The Citizens' Right to Grievance Redress Bill, 2011, marks the next milestone in the UPA's mission to enact a series of rights-based legislation. Drawing on the framework of the Right to Information Act, the Bill seeks to ensure that the common man receives efficient delivery of goods and services that he is entitled to - which may have been delayed. The Bill will empower citizens to take action against the person(s) responsible for the delays.
The Bill directs public authorities to draft and publish a 'Citizens Charter', which will contain a list of obligations that the authority can be reasonably expected to fulfil. In addition, the names and addresses of individuals responsible for the delivery of goods or services will be provided. This Charter will be updated annually.
The Bill establishes new authorities at the block, district, state and central levels. A citizen can file a complaint with the 'Grievance Redressal Officer' at the level of the concerned department and within 15 days he will receive the public good or service that was denied to him earlier. If his complaint is not addressed within the stipulated time, it will be automatically escalated to the level of the head of department along with an 'Action Taken Report' detailing the reason for the delay. The department head has to resolve the complaint within 30 days.
The Bill also envisions the setting up of appellate bodies at the state and central levels. These bodies will hear appeals from the departmental heads. If an official is found to have denied a service unfairly, then he could be penalised.
In addition, a new body called the 'Information and Facilitation Centre' will be established within each public authority to provide aid to any individual who wishes to file a complaint. Criminal proceedings can be initiated against erring officials. The Bill has been formulated because the existing mechanisms have proved to be inadequate when it comes to redressing the grievances of citizens. Most of them are housed within the premises of public authorities, thereby leading to a conflict of interest.
This Bill significantly strengthens the ability of the common man to demand delivery of public goods and services. It further promises to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the system by eliminating avenues for bureaucratic delays.
Jairam Ramesh is Union minister for rural development
The views expressed by the author are personal