India, the internet and the need for a government that is responsive to its citizens!
It is a recognised fact that good governance is essential for sustainable economic and social development. In this context, ICT tools such as the internet are widely believed to have the transformative power to bring about the desired changes, including fulfilling public service needs and responding to grievances.
Transparency, accountability and responsiveness are the three essential aspects of good governance. Accountability can broadly be defined as an obligation on those who are holding power to take responsibility for their behaviour and actions with the primary objective of improving service delivery to the citizens. Technically, social accountability is possible with an active civic engagement that includes direct or indirect participation of citizens and citizen-centric groups in exacting accountability to make service delivery mechanisms effective. Responsiveness ensures that the time lag between demand and the fulfilment of the needs of citizens is minimal. Together, accountability and responsiveness ensure transparency in administrative processes and functions.
Globally, the United Kingdom was the first country to adopt a citizen-centric policy by launching the Citizen’s Charter programme in 1991, aiming to enhance standards of service delivery and make governance more transparent and accountable. Other countries like Malaysia, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Spain extrapolated on the British experiment and implemented similar kinds of programmes for transforming the delivery, culture and responsiveness of their public services.
Developing countries like India followed and now most public services such as water, electricity supply, garbage disposal, the issuing of ration cards and other services are being provided and managed by state-level departments and agencies. However, the needs of citizens continue to be to put on hold as, in many instances in India, bureaucrats refuse to perform their duties in ways required by the government. This has led to further calls for strong citizen-centric policy and mechanisms for addressing public grievances.
The majority of India can be considered rural, with over 70% of the population living in 638,365 villages, represented by 245,525 Panchayats. Most of the villages are located in the remotest regions of the country. It is these regions that are overwhelmingly poor, backward and deprived; they are outside of the development fulcrum and lack access to services, information and infrastructure. Equally despairing are the conditions of the urban poor and poor middle-class citizens. While service delivery and good governance are still anticipated, what is astonishing is the lack of mechanisms for citizens to air their grievances, lodge public complaints and be heard. This is seen in the lack of access points and mechanisms to register complaints or grievances.
In 2011, the draft Electronic Service Delivery Bill and Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill were passed. The challenge remains in ensuring that such citizen-centric initiatives find adequate provisions for addressing citizen grievances. What is discussed in this report is whether or not the internet as a platform for “people’s power” can be the panacea to fill this wide gap.
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