The Cool New Law That Never Got Its Due

September, 2013. As I sat glancing through the day’s newspaper, the rainfall outside only seemed to be growing increasingly incessant. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but it was dark like dusk had just fallen.

My eyes came across an advertisement in the newspaper. On a blue background, printed in white. Oh, just another government notification to deliver public services in time. Yeah, move on.

Hold on, what? A commitment to deliver public services on time? That’s like a dream come true given the inefficient bureaucracy of the state. I went back and read through it carefully. And you know what? It was like a ray of hope when the sun was nowhere to be seen.

The West Bengal Right to Public Services Act, 2013

This law has quite an admirable history, indeed! Going through its genealogy, I was indeed surprised how quickly a proposition such as this turned into law.

March 19, 2013, the Bill is placed in the State Legislative Assembly. It gets passed on August 26, 2013. The Governor assents to it on September 25, it comes into force on October 3, 2013. Whoa, that was fast! Very fast, indeed, for this country; it’s all done within 6 months.

Similar laws have been passed by several other states, such as, Maharasthra, Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and so on.

Why It’s Landmark

India has a historical cancer of an indifferent administrative bureaucracy, whether purposefully or otherwise. Consequently, citizens often have to bribe or blackmail (literally) their way through to get adequate public services.

It’s notable what the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh once said:

“At the time of elections, people are the most important. After that, the government ignores them. The CM, Ministers and bureaucrats, all think they are perfect and wisdom cannot reside outside this group……… and we had Citizens’ Charters……..

But when we listened to the people, we found that nobody looked at the Citizens’ Charter and nobody bothered about the details. We wanted, then, to introduce a Citizens Charters Act. There were many doubting Thomases. But the question we asked was, if we are giving rights through the charters, why are we afraid of fixing responsibility?”

Having a law that guarantees that public services shall be delivered within the stipulated time (and prescribes penalties if not) is landmark.

It would solve a lot of problems. It would eliminate the middleman, bring down bribery, corruption and systemic inefficiency.

Image Credit: DNA India

And most of all, it’s gonna make your life a hell lot easier. Isn’t that good?

Salient Features

The cornerstone of this Act is that it guarantees that “public services” shall be delivered within a stipulated time limit. 

Whenever a person applies for a “public service”, he is given an acknowledgement in a form (specifically Form I of the Act) on the receipt of his request. The same form mentions the date by which the service shall be granted to him, in accordance with notifications in the Official Gazette.

Just in case you don’t get the service, or are not satisfied with its quality, the Act allows you to appeal to an Appellate Officer, who must dispose of the appeal within a stipulated time.

In case he/she is once again unable to dispose of the appeal within the stipulated time, or you’re unhappy with his/her verdict, you can appeal to a Reviewing Officer, who in turn must dispose of the appeal within a stipulated time.

The State Government is empowered to determine what is a “public service” and notify the time limits for such service and connected appeals, along with the designated officers, by publishing notifications in the Official Gazette.

Accordingly, many departments have published gazette notifications, notifying such public services, their time limits, and the designated officers. And you know what? It’s working.

The Government of the State of West Bengal has a website for it: www.publicservicesright.in. Check it out if you care. 

Epilogue

People harp a lot about the Right to Information Act. Indeed, RTI is an extremely powerful legal instrument which, if used effectively, its results can be nothing short of revolutionary (people, like you and me, have unearthed scams using it). And the society has rightfully given RTI that recognition. There is no shortage of various resources all across the media and Internet on how to use RTI for one’s benefit.

In contrast, it is these Right to Public Services Acts of the various states which are the dark horses. One of the fundamental duties of a government is to effectively deliver services to its citizens. The moment it fails in this first and foremost duty, the people rightly become frustrated.

Image Credit: www.playbuzz.com

These Right to Public Services legislations have the power to make everyday life easier. Everyday life is about whether I get my license renewals, tax filings, and other such “boring” stuff done.

Any law that promises that, and places in the hands of the people an instrument (rather a weapon) to guarantee that, surely is revolutionary. In contrast to RTI, Right to Public Services has, without a doubt, not received the attention and publicity it deserves.

The need of the hour is to educate more people about it.

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