(Online Course) Pub Ad for IAS Mains: Significant issues in Indian Administration: Citizen-Administration Interface (Paper -2)

(Online Course) Public Administration for IAS Mains Exams

Topic: Significant issues in Indian Administration: Citizen-Administration Interface

No system of governance can survive for a long time without the support of the citizens. It is evident from the history of the nations that longevity of their governments largely depended on the co-operation and support rendered to them by their citizens. Wherever this support was missing, the nations found themselves in deep trouble that made their future uncertain. I he administration-citizen relations are significant because the support and consent of the governed is a prerequisite for the sustenance of a representative government like the one in India. The traditional theories of relationship between the State and society or the government and citizens, in different political systems, be it laissez- faire or democracy or military’ dictatorship are now inadequate to cope with the new and complex dimensions of administration that are gradually emerging. Position of the public or citizens from being mere recipients of the administrative help and services has now shifted to their being the prime movers in the affairs of governance - a change from local ‘beneficiary’ status to active ‘participant status’. This Unit focuses on the various modes of interaction between citizens and administration. It discusses the changing norms of their interaction, and institutional strategies and devices that try to build a theoretical conceptual base for the interface. The Unit particularly looks into the Indian scenario in order to understand the different dimensions of the interaction between citizens and administration.

Modes of Interaction Between Citizens and Administration

Today, governance is all about efficient and effective provision of goods and services. Public administration exists for the betterment of the public by providing services such as health, education, economic security, maintenance of law and order, national defence etc. The public interacts more intimately with public agencies at the cutting-edge level. Local government, for instance, affects people’s lives in various ways. The encounters may pertain to water supply, electricity, garbage disposal and so on.There are different ways in which the public interacts with the public administrative agencies in real life situations. These interactions could be in the form of:

(i) Clients: This is the most common form of interaction with the administrative agencies. In this form, citizens seek to obtain benefits or services from governmental agencies. For example, a patient visits a government hospital for health check-up or medical treatment.

(ii) Regulates: As a regulates. the public interacts with many public agencies viz.. police, income tax authorities, licensing authorities etc.

(iii) Litigants: The harassed citizens turn litigants when they seek redressal of their grievances from the courts, tribunals and Lok Adalats. As litigants, public can hope to get justice for their complaints.

(iv) Participants: Democracy entails increased people’s participation in governance. This is institutionalised through various means like community policing, guardian committees, beneficiary associations etc. In almost all programmes/projects, the people participate at the levels of planning, implementing and monitoring. People’s participation democratise both administration and public, and also brings in new inputs that help sound project-designing, implementation, and facilitation of assets maintenance.

(v) Protesters and those engaged in struggles and people’s movements: People often interact with government agencies on public policy as protesters, critically opposing the injustice in government policy and action. People’s struggles, like the one over Narmada Dam or forests in Uttar Pradesh (Now Uttaranchal), symbolise articulation of genuine grievances, and demands and not just questioning of grievous faults in public policies.
The State’s Responses Towards Participation State’s (government in practice) responses to the citizens’ interactions would be dependent on three crucial factors: (a) The overall politico-administrative culture which may be formally democratic but actually authoritarian or patriarchal, (b) The capacity of the people evolved through democratic learning processes to articulate demands and put pressure for just administrative functioning, and (c) The status of the government fairly independent and impartial of other cognate institutions like the judiciary and the media.

 James Medley’s typology-of State’s responses towards citizens’ participation is worth mentioning. The four ideal typical responses suggested by him are ‘anti-participation’, ‘manipulative’, ‘incremental’ and ‘participatory’. These interactions take place daily and the ordinary citizens form an opinion about public administration out of these happy/unhappy encounters with public officials:

(i) The ‘anti-participatory’ mode explains that State in the capitalist system is not interested in ameliorating the conditions of the downtrodden. Power is concentrated and not dispersed to facilitate accumulation of wealth. People’s participation is, thus, not politically acceptable.

(ii) The ‘manipulative mode’ seeks to neutralise political opposition by co-opting autonomous movements with the ulterior motive of gaining control over them. There is the rhetoric of participation but not its reality, as the Slate’s motive is to prove to the people that the regime is accommodative merely to give legitimacy to the regime in power.

(iii) The ‘incremental mode’ has an ambivalent approach to community participation. There is no lack of government support to participation, but the policy is unclear and the general tendency is to muddle through. In theory, participation is not rejected but what actually takes place is bureaucratically managed development in the name of efficiency.

