Land Possession

Empowering Citizens Through A Legal Right To Public Grievance Redress

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This innovation has won an award, as described in the case study text.
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This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)

For the first time in India, over 100 million citizens have been conferred a legal right to grievance redress. The Bihar Right to Public Grievance Redressal Act also provides a no-wrong door policy (every complaint compulsorily received in any centre in Bihar or digitally and acknowledged) and power parity between citizens and public authority (specially mandated independent, quasi-judicial officers provide a one-stop solution after weighing evidence from both sides).

Innovation Summary

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Public service delivery was improved through Citizen's Charters or going in for Right to Public Services legislation. Nevertheless, implementation has been patchy and grievances remained unaddressed in any significant way. The tendency toward self-protection by institutions and absence of a legal right of citizens, render public grievance redress systems vulnerable to gaming. Additionally, in many cases the lack of a time limit for redress dissuades people from complaining in the first instance. Grievances are routinely handled by public authorities which, in the first place, gave rise to them. In most systems the institution against which one has a grievance is expected to accept a complaint as genuine and then find a way to resolve the problem. However, institutions have a vested interested in showing that their performance levels in service delivery are excellent. Not only does this lead to a potential moral hazard, but in reality is filled with examples of denials of the genuineness of grievances, to show both a better performance and a greater achievement in 'disposal' of complaints.

Prior innovations in resolving public grievances have resorted to public hearings, ombudsmen with limited remit, regulatory authorities for specific sectors (such as insurance, telecom, etc.) and extensive use of digital technologies. However, while solving many a problem, all these innovations have not struck at the root of dissatisfaction arising from the power asymmetry between the public authorities and the citizens, nor provided a single-stop solution combined with a no-wrong-door policy. Additionally, most systems are administratively ordained, not legally enshrined.

The Government of Bihar, after experimenting with the best-in-class practices including Public Hearings and an award winning ICT-backed system, decided to break away from the continuous improvement philosophy to a radically new one. The decision was both to provide a legal right to all 110 million citizens - without exception or pre-qualifications- for grievance redress, a process that would be a one-stop solution for the citizen, introduce an independent authority to judge a case based on evidence provided by both the public authorities and the complainants, and focus on actual redressal.

The Bihar Right to Public Grievance Redressal Act 2015 empowers citizens by giving them a legal right. It also introduced an independent class of Public Grievance Redressal Officers who were empowered with quasi-judicial powers including the powers of summon of witnesses and evidence. Ensconced within the law, rules and instructions are also key provisions which make it citizen-friendly. These are:

i) comprehensive geographic and sectoral coverage. The entire state of Bihar, all 44 Government Departments along with all their affiliated agencies, and 478 schemes, plans, and services are covered under the Act;

ii) multi-modal application features (paper-based at physical centres or through post; digital based through e-mail, an on-line portal and a mobile application); even where the complaint lodged does not belong to a specific centre, it is the job of Public Grievance Redressal Officers to transfer a case to the appropriate jurisdiction with intimation to the complainant;

iii) removal of discretion at the time of application - every application, without any pre-qualification, has to be accepted and acknowledged with a receipt containing a unique ID number;

iv) it is mandatory for the respective public authorities to be present in the hearings; for the complainant, it is optional;

v) every complaint has to be decided within 60 days; in case a complaint warrants a redress, the redress should be completed within 60 days, failing which the Public Grievance Redressal Officer has to pass an interim order stating reasons why the case had been extended;

vi) the entire process is ICT-backed to ensure monitoring at various levels (sub-district, district, division and state).

Every citizen of Bihar is beneficiary irrespective of gender, class, caste, religion, or region. Any one including a child is allowed to lodge a complaint.
The implementation was delayed by one year to ensure that the foundation - infrastructure, competent, skilled human resources, and fully tested information technology would be in place before citizens were offered the service. Offices were redesigned and renovated to facilitate receipt centres, staff selected and trained, and a new software and website created.

The innovation is not only fully scaled up, but is also fully institutionalised through a formal structure of independent quasi-judicial officers selected and appointed by the government. The government proposes to further scale up by notifying more schemes, plans and services under the law. Improved quality of quasi-judicial orders, understanding and eliminating root causes of the top five grievances, and better awareness creation amongst citizens are top priorities of the government.

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