In a democracy such as ours the
government is of the people and by the people but is it for the people?
The way government works it is not for
the people it is for those who have connections, who have power and who can wangle
things in some funny way.
Governments too have their customers
who pay the taxes.
If we could influence the bureaucracy
it will be more effective than influencing the government. Thanks to the British, we have
a system of bureaucracy that would keep things running at a particular speed even if there
are no ministers at a given time.
Dr. Sri Ram Khanna presented a case study of the
Citizens Charter Movement, a campaign launched by a coalition of about 40 NGOs who
have joined together to ensure consumer rights from the government. The campaign is aimed
at influencing bureaucrats and politicians to secure a consumer rights charter for the
citizens that could govern all public services offered by the government these
services are, after all, provided in lieu f taxes and public money.
Some of the guiding principles for such a charter would be:
- Performance of government services should be appraised against minimum standards of
performance. In a recent seminar on user services the government servants were shocked to
learn what average citizens think of their performance. Such questions have never been
allowed to be asked in the past but we are now setting up mechanisms to ask them.
- Freedom of information is very important and the Indian government is now on its way to
passing a freedom of information law that would help NGOs and individuals to learn about
the working of different government departments.
- Complaints should be acknowledged and answered.
- No person working in a government department should be anonymous. They should all wear
badges so that the customer may be able to identify them if they ask for bribes.
- There should be transparency. If people do not know what is going inside the government
departments then they cannot monitor them they are forced to accept whatever
services may be offered them.
- There should be accountability.
- There should be autonomy for managers, so that somebody is held accountable. At present,
each government employee passes the buck to the other when s/he is held responsible for
There is a feeling now amongst the civil servants that they have to improve otherwise
things are not going to work well for the governments. This is an indicator of success for
the Citizens Charter Movement.
The legitimacy of such NGOs is their non-political face. "But a consumer movement
such as ours still does not have popular support," Mr. Khanna observes. That is
primarily because the idea of demanding accountability from the government is quiet alien
in countries like India. There is hope for more popular support as the citizens become
aware of their rights and powers in moulding the civil society.