Current Public Administration Magazine (July - 2016) - Conferring Rights on Citizens-Laws and Their Implementation

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Law Administration

Conferring Rights on Citizens-Laws and Their Implementation


Enacted in 2005 the Right to Information intends to provide for a practical regime of such right to citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability of the working of public authorities. It envisages the constitution of Central and State Information Commissions to whom citizens can approach for securing information. That such on Act became necessary is a measure of distrust between public administration and the citizens for whom it exists. It was natural that such a distrust should exist during the British rule. Suppressing the freedom movement was necessary to ensure continuity of British rule. Matters relating to such measures had to be kept confidential. But after the attainment of Independence such confidentiality had lost its raison detre.

The Indian Republic brought into existence under the Constitution is based on the concept of supremacy of the people and the accountability of the government and public administration to its citizens. This implies that the administration should be on open book and confidentiality could exist only to the extent absolutely necessary in a few matters such as those relating to the defence and security of the country. Even in such matters, confidentiality has to be limited and should not be used to cover up wrong actions and misdeeds of public authorities. But these assumptions proved wrong. Even under the British rule a number of initiatives were taken to set up Railway network and nation-wide postal service, a well organised District Administration all over the country, mapping up all land through surveys, establishment of universities and educational institutions, public hospitals and health services, large irrigation dams and canals like the Sakkarbarrage and Ganga Yamuna canal. All this could not have been accomplished without participation of the people. On the other hand, the promise of the end of the Police State was not kept after Independence by elected governments and confidentiality clause was instead used to hide the misdeeds of politicians in power and some civil servants colluding with them. People instead increasingly felt that matters of public interest were kept hidden. The feeling against government was fuelled by social workers like Anna Hazare who went on fast and activists like Aruna Roy who mobilised public opinion in the country against misuse of power in administration while executing public works programme.

They insisted that people had the right to know expenses incurred and cases of their misuse and demanded information regarding the actions of public authorities. The government had to respond to these agitations. Maharashtra state was the first to pass an act giving the right to information to the people followed by the Central legislation on the subject. Central Right to Information Act was passed on October 12, 2005. Some argue that the Act has become an effective tool to make public authorities and government accountable to the people and fight corruption. Following are a few examples: (i) The assets of Ministers, bureaucrats and judges have been made public (ii) The amount spent by Ministers and Officers on foreign trips have been made public (iii) The selection process of UPSC and State PSC and IITs has come under public scrutiny in order to ensure fair play (iv) Some scams have been exposed. However, it should be pointed out that it were the audit reports of CAG which exposed huge scams like 2G, Coal and Commonwealth Game scams. The credit goes to CAG rather than the effect of action under the RTI Act. Social Activist Aruna Roy has claimed that the Act has changed the power equation between Indian citizens and government. It has became a tool for people to exercise their authority. It has forced local authorities, state governments and Central government to disclose information to them earlier denied. It has ended the culture of exclusion and secrecy and replaced it by openness and inclusion. She had however admitted that the lack of political will and bureaucratic resistance tend to threaten the needed action under the Act. It is not as though the working of the Act has been smooth. It leaves much to be resolved. There are far too many glitches in the implementation of the Act. In states, several positions of Information Commissioners are vacant consequently thousands of cases are pending. Very little budgetary provision was made during the first five years after the Act has passed. In cases where the departments concerned should have suo moto offered information to the citizens, misleading, confusing, incomplete, delayed and wrong information is given. Moreover there is a lack of proper implementation mechanism for the implementation of penal orders passed by the Information Commissioners. This has taken heavy toll of the effectiveness of the Act. Punitive action against officers who fail to carry out orders of Information Commissioner and appeal authorities is stymied. The state information commissioners do not use their powers to compel the government to follow their acts. They simply pass the blame on government. In some cases activists who brought up cases under the Information Act were killed. In Maharashtra state alone nine RTI activists were killed and 44 attacked in the last eight years. Gujarat comes second with 34 attacks including three murders. Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka followed with ten reported attacks. The culprits were not brought to book.


