Government of India in 1996 commenced a National Debate for Responsive Administration. A major suggestion which emerged was bringing out Citizens’ Charters for all public service organisations. Idea received strong support at the Chief Ministers’ Conference in May 1997; one of the key decisions of the Conference was to formulate and operationalise Citizens’ Charters at the Union and State Government levels in sectors which have large public interface such as Railways, Telecom, Post & Public Distribution Systems, Hospitals, and the Revenue & Electricity Departments. e momentum for this was provided by the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (DAR&PG) in consultation with the Department for Consumer Affairs Department of AR & PG simultaneously formulated guidelines for structuring a model charter as well as a list of do’s and don’ts to enable various government departments to bring out focused and effective charters. Since May 1997, when the programme was launched in India, different Ministries, Departments, Directorates and other organizations at the Union level have formulated 115 Citizens’ Charters and 650 such Charters developed by various Departments and agencies of the State Governments and Union Territories (as on February 2007).
DARPG set out a series of guidelines to enable the service delivery organisations to formulate precise and meaningful Charters to set the service delivery parameters.
- To be useful, the Charter must be simple;
- Charter must be framed not only by senior experts, but by interaction with the cutting edge staff who will finally implement it and with the users (individual organizations);
- Merely announcing the Charter will not change the way we function. It is important to create conditions through interaction and training for generating a responsive climate;
- Begin with a statement of the service(s) being offered;
- A mention is made against each service about the entitlement of the user, service standards and remedies available to the user in case of non-adherence to standards;
- Procedures/costs/charges should be made available on line/display boards/ booklets/inquiry counters etc at places specified in the Charter;
- Indicate clearly, that while these are not justifiable, the commitments enshrined in the Charter are in the nature of a promise to be fulfilled with oneself and with the user;
- Frame a structure for obtaining feedback and performance audit and fix a schedule for reviewing the Charter at least every six months; and
- Separate Charters can be framed for distinct services and for organizations/ agencies/ attached or subordinate to a Ministry/Department.
DAR&PG, in collaboration with the Consumer Coordination Council, New Delhi, undertook an evaluation of the Citizens’ Charter programme in 1998. The initiative at that time was at a nascent stage, but the findings were encouraging. Subsequently, a professional agency was engaged from 2002 to 2003 to develop a standardized model for internal and external evaluations of Charters. Some of the findings of the agency were:
- In a majority of cases, the Charters were not formulated through a consultative process;
- By and large, service providers were not familiar with the philosophy, goals and main features of the Charter;
- Adequate publicity to the Charters had not been given in any of the Departments evaluated. In most Departments, the Charters are only in the initial or middle stage of implementation; and
- No funds have been specifically earmarked for awareness generation of Citizens’ Charter or for orientation of the staff on various components of the Charter.
Some of the recommendations of this agency were :
- Orientation of staff about the salient features and goals/ objectives of the Charter; vision and mission statement of the department; and skills such as team building, Problem solving, handling of grievances and communication skills,
- Need for creation of database on consumer grievances and redress,
- Need for wider publicity of the Charter through print media, posters, banners, leaflets, handbills, brochures, local newspapers etc. and also through electronic media,
- Earmarking of specific budgets for awareness generation and orientation of staff, and
- Replication of best practices in this field.
The Report of PAC has also brought out the following general deficiencies:
- Poor design and content: Most organizations do not have adequate capability to draft meaningful and succinct Citizens’ Charter. Most Citizens’ Charters drafted by government agencies are not designed well. Critical information that end-users need to hold agencies accountable are simply missing from a large number of charters. Thus, the Citizens’ Charter programme has not succeeded in appreciably empowering end-users to demand greater public accountability.
- Lack of public awareness: While a large number of public service providers have implemented Citizens’ Charter, only a small percentage of end-users are aware of the commitments made in the Citizens’ Charter. Effective efforts of communicating and educating the public about the standards of delivery promise have not been undertaken.
- Inadequate groundwork: Government agencies often formulate Citizens’ Charters without undertaking adequate groundwork in terms of assessing and reforming its processes to deliver the promises made in the Charter. Charters are rarely updated:
- Charters reviewed for this report rarely showed signs of being updated even though some documents date back from the inception of the Citizens’ Charter programme nearly a decade ago. Only 6% of Charters reviewed even make the assurance that the document will be updated some time after release. In addition, few Charters indicate the date of release. Needless to say, the presence of a publication date assures end-users of the validity of a Charter’s contents.
- End-users and NGOs are not consulted when Charters are drafted: Civil society organizations and end-users are generally not consulted when Charters are being formulated. Since a Citizens’ Charter’s primary purpose is to make public service delivery more citizen-centric, agencies must investigate the needs of end-users when formulating Charters by consulting with ordinary citizens and civil society organizations.
- The needs of senior citizens and the disabled are not considered when drafting Charters: Just one Charter reviewed for this report assured equitable access to disabled users or senior citizens. Many agencies actually do cater to the needs of the disadvantaged or elderly, but do not mention these services in their charter.
