The performance of the Civil Services in implementing the Citizens’ Charter Principles by various Ministries/Departments must be monitored by a Committee in the Cabinet Secretariat under the Prime Minister, as in UK and submission of an Annual Report on the implementation of the Citizens’ Charter to the Parliament should be made mandatory.
10. Under the present system of administration, it is neither possible to reward good work, nor to fix responsibility for punishing erring officials, as the procedures are dilatory and cumbersome. This is perhaps one of the most important drawbacks of the present system, resulting in lack of responsibility and lax performance. There is need to streamline these procedures for enabling good work to be recognized for reward to serve as a motivation for others and quick and effective punishment of errant officials, to serve as a deterrent to others.
11. As a direct corollary of the above, it must be made compulsory to identify individual official or officials of the various Civil Services, in the case of loss to Government through acts of omission and commission, or for penalties imposed on Government Departments and Organisations for deficiencies in service and the amount recovered from the official or officials contributing to such deficiency or loss.
There is also need for enactment of appropriate legislation under Chapter III Part XII of the Constitution which inter-alia mentions the Liabilities & Obligations of the State to ensure Accountability of the State. This was recommended by the First Law Commission under Shri M.L. Setalvad.
12. There is also need for enactment of appropriate legislation under Chapter III Part XII of the Constitution which inter-alia mentions the Liabilities & Obligations of the State to ensure Accountability of the State. This was recommended by the First Law Commission under Shri M.L. Setalvad.
13. It has been brought to notice that there are as many as 56 Reports of various Committees/Commissions, which have given their recommendations so far and, which have made recommendations relating to Administrative Reforms during the past 50 years. All these Committees and Commissions have spent public money in studying the various issues and making their recommendations. It is therefore the duty of Government that all the Recommendations are consolidated, analyzed and made public, indicating the Recommendations that were accepted for implementation and the Recommendations that were not accepted or not implemented, giving reasons for the same. These should thereafter be publicly debated so that an important input from the public is available for further action.
14. Recommendations made by the Venkatachaliah Commission on Review of the Working of the Constitution and the Surendranath Commission as also the Law Commission, which have relevance to Administrative & Civil Service Reforms may also be looked into for implementation.
15. Many Ministries/Departments have set up Information and Facilitation Counters (IFCs). They are not however serving the purpose for which they were created. Specific Official in each Ministry/Department must be earmarked for coordinating and monitoring of the IFCs. It must be ensured that
every Citizen’s letter received by the Ministry/Department either directly or through the IFC must be acknowledged within one week with a suitably designed Computerised identification number indicating the name, designation & telephone number of the official, who may be contacted for further information in the matter.
every Citizen’s letter must be replied to finally or on an interim basis, within a maximum period of 90 days, indicating the status of the matter under reference and how long more it may take for a decision along with the reasons for the delay.
no official having public contact should be anonymous. It must be made compulsory for every such official to wear a name badge.
Conclusions and Recommendations relating to the Terms of Reference of the Hota Committee
1. Responsiveness and Citizen-Friendly nature:
Responsiveness and Citizens friendly nature of the Civil Service officials was found to be average or poor by 71% of the respondents. Therefore, Systematic Attitudinal change & motivation through psychological, behavioural management has to be built into the training schedule of officials to remedy this situation.
The three very important factors that emerged on Responsiveness and Accessibility as adversely affecting the attitude, response and functioning of the Civil Services Officials are: -
• Non-availability when required during prescribed hours of work;
• Unwillingness to specify any time limit for a final response; and
• Not prescribing and publicizing specified timings for meeting public.
There should therefore be proper supervision and inspection at all levels both regularly and by surprise to overcome this. Officials at various levels must prescribe specified hours and days for meeting the public and there should be a system of recording the output and result of such interaction in specific terms for information of the next superior officials. The functioning of this system for the Ministry/Deptt/Organisation as a whole must be reviewed by the Head of the Organisation at least once a quarter.
Considering the finding that the report card of civil services is not up to mark in regard to responsiveness and citizen-friendly nature, it is recommended that every government department should have a Citizens’
Responses Wing (CRW) with the following primary responsibilities:
• Providing Computerised acknowledgement of all letters received from the Citizens within one week;
• Monitoring citizens’ queries & complaints and ensuring time bound response;
• Monitoring and ensuring availability of officials for interaction with citizens;
• Monitoring and coordinating the functioning of IFCs wherever they exist;
• Facilitating availability of information to the public on official rules and procedures;
• Display of information prominently of the names, designation and telephone numbers of officials, who could be contacted for various purposes and the timings, if any, when they would meet the public; and
• Monitoring the wearing of name badges by all officials having public contact.
The Perception regarding transparency showed that Civil Services Officials were indifferent or negative in making available information to the extent of 75% by the respondents. This was consistent with theover all Transparency Rating since 80% of the respondents found the ranking 5 or lower in a scale of 1 to 10. Right to Information Act is an important tool for Transparency & Accountability of the Civil Services. They must therefore be encouraged to provide such information whenever these are requested within the ambit of the Act and the Rules. It is observed that some States are yet to enact this legislation. Steps may be taken to have such legislation enacted by all States. It is regrettable that though the Freedom of Information Act has been enacted by the Parliament quite some time ago, it is still to come into force, due to delay in framing Rules under the Act. This must be attended to urgently and the provisions of the Act brought into force expeditiously.