This Act was enacted in 2009 to ensure free and compulsory education to all children between the age of six to 14. It was not as though conferring such right on citizens by Union Government was necessary. Such right was already there under the Constitution. What was necessary was for government to perform its duty as laid down under Article 41 of the Constitution to make provision for securing the right to education. Article 45 of the Constitution specifically states that the state shall endeavour to provide, within a period often years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they attain the age of 14 years. It is the State which failed in performing its duty. The Constitution recognises the limits of the economic capacity of the State in performance of its duty. The Kothari Commission prescribed that six per cent of the national income should be spent on education. In reality, it is hardly one per cent. But instead of making adequate provision for education, the Union Government have enacted law to “to confer right of education”. The state and local governments like Municipalities and Zilla Parishads have not paid adequate attention to the improvement of the quality of their schools and ensuring good quality of teaching staff and good infrastructure. As a result large number of private schools have proliferated and families even from poor strata of society whose children are entitled to get free education in these school prefer to pay huge fees to send their children to private schools. Many of the newly proliferated private schools, were English medium schools. Children even from poor families with illiterate parents are being sent to these schools bearing the financial burden. The fever of English medium schools has caught on it, even from the primary stage. Imposing English medium on children whose parents speak to them in mother tongue is a bizarre contradiction and even a monstrosity vitiating the very purpose and process of education. The new Act which makes it compulsory for the private schools which do not even receive any government grant, to provide 25 per cent free seats to disadvantaged families. Government claimed that all these years, the poor were exploited by private schools by charging them higher fees. Now government has come as a Good Samaritan for the poor giving them free seats in private schools. But on whose cost? The private schools which get no government grants would have to bear the burden. The government promises to reimburse the private schools to a limited extent. The promise still remains on paper. The Act was introduced without fully understanding the implications of the Act. Apart from the uncertainty in the release of grants, is the question regarding eligibility. Only the Primary school entrants under 25 per cent free grants would be entitled for partial reimbursement. But what about the situation where the nursery schools are the entry point? The Act does not cover these schools, leaving the entire burden of free seats in nursery school on private institutions. This is the surest way of pushing them in financial jeopardy. It has been suggested that that the Act should cover pre- primary stage schooling which has become universal. But so far there is no response from government on this count. The Union Government which has enacted the law has left the implementation entirely to the states.

But the administration from State Secretariat level to the level of local government is mired in utter confusion leaving the private schools at the mercy of their arbitrary dictates issued from time to time. Piecemeal actions rather than a comprehensive integrated action is reality of the day. A survey showed that 25 per cent of quota has not been filled as stipulated under RTE even in state schools. The picture is particularly dismal in urban centres. For example according to a recent survey in Brihan Mumbai Corporation area, not a single admission was given under RTE. At the altar of equality, the selection procedures based on ‘merit’ followed by several schools over the years have become illegal, line admissions made by schools at any stage on selective basis are banned. One of the well known schools from Pune, ‘Jnan Prabodhini’ selcted ‘merited’ students based on tests for its admission to fifth standard. The school claimed that the very objective for which the school was established was to select merited or gifted students and give them education to make them future leaders of the society in various fields of life. However the local education officers cancelled their admissions as repugnant to the new Act. The school appealed to High Court which turned it down declaring that the admissions made by them were null and void.

The school intends to appeal to the Supreme Court which in principle has already upheld the constitutional validity of the Act. The Act palpably meant to be ‘children’ or ‘student’ friendly, has banned any terminal examination till the 8th standard. Students would automatically be promoted. It is widely reported that this has led to students not taking their studies seriously. Consequently they have problems in facing examinations from 9th standard onward, since they are ill prepared. Such complaints have come not only from the institutions and teachers but from the parents themselves. But the ‘authorities’ have rushed through the Act assuming they know the best. When practical problems such as those mentioned above arise in course of the implementation of the Act, the Centre chooses not to hear and puts the entire responsibility on the state government, local government and the school authorities. The Act has laid down high standard of infrastructure facilities for schools like well appointed building, class rooms, office rooms, toilets, ramps for disabled students, furniture, drinking water facility, playground with boundry wall, etc. as well student-teacher ratio (less than 30 at primary level and 35 for secondary). The authorities accuse the private schools of amassing money stoning their schools of necessary infrastructure facilities. But they forget that the worst culprits in this respect are government, municipal and local board schools. In fact, the authorities instead of imposing the Act should have first made adequate provisions for the schools. That would have been a sound beginning of educational reform. But the government wants only ‘credit’ for their achievements and not real reform. In a recent survey in Pune it was found that 95 per cent of schools in Pune District do not comply with the 10 infrastructure parameters under RTE Act. There is no adequate administrative machinery in the education department to deal with the various provisions of the Act and monitor their implementation.


