An enthusiastic Devendra Fadanvis, the new CM of Maharashtra, wants to introduce the Right to Service Act after receiving a ‘vision’ report from the chief secretary. The media is reporting this with equal enthusiasm. However, since 2006, there already is an Act of this kind
Devendra Fadnavis, the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra, during his maiden press conference, talked about bringing in a Right to Service Act (RS Act) for empowering the citizens. However, what he may have missed is the same Act already exists in the state and Maharashtra government just has to make it active by updating the Citizen’s Charter for every department and ministry. In May 2014, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner and Right to Information (RTI) activist, even conducted a seminar at Moneylife Foundation on using Right to Service Act effectively.
Quoting the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra, media reports say, “People are fed up of the absence of legal recourse in the numerous instances of ineffectual services that they are forced to endure. I have asked each department to come up with a vision report to make legal options available to people. The Chief Secretary will submit his report within a month. We will introduce the Right to Service Act after the report is submitted.”
There is already such an Act. The RS Act or Transfers & Delays Act, as it is popularly known, was passed by the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government under the name of “Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2006”. The law was passed in 2006 and its relevant rules came into existence in November 2013. However, the Congress-NCP government preferred not to “implement” the Act by updating the Citizen’s Charter and so it remained hidden from the public. In order to bring this Act to light, Moneylife foundation held a seminar “Make the Government Work for you” on 23 May 2014 with Mr Gandhi.
Mr Gandhi said, ‘Citizen’s Charter’ forms the soul of this act which according to Section 2 (a) means, “List of facilities or services rendered by the office or Department, together with the time limit for providing such facility or services to the general public.” However, despite brining out relevant rules in November 2013, the state government did not bother to update the Citizen’s Charter. The Citizen’s Charter is updated by May every year.
Here is an example of how the Citizen’s Charter is made useless by babus. The General Administration Department (GAD) published its Citizen’s Charter on 18 July 2014. However, except the first three pages at beginning and one in the end, all other pages of this Citizen’s Charter are published in unreadable format. These pages are in wide format but published in vertical scroll. So either you have to change the direction of the pages every time or rotate your face to read. (see the image below)
One of the main harassments faced by the common people happens when arbitrary transfers and postings of government officials take place. In order to make the transfer policy transparent, section 4 of the RS Act specifies, “The tenure of Government servants will be three years and transfers will normally be made only in April and May of each year. If an officer has to be transferred for special reasons in less than his tenure reasons have to be recorded in writing.”
According to Mr Gandhi, the Act and its Rules needs to be published by every department as this would create awareness amongst the public as well as ensure the civil officers adhere to their deadline. Taken together with the rules, no state government official can delay a response to a citizen’s application, representation or complaint for over 90 days.
He emphasised the use of the RS Act with RTI to bring about a change, which will rule out red-tape and harassment of common man. “If you want the government to work for you, you will have to act. It is our responsibility to enforce government accountability by making use of these acts,” Mr Gandhi said.
May be it is time for Mr Fadnavis to take stock of laws passed but not yet implemented by the state government and also procure detailed information from the babus on any issue before making any announcement or statement.