Citizen’s charter

The Citizen’s Charter emerges as a remarkable initiative to bridge the chasm between the citizens and the administrative machinery. It’s a document that embodies the commitment of a public body towards maintaining a high standard of service delivery within a stipulated time frame, alongside a structured grievance redressal mechanism.

  • It is a document that outlines the commitment of a public body towards standard quality and time frame of service delivery along with grievance redress mechanism. 
  • It includes how citizens can redress any grievances.
  • It includes what the citizens can expect out of the service provider.
  • The concept is that the charter preserves the trust between the service provider and the citizens/users.
  • The concept of a citizen’s charter was initiated by former British Prime Minister John Major in the year 1991. It was started as a national programme intended to improve the quality of public services. 

Components of Citizen Charter

1. Vision and mission statement

2. Service standards/Procedures

3. Grievance redressal mechanisms

Citizen’s Charter in India:

  • In India, the concept of citizen’s charter was first adopted at a ‘Conference of Chief Ministers of various States and Union Territories’ held in May 1997 in the national capital.
  • A major outcome of the conference was a decision to formulate Citizen’s Charters by the central and state governments
  • The task of coordination, formulation, and operationalization of citizen’s charters are done by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG).
  • The DARPG website lists more than 700 charters adopted by various government agencies across India.
  • Citizen’s charters are not legally enforceable documents. They are just guidelines to enhance service delivery to citizens.

Principles of Citizen’s Charter 

  • Quality – Improving service quality.
  • Choice – Wherever possible.
  • Standards – Specifically mention what to expect and how to go about if standards are not met.
  • Value – For taxpayer’s money.
  • Accountability – At the level of the individual and the organization.
  • Transparency – Transparency in rules/schemes/procedures/grievances.

The charter is the declaration of commitment to superiority in service to customers of the department. Example – SEVOTTAM MODEL

Role of Citizen Charter in Public Administration

  • Provides for standards of Service Delivery to citizens
  • Empowers citizens by creating a professional and customer-oriented environment for the delivery of services. 
  • Boosts accountability and transparency in the delivery of public services.
  • Provides for Grievance Redressal mechanism for public institutions and offices.
  • Enhance good governance by improving the effectiveness of organizations by having measurable standards. 
  • Augment quality of services delivered by incorporating an internal and external monitoring entity. 
  • Facilitates participatory democracy by making administration citizen centric.
  • Promotes collaboration of all sections of the community without any prejudice.
  • Develops yardsticks for monitoring and evaluation of service delivery. 

Shortcomings of CC in India:

  • Devoid of participative mechanisms – in a majority of cases, not formulated through a consultative process with cutting edge staff who will finally implement it.
  • Poor design and content: lack of meaningful and succinct CC, absence of critical information that end-users need to hold agencies accountable.
  • Lack of public awareness: only a small percentage of end-users are aware of the commitments made in the CC since effective efforts of communicating and educating the public about the standards of delivery promise have not been undertaken.
  • Charters are rarely updated: making it a one-time exercise, frozen in time.
  • End-users, Civil society organizations and NGOs are not consulted when CCs are drafted: Since a CC’s primary purpose is to make public service delivery more citizen-centric, consultation with stakeholders is a must.
  • Measurable standards of delivery are rarely defined: making it difficult to assess whether the desired level of service has been achieved or not.
  • Little interest shown by the organizations in adhering to their CC: since there is no citizen friendly mechanism to compensate the citizen if the organization defaults.
  • Tendency to have a uniform CC for all offices under the parent organization. CC has still not been adopted by all Ministries/Departments. This overlooks local issues.
  • Ineffective grievance redressal mechanism. Officers in charge go unpunished which does not infuse a sense of responsibility and commitment. 
  • Considered as mere formality without any periodic evaluation of its implementation.It has become a routine activity of government departments without any accountability. 

Reforming CC to make them Effective:

  • One size does not fit all: formulation of CC should be a decentralized activity with the head office providing only broad guidelines.
  • Wide consultation process: CC be formulated after extensive consultations within the organization followed by a meaningful dialogue with civil society.
  • Firm commitments to be made: CC must be precise and make firm commitments of service delivery standards to the citizens/consumers in quantifiable terms wherever possible.
  • Redressal mechanism in case of default: clearly lay down the relief which the organization is bound to provide if it has defaulted on the promised standards of delivery.
  • Periodic evaluation of CC: preferably through an external agency.
  • Hold officers accountable for results: fix specific responsibility in cases where there is a default in adhering to the CC.
  • Include Civil Society in the process: to assist in improvement in the contents of the Charter, its adherence as well as educating the citizens about the importance of this vital mechanism.

Way Forward

  • Citizens and staff need to be consulted at every stage of formulation of charter.
  •  Orientation of staff about the salient features    

A Citizens’ Charter cannot be an end in itself, it is rather a means to an end – a tool to ensure that the citizen is always at the heart of any service delivery mechanism.

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