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The Right to Public Services Act, 2011
The new Right to Public Services Act empowers people in Bihar to get government officials to act in a time-bound manner. Will public servants finally wake up to the tasks-at-hand?
Issue Date - 15/09/2011
As the entire nation sat glued to their television screens watching the Anna Hazare movement gain momentum, the state of Bihar was witnessing a movement of its own. Aimed at providing various services to the people in a stipulated time-frame, the Independence Day brought with it a crucial reform process in the state. It was called the Right to Public Services Act (RTPSA), 2011, which came into force starting August 15, 2011.

As per the Act, hereon, 50 services spread across 10 departments is to be made available to the people of the state. The Act, considered to be the brainchild of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, was envisioned and drafted as a major anti-corruption tool. It was passed without a debate in the state Assembly in March 2011. The rules were framed two months later. Prescribed forms for making applications were issued soon after its implementation and all applicants were issued receipts against applications submitted. Termed as “yet another revolutionary step” in Bihar’s journey towards becoming a corruption-free state, the law provides for penal action against officials who fail to deliver within the stipulated timeframe. There is also a provision for dismissal of officials from service for such failures.

Bihar is the second state after Madhya Pradesh to enact such law. The real test here will be for the bureaucracy of Bihar, which is known for its lethargic ways. In just two working days after the much-hyped law guaranteeing time-bound delivery of several public utility services was enforced, at least 40,000 applications were reportedly received at the district and block headquarters across Bihar. They were submitted by large crowds, mostly seeking certificates for caste, residence, income, ration cards and social security pension. Until August 22, 2011 – thanks to the legislation that ensures that officials down to the lowest level are held accountable for the services they are meant to provide within a fixed time frame – 2.80 lakh applications had been received.

In response to public enthusiasm, special counters were opened across several districts of Bihar. The Act is aimed at playing a crucial role in curbing corruption in the lower bureaucracy. If implemented in good order, the Act has all the requisites that could turn Bihar into a model state in terms of rendition of public services.

Realising the importance of the Act at a time when corruption has caught the imagination of the entire nation, Nitish Kumar says, “The RTPSA is just another way to curb corruption and to provide services to all sections within a limited time. In a matter of a year, people can apply for services online and get certificates online too.” The government’s move to check corruption through the Act has painted a peculiar picture, especially in the small towns of the state, where people are unaware about the law. But the loopholes in the Act are being exploited too.

Reports from the state capital suggest that certain government officers have already started using the shortcomings of the Act to their benefit. Here is an example. The Department of Education had issued a directive with regard to the awarding of scholarships to students under class seven. Submission of the Income Certificate of their parents within seven days was made mandatory to avail the scholarship. However, the local officers, quoting the provisions laid down in the Act, are now found to be causing a delay in the process. Regardless of the urgency of the matter, local officials are now asking the parents to return after 21 days, only causing a further delay in finalisation of the scholarship list. Lamenting over the attitude of local officers, Manoj Kumar, a teacher at the Saguna Middle School tells B&E that over 100 applications were affected as block officials told the students and their parents to return after 20 days. The officials have cited the timeframe of the Act as the reason of delay. “Students were asked to come after 20 days when it was necessary for them to submit the required certificates within a week. Many of them could not for various reasons, and they missed out on the chance to obtain a scholarship,” he said. Similar incidents have now prompted Nitish Kumar to take note and he has indicated that the timeframe for certain services under the Act could be considerably reduced.

“The effort in eradicating corruption through the Act is commendable. However, corrupt officials have found certain lacunae and are delivering their work only in the time-frame envisaged by the government,” Arun Kumar Singh, Public Prosecutor and a senior JD(U) leader tells B&E. But there are some encouraging tales too. In Muzaffarpur, 145 applications for different services were disposed of within a day, claims Bharat Dubeya, Director of the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA). “Despite loopholes, the district headquarter is bound to deliver its duties looking at the problems of the petitioner. Work here is going smooth. There might be some lacunae, but they will be eradicated soon,” he said. In another incident in Sitamarhi district of Bihar, some school students landed at the office of the Superintendent of Police (SP) to complain that their character certificates were not being released by the concerned authorities. The matter was urgent as the students needed the certificates within 4 days. When SP Rakesh Rathi learnt of the situation, he ensured that the documents were delivered on the same day by 5pm. This was quite an example of an official stepping-in to ensure that certain provisions of the Act do not breed insincerity amongst state officials.


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