Kerala’s Right to Service Act still faces starting trouble 12 years after enactment

Have government officials adhered to the service delivery timelines? Are they being punished for failing to meet the Act’s objectives?

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jun 13, 2024 | 8:00 AM Updated Jun 13, 2024 | 8:00 AM

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stated in the Assembly that efforts are on to amend the Act to plug the existing gaps to strengthen it and enforce its provisions more stringently. (Rejithmohan/Creative Commons)

In 2012, Kerala heralded a new era of accountability and efficiency in public service with the passage of the Kerala State Right to Service Act.

Yet, even 12 years after this landmark legislation, critical questions linger: Has the Act transformed the lives of Kerala’s citizens? Have government officials adhered to the stipulated service delivery timelines? Does someone get punished for not meeting the objectives of this act?

However, answers are not forthcoming.

The sorry state of the Act’s implementation became apparent in the ongoing session of the Kerala Legislative Assembly as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, responding to an unstarred question, acknowledged the deficiencies in enforcing the Act.

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Right to Service Act

The Act mandates every government department, government institution, and statutory body to notify the services they provide, the stipulated time limit to deliver, and the names of officials acting as first and second appellate authorities.

It further said the stipulated time limit would start from the date on which the application was received.

Another important feature of the Act is to levy a fine of not less than ₹500 and not more than ₹500 on the official, for failing to provide the service within the stipulated period without reasonable cause.

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Current status

Despite the initial hullabaloo, a comprehensive analysis of the Act’s impact on officials and the public was never undertaken.

This lapse spanned successive administrations, with the LDF at the helm in eight of the 12 years.

Ironically, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself had famously emphasised the humane aspect, declaring, “Each file has a life behind it and hence it should be dealt with in a humane way.”

The intent behind the Act was clear: To ensure timely and efficient service delivery to the people of Kerala. However, whether this objective has been met remains unclear.

Going by the chief minister’s response to an unstarred question from NA Nellikkunnu during the 11th session, the government lacked substantial data to confirm if the Act’s objectives have been fulfilled.

The lack of an official review has raised doubts about the Act’s effectiveness in streamlining public service.

Also, there is no clarity on whether the public has been receiving the services promised within the stipulated timeframes. Additionally, there are no records indicating whether any officials faced penalties for failing to adhere to the Act’s principles.

Details of registered cases and their outcomes are similarly absent.

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Way forward?

The chief minister also stated in the Assembly that efforts are on to amend the Act to plug the existing gaps to strengthen it and enforce its provisions more stringently.

It is learnt that some of the provisions under consideration include revising the fine amount — a minimum of ₹1,000 and a maximum of ₹10,000 — handing over the fine amount to the aggrieved party; making the district collector a part of the Right to Service Act enforcement and others.

Earlier, the Administrative Reforms Commission in its report on People-Centric Service Delivery in Local Self Government Institutions observed that many services of local body institutions and transferred institutions are still outside the purview of the Act.

Moreover, for services involving different stages and functionaries, norms are not fixed for the completion of each stage, and the official concerned is not assigned individual responsibility to complete the process as per defined standards.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).