In the wake of the Anna Hazare movement against corruption, the then BJP legislator Devendra Fadnavis had tabled two private member bills in the state Assembly in 2011, inspired by the social activist and aimed at ushering in transparency in the government.
One of these proposed bills on Right to Services is likely to be among one of the first laws the BJP government led by Fadnavis enacts in December. The other bill had proposed amendments to the Maharashtra Lokayukta Act to make the institution stronger, by bringing even the chief minister under its ambit. If Fadnavis is earnest in cracking down on public corruption, he may have to revive this old bill too.
For many, the Right to Services legislation, as Fadnavis said, can be a legal tool to demand better services from state authorities — from car and property registration papers, to marriage certificate and licences.
The Maharashtra State Services Guarantee Act, as it was then named, had envisaged the setting up of first appellate and second appellate authorities, on lines of the Right to Information Act, to provide a framework for the citizenry to complain against erring officials. This bill had proposed a penalty of up to Rs5,000 on the erring official.
When the bill came up for discussion two years later in 2013, it hit a roadblock with the Congress-NCP government, which said it had already enacted a similar law— the Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Duties Act. Enacted in 2006, following a demand by Hazare, it stipulated a fixed tenure for government officials to avoid political transfers, besides fixing a timeline to avoid a delay in government duty, and disciplinary action against erring officials.
“There is a fundamental difference between the two laws — Right to Services is for timely delivery of services to citizens, while the earlier law is aimed at a delay in government duty by laying down a timeline for taking decisions. But, the law never laid down a clear framework or guidelines on how to fix responsibility in a department and penalty for an officer,” said Priya Khan of Socio-Political Analysis and Research Kendra (Spark), which analyses government budgets, laws and policies.
Former chief information commissioner, Shailesh Gandhi, however, said if Fadnavis has to deliver on transparency, he should start with implementing the old law, instead of drafting new ones.
“If the 2006 law is implemented in earnest, it can be as powerful as the RTI. The new CM has to just set a deadline, and send a signal to officers that all delays in clearing applications of people and decisions will be punishable as per the law. Instead of a new law, the existing one can be tweaked,” said Gandhi, who has written to the CM on the issue.
The Right to Services legislation, adopted from initiatives first introduced in United Kingdom in 1991, has been adopted by various Indian states, but hasn’t proven to be because of poor implementation.
With this proposed legislation, his first official decision, Fadnavis has called for transparency in governance, but it remains to be seen whether the government will put its weight behind implementing this law or the earlier one.