1. Implementing the right to public services

Implementing the right to public services

Many states have entered into performance-based contracts or fee-based arrangements with private players to strengthen service delivery

Published: December 30, 2014 2:48 AM

The new Maharashtra government recently declared its intent to legislate the Right to Public Services (RTPS) law in the state. If implemented, Maharashtra would be the 20th state in the country to do so. RTPS is a rights-based approach for a more accountable, transparent and responsive delivery of public services. The Act guarantees time-bound delivery of notified services for a citizen eligible for the service, failing which the government servant is liable to be monetarily penalised under the law. In 2010, Madhya Pradesh was the first state to implement RTPS, followed closely by Bihar in 2011. Given the success of these two states, other states were quick to seize on the opportunity and demonstrate their citizen-centric commitment. Though many states have legislated such Acts, there are only a handful who can actually be termed successful when it concerns implementation. The Maharashtra government can stand to benefit if it draws upon the experience of these states in terms of their approach, challenges faced and key success-drivers.

Among those who have been successful, it is noteworthy to mention that almost all of them adopted a more pragmatic and gradual approach for implementation. Even before the Act was implemented, significant time and effort was spent by these states in preparing the government system to take the expected load and deliver the desired results. A quick re-engineering of key processes was undertaken in terms of streamlining procedures, standardising the application forms, identifying a precise list of supporting documents, fixing accountability, etc. The citizen interface points for receiving applications and delivering the services were also separated from the back office in most of the states who have implemented RTPS. To strengthen these front-end, citizen-facing counters, certain states have either taken personnel- or performance-based contracts or facilitated innovative fee-based private participation such as Lokseva Kendras in Madhya Pradesh, Vasudha Kendras in Bihar, Pragya Kendras in Jharkhand, etc. These kendras also helped in bringing the service delivery points closer to the citizens. In addition, field-level officers from the block and district offices were trained on the Act’s importance, the necessity to deliver services on time and implications of delayed or denied services. Most importantly, to create the demand-side pull, mass awareness campaigns via newspapers, TV and radio were undertaken regularly by these states.

Apart from the above, we observe that one of the key reasons for their success in implementation has been the innovative institutional and monitoring arrangement adopted for implementation. While Madhya Pradesh has created a separate department altogether, Public Service Management Department, states like Bihar, Punjab and Karnataka have institutionalised dedicated bodies viz, Bihar Prashasanik Sudhar Mission Society, the Right to Service Commission in Punjab and Sakala Mission in Karnataka. This, coupled with use of ICT-based tools for monitoring, has allowed greater flexibility, focus and timeliness in taking operational decisions.

For Maharashtra’s newly-elected government that came to power on the development plank, the key challenge would be to successfully implement a RTPS Act, demonstrating their commitment. There is also a view point that it would be more feasible to implement the existing “Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2005”, which provides for all government servants to dispose his/her official duty within a maximum period of three months. However, it can always be argued that RTPS is a more service-focused approach to improve service delivery vis-a-vis the 2005 Act. The focus of the 2005 Act is on providing stability in tenure of posting of government officers, drawing up citizen charters and prevention of delay in discharge of official duties including routine file movement. The 2005 Act doesn’t include the timelines for specific services, the monitoring mechanism, and the penal and appellate provisions of RTPS as it depends on disciplinary provisions in respective service laws.

Also, with 19 states already implementing the Act, Maharashtra has a unique opportunity of not only leveraging on the success stories of other state governments but also look beyond and explore the next level in facilitating service delivery. Learnings can be taken from international initiatives such as Singapore’s PS21 framework to drive excellence in public services, the South African ‘Batho Pele’ or participative framework for governance, or the Open Public Services 2014 framework by UK government which offers choice and control to deliver services tailored to individual needs.

By Aloke Agarwal
The author is a director with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India

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