Current Redressal Mechanism

1. Citizen Charter

A major theme associated with improving performance is the development of a customer or a client focus or service quality initiative in the public sector. Citizen’s charter is probably the best known example. This will improve access to public services and promote quality. It does this by helping people understand what an organization does, how to contact it, what to expect by way of service and how to seek a remedy if something goes wrong. It does not in itself create legal rights. But it helps users to claim existing rights, and may create new rights that are enforceable through non-legal means (for example, through a complaint procedure or independent adjudicator). The key feature of a charter are: a statement of the standards of service that users can expect to receive; the arrangements for seeking a remedy should something go wrong; and brief information on the service provided. Charters help the staff of the departments as well, by setting out clearly the services their organization provides. But their main audience is the user, and they should not be seen as management tools. The charter should clearly set out the standards of service that users can expect to receive. Good standards are vital for an effective charter, and should be expressed in a way that is meaningful to all users. Above all, the standards set out should be relevant, meaningful, challenging, simple measurable, monitored, published and reviewed. These initiatives aim to improve performance of service delivery as well as to provide service which meets people’s needs. Commitments to provide a certain type, volume and quality of services may be made and performance measured against their commitments. A number of central government departments and undertakings have framed citizen’s charters. Some of the state governments have also taken initiative in this regard but yet the results are not very encouraging. Perhaps the prevailing work culture does not translate these initiatives into reality. The real issue, however, is the need to bring about a total change in the attitude of public servants towards redressal of the public grievances at all levels and to pin-point responsibility for action on grievances of the people.

Access to justice

Today, access to justice is a major concern. The very concept of justice itself has become more malleable and flexible. In today’s world rights of the individuals have become more and more discretionary, the public and private realms more and more confused and the extent and operation of state or public power more and more blurred. There is a prevailing view that the judicial system as it exists is incapable of achieving justice or overcoming corrupt and secretive practices or erasing the abuse of the affluent sections. A system, it is alleged, in which law serves the master rather than controls the master or in which law fails to set out parameters not only of politicians’ power but also of political power, is not one in which justice can be achieved. This calls for adequate reforms in the judicial process. The recent judicial activism, however, has come as a welcome relief. This has rekindled people’s confidence and faith in our criminal justice system. However, this is only a short-term measure. Some long-term measures are required to streamline the system. It is equally necessary that an effective and transparent agency like ‘Lokpal’ be instituted at the earliest. The variety of tasks which now come within the purview of the modern administration necessarily results in exercise of large discretionary powers by public servants. A proper and healthy functioning of administration requires that despite the discretionary nature of these powers, discretion should be exercised in a reasonable manner and should not smack of arbitrariness. A number of cases of abuse of discretionary powers in the recent past have been subjected to judicial scrutiny, thereby enforcing the public perception that all is not well with our public services as far as application of law is concerned. Rule of law is the basic postulate of a democratic society. Democracy is inseparable from and cannot survive without the rule of law. It is absolutely essential that WE:: must take into account the need to abide by rule of law. Rule of law permeates different spheres of state functioning and in the process lends strength to democratic basis of our polity. What is therefore needed most is the culture of rationality and control so that the chances of abuse of discretionary powers should be minimised to a great extent if not eliminated all together. In the given administrative scenario, the citizen is demanding services but what he gets is inefficiency. He pays for the inefficiency of various service providing agencies. Therefore, it is necessary that reforms have to be performance-oriented. Their impact should not only be visible but measurable as well. Perhaps as a first concern in this area, there is a need to improve the behaviour of public functionaries, particularly those at the cutting edge level of administration. It is this level where the first interface between the administration and the citizens takes place. There is a need to institutionalize new patterns of behaviour in public administration and other public institutions. Changes in behaviour in organizations must significantly influence three distinct areas of work: (i) efficiency of work, (ii) relations with public, and (iii) sensitivity to environment. All the three are important for the effectiveness of the organization, and to enhance the administrators’ capacity to anticipate events and take timely action. In our system, the design of work rarely facilitates the achievement of results. When the work design is unsuitable for a job, most people drift into routine, concerned less with core and more with peripheral issues. The public officials hitherto were managing public administration according to their whims and fancies and the citizens were at the receiving end. But under the changing economic and administrative scenario under LPG, the orientation and outlook of administration shall have to undergo a sea change or else the administration has to lose its credibility in the eyes of the people.

