Sucheta Dalal :Much needed move to empower people?
Sucheta Dalal

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Much needed move to empower people?  

November 23, 2011

Has the time come for an effective Citizens Right to Grievance Redress Bill? Will the government enact a legislation that will truly empower ordinary people? Civil society needs to debate the provisions of the draft bill that is released for public discussion and feedback

Dr Nita Mukherjee

The Citizens Right to Grievance Redress Bill, 2011 seeks to “lay down an obligation upon every public authority to publish citizens charter stating therein the time within which specified goods shall be supplied and services be rendered and provide for a grievance redressal mechanism for non compliance of citizens charter and matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The bill, drafted by the Department of Training and Personnel was placed in the public domain on 3rd November as part of the pre-legislative consultation process. Although it was expected that the Bill would be introduced in the winter session of Parliament that began today, it does not figure in the  reported agenda for the session.

This may help by giving civil society and advocacy groups the time to gather public opinion on the provisions of the draft and give their suggestions to the government. Moneylife Foundation is holding a workshop on 24th November to discuss the draft Bill. Aruna Roy, member National Advisory Council, and her colleague Nikhil Dey from the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), who have pointed out some important lacunae in the Bill will address the workshop.

The demand for an effective mechanism to handle citizen grievances is as old as the hills. Forty years ago, in my PhD dissertation on Administration and the Citizen (Bombay University), I had reviewed the many administrative attempts that had already been made in India until the mid-1960s. Every administrative reforms committee or commission set up by the government until then had suggested ways to deal with expectations of people – and their complaints. Many of these recommendations had been accepted by the governments of the day – at the Central as well as state. And it might be interesting to note that several of these mechanisms had been ‘wound up’ due to lack of resources and as measures to cut down government expenditure.

There is one major difference between then and now. Until the 1970s, when India was still on the course of ‘planned development’ pursuing a ‘Welfare State’ vision and the objective was to seek citizen participation in development processes. Today, as we pursue the goals of a market economy when the State is no longer providing ‘welfare’ but ‘goods & services’ for which it levies user charges, the demand for such mechanisms has become more vociferous, and urgent, because we the citizens want to get our money’s worth; no longer is it doles from a maa-baap sarkar. Government officials – of every kind – the lawmakers, bureaucracy, and judiciary – have to understand that no longer is the citizenry going to treat them as ‘those in power’; they are ‘public servants’ providing services to the citizens; their salaries and perks are paid by citizens – from the taxes they pay. And those who pay the piper are going to call the tune. The sooner this is accepted at every level of government, the less stressful will it be for them to adjust to the new reality.

It is commendable that the government wants to embody the need for grievance redress in legislation and give it to us as a ‘Right’. But if legislation alone could yield good governance, it would have been a different India. Only a vigilant and articulate citizenry can ensure that the laws that are enacted have responsive provisions built into them so the bureaucracy does not hijack the spirit of the law through subordinate legislation. It is to this end that advocacy groups should take the citizen’s voice to the government and the parliamentary committee debating the Bill.

-- Sucheta Dalal