The NCPRI has welcomed the decision of the government to legislate an independent Grievance Redress law to deal with citizen complaints vis-à-vis delivery systems and governance.
NCPRI also welcomed the opportunity for pre-legislative discussion on the draft proposed by the government.
To read/download the draft of Griveance Redress Law pepared by the National Campaign for People\\\’s Right to Information (NCPRI), click here
But there are some substantive differences between the NCPRI and Government Grievance Redress Bill.
The proposed grievance redress bill by the Government has made important advancements by codifying legally binding citizens’ charters and instituting mandatory timelines for grievance redress along with ATRs.
However the efficacy of the government bill is seriously compromised by the lack of the four main features.
1. People’s Facilitation Center: As per the proposed bill, each public authority will have its own Information and Facilitation Centre. This set-up dilutes the single-window facilitation approach suggested by the NCPRI. Moreover an internally managed facilitation center will be prone to the same conflict of interest issues as the officials of the public authority, and may harass the complainant by making it difficult to raise complaints.
2. Independent Appellate Authority at the District Level: As per the proposed Bill, appeals against the orders of the GRO of a public authority will lie with the Head of the Department of the Public Authority, and not with an independent District level Authority. There is inherent conflict of interest in this set-up, since at least some of the grievances will likely be precipated due to negligence or complicity of the HoD of the public authority. Moreover there is increased probabllity that the HoD will not take action against the GRO of the same public authority. This has been borne out by the RTI experience where the first appellate authority, who sits above the PIO in the chain of command, often endorses the decision of the PIO, irrespective of merit. By combining an internal escalation to the HoD at the district level with an independent appeal mechanism from District level and above, the NCPRI has suggested a means of incorporating both avenues of redress without compromising on the essential element of independent disposal at the district level.
3. Compensation to Complainant: The proposed Bill has removed all provisions for compensation to the complainant for entitlements wrongly denied or delayed. A nominal amount of compensation (Rs 100/200 for each day of delay) is an important reparative feature, and will help encourage complainants to pursue complaints and also provide some justice for entitlements denied. It is also suggested that if the delay/denial of service occurred due to malafide or negligent actions of a public official, the penalty thus imposed may be applied towards compensation.
4. Codification of Section 4 of the RTI: Six years of experience with the RTI Act has shown that a significant section of RTI users access information in an attempt to resolve grievances with the functioning of public authorities. However, much of the information accessed under the RTI Act to secure entitlements should be proactively disclosed by all public authorities as per the Section 4 of the RTI Act. In fact, noncompliance with Section 4, is in itself a violation of the RTI Act, and thus a legitimate complaint as per the Grievance Redress Bill. The Grievance Redress Bill is hence an opportunity to codify Section 4 by combining the existing legal mandate for proactive disclosure under the RTI Act with punitive provisions of the Grievance Redress Bill for non-compliance. Successful implementation will require that Section 4 is explicitly included as part of the Citizen’s Charter and Statement of Obligations of the public authority.
To read/download the document on some substantive differences between the NCPRI and Government Grievance Redress Bill, click here
Here are some Highlights of the NCPRI Comments on the Government’s Draft Citizens Right to Grievance Redress Bill, 2011-
Need to specify that for all district and sub-district grievances and complaints, the Heads of Department (HoD) would be designated at the District level.
There needs to be an integrated block/ward level Peoples’ Support Centre that has a single window approach for all local level public authorities and that is directly under the control of the state/central commission and therefore independent of any Department. There also needs to be an independent appellate authority at the District level i.e the District Grievance Redress Authority (DGRA), again under the state/central commission.
The Draft Bill proposes that the Grievance Redress Officer (GRO) must dispose off grievances within 15 days. We propose that any matter which is not disposed off satisfactorily within the prescribed time frame by the GRO will automatically be escalated to the HoD at the District Level of the concerned Department. This will give the district official an opportunity to ensure the redress of grievance before it goes to the independent DGRA. If the District HoD fails to provide an Action Taken Report (ATR) within the additional 15 days timeframe, he along with the GRO and the concerned public officials against whom the original complaint filed, could be penalized by the DGRA for failure to carry out his responsibilities under the Act. This whole process will be tracked by the independent Peoples Support Center at the Block level. The cumulative one month period will be internal and automatic without the complainant having to take the complaint to the next level. Only those complaints will escalate which have not been disposed off satisfactorily by the GRO within 15 days.
There appears to be no provision for compensating the aggrieved party for deficiency in services. This needs to be introduced and linked, as appropriate, to the imposable penalties on the defaulters. However, compensation must be paid by the Public Authority, and subsequently recovered from the defaulter. No compensation that involves a sum of maximum Rs 10000 will be appealable. Where compensation is awarded which is greater than Rs 10,000, Rs 10,000 will be awarded and the rest can be appealable.
