The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) has welcomed the introduction of a separate grievance redress bill in the parliament.
However, they have also raised issues and concerns related to the present draft of ‘The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011’. They have pointed out the weaknesses of the draft approved by the cabinet. This draft was tabled in the parliament on 20th December. It was then send to standing committee.
Since April 2011, NCPRI has strongly opposed the possibility of bringing grievance Redressal mechanism under Lokpal. They maintained their position over it that grievances and corruption need different and appropriate structures to deal with them.
NCPRI organised a Open Forum debate on the issue of grievance redress in Delhi last Saturday. The representatives and MPs of many leading political parties participated in this Open Forum. They all conveyed their agreements with a separate GR mechanism, instead of bringing it under Lokpal.
In August, NCPRI suggested a basket of measures instead of making a super-cop Lokpal description which would deal with corruption, misconduct, grievance Redressal, protection of whistle blowers and making judiciary accountability.
They, after detail analysis of present draft of GR law, have issued a statement. It’s as following.
The NCPRI welcomes the introduction in parliament of a separate grievance redress bill – ‘The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011’. It is a long awaited response to the millions of complaints of ordinary people over many years, which never get heard or addressed by thousands of offices all over the country. There are some significant lacunae which if appropriately amended, will lead to a legislation which will empower the common person/citizen to claim their entitlements and ensure greater accountability in matters of day to day governance.
The NCPRI has maintained since the initial discussions in April, that grievances and corruption need different and appropriate structures to deal with them.
The NCPRI held grievance redress camps in different parts of Delhi’s poorer areas, organised jointly with other local organisations from the 14th to 16th of December. These camps reinforced that complaints and grievances need a separate structure and mechanism to deal with the problems faced by people day to day. We attach a note on some case studies that came to light which is self explanatory.
The NCPRI feels that citizen’s charter and grievance redress bill introduced in parliament has the potential, if appropriately amended, to be extremely useful for the provision of an accessible, decentralized, and responsive system equipped to deal with grievances in a time-bound and accountable manner.
The Government draft Bill does not include some vital provisions. These need to be addressed if the law has to actually benefit people. These could be easily corrected through amendments in parliament. The Standing Committee Report on the Lokpal bill has made it clear that the grievance legislation is crucial, and that if referred to them, it will be expedited and given priority. Our comments and suggestions on this bill are given below.
We welcome the provision of a Designated Authority, with the powers of a civil court, to receive appeals against the grievance redress officer. We recommend that the Bill further specify that the designated authority “would be located at a district and /or sub-district level and would be provided adequate technical staff”.
We are concerned that this authority has not been made appropriately independent of the government and recommend that the appointment, transfer and removal of the designated authority must be with the concurrence of the State/Central Grievance Redress Commissions, who would also write their annual confidential reports.
2.Provisions for compensation and penalties
We welcome provisions for imposition of penalty and payment of compensation in the case of delay or non-redress of grievances. However, we are concerned that the provision of compensation to complainants has been made conditional to the imposition of penalty.
The NCPRI suggests that compensation should be paid as and when awarded and not when, and if, the penalty is imposed. There should be a protocol that ensures that certain categories of violation will attract mandatory penalties and compensation.
3.Information and Facilitation Centre
We welcome the provision of setting up information and facilitation centres to assist citizens in registering and tracking their complaints. However, we are concerned that the bill provides for these centres to be set up within public authorities.
We recommend that the information and facilitation centers should be independent of the public authorities and should be set up at the rural block/ municipal ward level, to provide an easily accessible single window system to assist citizens.
4.Number of Commissioners and Prescribed time limit for filing appeals
We welcome the cap of 60 days for disposal of appeals by the State and Central Public Grievance Redressal Commission. This will ensure speedy redress of grievances.
However, we are concerned that the bill prescribes the maximum number of commissioners for the State and Central Public Grievance Redressal Commissions. We recommend that the number of commissioners to be appointed should be determined on the basis of the workload and the requirement to meet the prescribed time lines.
We are also concerned that there is a limitation of 30 days within which complainants are required to file an appeal against the orders of the GRO and the designated authority. We recommend that a minimum time period of ninety days, preferably more, should be provided to complainants to file such appeals.
5.Same day disposal of ‘urgent’ or ‘immediate’ complaints
We welcome the inclusion of same day disposal of urgent and immediate complaints in the bill. We also welcome the automatic escalation of complaints that are not redressed within the stipulated time frame by the Grievance Redress Officer.
However, we suggest that the terms “urgent” and “immediate” need to be defined to ensure consistent interpretation by the concerned authorities. Further, the GRO should forward all complaints that are not adequately redressed immediately and no later than 24 hours to the designated authority
6. Decentralized structure of grievance redress mechanism
We welcome the decentralized structure of grievance redress mechanism which requires GROs to be appointed right down to the levels of the municipalities and panchayats.
We welcome the inclusion of a search committee to shortlist candidates for selection to the State and Central Commissions.
We are concerned that the bill does not specify the composition of the search committee. We suggest that the Search Committee should consist of such persons of standing and having special knowledge and expertise in the matters relating to grievance redress policy, public administration, policy making and management, or in any other related matter. We feel that the selection committee can also be expanded and made more inclusive.
8.Composition of the Public Grievance Redressal Commission
We welcome the fact that the Bill provides for inclusion of Women and SC/ST in the State and Central Public Grievance Redressal Commissions.
However, we are concerned that in its present form the commission is likely to be dominated by retired civil servants and judges. We recommend that not more than half the members of the commission at any time be from among retired officials and judges, and apart from eminent persons from the social sector, other categories of people like academics and journalists, who have shown interest in public grievance related issues, should also be eligible to become commissioners or chief commissioners.
9.Suomotu powers to State and Central Public Grievance Redressal Commissions
We welcome that state and central Public Grievance Redressal Commissions have been given powers to take suomotu cognizance of grievances.
10.Designation of Lokpal and Lokayuktas as appellate authorities.
We are concerned that the bill designates the Lokpal and Lokayuktas as appellate authorities to receive appeals against the decisions of the Central and State Public Grievance Redressal Commissions respectively. We feel this would swamp the Lokpal and Lokayuktas with appeals and bring all their work to a halt, and would also delay judicial review of the grievance commission’s orders, through the writ jurisdiction.
While we recognise that all cases of corruption should be referred to the lokpal, the lokayukta, and other appropriate bodies, we cannot understand why the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas have been designated appellate authorities for appeals against all grievance related matters, even those not involving corruption.
We, therefore suggest that only matters related to corruption should be referred to the Lokpal/Lokayukta. This would also ensure that the Lokpal/Lokayukta, which are specialized bodies tackling only corruption related matters, would not get overburdened with non-corruption matters.
11.Fact finding enquiries
We are concerned to note that the provision for holding on the spot and open fact finding enquires has not been included in the bill.
We therefore suggest that fact-finding enquires conducted by the GRO should be open proceedings held on the spot, with an opportunity for all concerned persons to be present for the enquiry.
12.Strengthening of proactive provisions of Section 4 under the RTI Act
We welcome the explicit inclusion of provisions for proactive disclosure under section 4 of the RTI act, which have been made effective through this act.