(iv) The ‘participatory mode’ is characterised by State’s own initiative to create institutions of community participation to ensure effective involvement of the people in grass roots development. But, this mode works on the assumptions that there is a presence of a positive political will and the bureaucracy is also positively inclined towards development and participation.

(v) Yet, another response not included in Midgley’s list, but which is important in the Third World context, is the ‘repressive mode’. Very often, what is noticed is that the State reacts negatively and ruthlessly to people’s movements and struggles. Instances are not rare when the people’s genuine demands for basic needs like water, forest, cheap food have been construed as anti-state and the regime in power has sought to unleash brutal force to suppress these demands.

Citizens’ Charter Initiative 

The Citizens’ Charter initiative is the latest mechanism to define the relationship between citizens and administration. It demands from the government and other service providers that a certain degree of accountability, transparency, quality and choice of services be made available to the people. The concept of Citizens’ Charter was initiated following the Common Cause Initiative in the UK in 1994 during the regime of John Major. The Citizens Charter is no doubt an innovative mechanism. However, its formulation and enforcement is no easy task. Precise standards of performance have to be set. There has to be somebody or an authority to monitor performance and watch violations and maintenance. The citizens have to play an active role in giving timely and necessary feedback about services rendered by the government agencies. Within the organisations, the employees must be well-prepared to serve the public as per the agreed-upon standards.

 The Prime Minister of India inaugurated a Conference of the Chief Secretaries in November 19% on “An agenda for an effective and responsive administration” in order to restore the faith ofthe people in the fairness and efficiency of the administration at different levels. It was admitted that the public agencies had been inward-looking and alienated from the people. The Government of India has since introduced Citizens’ Charters in a number of departments and agencies with public interface like Income Tax departments, the LIC, the Railways, the CP WD etc. The Charter places the citizens at die centre of administration, instead of treating them as a passive recipient of services.

The Citizens’ Charter is usually framed on the basis of the following principles:

  • Wide publicity on the standards of performance of public agencies
  • Assured quality of services
  • Access to information along with courtesy and helpful attitude
  • Choices to and consultation with the citizens
  • Simplified procedures for receipt of complaints and their quick redressal; an4
  • Provision of performance scrutiny with citizens’ involvement.

It has to be seen that the Charter does not remain a mere ritual, and serious as well as sincere efforts are made to involve the citizens in government operations. Concrete actions need to be taken based on citizens’ perceptions about government performance. Right to Information Act is another measure that would ensure better citizens’ access to governmental practices and programmes, and facilitate the coverage and utility of Citizens’ Charters.

 Greater concern for accountability to the public has led to innovative schemes in countries like the Philippines and Malaysia. In 1994, the Philippines Civil Service Commission launched a citizens’ satisfaction campaign called Citizen Now, Not Later. The campaign involved the adoption of standard norms of conduct and courtesy to clients. The Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) has designed the ‘Client’s Charter’, which is a written commitment aiming at the delivery of outputs or services to an agency’s clients. Should an agency fail to comply with the stated quality standards, as per its Charter, the public can use this as a ‘basis for complaints’ against non-compliance. In the same vain, several other initiatives on citizen -administration interface are taking place worldwide.

 Another dimension of citizen-administration relationship that cannot be over looked is the increased accessibility of citizens to the administration. This has been possible due to the recent accent on e-govemance’. The information age paradigm shift has redefined the fundamentals of administration and has changed the institutions and mechanisms of delivery of goods and services forever. Knowledge-based society enables the sharing of vast amount of information on a global-scale almost instantaneously, which consequently helps in selecting, absorbing and adopting relevant technology and services. The focus today is on the users’ needs. Many developed countries have already taken recourse to e-govemance in order to increase the effectiveness of the interlace between citizens and public administration, and to improve the efficiency of administrative structures and processes. 

The essential ingredients of the citizen-administration relationship are adequate knowledge of administrative norms, practices and structures for both citizens and administration; positive evaluation of the job performance of government officials; and perceptions of administrative system as sensitive and responsive to the public, rather than inflexible and remote. In the present scenario where economy, culture and society are changing, the situation demands a forging of a new equilibrium between the bureaucracy and the citizens. The goal of the bureaucracy must be to create an administration-citizen interface based on participation, information, belief, confidence and action - oriented ness that tends to meet the expectations of the citizens. Simultaneously, the attitude of citizens, self-help groups, corporations, associations of all kinds, and private institutions must also be supportive of the public authorities when genuine public interest is being served. Various mechanisms such as Citizens’ Charters, Ombudsman-like institutions, and participatory devices have been introduced to facilitate redressal of citizens grievances. These need to be revamped to strengthen telic interface between citizens and administration in the positive direction.

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