India is set to move into bureaucratic accountability for public services with the Central government issuing a draft national law on public services to be provided online and a redressal mechanism for the failure to provide them within a stipulated timeframe.
The draft bill, a next logical step after the Right To Information law, comes at the time when the government is trying to fight alleged corruption at high levels through Lok Pal Bill and two NDA ruled states - Bihar and Madhya Pradesh - have taken lead in enacting similar legislations.
The state laws provides for penalty to be imposed on an official who fails to provide a public service such as caste certificate or death certificate or property documents within the stipulated time.
The draft Electronic Service Delivery Bill of Information Technology ministry aims to fix accountability only for online service. But eventually, in five to eight years, all public services will have to be provided online in India, the bill says.
Each government - state or the centre - will have to notify the public services to be provided online within six months of enactment of the law and give reasons for not notifying a particular service.
The notification will have the timeframe within which citizens should expect delivery of the online service which may include issuing of birth certificates, driving license, ration card or a passport.
To make the online service easily accessible, the bill says, the Central government would have power to electronic government standards for ensuring interoperability and security.
The bill also has a grievance redressal mechanism, striking similar to the one in the RTI law. Like the RTI law, the first complaint will have to be filed with senior official of the department concerned. If not satisfied, an appeal can be lodged with the Central Commission, in case the service provider is Central government and state commissions, if the service is being provided by state governments. The bill provides for one Central Commission and state commissions around the country.
In case, it is found that the official has failed to provide the service within a limited timeframe, the commissions will have power to impose a fine of up to Rs 5,000 on each official. In case of RTI, the maximum fine is Rs 25,000.
Ventakesh Nayak with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative says it is well known that accessing public service delivered manually is cumbersome and there is not enough transparency and it leads to corruption. But, hoped that the proposed law will compel governments to deliver all public services electronically in a more transparent and clean manner.
Even the draft bill says it is aimed at "delivery of public services by the government to all persons by electronic mode to enhance transparency, efficiency, accountability, accessibility and reliability."