Citizen's Charter is an instrument that seeks to make an organisation transparent, accountable, and citizen friendly, according to the 12th report of the 2nd ARC (Citizen Centric Administration - The Heart of Governance). A Citizen's Charter is essentially a set of promises made by an organisation about the quality of service it provides.
• The heart of a Citizen's Charter is its commitments/promises. Despite the fact that these promises are not enforceable in a court of law, each organisation should ensure that the promises made are kept and that a suitable compensatory / remedial mechanism is provided in the event of a default.
• The concept of a Citizen's Charter enshrines the relationship of trust between service providers and their customers.
• The concept was first articulated and implemented in the United Kingdom by John Major's Conservative government in 1991 as a National Programme with a simple goal: to continuously improve the quality of public services for the country's citizens so that these services respond to their needs and wishes. The programme was renamed "Service First" by Tony Blair's Labour government when it was relaunched in 1998.
The basic goal of the Citizen's Charter is to empower citizens in relation to public service delivery. As originally framed, the Citizen's Charter movement's six principles were:
I. Quality: Improving the quality of services;
II. Choice: Providing choice wherever possible;
III. Standards: Specify what to expect and how to act if standards are not met;
IV. Value: Add value for the taxpayers’ money;
V. Accountability: Be accountable to individuals and organizations; and
VI. Transparency: Ensure transparency in Rules/ Procedures/ Schemes/ Grievances
Components of a Citizen’s Charter:
A good Citizen’s Charter should have the following components:
1. Vision and Mission Statement of the Organization
2. Details of Business transacted by the Organization
3. Details of ‘Citizens’ or ‘Clients’
4. Statement of services including standards, quality, time frame etc. provided to each Citizen/ Client group separately and how/ where to get the services
5. Details of Grievance Redress Mechanism and how to access it
6. Expectations from the ‘Citizens’ or ‘Clients’
7. Additional commitments such as compensation in the event of failure of service delivery.
International Scenario: The United Kingdom's Citizen's Charter initiative sparked widespread interest around the world, and several countries followed suit.
• India has made significant progress in the field of economic development over the years. This, combined with a significant increase in literacy, has increased Indian citizens' awareness of their rights. Citizens have become more articulate, and they expect the administration to not only respond to but also anticipate their demands. In this environment, the government has developed a consensus on effective and responsive administration since 1996.
• An "Action Plan for Effective and Responsive Government" at the Centre and State levels was adopted at a conference of Chief Ministers of various States and Union Territories held on May 24, 1997 in New Delhi, presided over by the Prime Minister of India. One of the major decisions made at that Conference was that the federal and state governments would draught citizen's charters, beginning with those sectors that have a high level of public interaction (e.g., Railways, Telecom, Posts, and Public Distribution Systems).
• These Charters were required to include service standards and time limits within which the public can reasonably expect avenues of grievance redress, as well as a provision for independent scrutiny with citizen and consumer groups involved.
• The task of coordinating, formulating, and operationalizing Citizen's Charters was started by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances of the Government of India (DARPG). To enable them to produce focused and effective charters, various government departments/organizations were given guidelines for formulating the charters as well as a list of do's and don'ts.
• The Indian Citizen's Charter, which is primarily based on the UK model, includes a section on 'expectations from clients,' or in other words, 'user obligations.' Consumer organisations, citizen groups, and other stakeholders are encouraged to participate in the development of the Citizen's Charter to ensure that it meets the needs of the users.
Evaluation of Citizen’s Charters
The effectiveness of Citizen's Charters in India has not been encouraging, according to various agencies. The following are some key findings:
1. Most service providers are unfamiliar with the Charter's philosophy, goals, and key features.
2. Inadequate design and content: The majority of organisations lack the ability to draught a meaningful and succinct Citizens' Charter. A large number of charters simply lack critical information that end-users require to hold agencies accountable.
3. Lack of public awareness: While the Citizens' Charter has been implemented by a large number of public service providers, only a small percentage of end-users are aware of the Charter's commitments. There have been no effective efforts to communicate and educate the public about the delivery promise's standards.
4. Charters are rarely updated: The charters examined for this report showed little evidence of having been updated. Some of the documents date back to the Citizens' Charter program's inception nearly two decades ago. Only 6% of the charters examined promise that the document will be updated at some point after it is released.
5. When drafting Charters, end-users and NGOs are not consulted: When Charters are being drafted, civil society organisations and end-users are rarely consulted. It was discovered that when drafting Charters, the needs of senior citizens and the disabled are frequently overlooked.
6. Resistance to change: The new practises necessitate significant changes in the agency's and its employees' behaviour and attitudes toward citizens. At times, vested interests work to prevent the Citizens' Charter from being implemented or to render it ineffective.
What can be done?
Citizen's Charters should be made effective by adopting the following principles, according to the 12th report of the 2nd ARC (Citizen Centric Administration - The Heart of Governance):
• One size does not fit all
• Citizen’s Charter should be prepared for each independent unit under the overall umbrella of the organization’s charter
• Wide consultation which include civil society and staff in the process
• Firm commitments to be made
• Internal process and structure should be reformed to meet the commitments given in the Charte
• Redress mechanism is case of default
• Periodic evaluation of Citizen’s Charters
• Benchmark using end-user feedback
• Hold officers accountable for results
• Need for wider publicity of the Charter through print media, posters, banners, leaflets, handbills, brochures, local newspapers etc. and also through electronic media
• Need for creation of database on consumer grievances and redress
• Replication of best practices in this field
• Orientation of staff about the salient features and goals/objectives of the Charter; vision and mission statement of the department; and skills such as team building, problem solving, handling of grievances and communication skills
• Earmarking of specific budgets for awareness generation and orientation of staff
• Replication of best practices in this field.
Citizens' Right to Timely Delivery of Goods and Services, as well as Redress of Grievances the Citizens' Charter Bill, 2011, is also pending in parliament. The bill aims to establish a mechanism to ensure that citizens receive goods and services on time. Within six months of the Act's enactment, every public authority must publish a citizen's charter. The goods and services to be provided, as well as their delivery timelines, will be detailed in the Charter.