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(Citi)zen-Tech: An Aid to Time Bound Delivery of Public Goods and Services to Citizens

By Ruchika Nayyar, Vice President & Head - Business Legal, GMR Infrastructure Limited

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Ruchika Nayyar, Vice President & Head - Business Legal, GMR Infrastructure Limited

The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 (‘Citizens Charter’), was introduced as a bill in 2011 but unfortunately lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. According to news reports, in 2015, the Government was to instead introduce a Delivery of Services and Grievance Redressal Scheme - 2015.

"While this decade has seen the rise and welcome of technology enabled delivery of services, it is only about time that Governments latch on and provide their citizens with public services with the aid of Zen-Techs"

In brief, a Citizen Charter or scheme should impose a penalty on the Government for non-performance of its public duty to make it stick’ enough in a carrot-and-stick approach to Governance. This would be preventive measure in mitigating the delivery risk of the Government, which otherwise a Citizen would have to live with.

The Citizens Charter as the Stick
The Citizens Charter of 2011 provided for a document declaring the functioning, obligations, duties, commitments of a public authority for providing goods and services effectively and efficiently with acceptable levels of standards, time limits and designation of public servants for delivery and grievance redress. This Charter sought to codify the Government’s duty and make the resolution process time bound.

About 20 State Governments have already adopted laws similar to the Citizens Charter. However, a citizen interacting with various Governments, only makes it more complicated in a federal state. A citizen has to interact with several public officers from a myriad of government agencies to avail entitlements. The benefits of the new Goods and Services tax reforms makes an argument for the need of a unified policy; a carrot-and-stick approach.

Zen Tech as the Carrot
With more rights based laws such as the right to education, food, information, housing, pension, etc, Governments are burdened with the task of delivering public goods and services to a growing mass of entitlement holders. This makes the Government-Citizen interaction that much more difficult let alone time bound delivery. In short, an increasing delivery-risk. Technology can play an important role in the entire life cycle of a citizen, right from issuance of a birth certificate of a new born to gas connection, food ration, public housing, overseas travel and other entitlements or benefits. Therefore, a need for a Citizen- Technology-Government nexus; Zen-Tech. Through the appropriate Zen-Tech, Governments can mitigate their delivery-risk thereby reducing the corresponding grievances for failure of delivery.

Open APIs and Zen-tech:
The same way GoogleMaps (an Open API) helped make Uber arguably the world’s most valuable start-up, a Government coded API made openly accessible to software developers can democratize the development of Zen-Techs in the space of governance; Of the people, by the people for the people.

Under the overarching vision of Digital India, the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology Policy has released a draft policy on Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for Government of India (‘API Policy’). The API Policy aims to make all Government services digitally accessible to citizens through multiple channels, such as web, mobile and common service delivery outlets (i.e. ZenTech); there by heralding in ‘Maximum governance-minimum Government’.

In the next decade…
While this decade has seen the rise and welcome of technology enabled delivery of services, it is only about time that Governments latch on and provide their citizens with public services with the aid of Zen-Techs. The Supreme Court ruling on the fundamental right to privacy has made way for the right kind of technology enabled public services and artificial intelligence.

Almost three decades since liberalization of the economy, the children of the 90’s may very well be the citizens of change in the coming decade

So would Zen-techs aid time bound delivery of public goods and services to citizens?

With Fin-Techs gaining global acclaim, financial sector regulators, such as in Germany, are evaluating regulatory compliances (i.e click-and-comply) through Reg-Techs. This gives way for Governments to engage with their citizens through technology. It is about time that the coming decade sees a flurry of Zen-Techs in the area of governance.

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