M A I N   N E W S

Now for the hard part
The major administrative reform of the Badal govt to deliver various services to the common man on time runs into teething troubles
Kanchan Vasdev/TNS

Chandigarh, December 6
Subodh Chandra Agrawal, Punjab’s Chief Secretary, is the unlikeliest of salesmen. With his grave countenance, he is the archetypal bureaucrat more used to giving orders in air-conditioned comfort and having people stand to military attention in his presence than shaking hands with sweaty villagers.

These days, the state’s top bureaucrat is on a whirlwind tour of various districts to talk directly to people about Punjab’s most ambitious service programme for the common man, the Right to Service. He is on a mission not only to explain to them the benefits of the new programme but also to get feedback on the problems faced by them and how to improve the scheme.

In a major administrative reform, the Punjab Government on October 11 announced that it would be implementing the Right to Service (RTS) Act to ensure timely delivery of various services to the citizens and penalise bureaucrats who deliberately went slow on the implementation of the Act.

Announcing the Cabinet decision, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal had grandiosely proclaimed: “With this, the citizen will emerge king.”

Two months after the announcement, the citizen is not exactly the king with the proverbial government “servant” still behaving “royally” at many places so far as services are concerned. It’s understandable because old habits usually die hard. Delivery of services to the common man had become one of the most lucrative source of illegal revenue for many on various government posts.

Anyone who ever went to get a copy of birth/death certificate, farad, mutation, registration certificate of vehicles or driving licence would usually have a harrowing tale to tell.

By implementing the RTS Act, the Punjab Government hopes to change all that. It is designed to cut red tape and corruption. Promising time-bound delivery of 67 citizen-centric services as a matter of right to the people, the state has taken the lead in the country by providing maximum number of services under the Act.

Of the 67 services, 20 are being provided by the police department and 47 by nine other departments, including revenue, health, transport, personnel, food and civil supplies, housing and urban, local government, rural water supply and sanitation, social security and home.

The services being offered include sanctioning of building plans within 30 days, occupation certificate within 15 days, NOC within 21 days, conveyance deed within 15 days, no-due certificate within seven days, retransfer of property within 15 days, re-transfer of property in case of death within 45 days, permission to mortgage within seven days, completion certificate within 15 days, sanctioning of water and sewerage connection within seven days. A provision to punish civil servants if they failed to do the work within the prescribed time frame has also been incorporated.

Officials who failed to comply with the time frame clause without any sufficient cause would face a lump sum penalty ranging between Rs 250 and Rs 5,000. Departmental action would also be taken against them.

It took five years for the government to streamline the delivery of services (see P11). While the aim is noble, the scheme has run into teething troubles. So, Agrawal took it upon himself to obtain a first-hand feedback so as to fix the problems coming in the way of the effective implementation of the Act. In the first phase, he talked to residents, panchayats representatives, leaders and officials in Nawanshahr, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Hoshiarpur.

During his recent visit to Jalandhar, he was bombarded with queries by residents and panchayat members of various villages all of whom said they had no idea about the total number of services covered under the Act. Nor were they aware of the time frame within which these could be availed, of the appellate authorities and on how to complain against officials who failed to provide services in time. He heard the same story at Nawanshahr and Kapurthala.

He found that inadequate dissemination of information, consequent lack of awareness among the masses and the lack of will on the part of the state executive towards implementing the Act were coming in the way of the proper implementation of various provisions meant for the benefit of the masses.

“We need to go down to the grassroots to ensure that the masses can avail themselves of the services. We have decided that we need to rope in the state institute of administration to train our officials in every district, who will be entrusted with the task of disseminating information to the masses. I have gathered that the people are not aware about the Act and the fact that they can get these services as a matter of right,” said Agrawal while talking to The Tribune.

In fact, lack of awareness is a major problem coming in the way of the implementation of the Act. A visit to various government offices in Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Bathinda by The Tribune team made it clear how little the state has done to inform the public about such provisions.

For example, officials in these districts have not cared to get installed boards mentioning the maximum time limit defined for each particular service under the RTS Act. What most of the offices have done is a mere eyewash with only printouts pasted inside the offices and those too in English, a language which is not comprehended by the masses at large.

Surinder Kaur, a 60-year-old resident of Raikot in Ludhiana summed it up when she said she had applied for the registration of the marriage of her daughter on November 21 but had not received the service till date. She did not know that as per the Act, the certificate had to be delivered in two days. “I do not know about any Act,” she said.

The scenario at police stations across the state is no better. Though a maximum number of 20 services out of a total of 67 listed under the RTS Act relate to the police, the authorities have failed to create awareness about the Act.

In some cities, officials are back to the old ways of working out loopholes to ensure that bribe continues to flows. In Ludhiana, where money is the way of life, the Act seems not to have made any difference. Here, “facilitation fee” is the mantra to avail any of the services, especially in the Revenue Department.

While the government claims that the certified copies of “farad”, mutation, “jamabandi” and “girdawri” would be delivered in a day, a reality check, however, shows that copies of all these documents can be obtained within a day even otherwise as well. But for this purpose, one has to pay a nominal “facilitation fee” (read bribe), which includes government fee ranging between Rs 200 and Rs 2,500 for different services. However, the only difference is that no receipt is given to the people as the government fee is far less as compared to the actual money charged.

These and other aberrations need to be addressed by the government if it wants its most ambitious programme to be a success.





The story behind a mighty effort
Kanchan Vasdev/TNS

Chandigarh, December 6
It was a Herculean task to get the land records digitised and there is an untold story. It took five years for the state to digitise the record of the Revenue department that provides six services under the Right to Service (RTS) Act, implemented recently.

The property record of as many as 10,500 villages out of a total of 12,000 in the state has been digitalised that involved scanning of hundreds of papers pertaining to 15 lakh mutations (recording in the revenue records the transfer of title of a property from one person to another) and 20 lakh ‘khewats’ (account number of property owner).

“The process was not easy. Each and every document had to be scanned.

“After so many years of painstaking effort, a computerised database of the land record was prepared. We took the help of a private company and our patwaris and in a revolution of its kind, the entire property related data of Nawanshahar and Kapurthala districts is available online on www.plrs.org.in. The rest of the districts would soon be online,” said Anurag Verma, Divisional Commissioner (Revenue) of Jalandhar Division, who was formerly a Secretary (Revenue), entrusted with the task of digitalization.

The department had to face a lot of hurdles to accomplish its goal. Patwaris were against computerisation of land records as it rendered them irrelevant. So were the data entry operators, who were demanding regularization of their services. Otherwise, all the districts would have been computerized by now. “We have set up 156 farad kendras at every Tehsil and Sub –Tehsil level having 4-5 computers each. Out of these 145 are already working,” said Verma.

“In fact the process to digitalise the data was conceived way back in1995. It gained momentum three years ago when the government constituted special teams to work towards scanning each revenue related document and put it online. Now, we have a strong database of all property related documents of the state,” said B.K.Srivastava, Director General, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Public Administration, Chandigarh.

It required a training of a total of 5700 employees of Revenue Department including 4594 patwaris, 478 kanungos, 225 circle revenue officers and 17 district revenue officers, who were to be equipped with handling of data online.

For the computation of land records an amount of Rs 14.98 crore was estimated to be spent. This included Rs 5.28 crore on data entry and digitisation alone. The rest of the money was to be spent on equipment, infrastructure, training and software licenses cost.

“The state’s revenue record is 90 years old. It required a lot of effort to come about this project. Though it was a separate project but it will now come handy while we provide services under the Right toService Act,” said SC Aggarwal, Chief Secretary.



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