The “Compendium of Citizens Charters”, 2001, lists out the charters of 57 central government departments and public sector undertakings. If you read the contents, you will see how the charters make a mockery of ‘citizens’ empowerment’, the raison d’etre of these charters.
Initiated in 1997 on the UK model, these charters were to be formulated by all central and state government departments, public utilities and public sector undertakings that had an interface with the public. And they were meant to ensure quality standards, value for money, accountability and transparency in the delivery of public services. By the year 2006 there were 779 charters (Centre: 111 and States: 668) but the accountability quotient was totally lacking in almost all of them. What came out loud and clear from a reading of the charters was the lack of will on the part of the governments and their functionaries to commit themselves to any improvement in service, let alone be accountable for their actions and inactions.
First and foremost, these charters did not set even basic minimum standards of service. There were no performance guarantees and no in-built penalties for failing to meet those guarantees. And they were formulated without consulting the users, as required. And the citizens for whose benefit they were drafted were mostly unaware of them. Even the government employees who were supposed to implement them were mostly ignorant of the charter.
Yet, the service providers were so scared of users holding them to those so-called promises that they clarified in the end that these were ‘not legally enforceable’. The mindset of the service providers who charted these standards can be seen in the fact that instead of listing out their service obligations, many of them listed out the citizens’ obligations to the service provider!
In short, the government spent public money in organising seminars, training courses, in publishing charters and evaluating them, all towards improving public service delivery and making those who provide them accountable. And today, the charters are not even worth the papers they are printed on-they never were. Will Anna Hazare’s fast and the citizens cry for an end to corruption through an effective Lokpal eventually metamorphose these charters into instruments of citizens’ empowerment? One really hopes so.
Arjun Menon: On April 27 this year, I applied for my passport at Ghaziabad passport office. Even though the police report was submitted within three weeks, it has not been dispatched. I applied for the passport only because I need to submit the copy along with my other papers to my employer - This is my first job and I do not want to lose it. What do I do?
Answer: If you go to the page titled ‘Passport Seva Project’ on the website of the ministry of external affairs, you will find an icon ‘register your grievance’ - register your complaint there and see if something positive happens. Another e-mail id is: email@example.com.
In the case of Regional Passport Officer, Bangalore Vs Anuradha T Gopinath (RP NO 2389 of 2008), the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission held that consumers were entitled to compensation for any negligent or deficient service provided by the passport office and awarded compensation to the consumer who was issued a passport without the signature of the passport officer.
The website of the ministry of external affairs on the Passport Seva Project refers to the time taken at present for issuance of passport as 30-45 days. If you take that as the standard, there has been a delay in issuance of your passport. Since delay also constitutes deficiency in service, you are entitled to compensation for the consequences. n firstname.lastname@example.org