Bihar govt guarantees citizens' right to services

Government servants in Bihar will soon be bound by a time schedule in which to deliver services to citizens, or pay a hefty fine

Bihar is to have a Right to Service Guarantee Act, which will ensure that services like the police, government hospitals, public utilities and other government departments react promptly to citizens’ demands for their services. Long-winding bureaucratic delays in providing common services, or not providing them at all, or providing them for a consideration, are a common feature of Indian governance that the Act hopes to address and remedy.

The draft bill will be tabled in the budget session of the Bihar assembly, in February-March 2011, fulfilling an election promise of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who returned with a huge majority in state elections that concluded last year.

The Bihar Rajya Sewa Dene Ki Guarantee Vidheyak specifies the number of days in which services must be provided and imposes a heavy penalty on defaulters. For example, a police station must complete verification of the credentials of an applicant for an arms licence or a passport within seven days or face a fine ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000 for every day of delay depending on the loss it causes the complainant.

A government hospital will have to issue a post-mortem report in three days, and the electricity department must repair a breakdown in an urban area within six hours. Caste, income and domicile certificates have to be issued within 30 days. Social security pension issues must be settled within 42 days, and educational institutes will have to respond to requests for a scholarship scheme within 30 days from the date of application.

The perennially tardy electricity department has been given a detailed timeframe for providing various services: power connection within 30 days, bill correction within 24 days, fuse repair within four hours (urban) and 24 hours (rural), and power breakdown repair within six hours (urban) and 36 hours (rural).

A new driving licence has to be issued within 30 days; an old one must be converted into a smart card within seven days.

The proposed draft covers 16 services, which are under a dozen or so government departments including home, road transport, health, food and civil supplies, social welfare, education and power.

Madhya Pradesh is the only other state in the country to have a similar Act already in force.

If there is a delay, the first appeal should take a maximum seven days for disposal. The second appeal too has to be disposed of in seven days. A State Public Service Delivery Commission is to be established which will be the final appellate authority. The fine for any delay in providing a service will be deducted from the designated officer or the first appeal officer and his subordinate staff.

Like the Bihar Special Courts Act 2009, which empowers the state government to confiscate the property of corrupt officials even at the trial stage, the Right to Service Act is seen as a move to curb corruption by government officials at all levels.

Source: The Indian Express, January 11, 2010
            Asian Age, January 1, 2011