Service state

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s proposal to legally ensure the right to service for the people of the state is a welcome move. It is also a novel idea which has generated much interest. The JD(U) leader won a famous victory in the recent assembly elections on the strength of the development programmes he initiated in the state and the promise of extending it in the future. Development calls for commitment on the part of officials to translate government policies into action and to deliver basic services to the people. But this is often lacking and services, to which people are entitled, become concessions made by officials to them. They come with a price too. Everyone knows how difficult it is for a common man to get a public utility service like a power or a water connection, a khata certificate, a birth or a death certificate.

The Bihar government plans to enact a law which will ensure that officials have to deliver the services which the people are entitled to within a specified time period. It is actually an extension of the right to information and complements it. If the right to information enables a citizen to break the culture of secrecy in government and find out, for example, where a file on a matter concerning him is stuck, the right to service will help him have that file cleared in time by the officials handling it. An individual, a group or a village will be able to get a sanctioned work implemented or a promised service delivered in time. Failure can lead to penalty, as in the case of violation of the RTI Act. The right to information has given much power to the citizen but that power may sometimes turn out to be useless if he does not have the legal right to have public services delivered to him and to hold those who deny it to him accountable for their lapse.

Just as the freedom of information, which is the basis of the RTI Act, has its roots in the directive principles of the Constitution, the idea of the right to service can also be traced to it. The Central government and other states can consider enacting legislation on the lines proposed in Bihar. A legal and constitutional right to service can make as much impact on governance as the RTI did. Perhaps more.

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