Bhopal: The Madhya Pradesh government claims it has disposed of a staggering 3.6 million public complaints in the last six months, thanks to a law passed last year that guarantees basic services to citizens. However, the opposition and civil society smell like a rat.
The Madhya Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Act 2010, passed in the monsoon session of the assembly last year, guarantees delivery of basic public services to citizens within a stipulated timeframe and sets in place accountability mechanisms for non-delivery.
Rights activists, opposition parties and retired bureaucrats, however, believe that the claims made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government are too good to be true.
The government is saying over 600,000 cases -- relating to services such as issuing of caste, birth and marriage certificates, drinking water connections, ration cards and copies of land records -- are being amicably disposed of every month.
"It is absurd that a bill that has been in force for less than a year bears such spectacular results. Many citizens, particularly those in smaller towns and rural areas, are perhaps not even aware of it," sociologist S.N. Choudhury, who teaches at Barkatullah University, said.
Choudhury said it would be better if monitoring and evaluation were conducted by an independent agency.
The statistics compiled by nine government departments insist that out of the 3.8 million cases filed in the last six months, 3.6 million have been attended to. The act envisages that if services are not provided within the stipulated timeframe, the officials concerned would be held responsible as well as fined. The penalty amount, ranging from Rs.250 to a maximum of Rs.5, 000 per day, would be handed over to the complainant concerned.
significantly, there has not been a single case of any government official being fined so far, say sceptics.
Last year, the Madhya Pradesh state secretariat had received a letter from Bihar seeking details of the legislation. In fact, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had announced that his government would bring in a similar law to guarantee prompt services to curb corruption at the grassroots. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been showcasing the legislation as the "first of its kind" in the country.
The departments covered under the law are -- energy, labour, public health engineering, revenue, urban administration and development, general administration, social justice, Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes` welfare, food and civil services and consumer protection.
If citizens fail to get the services on time, they can appeal to the first and second appellate officers who would further give instructions to the officers concerned. If there is a delay, the officers would have to undergo the penalty.
The opposition Congress says the "fantastic figures" are deceptive.
"The same officials who are supposed to ensure these services are sitting in judgment and claiming that each and every application is responded to on time. If that is the case, then why is the common man wary of the functioning of the collector`s office and other departments?" state Congress spokesman K.K. Mishra said.
State Public Services Minister Brijendra Pratap Singh, however, insists that only a "minuscule" number of citizens are dissatisfied.
"We have a system where an acknowledgment receipt is given. Efforts are on to prepare a software that would automatically monitor services granted to citizens," he said.
Mishra also said there is "nothing striking" in the legislation. "The present government has just taken a leaf out of the earlier Digvijay Singh regime which had spread awareness about citizens` charter," he said.
"The new law serves merely as a publicity stunt... There are 14 state ministers facing corruption allegations, including the chief minister. The state has unilaterally increased the number of days in responding to Right to Information (RTI) queries to 80. There is an extremely high rate of corruption at the lowest rung," he added.
Gwalior Collector Akash Tripathi said there was little chance of fudging figures. "Each time an application is moved, it is recorded in a computer and a receipt is given."
BJP spokesperson Vijesh Lunawat said the reason behind the Congress` dismissive attitude is because of a "defeatist and negative mindset".
During the debate on the bill in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, Shivraj Singh Chouhan had promised that his office and cabinet colleagues would be brought under the purview of the legislation in future. But so far there seems to be no progress in that direction.