The State of Maharashtra was a pioneer in introducing the scheme of guarantee of employment on public works in rural areas. The scheme was at the initiative of late V.S. Page, a prominent politician, who became the Speaker of Maharashtra State Assembly. The scheme provided employment in rural areas and was widely appreciated. Other states were free to follow the example of Maharashtra. But the UPA government overlooked them by introducing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 in promising 100 days work each year to every rural household. It was stipulated that wage payments should be made within 15 days of work. It was believed that the scheme was responsible, to a great extent in bringing the Congress back to power with a decisive mandate in 2009 general elections and hence was looked upon as a key welfare legislation.

One flaw noticed in course of the implementation of the Act was delay in payment of wages. Wages amounting to Rs. 2500 crore, 25 per cent of wage payment across the country have been delayed over 15 days. Of this Rs. 125 crore day of payment were delayed for more than 90 days. The Union Minister for Rural Development Jayram Ramesh has proposed amendment to the Act according to which if the payment is not made within the stipulated period a compensation at the rate of one-fourth to half of total wages (depending on number of days) will be given to the beneficiary. The state will have to take responsibility of their functionaries and in case of delay at any step, the compensation amount will be recovered from the responsible functionary agency. This is another example of the Union Government introducing a scheme, that too through legislation, which legitimately belongs to the state government and for whose implementation it is entirely dependent on the state machinery of administration. The states, many of which are run by the ‘opposition” parties, rightly object to such initiative by the Central Government as intrusion into the sphere of the state and thus inconsistent with the constitutional principle of federalism. It is also doubtful whether a law is needed in a matter which is no more than just one scheme for administrative action as a part of the programme of rural development. One criticism of the implementation of the Act was poor quality of assets created. This was bound to happen when employment guarantee schemes were not integrated with rural development programmes as a whole. The Union Government now wants linking of the NREGA with Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) as well as with programme of construction of rural godowns even provision of public toilets. The weakness in the implementation of the scheme is its poor administrative infrastructure.

The existing administrative infrastructure was found to be inadequate and unable to ensure good quality progress and timely payment of wages. The scheme provides for only six per cent of the scheme for administrative expenses which has been found inadequate. Maintenance of assets created under the scheme also leaves much to be desired. This is what happens when a separate employment scheme is tagged on to the regular programmes of rural development. The academicians V.M. Dandekar and Neelkant Rathi in the path breaking book on Poverty in India had recommended a scheme for the poor. They had recommended a works programme to generate employment, since unemployment and under employment widely prevailed in rural areas. But even at that time a view was held that focus should be on a comprehensive programme of agricultural and rural development which would generate income and employment on a sustainable basis. A separate ad hoc works programme hardly goes with a long term approach and process of development. MGNREGA, it is argued, has created problems for agricultural economy by artificially jacking up wage rates and making it difficult to get labour since it is diverted to easy work under NAREGA scheme. On the other hand, some activists have pressed for increase in wage rate under MGNREGA scheme applying the provisions of Minimum Wages Act. There have been complaints of large scale leakages and corruption in the implementation of the MGNREGA programme. These have not been adequately dealt with.


