A law that admits to the failure of governance

Ravikiran DeshmukhThe UPA government’s decision to approve the right of citizens for ‘the time-bound delivery of goods and services and redressal of their grievances bill, 2011’ is set to witness major upheavals in the system of governance. The states will toe the line once the bill becomes a law. Effectively, the state of Maharashtra will have no option but to amend its existing Maharashtra Government Servants’ Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2005.

Whether the state repeals the act or amends it by continuing the provisions of regulation of the transfers of government employees will be an interesting development to see. The central bill emphasises on timely delivery of services to people by various government departments. Babus will have to shell out Rs 250 per day or a maximum of Rs 50,000 as penalty for defaulting in providing time-bound services such as pensions, passports, ration cards, caste or death certificates, tax refunds etc.

The provisions of the central bill are more stringent than the ones in the state act. The Maharashtra Act speaks about disciplinary action against an erring babu who has failed to decide on a specific paper within the mandatory seven-day period. Before one evaluates the central bill and the state act, it has to be kept in mind that the state government, despite approving the state act in 2006, failed to make rules to implement the ‘prevention of delay in discharge of official duties’. 

It was only in January that the state decided to issue a notification with draft rules and invited suggestions and objections by public. While countless citizens have grouses with the attitude of government offices, the draft received few suggestions/objections, perhaps due to the scarce publicity given to the draft.

But the state rules will become ineffective once the central legislation comes into effect. The state will not be able to save its employees as it did by delaying the process of drafting rules for seven years. Implementation of a law becomes rudderless in absence of rules as they are treated as guidelines by government’s field offices.

Above all, the central legislation exhibits strong weaknesses of the democratic system that we adopted 63 years ago. Going for such a law shows that the political leadership has failed to provide the governance that the public direly needs. The elected governments are vested with the authority to give directions to the bureaucracy, appointments in which are made by them along with powers to transfer, punish, and reward from time to time. Bureaucracy has been one of the pillars for the decisions of the government. If our government feels there is a strong need for a law to regulate time-bound services, it’s an acceptance of failure on their part, because they were elected for the very purpose.

When this law comes into effect, one more bureaucratic authority will come into existence, as the new bill provides for grievances redressal forums at the central and state levels. The commissions will be headed by a chief commissioner of the rank of the election commissioner and 10 commissioners of the rank of a chief secretary.

At present, bureaucrats have to deal with various authorities other than the elected government: Human Rights Commission, Anti-Corruption Bureau, Information Commissioner under Right to Information Act. Then there are the courts of law where babus have to file affidavits on behalf of the government if anyone from the public approaches to seek justice: they have to justify actions of the ministers who enjoy the constitutional immunity of not being held accountable for their decisions. A taxpayer brings up the rear on the administration’s list and scarcely gets precedence to get what’s his due or be heard.

While blaming babus for graft, lackadaisical attitude and slow decision-making, the elected governments should never be spared as they always treat administration as their personal domain. The governments do little to take bureaucracy to task because it takes care of their political fortune. Imagine if the bureaucracy starts delivering things honestly and on time. Who will approach the elected representatives? The elected class feels pride when hundreds throng their offices and residences to seek justice or get their work done.

Also, corrupt babus are rarely punished by the government. Proposals that ask for punishing them gather dust at the Mantralaya. Will it be wrong then to say that corruption is happening without their knowledge or consent? Rarely does it happen that an honest officer is rewarded and a corrupt one punished to be turned into a lesson for others.

Instead of looking for solutions to cure the lethargy in the administration or rein it in by linking bureaucratic performance with pay, the government is hiding behind a new legislation.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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