Why janta darbars should be the last resort to meet CMs

It was meant to be the first test of direct democracy that they had been advocating all along. But the AAP government’s first janata darbar outside the Secretariat didn’t even last for an hour on Saturday.

columns Updated: Jan 13, 2014 12:08 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times
Arvind Kejriwal,Janta darbar,Aam Aadmi Party

It was meant to be the first test of direct democracy that they had been advocating all along. But the AAP government’s first janata darbar outside the Secretariat didn’t even last for an hour on Saturday.

The intentions were noble. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his six ministers wanted to redress public grievances on the spot. Everyone was invited. And everyone showed up, literally.

People pushed and shoved to get to the CM’s desk. They broke barricades, forcing Kejriwal to retreat into the building. An hour later, he reappeared on a rooftop and apologised to the crowd for “mismanagement”.

The AAP still thinks its darbar experiment would have been successful if it managed the crowds better. It has promised that the event will be back soon at a bigger venue. The party’s urgency to retain and build on the connection that it has with the people is understandable. The one-yearold outfit made a spectacular electoral debut riding solely on people’s power.

But governance is more than just crowd management. The responsiveness of the AAP government cannot be the liability of a seven-member cabinet. A staunch proponent of devolution of power to the people, Kejriwal knows that every government official must be made part of a transparent and effective delivery system. The entire government, and not just the tiny cabinet, has to be made accountable to the public.

There are grievance redress and vigilance cells for every government department. But having burnt their fingers several times, citizens don’t easily trust just another bureaucrat to get them justice. That is why so many turned up at Kejriwal’s darbar. But the chief minister and his cabinet colleagues should be their last, rather than the only, resort. For that, the existing grievance handling system has to be fixed first; if necessary, by attaching MLAs and civil society groups to every department to monitor how public complaints are handled.

In 2011, the Cong ress gover nment introduced the Delhi (Right to Citizen to Time Bound Delivery of Services) Act through online monitoring or eSLA and put more than 100 public services such as issuance of ration card, caste certificates, electricity and water connections, vendor registration, trade licences, etc in its ambit. The legislation gives timelines for delivery of services and for any delay a fine is imposed on the officer concerned. The penalty ranges from ` 10 to ` 200 a day.

However, an evaluation of the e-SLA by the Management Development Institute, Gurgaon (quoted in a paper by Observer Research Foundation) found it to be a closed-door operation. There was no feedback system in place. Data on the number of applications, pendency, disposal rate, comparative performances of departments, etc were accessible only to government officials. There have been no claims for penalties as most citizens still don’t know about this law. The new government can surely begin here.

Even in an ideal system, there will still be dissatisfied citizens and those in need of immediate attention who deserve the intervention of a chief minister or his colleagues. To focus on such cases, the AAP government should have a non-partisan, efficient system in place to examine requests submitted in advance and invite a reasonable number of people at daily darbars attended in turn by Kejriwal and his ministers.

Those who accuse AAP of appealing to anarchy are given to exaggeration. But it is one thing to hire retired anti-corruption branch officials to teach people how to conduct sting operations and provide evidence for a criminal prosecution and quite another to expect the CM to dispense mass justice to tens of thousands.

If the only specialist in a modest hospital decides to single-handedly treat every out-patient for their cough or ache, most will have to wait forever for their turn. And there will be nobody to perform the critical surgeries.

First Published: Jan 13, 2014 12:05 IST