Citizens Charter: How this less-known law empowers us

Provision of strict disciplinary action has electrifying effect: it is equally helpful to bureaucracy too

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | September 15, 2021 | Mumbai


#citizens charter   #governance   #Maharashtra  
Mohammad Afzal
Mohammad Afzal

When consumer rights and RTI activist Mohammad Afzal was shifting to a new residence in a different area, he required changes in various documents. He decided to take the help of the Citizens Charter along with other friends who also required similar work with authorities.

The Citizens Charter is a list of facilities or services rendered by the office or department together with the time limit for providing such facility or services to the general public.

The Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act 2005, commonly referred to as the POD Act, requires every office or department to prepare and publish ‘Citizens Charter’ within a period of six months from the date of commencement of the Act. The Charter must declare services notified/provided, the time frame within which these services have to be provided, prescribed fee notified under the concerned dept and required speed needs to be displayed.

Says Afzal, “Due to lack of awareness on Citizens Charter, in a pilot project with the ration and property tax departments, we decided to fill up all forms by ourselves and submitted them to respective departments. Initially we were told that they (officials) have no information about the POD Act – if such an Act exists at all. We were told that if an application had to be filed, it should be under the format set by the dept. We insisted on speaking to the departmental head, who said he was in fact aware of the provision and told his subordinate to provide us acknowledgment as per the property tax dept format after which he gave us his stamped acknowledgment under the POD Act.”

Purely going by the POD Act, Afzal says, there was such an electrifying effect that not only his work was done within one week but the officer too called up to say that as the office was in the process of shifting out of the premises they had specially asked a ward officer to come and put signatures on his file. “It so happened that on the third occasion my file was signed and change required on property tax was done. Not only that, they even offered to send someone to the main gate to hand me over with certificate /documents. Because the HoD was aware of the Act and strict disciplinary action for refusal under the Citizens Charter, he was very proactive.”

For change of address in the ration card, when Afzal visited the rationing office in the thick of the lockdown with govt offices working with skeletal staff, the regional rationing officer was “ready to provide information on his own”. However, Afzal says, he insisted he wanted info particularly under the Act.

“Here too I had similar experience as the officer was proactive and called me on his own and my work was done in 14 days. The Act has an electrifying effect on the officer as disciplinary action under it is very stringent and also gets reflected in their ACR (annual confidential report).”

Also read:

Citizens Charter: Waiting for accountability
http://www.governancenow.com/views/columns/citizens-charter-waiting-accountability

Citizens Charter: She was denied pension for years
https://www.governancenow.com/news/regular-story/citizens-charter-she-was-denied-pension-years

The Act clearly states disciplinary action and no file can stay on a table in a department for more than 7 days and maximum the work should be done within 45 days. If the application has to be transferred to another department it has to be done within three months.

“Any wilful or intentional delay or negligence in the discharge of official duties or in carrying out the official work assigned or pertaining to such government servant shall amount to dereliction of official duties and shall make such government servant liable for appropriate disciplinary action under the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969, Maharashtra Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules1979 or any other relevant disciplinary rules applicable to such employee,” says the act.
 
Afzal says that with every department requiring services/ info to be filled as per the prescribed format, in practice, many officials are not informed about the POD Act or even if they are aware they pretend not to be. Citizens must inform them that they are filing the application under the Act, and ask for the format if such a format is required or any other form required by the department. They must insist of the acknowledgment under the POD Act which has forms A, B and C which have to be filled in by the applicant whereas form D has to be filled in by the officer with an inward number, date of application and time frame and acknowledgment. The citizen should also file the application in the departments own format, if there is any, attach supporting documents if any and need to only know Sections 8, 9 and 10 of the small act to get their work done.

With many services still not been notified /implemented, through RTI, it has been implemented at many offices even when Maharashtra government has been assuring that all services will be implemented under the Citizens Charter. Like RTI, this Act too is enforced by citizens to ensure that government officers follow them.
    
The Act applies to all government servants in the state services including the All India Service Officers of the Maharashtra cadre. However, it does not apply to sub-judice matters, cases referred to lokayukta or upa-lokayuktas and other constitutional institutions, commissions, etc, quasi-judicial matters, cases related to central or other state governments, cases related to legislation; and cases involving major policy decisions.

However, when an application was filed at the cooperative society deputy registrar, a quasi-judicial authority, where the department’s own Charter says that info has to be provided to a citizen within a particular time frame, the applicant received required info. “There may be many other departments where their own Charter mentions response time,” says Afzal, who had in 2010 filed a PIL on the antiquated and obsolete Bombay Lifts Act, 1939 and Bombay Lift Rules, 1958.

Delegation of powers are vested at three departmental levels, viz; secretary of concerned administrative department at Mantralaya level, departmental head at divisional or district level and concerned subordinate officers.

Having successful experience with the Citizens Charter, Afzal says awareness needs to be created around this result-oriented Act as it provides sure shot results. With all information available online, citizens only need to spare half a day of their time to visit the concerned office and don’t have to pay bribes or money to get their work done. Citizens must explore this act to get maximum benefit from it.

Former Maharashtra chief secretary Jayant Banthia, who steered and anchored the Maharashtra Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Rules, 2013, says, in government departments, an application is the beginning of an entire process and it belongs to the citizens. In many simple matters concerning citizens’ life has been made difficult and opaque and the citizen is deprived to know the status of his application. In several cases where it involves individual service delivery, the application has been initiated by citizens and they must always be aware of their file. Ultimately there is so much secrecy that the citizen has to find out if the document has actually been dealt with and/ or if it has moved further.

For migrants especially, dealings with government offices can be troublesome. In the ration card for example, if change of address from one district to another is required, there is too much of paper work.

“With my colleagues in the Mantralaya, we tried to discuss the concept that the application does not ultimately remain with the govt as it belongs to the citizens. The service required may be concerning a land case, an armed licence, passport, driving licence or any other citizen service that requires citizen interface with the govt for their personal services.”

“We thought it would be much better if it is put in open domain whereas officers of the govt and everyone are expected to know their responsibilities to close matters. We cannot keep things open in lateral, vertical and downward movement etc. And even if that is happening, citizen has the right to know what is happening to their documents and cannot keep physically moving from one office to office, place to place department to department or one city to another. If it is codified it will put positive pressure on the officers who have been given responsibilities to decide certain things, etc.”

Banthia says that the Citizens Charter is also meant to help the bureaucracy. “As much as it helps citizens, it allows prudent officers to know their own responsibilities, authority etc. On the other hand, the officer is also empowered to inform the citizens that this is my authority, I have dealt with it here and now it has gone to another desk etc.  

“The idea was that people should not be made to travel unnecessarily and from one office or desk to another. We tried to pick up some of the good practices expecting that the respective departments will open up, codify and bring it in public domain. The most important thing was to have open forums so citizens would be made aware... it has not been widely publicised.”

The former bureaucrat observes that para-statal bodies like municipalities, particularly urban-local authorities, have been given several things as Citizens Charter but these are being done on a piecemeal basis and not uniformly. However, following good practices, certain municipal corporations and municipal bodies have evolved.

With commendable work having been done in online mutation of land records, he says, e-governance brings transparency, efficiency and openness within govt systems and citizens will be able to check on the citizens’ portal at the CSC in every village. Otherwise, it is not easy to track papers within the Mantralaya or at district level.
 

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