Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected a proposal to set up statutory public grievance commissions at the Centre and states to hear appeals from people whose complaints to the government had remained unheard, or unresolved.
Instead, the prime minister’s office (PMO) wants the responsibility to be passed on to information commissions set up under the RTI act or a new ombudsman created by an executive order rather than a law.
RTI activists oppose the move to burden the information commissions with hearing public grievances too.
“This will lead to a collapse of the information commissions already crumbling under the weight of RTI appeals,” said Shekhar Singh, an academic who lectures civil servants, besides promoting transparency and accountability.The first draft of the public grievances bill was drawn up in 2011 as part of the previous UPA government’s package to strengthen the legal framework to fight corruption.
The Modi government followed up on the UPA initiative, made some changes and came up with its own version: Right to Services and Grievances Redressal Bill 2014.
It is not clear if it has retained the penalties for bureaucrats who don’t deliver on their mandate. But it has proposed to give every resident — and not just citizen — the right to complain if public authorities do not deliver services within promised deadlines.
It had also proposed to set up commissions at the central and state levels to hear appeals.
Modi, however, had his reservations. The PM’s views were conveyed to the department of administrative reforms and public grievances (DARPG) when it sought permission to circulate the Right to Services and Grievances Redressal Bill 2014 to ascertain views of other ministries.
“The proposed bill envisages establishment of central Public Grievances Redressal Commission and State Public Grievances Redressal Commission similar to that in case of the Right to Information Act. This implies another hierarchy of organisational structure in addition to several others. This aspect needs to be revisited,” the PMO said in a note to DARPG, quoting the PM’s “observations”.
Later, the PMO asked the administrative reforms department to explore the possibility of getting the central and state information commissions to double up as grievance redressal panels by dedicating one or two commissioners to hear grievances.
Or, the department could explore the possibility of setting up a watchdog by an executive direction on the lines of the banking ombudsman “which shall not have the trappings of a final appellate authority for grievance redress for a group of ministries”.
“Both propositions are flawed,” said activist Anjali Bhardwaj. “Given the sheer number of grievances that will reach the commission, 1, 2 or even 10 commissioners wouldn’t be sufficient ... Also, it is important that the final appellate authority should have statutory powers and be set up across the country, not just Delhi or the state capitals”.