In Februray 2003 the then Central government established an official Core Group on Administrative Reforms headed by the Cabinet Secretary to the Government of India. A year later, when the cabinet secretary retired, he faced harassment and demands for Rs.10,000 bribe from officials, to have a telephone installed in his new home at Mayur Vihar in New Delhi. Disgusted, his successor Kamal Pande issued a directive - and a deadline - for all ministries with a big public interface to initiate measures to end corruption and simplify the delivery of services. In May 2004 after the UPA govt took over, the new PM, Manmohan Singh, in one of his first speeches, similarly issued a call to government officials to improve service delivery.

In May this year, the Central government organised a two-day National Conference of District Collectors at Delhi, which was addressed by the Prime Minister on the second day. An important presentation made before him was on a National Model Code of Governance. This was the first time such a comprehensive code was evolved, through discussions in many regional consultations in which almost all the 600 district collectors were participants. Although the government isn't adopting such a code right away, this document has good beginnings for action. Some of its important recommendations related to the following:

1. Improving Service Delivery

  • People are to be placed at the centre of development processes as valued participants, enabling alternative choices.
  • Services are to be provided at automated outlets or single-window common civic service centres, without corruption.
  • Officials must obtain the best value for money in provision of services and in service agreements with providers.
  • Benchmarks for appropriate cost, time and quality for service delivery outcomes must be developed, based on which performance evaluation needs to carried out.
  • Government must promote decentralisation, strengthen rural and urban local bodies, delivering services in accordance with the mandates of the Constitution of India, by empowering them with devolution of functions, finances and functionaries and undertaking capacity building programmes.
  • Participatory mechanisms must be adopted in public service delivery, involving the people, peoples' institutions, civil society groups, community-based organisations, non-government organisations, self-help groups, in all aspects and stages such as service planning, budgeting, delivery, monitoring, getting feedback, quality benchmarking and assurance, evaluating, undertaking social audit, customer satisfaction surveys etc.
  • Independent regulatory mechanisms and effective laws must be established, to ensure that service standards are adhered to and the citizens get a fair deal from service providers.

2. Development of Programmes for Weaker Sections and Backward Areas

  • Adopt inclusive policies and programmes through which the socially and economically marginalized sections are closely involved in the mainstream of development.
  • To undertake special programmes for the development of weaker sections and the needy, including women, children, the minorities and the physically handicapped, based on objective assessments and the principle of development from the bottom-most layer with the participation of all stakeholders;

3. Technology and System improvement

  • Harness the power of new technologies, including information and communication technologies, to simplify government procedures, reduce costs and improve interface with business and citizens;
  • Utilize e-Governance as a tool for enhancing service delivery, improving transparency, cutting red tape and ensuring better performance management in government;

4. Financial Management and Budget Sanctity

  • Move away from expenditure targets to performance-related output and outcome measures and mile-stones

Dr P S A Sundaram, Secretary, Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms, intitiated many of the items of the transparency and citizens charters, after the first Chief Ministers' meeting on Accountability and RTI etc in 1996. He led from the front on this in the Central government. These efforts led to citizens' charters in 64 nationalised banks, municipal corporations and councils.
5. Accountability and Transparency
  • Create Citizen's Charters and Service Charters covering all public services,
  • Develop and implement a legal framework for institutionalizing accountability, transparency and performance across the government and periodically disseminate status papers on the sectoral issues and options for wide discussion and involvement;
  • Develop, standardise and implement a comprehensive grievance monitoring and redressal mechanism to ensure sensitivity of the government to the problems faced by the citizens;

6. Public Service Morale and Anti-Corruption Measures

  • Declare zero-tolerance for corruption, strengthen vigilance and anti-corruption machinery, and take strict action against those found guilty;
7. Incentivising Reforms
  • Create mechanism of documentation and dissemination of best practices and initiatives in good governance and to incentivise innovation in governance by instituting rewards

This code is the result of a lengthy process of citizens seeking reforms in governance; it all started in late 1996 early 1997, with citizens charters, the first draft of the Right to Information Act, information and facilitation centres, grievance mechanisms, etc. It has taken nearly nine years to reach the stage of a model code of commonly held views, and even this has been a rather opaque evolution. Nonetheless, after the rhetoric of many years, with successive governments paying mere lip service to good governance, this administration may have finally decided that it is important to bring active citizenship and responsive government into its functioning. Based on the recommendations in the model code, individual States were asked to develop and adopt their own codes.

It is one thing to have a code such as this, but quite another to see changes in administration based on such recommendations. Only time will tell if the model is being embraced, but because a number of the proposed changes revolve around 'processes', it is hoped that they can be continuously improved to deliver better results. One problem that continues, however, is that the government itself is often responsible for deciding how well its administrative processes are working. A good example is the official survey reviewing 18 Information and Facilitation centres from offices of Central government ministries. This shows that the government is willing put itself under the lens and assess its performance, but what would be even better is for the public to thereafter comment on the workings of government, and set new standards to be met.