The idea of subsidised distribution of food especially for disadvantaged, i.e. those below the poverty line has been there since the days of scarcity of food during World War II, when a system of rationing of foodgrains at less than market level prices was introduced. The rationing system was, from the beginning, marked by corruption in the form of bogus ration cards and diversion of food meant for public distribution to market which allowed the shopkeepers to profiteer at the cost of the common man. In early days after Independence when food was scarce, the public distribution system, despite its shortcomings and defects, continued. However after India started producing sufficient and even surplus foodgrains, raison detre for distribution through rationing did not exist. Yet in the name of welfare, public distribution continued for several years. Some states like Tamil Nadu did well in establishing public distribution system run on an enduring basis. In more recent times. Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh earned the name of ‘Chavalwala baba’ for a successful scheme of rice distribution specially for the tribal areas. However, superseding the initiative of several state governments, the Union Government in order to take credit decided to give Right to Food Security to people through legislation. Though this was an election promise of the ruling Congress Party given in 2004 and again in 2009 when it came to power, it took concrete steps only in 2013 to introduce food security as right to people. It tried to rush through an Ordinance just before Parliament was scheduled to meet. The Food Security Bill was then brought before Parliament on a priority basis.

Several Chief Ministers specially Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister wrote to Prime Minister pointing out several deficiencies in the bill and asking the Prime Minister to call a meeting of the Chief Ministers before the matter was finalised by Parliament. This was an eminently reasonable suggestion since public distribution was always handled by the state governments. But the suggestion did not prevail and the Bill was placed before Parliament. The BJP, the opposition party having criticised the bill as vote security (not food security bill), did not oppose the bill which was unanimously passed. The Bill sought to provide five kg of foodgrains, per person per month covering 75 per cent of rural population and 50 per cent of urban population, i.e. 67 per cent of India’s total population, wheat at Rs. two per kg and coarse Gram at Re. one per kg. and Rice at Rs. three per kg. Prime Minister described the measure as an example of UPA Government’s people oriented approach. UPA Chairperson made her rare participation in the debate making an impassioned plea for support of opposition. She dismissed the problems of finding resources for the scheme stating that it was the business of government to raise needed resources. The opposition fell in line without raising amendment. Both government and opposition had to face 2014 Lok Sabha elections in March! However, in Parliament the members of opposition as well as economist like Ashok Gulati raised several points regarding the inadequacies of the Bill: (i) The scope of the bill in terms of coverage of population provided was far less than 90 per cent coverage in Chhattisgarh with a full meal at Rs. five. Some members pressed for universal coverage (ii) Five kg per person per month was inadequate. The average consumption of cereals in the country is 10.7 kg. That means consumers will have to go the market for more than half their needs (iii) five kg cereals per person cannot solve health and nutrition problems. Clean drinking water, better sanitation and nutritious items of food like milk, fruits, vegetables, oil, eggs, fish and meat are also essential. All these food items will have to brought from the open market (iv) The cost of ensuring food security would place enormous fiscal burden on an economy already suffering from huge fiscal deficit. The food subsidy already high, will increase by Rs. 33,000 crore additional outlay. There will also be additional financial burden on the states for implementing the scheme (v) Rising fiscal deficit will add to inflationary spiral which has already gone out of control making life miserable for the common man. (vi) Administrative problems involved in implementation of the scheme are not properly spelt out. Government efforts to procure and store foodgrains required under the scheme would need to be augmented. The implementation of the scheme would depend on distribution system which mainly consists of private retail trade. Except in a few states, effective public distribution system does not exist. Entrusting food security to such a system would lead to leakages and corruption. Accordingly to Global Hunger index of the World, hungry people were estimated at 842 million of which 210 million are in India. No doubt food security for India’s hungry is essential. But it is doubtful whether the Food Security Act will adequately meet the problem.


In spite of all the Welfare Schemes and promised empowerments the popularity of party in power at national level is on the downward trend. The setback in the recently held assembly elections to five states show people’s apathy towards such populism. Obviously the common people do not feel benefited by “right”. On the other hand corruption and inflation seem to have taken a heavy toll of their daily lives. Merely putting rights on the statute book does not satisfy the people. The rights should actually be enjoyed in daily lives. That requires effective implementation of laws regarding the so called ‘rights’ conferred by the government on the people.

(Source- P.R. DUBHASHI @ IIPA Journal)

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