Citizen grievances and resolving them is an exercise by department of administrative reforms and public grievances (DARPG). It is public domain information and therefore, I am a bit surprised the information hasn’t been disseminated more. DARPG has a public grievance portal.
For 94 central government ministries/departments, citizens can write in with their complaints. Awareness that this portal exists is evidently increasing. There were 132,751 complaints between May 2014 and September 2014. Between May 2015 and September 2015, that number increased to 466,406. In gauging citizen evaluation of Union government, this is a database that can be used, with three sampling biases. First, not everyone knows this portal exists. Second, citizens write in when there is a grievance. A satisfied citizen doesn’t necessarily bother.
Third, everyone doesn’t have access to the internet. Nor does everyone with a grievance write in. Data analysed was for a longer period, January 2012 to September 2015. Which Union government ministry/department accounted for largest share of grievances? 73% of grievances concerned just 20 ministries/departments.
In descending order of importance, department of telecom, railways, financial services, home ministry, CBDT, higher education, MEA, department of posts, health & family welfare, petroleum & natural gas, labour & employment, defence, school education & literacy, DoPT, road transport & highways, urban development, department of justice, CBEC, department of revenue and department of ex-servicemen welfare.
Let’s pick one of these to see what the analysis tells us. The one most people will readily relate to is possibly railways. During that period, there were 19,540 grievances against the railways. Let’s slice it further to see what sub-departments within railways result in most grievances.(Railways is actually a bad example to think of sub-departments, since it is functionally driven by 17 zones.) Seventy-one percent of complaints were against zonal railways, 8% against IRCTC and 5% on passenger marketing issues.
An even better idea is not to look at sub-departments, but reasons for grievance. What service deficiency led to the grievance? You then find 45% for inefficiency in refund process, 34% for delays in pension release, 7% for quality of service on-board trains, 2% for unclean stations and 1% for congestion on IRCTC website.
Inefficiency in the refund process is then disaggregated further. (For that period, 170,000 passenger refunds were pending, the average delay being 2-4 months.) There may be a straightforward delay for delayed or cancelled trains, because charting is not linked with PRS (passenger reservation system) and there are delays in getting information on train departures. Alternatively, the refund claim may be challenged because there is no evidence of not having travelled and because a refund receipt has not been collected from TTE (traveling ticket examiner).
In essence, (1) ticket checking is a manual process; (2) there aren’t enough TTEs; (3) when trains are cancelled/delayed, charting information isn’t immediately fed into PRS; (4) passengers don’t collect refund notes from TTEs; and (5) the verification system isn’t robust. With this identification, solutions also suggest themselves. (1) Give hand-held devices to TTEs, so that there is electronic record of passengers actually travelling; (2) introduce bar-coded tickets, irrespective of whether they are issued through counters or the net; they can even be delivered as bar-codes to phones; (3) tickets to be activated on day of travel; (4) dashboards displays empty seats; and (5) integrated charting and PRS systems for refunds when trains are cancelled/delayed.
My intention is not to explore any of these and it is true these problems are typically encountered by passengers who travel reserved (roughly 5% of total passengers). After all, those were citizens who usually used the grievance redressal system. It is also true some of these solutions have already been introduced by railways on pilot basis. Where railways haven’t done much, as yet, is on soft skills, like training of TTEs. However, this kind of analysis is useful precisely because it enables Union ministries/departments to take corrective action.
In the list of top-20 ministries/departments, railways is second. Number one is department of telecommunications (DoT). Ostensibly, these grievances are about DoT. As is perhaps natural, grievances are mostly about service providers, not quite DoT proper.
Though complaints about service providers are expected, since there are other channels for redressal, I hadn’t expected such high numbers to be routed through DARPG’s public grievance portal. For instance, 47% of complaints are about BSNL, 17% about MTNL, 6% about Bharti Airtel, 6% about Reliance Communications and 4% about Vodafone. Major grievances are about land-line and broadband service issues, sub-par complaint redressal channels (BSNL/MTNL), issues with mobile services and faulty bills (BSNL/MTNL). Therefore, inevitably, having analysed grievances, there is not much DoT can do, except track and redirect complaints better.
Corrective action is quite different from that for railways. That’s true of financial services too, since most complaints are about banks (26% are about SBI). The reports for all 20 ministries/departments are in the public domain. I do recommend you read them all. Despite obvious sampling biases, one could use these as rough indicators of how citizens perceive government (at least Union government) and also track improvements over time.
Interpreted thus, priorities are telecom, railways, banking, home ministry, income taxes and higher education. Improvements in these will improve citizen perceptions substantially. I hope the next round of reports is done soon, so that one can track changes. I forgot to mention, the analysis has been done by Quality Council of India (QCI). It is external, not in-house.
The author is member, NITI Aayog Views are personal