- Resistance to change: The new practices demand significant changes in the behaviour and attitude of the agency and its staff towards citizens. At times, vested interests work for stalling the Citizens’ Charter altogether or in making it toothless.
A study sponsored by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances on evaluation of the Citizens’ Charters was carried out by the Indian Institute of Public Administration (2008). Some of the observations/ findings of this study are:
- Citizens’ Charters have still not been adopted by all Ministries/Departments.
- There was lack of precision on standards and commitments in several cases.
- There is often little interest shown by the organizations in adhering to their Charter.
- On the communications front, the Charter programme has been thrtottled on account of poor planning and resource commitment for publicity.
- In some cases, the Charters have become a one-time exercise, frozen in time.
- There was general lack of accountability and review mechanisms. Citizens’ Charters were devoid of participative mechanisms for effective performance.
The analysis of different Charters brings out the following:
- Measurable standards of delivery are rarely spelt out in the Charters.
- As the standards of delivery are seldom defined, it becomes difficult to assess whether the desired level of service has been achieved or not. Even where the standards of service are spelt out, there is no mechanism to ensure that these standards are actually adhered to. There is no citizen friendly mechanism to compensate the citizen, if the organization fails to honour the promise made in the Charter.
- There is no periodic revision of Charters in order to update them with the expectations of the citizens on the one hand and the organizational experience on the other.
- There is a tendency to have a uniform Charter for all offices under the parent organization. This overlooks local issues.
- Most Charters are verbose and reflect the aspirations of the organization.
ARC – ln order to make, these Charters effective tools for holding public servants accountable, the Charters should clearly spell out the remedy/penalty/compensation in case there is a default in meeting the standards spelt out in the Charter. It emphasized that it is better to have a few promises which can be kept than a long list of lofty but impractical aspirations.
- Internal restructuring should precede Charter formulation: As a meaningful Charter seeks to improve the quality of service, mere stipulation to that effect in the Charter will not suffice. There has to be a complete analysis of the existing systems and processes within the organization and, if need be, these should to be recast and new initiatives adopted. Citizens’ Charters that are put in place after these internal reforms will be more credible and useful than those designed as mere desk exercises without any system re-engineering.
- One size does not fit all: This huge challenge becomes even more complex as the capabilities and resources that governments and departments need to implement Citizens’ Charters vary significantly across the country. Added to these are differing local conditions. The highly uneven distribution of Citizens’ Charters across States is clear evidence of this ground reality. For example, some agencies may need more time to specify and agree upon realistic standards of service. In others, additional effort will be required to motivate and equip the staff to participate in this reform exercise. Such organizations could be given time and Citizens’ Charters to experiment with standards, grievances redressal mechanisms or training. They may also need more time for internal restructuring of the service delivery chain or introducing new systems. Therefore, the Commission is of the view that formulation of Citizens’ Charters should be a decentralized activity with the head office providing broad guidelines.
- Wide consultation process: Citizens’ Charters should be formulated after extensive consultations within the organization followed by a meaningful dialogue with civil society. Inputs from experts should also be considered at this stage.
- Firm commitments to be made: Citizens’ Charters must be precise and make firm commitments of service delivery standards to the citizens/consumers in quantifiable terms wherever possible. With the passage of time, an effort should be made for more stringent standards of service delivery.
- Redressal mechanism in case of default: Citizens’ Charter should clearly lay down the relief which the organization is bound to provide if it has defaulted on the promised standards of delivery. In addition, wherever there is a default in the service delivery by the organization, citizens must also have recourse to a grievances redressal mechanism.
- Periodic evaluation of Citizens’ Charters: Every organization must conduct periodic evaluation of its Citizens’ Charter preferably through an external agency. This agency while evaluating the Charter of the organisation should also make an objective analyses of whether the promises made therein are being delivered within the defined parameters. The result of such evaluations must be used to improve upon the Charter. This is necessary because a Citizens’ Charter is a dynamic document which must keep pace with the changing needs of the citizens as well as the changes in underlying processes and technology. A periodic review of Citizens’ Charter thus becomes an imperative.
- Benchmark using end-user feedback: Systematic monitoring and review of Citizens’ Charters is necessary even after they are approved and placed in the public domain. Performance and accountability tend to suffer when officials are not held responsible for the quality of a Charter’s design and implementation. In this context, end- user feedback can be a timely aid to assess the progress and outcomes of an agency that has implemented a Citizens’ Charter. This is a standard practice for Charters implemented in the UK.
- Hold officers accountable for results: All of the above point to the need to make the heads of agencies or other designated senior officials accountable for their respective Citizens’ Charters. The monitoring mechanism should fix specific responsibility in all cases where there is a default in adhering to the Citizens’ Charter.
- Include Civil Society in the process: Organizations need to recognize and support the efforts of civil society groups in preparation of the Charters, their dissemination and also facilitating information disclosures. There have been a number of States where involvement of civil society in this entire process has resulted in vast improvement in the contents of the Charter, its adherence as well as educating the citizens about the importance of this vital mechanism.