2. Right to Information Most corruption is an upshot of secrecy and avowed confidentiality in the conduct of government affairs. Laws relating to official secrecy in India, particularly the Official Secrets Act of 1923, have resulted into inaccessibility of information about and knowledge of government policies, rules, regula¬tions, decisions, accounts and discretionary acts. Little wonder, most citizens are unable to obtain justice at the hands of manipulative and ‘intelligent’ bureaucrats. The Official Secrets Act of 1923 was a replica of the British Act of 1911 as amended in 1920. The provisions of the section 5 of the Act were so comprehensive that almost all information about the government could qualify to be categorized as an official secret. Still, worse, nowhere the words ‘secret’ or ‘official secret’ were defined in the Act, thus giving a lot of leeway to the civil servants to interpret the pro¬visions of the law for their defence. Thus, the Official Secrets Act was a convenient smokescreen to deny the public even legitimate access to government information. The legislative measures adopted by several states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Goa, as Right to Information Acts paved the way for enforcing transparency in the administrative system. There is an inverse correlation between transparency and corruption and, therefore, there is a justified hope that with an increasing stress on transparency, people’s control over the governance system will be augmented and in this process, corruption will be mitigated. The Right to Information Act, 2005 has superseded the earlier Freedom of Information Act of 2002 at the national level. The whole country is now covered under the provision of this new legislation. Information offices at all levels are responsible for ensuring the effective implementation of the act. Undoubtedly, it is a revolutionary measure which can be well influence the Indian administrative behaviour particularly in its interaction with the common citizen. But we have miles and miles to go in this direction. As Madhav Godbole remarks, “Ideally, any law on right to information should cover all sections of society including the private companies, corporations and firms, trade unions, non-government organizations (NGOs) and voluntary agencies, trusts, diverse associations and organizp¬tions including the bodies of professionals, and so on, whether owned or controlled by the government or by private individuals and institutions.” True the roots of corruption also lie in the nexus between the industrial and business houses, and between politicians and administrators. To ignore the sophisticated strategies of corruption of private entrepreneurs who corrupt public servants will make the whole exercise of tackling corruption partial and ineffective. In case Godbole’s suggestion is implemented, India will be entering an age of authenticity in public affairs which will help the sustenance of respectable levels of integrity in public life.

3. Role of NGOs in Redressal of Grievances NGOs or voluntary association are among the agencies which help in redressal of the consumers’ grievances. NGOs are playing a very decisive role in redressal of the grievances of the consumers and spreading awareness about consumers’ rights, etc. The activities of the NGOs and issues and processes related to redressal of the consumers’ grievances have come to be known as consumer movement. The consumer movement has become very significant phenomenon in the 1990s. The NGOs are defending the consumers’ rights related to both consumers’ goods and services. Some people argue that producers and sellers can themselves protect consumers’ rights by developing voluntary code of conduct to defend consumers’ rights. But general view is that it is not possible for the buyers and sellers to develop a code of conduct. The traders and manufacturers are more bothered about the profit than the welfare of the consumers. Besides, it is also a fact that since the consumers are mostly uneducated and unaware of their rights, the legislation alone can not become the instruments of positive action. NGOs or voluntary association are among the agencies which help in redressal of the consumers’ grievances. NGOs are playing a very decisive role in redressal of the grievances of the consumers and spreading awareness about consumers’ rights, etc. The activities of the NGOs and issues and processes related to redressal of the consumers’ grievances have come to be known as consumer movement. The consumer movement has become very significant phenomenon in the 1990s. The NGOs are defending the consumers’ rights related to both consumers’ goods and users’ services. Some people argue that producers and sellers can themselves protect consumers’ rights by developing voluntary code of conduct to defend consumers’ rights. But general view is that it is not possible for the buyers and sellers to develop a code of conduct. The traders and manufacturers are more bothered about the profit than the welfare of the consumers. Besides, it is also a fact that since the consumers are mostly uneducated and unaware of their rights, the legislation alone can not become the instruments of positive action. The government set up in 1977 a committee, under the chairmanship of Justice Rajendra Sachar to “suggest the measures by which re-orientation of managerial outlook in the corporate sector could be brought about so as to ensure the discharge of social responsibilities” by the business corporations. The Committee submitted its report in 1978 and suggested “corporate ethics” for corporate sector to make it socially responsible. It also recommended radical modification of MRTP act of 1969 and Indian Companies Act of 1956. As result of which Consumer Protection Act of 1986 was passed. The failure of the Kharif Crop in 1972-73 gave rise to the unprecedented price rise in the 1970s. It led to the formation of a large number of the consumer associations in various parts of India during late 1960s and 1970s : All India Bankers Association (1968), Surat Consumers Association (l969), Karnataka Consumer Service Society (l970), Visaka Consumers Council (1973), Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat (1974), Trichy District Consumer Council (1 976). CUTS (Consumer Unity and Trust Society) a Calcutta based NGO filed a petition before the, National Consumer Commission alleging the inconvenience caused to the consumer due to the strike of the employees of Bank of Baroda who went on strike. The national commission declared the strike of the employees as “anti-consumer Acts”. It passed the structure against the striking employees that “they have been totally indifferent to the interests of the consumers the depositors, the account holders, and the borrowers, whom the bank including its workmen is, expected to serve.” It directed the bank to see to the innocent consumers did not suffer. The commission hoped that the department of Banking, finance ministry, Government of India and RBI would urgently give attention to the matter of evolving some workable arrangements for rendering skeleton service In another case the society for civic rights filed a complaint against the Government of India before National Consumer Commission.

Recent Initiatives In the nineties, in the wake of structural reforms in governance throughout the world, adoption of liberalization in India and a growing stress on improving governmental performance, a series of efforts have been made to introduce fresh reforms into the Indian administrative system. At the level of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Secretary, Chief Ministers and the Chief Secretaries, brainstorming has taken place and an Action Plan has been prepared by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances which, in turn, is based on the recommendations of the conference of Chief Secretaries held on “An Agenda for an Effective and Responsive Administration” in November, 1996. This Action Plan focuses on citizen’s charters and an accountable administration; effective and speedy public grievance redressal system; empowerment of local bodies; decentralized delivery system; review of laws, rules and procedures; transparency and right to information; code of ethics for public servants; combating corruption; and stability of tenure of civil servants. Reading between the lines, one can discern the centrality of efficiency in the visualized reform process. In fact, no agenda on good governance can fructify unless optimum standards of efficiency are attained.