M.P. Public Services Guarantee Bill – A Path-breaking Law
By Awanish Somkuwar, 05 Aug 2010

It has been recognised the world over that good governance is essential for sustainable development, both economic and social. The three essential aspects emphasised in good governance are transparency, accountability and responsiveness of the administration.  Citizens’ Charters are an effort to address these issues by focusing on solving the problems which citizens encounter while dealing with the organisations providing public services.

The concept of a Citizens’ Charters was first articulated and implemented in the UK in 1991 as a national programme with a simple aim: to continuously improve the quality of public services for the people of the country so that these services respond to the needs and wishes of the users.  The basic objective of a Citizens’ Charter is to strengthen the relationship between citizens and service providers. In India, the decision to formulate Citizens Charters was taken at the Conference of Chief Ministers held on 24 May, 1997 in New Delhi. At the conference an “Action Plan for Effective and Responsive Government” at the Centre and State levels was adopted and it was decided that Central and State Governments would formulate Citizens’ Charters, starting with those sectors that have a large public interface. These Charters were required to include standards of service, reasonable time limits for service delivery, avenues of grievance redress and a provision for independent scrutiny with the involvement of citizen and consumer groups. However, while the concept of Citizen’s Charters has been quite popular, in practice, they have failed to improve the relationship between frontline users and service providers. In this scenario, the Madhya Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Bill 2010 comes as the first-of-its-kind law in the country guaranteeing the delivery of public services to common people in a stipulated time frame.

The Shivraj Singh Government has described the Bill as “historic” and a reflection of the state’s commitment to achieving good governance. The Madhya Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Bill 2010 guarantees the delivery of basic public services to citizens within a stipulated time frame and sets in place accountability mechanisms for non-delivery of services.  Under the Bill, key public services like issuing caste, birth, marriage and domicile certificates, drinking water connections, ration cards, copies of land records will be notified. A time period will be fixed for the delivery of each service. If officials fail to perform their duties and provide these services on time, they will have to pay a fine starting from Rs. 250 per day to a maximum of Rs. 5000. This will check delays in the provisioning of services and remove inordinate pendency. The Bill provides for a two stage appeals process: In the event that citizens do not receive notified services in time, they can make an appeal to the first appellate authority. If the first appellate authority is negligent or if citizens are dissatisfied with the ruling, they can file an appeal with the second appellate authority, which can direct the subordinate authorities to deliver services. The second appellate authority also has the power to impose fines and order disciplinary action against officials. The new legislation also stipulates the number of days a particular file related to the delivery of a service can be kept with the officer concerned. The fine received from delinquent officers will go to the applicants to compensate them for the inconvenience caused to them. It is envisaged that the offices of the Chief Minister and other Ministers will also be brought under the purview of the law in the future.

The path-breaking law seeks to operationalise the system of Citizen Charters that have been in place for some time but have been quite ineffective. While previous governments in Madhya Pradesh have implemented the citizen charter arrangement, their efforts have largely been ineffective. This can be attributed to the parochial set-up of the bureaucracy, the absence of a consultative process in the formulation of the Citizens Charter and the lack of training and capacity building of officers and service seekers about the Charter and its potential.

The new law provides an effective instrument for realizing the concept of citizen’s charter while ensuring services to people in an assured manner. It will also prove an effective check on corruption.

Mr Awanish Somkuwar is the Assistant Director, Communications, Government of Madhya Pradesh.