Bangalore: Steeply falling from grace, from being the first Indian state to set up the Lokayukta (ombudsman) to one where corruption has spread like cancer, Karnataka is taking baby steps to end graft at lower rungs.
"Kai bechchage maadbeku", Kannada for palm-greasing, starts from getting the birth certificate and at almost every level thereafter, many times even for a death certificate. But this may become a thing of the past if the scandal-rocked Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government ensures proper implementation of its intention to guarantee hassle and bribe-free services in a few essential areas.
Hopefully soon, 90 services - to avail which a majority of the over 61 million population of this southern state have to shell out money to make the files move - will be available to people without bribing.
The services include issue of birth and death certificates, extracts of khata (land records), driving licences, licences for business and drinking water and electricity connections. Officials will be held accountable for providing them.
The government will fix the time frame for start of these services. Officials who fail to meet the deadlines will pay the applicant Rs 20 per day for each day of delay.
In case the service cannot be provided within the set time-frame, the official will have to give the reasons in writing, which will help the applicant to take it up with higher authorities.
If in a year any official is found to have faulted 25 times in providing the service, he/she will face disciplinary action and they will be declared "habitual offenders".
The government promises reward to officials rendering prompt service.
The 90 services are provided by 10 government departments with which people have to deal directly most of the time.
The departments are food and civil supplies, transport, revenue, women and child development, rural development and Panchayat Raj (local bodies), energy, finance, education, health, and urban development.
The hassle and bribe-free service is to be guaranteed by an act of the state legislature.
Since the legislature is not scheduled to meet till next month, the government plans to request Governor HR Bhardwaj to issue an ordinance soon to make `The Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Bill, 2011` a reality.
The ordinance will be replaced once the legislature meets and approves the bill which will become an act after assent from the governor.
Karnataka set up the Lokayukta as far back as 1986 and several states in India are still to have such an anti-corruption watch dog.
However, the state has been slow to wake up to the need to guarantee by an act of legislature bribe and hassle-free services to people.
It has been beaten to this act by several states including Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, though Karnataka can still take pride as more services are to be covered under the proposed act.
The Karnataka cabinet took the decision to approach the governor to issue an ordinance on this subject on Nov 4.
The bill stipulates that on receiving an application for a service, the concerned official concerned will have to provide an acknowledgement with a number. The number will help the applicant to track the status of his request online, if such facility has been adopted by the department.
Otherwise also the number will help in easily finding out the status of the request in departments which are still not e-governance savvy.
The guarantee of bribe-free service within a set time frame comes in the backdrop of the BJP government in the state getting dubbed as "the most corrupt government in Indian history".
The corrupt tag follows the arrest of BS Yeddyurappa`s arrest in two corruption and illegal lands deal cases. He has become the first former Karnataka chief minister to spend time in jail in corruption cases.
Three other BJP leaders who were in his cabinet - G Janardhana Reddy, Katta Subramanaya Naidu and SN Krishnaiah Shetty - have also been arrested.
Two ministers, R Ashoka, home, and Murugesh Nirani, industries, and one BJP law maker S. Muniraju are now under police probe for land grab.
The cabinet`s decision to guarantee service within a set time frame has come as a relief to the harried people.
"I hope the government will take steps to strictly implement the new guarantee and not stop with merely enacting the law," said Saraswati, a domestic help, who almost daily narrates problems she faces in getting food grains from the ration shops.