The three very important factors that led to lack of transparency in Rules, Systems & Procedures and which affected the performance of Civil Services Officials are:
• Information on rules, systems and procedures are not readily available;
• There is no feedback system to ascertain the difficulties faced by citizens/consumers for simplification or streamlining of the rules, systems and procedures; and
• There are no prescribed standards for performance and completion of tasks in the rules, systems and procedures
Remedial action may therefore require to be taken as follows: -
Time bound review of all Rules & Procedures & making them available to the public in simple understandable language;
Wherever possible, standards of performance must be specified and displayed for information of the public;
Wherever possible, indication must be given for the likely time to be taken in tackling any problem brought to notice by the public; and
Suitable feedback system must be put in place for looking into the difficulties faced by the public.
3. Accountability :
As regards Accountability, the Survey showed that as high as 70% found the Civil Services Officials either not at all accountable or accountable only to some extent.
The three very important factors that led to lack of accountability are:
• Lack of awareness among the public about any prescribed standards or benchmarks of performance for Civil Services officials at various levels;
• Lack of recognition of the right to be informed of the action taken on complaints; and
• Lack of proper system for lodging complaints by the public about non-performance by officials.
Therefore, with a view to ensuring accountability of Civil Services officials, the following steps are recommended:
• There should be clearly defined standards or benchmarks of performance for Civil Services officials at various levels. These standards should be prominently displayed at the entrance of every Government Department/Office;
• Citizens should be given the choice to fill feedback form to note their comments on accountability and functioning of the Civil Services officials. Performance of every Civil Service official should be judged on the basis of these standards. While making this judgment, senior officials should keep in mind the feedback received from the public on the performance of the officials; and
• There should be a well-defined system for lodging complaints and it should be mandatory that the complainants are informed on the action taken on the complaint within a prescribed period of not more than say 90 days.
4. Ethical Standards :
In regard to Integrity, Honesty and Ethical Standards, as many as 80% of the respondents perceived it to be either average or poor among the Civil Services officials. In fact most respondents (59%) considered that corruption was not confined to the cutting edge level, or the middle or supervisory levels, but at all levels, including higher and top levels.
The three very important causes of corruption that emerged are:
• Long drawn and cumbersome procedure in punishing offenders;
• Lack of prescribed and publicized standards of various services and lack of transparency encourage corruption for getting things done speedily and out of turn; and
• Touts and middlemen flourish and take advantage of lack of information and exploit the public.
Since majority of respondents found low level of ethical standards amongst the Civil Services officials and prevalence of corruption at all levels, following steps are recommended to address the problem on a priority basis:
• Punishments for corruption should be exemplary.
• Both bribe-giver and bribe-taker should be punished.
• Any person found guilty of corruption or any other malpractice should be debarred from holding any public office for the rest of his life.
• Reward for citizens for bringing to light cases of corruption.
• Suitable safe guards should be provided to those who expose corruption and other malpractices, by enacting a suitable “Whistle Blowers’ Protection” legislation.
• Official rules and procedures should be made known to citizens by Citizens’ Responses Wing.
• All officials’ dealings should be made by citizens themselves or through authorized representatives, rather than touts and middlemen, whose presence should be monitored and effective steps taken to remove them.
Wherever possible and necessary, information on number of applications pending or cases disposed off etc. should be displayed publicly to encourage transparency.
Only 33% of the respondents had visited Websites of Government Departments and Public Sector:
• Since awareness in this regard is low, Citizens Awareness Camps should be organized periodically by government departments to make e-governance mechanism popular. Professional assistance may be taken for the purpose.
• All public dealings should be performed electronically to the maximum extent possible, to ensure quicker disposal of cases, saving of time & resources and curbing the influence of touts & middlemen, besides encouraging transparency.
6. Undue Pressure on Civil Services:
In order to curb undue pressure on Civil Services by political, executive, business and other vested interests, the following steps are recommended:
• There should be functional autonomy for every department and office;
• No Civil Service official should be transferred or demoted/punished without conforming to the clearly defined rules and procedures for the purpose; and
• A suitable mechanism should be developed for tackling cases of harassment and other out-of-rule official dealings.
In order to curb pressure of administrative/departmental superiors, following steps are recommended:
• All officials should obey administrative hierarchy and functional autonomy within the department/office; and
• Officials indulging in pressure tactics should be punished suitably.
7. Citizens’ Charter & Involvement of Civil Society Groups :
• It is strongly recommended that the principles of Citizens’ Charter viz. transparency, accountability, standards of service, availability of information and effective grievance Redressal machinery, should be implemented to ensure that Civil Services Officials become a part of a Citizen-Friendly Governmental Machinery;
• Civil Society Groups should be involved in the decision-making process, particularly where citizens’/consumers’ rights are involved; and
• Representatives of Consumers/Citizens Groups should invariably be included in all Regulatory bodies.
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A miserly business man who was away from his house, sent his wife a cheque for a million kisses. The wife, sent back the reply which read : “Dear Murli : Thanks for the birthday cheque. The milkman cashed it this morning”.