Business Today

Serving them right

K. R. Balasubramanyam        Print Edition: Dec 11, 2011

Governments across states seem to have begun to take governance seriously. The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka is all set to pass the Right to Services Bill, seeking to enforce and inculcate accountability in the bureaucracy. The proposed law lays down strict time frames for delivery of certain public services, as well as punishment for officials who delay or deny a service without a valid reason.

Karnataka is the latest among a handful of states to embrace the right to services law, which was first introduced by Madhya Pradesh last year. Bihar, Delhi, Punjab, Jharkhand and Rajasthan have also passed laws along similar lines. While in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar the legislation covers 52 and 40 services respectively, Karnataka seeks to bring 90 services under its ambit. In Rajasthan, the law covers 108 services across 15 departments.

MUST READ: How a new system in Karnataka cuts corruption at checkpoints

"The proposed law is not just about punishing officials who deny a rightful public service," says Karnataka's Law and Urban Development Minister S. Suresh Kumar, who led the initiative to draft the law. "It also provides for recognising and incentivising good work. For example, officials with a record of zero defaults will get both cash incentives and letters of appreciation every year which will brighten their career prospects," Increasingly, states are opting for the law, because the citizen charters put out by government departments - which promised to deliver certain public services within a stipulated time - have not been taken seriously by officials as they lacked teeth.

KARNATAKA'S GAME PLAN

  • Covers 90 services from 10 government departments
  • Service seeker gets a number, can track the progress of his request
  • Fine of Rs 20 for each day's delay
  • Officials with 25 defaults in a year to be labelled habitual offenders
  • Cash incentive of Rs 5,000 for officials with zero defaults

It is too early to say if the law will be effective, and if so, to what extent. This is because, in most states, it was enacted only in the last few months. Awareness is still low. The Right to Information Act, too, was invoked sparingly in the beginning. Its usage increased as awareness picked up.

"The law is a step in the right direction. Now files will start moving quickly in government offices," says U. Ramadas Kamath, Senior Vice President at Infosys, who interacts with government agencies frequently. "It will help everyone, including the business community."

Suresh Kumar thinks the investor community, too, will find the Karnataka's law useful, as it will cover some of the services businessmen have to regularly deal with, such as revenue, labour, some functions of the municipality, and so on. "Once in force, the law will bring about a sense of accountability in officials leading to better governance, and hence, a better climate for private investment," he says.

In 2010, India ranked 87th among 178 countries on global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, falling three places from its 84th position in 2009. According to the survey, more than 50 per cent of Indians have had a close brush with bribery.

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