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CITIZENS’ CHARTER

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It has been recognised the world over that good governance is essential for sustainable development, both economic and social. The three essential aspects emphasised in good governance are transparency, accountability and responsiveness of the administration. The “Citizen’s Charters initiative” is a response to the quest for solving the problems which a citizen encounters, day in and day out, while dealing with organisations providing public services.

The concept of Citizen’s Charter enshrines the trust between the service provider and its users. The concept was first articulated and implemented in the United Kingdom by the Conservative Government of John Major in 1991 as a national programme with a simple aim: to continuously improve the quality of public services for the people of the country so that these services respond to the needs and wishes of the users. The programme was re-launched in 1998 by the Labour Government of Tony Blair which rechristened it “Services First”.

The basic objective of the Citizen’s Charter is to empower the citizen in relation to public service delivery. The six principles of the Citizen’s Charter movement as originally framed were:

  • Quality: Improving the quality of services;
  • Choice: Wherever possible;
  • Standards: Specifying what to expect and how to act if standards are not met;
  • Value: For the taxpayers ‘money;
  • Accountability:  Individuals and Organizations; and
  • Transparency: Rules/Procedures/Schemes/Grievances.

These were later elaborated by the Labour Government as the nine principles of Service Delivery (1998), which are as follows: –

  • Set standards of service;
  • Be open and provide full information;
  • Consult and involve
  • Encourage access and the promotion of choice;
  • Treat all fairly;
  • Put things right when they go wrong;
  • Use resources effectively;
  • Innovate and improve;
  • Work with other providers.

The International Scene

The UK’s Citizen’s Charter initiative aroused considerable interest around the world and several countries implemented similar programmes e.g., Australia (Service Charter, 1997), Belgium (Public Service Users’ Charter 1992), Canada (Service Standards Initiative, 1995), France (Service Charter, 1992), India (Citizen’s Charter, 1997), Jamaica (Citizen’s Charter 1994), Malaysia (Client Charter, 1993), Portugal (The Quality Charter in Public Services, 1993), and Spain(The Quality Observatory, 1992).

Some of these initiatives are very similar to the UK model, whereas others break new ground by leaning on the service quality paradigm of the ‘Total Quality Management’ (TQM) movement. Some other initiatives are pitched somewhere in between. Even in the UK, in the context of the Next Steps / Modernising Government Initiatives, Citizen’s Charters have acquired a service quality face for delivery of public services. The quality tools adopted for improving public services include the Business Excellence Model, Investors in People, Charter Mark, ISO 9000 and Best Value (Government of UK, 1999).

The Indian Scenario

  • Over the years, in India, significant progress has been made in the field of economic development. This, along with a substantial increase in the literacy rate, has made Indian citizens increasingly aware of their rights.
  • Citizens have become more articulate and expect the administration not merely to respond to their demands but also to anticipate them. It was in this climate that a consensus began to evolve, since 1996, in the Government on effective and responsive administration.
  • At a Conference of Chief Ministers of various States and Union Territories held on 24 May, 1997 in New Delhi, presided over by the Prime Minister of India, an “Action Plan for Effective and Responsive Government” at the Centre and State levels was adopted.
  • One of the major decisions at that Conference was that the Central and State Governments would formulate Citizen’s Charters, starting with those sectors that have a large public interface (e.g., Railways, Telecom, Posts, Public Distribution Systems and the like).
  • These Charters were to include first, standards of service as well as the time limits that the public can reasonably expect for service delivery, avenues of grievance redressal and a provision for independent scrutiny through the involvement of citizen and consumer groups.
  • The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances in Government of India (DARPG) initiated the task of coordinating, formulating and operationalising Citizen’s Charters.
  • The guidelines for formulating the Charters as well as a list of do’s and don’ts were communicated to various government departments/organisations to enable them to bring out focused and effective charters.
  • For the formulation of the Charters, the government agencies at the Centre and State levels were advised to constitute a task force with representation from users, senior management and the cutting edge staff.

The Charters are expected to incorporate the following elements: –

  • Vision and Mission Statements;
  • Details of business transacted by the organisation;
  • Details of client
  • Details of services provided to each client group;
  •  Details of grievance redressal mechanism and how to access it; and
  • Expectations from the clients.

Primarily an adaptation of the UK model, the Indian Citizen’s Charter has an additional component of ‘expectations from the clients’ or in other words ‘obligations of the users’. Involvement of consumer organisations, citizen groups, and other stakeholders in the formulation of the Citizen’s Charter is emphasised to ensure that the Citizen’s Charter meets the needs of the users. Regular monitoring, review and evaluation of the Charters, both internally and through external agencies has been enjoined.

What a Citizen Charter can do?

Citizen charter is necessary

  • To make administration accountable and citizen friendly.
  • To ensure transparency.
  • To take measures to improve customer service.
  • To adopt a stakeholder approach.
  • To save time of both Administration and the citizen.

Challenges

  • In majority of cases Charters were not formulated through a consultative process;
  • By and large service providers are not familiar with the philosophy, goals and main features of the Charter;
  • In none of the departments evaluated, had adequate publicity been given to the Charters. In most Departments, the Charters were only in the early stages of implementation;
  • No funds were specifically earmarked for awareness generation on Citizen’s Charter or for orientation of the staff on various components of the Charter.

2nd ARC recommendations

Citizen’s Charters should be made effective by adopting the following principles:

  • One size does not fit all
  • Citizen’s Charter should be prepared for each independent unit under the overall umbrella of the organization’s charter
  • Wide consultation which include civil society in the process
  • Firm commitments to be made
  • Internal process and structure should be reformed to meet the commitments given in the Charter
  • Redress mechanism is case of default
  • Periodic evaluation of Citizen’s Charters
  • Benchmark using end-user feedback
  • Hold officers accountable for results
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