The Citizens Charter should be renamed ‘Citizens Charter and Statement of Obligations’. The Central/State Commissions should have the power to review these and give directions, where required, without prescribing the functions of the Public Authority, but to ensure that these functions have been properly reflected in the ‘Citizens Charter and Statement of Obligations’. For the purposes of the Draft Bill, the provisions of Section 4 (1)b of the RTI Ac should be codified and become mandatory as a part of the ‘Citizens Charter and the Statement of Obligations’.
Comments on Specific Sections
Mention “quality” of goods and services in section (S.) 4(1) and 4(2) (c) – and elsewhere.
The time frames prescribed for the remedy of grievance is 15 days (S. 9(1) (a)), and for redress of grievancesis 30 days (S. 9(1)(b)) – however the difference between remedy and redress is not clear.
In any case, barring some generic emergency clauses (eg. S. 11(5), 25(1)), there is no gradation of time allowed for different types of grievances – as should be the case. Obviously, 15 days or a month is too long to wait for water, or rations, or medical care, or even for electricity. Therefore, a more people sensitive timeframe should be prescribed that should have two bands of deadlines- one for urgent, and one for routine. Delay in the provision or access to which could hamper or disrupt daily lives or compromise critical needs would be put in the urgent category with a timeline for redressal being a maximum of 48 hours.
S. 9(1) (c) envisages action according to conduct rules departmental procedures against erring officials or individuals, but does not talk of penalties. It would be preferable where a GRO finds that there has been deficiency, negligence or malfeasance on part of the concerned person, to mandatorily report the same to the HoD who is empowered to recommend penalties.
The limitation period for making an appeal of 30 days is too short and should be increased to up to 90 days (S, 11(2), S. 12 etc.). If the Central or State Grievance Redress Commission, as the case may be, fails to give decision on the request for grievance redress within the period specified under sub-section, the Central or State Grievance Redress Commissioner, as the case may be, shall be deemed to have refused the requestIf the decision is not taken by within the prescribed time period.
Under S. 11(7) it must be clear that the Grievance Redress Authority can impose penalties on anyone who has violated their obligations as per the Citizen’s Charter and the Statement of Obligations. In addition, the DGRA may also impose a penalty on the GRO and HOD for failure to carry out responsibilities under the Act in relation to the disposal of grievances.
S. 14 and 31 prescribes the number of commissioners in each commission. However, as time frames are prescribed for the disposal of appeals, the number of commissioners cannot be determined in advance but should be determined on the basis of the workload and work norms, in order to ensure that the time lines prescribed in the law are adhered to.
There is a view in the NCPRI that welcomes the proposed reservations in the post of commissioners as suggested in the DoPT Draft. However, there is another view in the NCPRI which does not agree with the reservations as proposed in the DoPT Draft, and instead, suggests that everything being equal, preference will be given to SC/ST or women candidates. The NCPRI unanimously feels that in the list of five names sent by the Search Committee for consideration for each post, there must be at least two belonging to one or more of these categories. (CHECK WITH SS)For district level authorities and state level commissioners, facility with the major language of the state must be a condition (S. 16).
S. 20(10 and 37(1) do not specify how a chief commissioner may resign. This needs to be specified.
Since this is an Act that applies to actionable wrongs by the State or Central Govt Departments, it is important to create a mechanism and architecture that can meet both requirements. Therefore for matters relating to State Govt Departments, the second appeal must end with the State Grievance Redress Commission. Whereas for Central Govt Departments, when the first appeal would lie with the DGRA, the second appeal will lie with Central Grievance Redress Commission. No appeal against the State Grievance Redress Commission can lie with the Central Grievance Redress Commission. This would also protect the federal structure of the Constitution.
The implementability of S. 48 needs to be discussed and, if found implementable, perhaps it could be extended to the information commissions also.
The power to make rules (S. 51) should be specified in the Act, with the Central Govt making model rules which the States may follow.
Provisions have been made for penalties to be awarded to officials where malafide action is proven. However, grievances arising out of a deficiency, negligence or malfeasance should also result in a penalty on the errant official. In other words, if it is found that an official has violated the obligations of the Citizen’s Charter and Statement of Obligations, and then he must be liable for all acts of omission and commission within his/her control. The circumstance under which a penalty should not be imposed on the official being charged with a violation is when he/she can and he did his best to meet his obligations and that it was beyond his control to carry out his responsibilities as per the Citizen’s Charter and Statement of Obligations.