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Not at a janta durbar

Jan 16 2014, 15:53 IST
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SummaryA grievance redress system must provide a decentralised system for receiving and dealing with complaints.

A grievance redress system must provide a decentralised system for receiving and dealing with complaints.

A malaise that afflicts every citizen of the country is the lack of an effective mechanism in the government to deal with everyday grievances of people — non-receipt of pensions, poor delivery of ration, broken roads, poor sanitation and drainage. It is therefore not surprising that the recent janta durbar initiative launched by the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi crumbled under the overwhelming number of complainants who turned up. 

A centralised grievance redress mechanism, wherein complainants need to get an audience with ministers to have their complaints heard, will inevitably be fraught with problems. Even for complaints that ministers are able to hear personally, the standard response would be to forward them to the concerned departments. The departments would accord them priority as they are accompanied by a communication from the minister, but there will be no system for follow-up or for filing an appeal unless an appropriate and comprehensive grievance redress (GR) mechanism is put in place.

There are existing supervisory structures and GR systems in every government department. In addition, in Delhi, several vigilance committees, such as the district grievance redress committee, thana committee, ration vigilance committee and Rogi Kalyan Samiti, have also been set up to address people’s complaints. The ineffectiveness of these mechanisms might make it tempting to demand the dissolution of existing systems and setting up new, parallel structures. But unless the problems that plague these systems are understood and fixed properly, the new mechanism would soon be affected by the same glitches.

Supervisors in our bureaucracy are to ensure delivery but have escaped real accountability. An effective GR mechanism should hold both the implementing functionary and the supervisory structure accountable. It should provide every person the right to make a complaint and create an architecture for complainants to receive time-bound redress. Failure to do so should attract a penalty to be paid from the concerned officer’s pocket.

There are some critical provisions that must be included in a GR mechanism to ensure it has the institutional capacity to effectively receive, inquire into and redress complaints. In a country like India, it is critical that a GR mechanism provide a decentralised system for receiving and dealing with complaints close to people’s place of residence. A janta durbar goes against the basic grain of decentralisation by requiring people to converge at one central place to register

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