In continuation of the ‘feature’ published in the 9 September, 2020, edition of the Garhwal Post on the CM Helpline 1905, it is felt that the subject is pregnant with possibilities for realising the farfetched and missing promise of good governance in the State of Uttarakhand. Therefore, it assumes tremendous possibilities for the beleaguered, distressed and forgotten people of the 13 districts, together comprising the Garhwal and Kumaon regions, fondly known as Devbhoomi, the abode of the Gods. While the Chief Minister has, through his Government Order dated 8 February, 2019, made it his official priority in the service of the people, the promise is getting enervated in its realisation. And all this because the steel frame structure of the State Bureaucracy, which is to be its mainstay, is unfortunately and brazenly contributing to its failure and ultimate collapse.
The uniqueness of the scheme is that it arrays the Chief Minister and the people of Uttarakhand together on the same side and the bureaucracy and its attendant departments on the opposite side of the field of play. Therefore, it is imperative that the people of Uttarakhand by their belief and participation in this result oriented initiative of its CM, generate the critical numbers of registered complaints to a level where it engulfs the bureaucracy and its subsidiary departments by the sheer weight of numbers and makes it a weapon in the hands of the people to eke out results from an otherwise laidback and corruption riddled Government. It is for the people to understand the humongous possibility that arises from the well pool of this government portal, which can be effectively used by those who are languishing and suffering from government apathy and indifference. And of which, I am sure, there is a very substantial and sizeable number queued up in the burgeoning cesspool of public grievances, which are growing by the hours and days. Good governance remains a far cry in Devbhoomi.
Having, written much on the modus operandi of this excellent public grievance redressal scheme, I will herein state my observations predicated upon empirical data, which I am personally entitled to by virtue of being the hapless complainant of over 250 complaints. As an aware and alert citizen of the State, I learnt about this public grievance redressal scheme through the newspapers. After having migrated back from Pune to my hometown, Dehradun, post retirement from the Army, there were certain issues which had irked my sense of fairness and accountability involving the State Government authorities. These were essentially pertaining to the Registrar of Firms, Society and Chits Dehradun, Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan, MDDA, Dehradun Police and the District Horticulture Officer, Tehri Garhwal. All complaints were made by me to these departments, after I had been resolutely battling with their respective offices for more than 3 to 5 years to get relief on matters under their jurisdiction and which either impinged my rights or else related to failure of public delivery of services mandated by the Government Orders / Rules/Regulations/Byelaws/Laws, etc. Those intervening years had generated huge amounts of correspondence and made me invest many hours of my time and effort into personally visiting the Government Offices/Authorities concerned in the hope of finding a just and fair resolution of my request/grievance/complaint. But, each and every one of these was either stalled/kept in a state of suspended animation/obfuscated or else shown such unwanted and outrageous contempt by the officer concerned that it seemed most unlikely that I would get any relief from the high and mighty who tenanted these department offices.
It is a tragedy of Uttarakhand that those legislators who did not have in them the competence, merit, education, values and principles to crack any noteworthy competitive examinations and enter into private / government service, threw themselves into public life and attained stardom by becoming lawmakers. From such a crop of legislators, there remains a Hobson’s choice to select/nominate Ministers to the State Government Cabinet. Politics is a dirty game in India, Uttarakhand and elsewhere in equal measure and, hence, money and muscle power assumes tremendous importance to win an election and become eligible to public office. It is truly said of politicians that they are like diapers – which should be changed regularly and for the same reason. Their deeds stink of political expediency. With such a calibre of ministers who get anointed to office, it is not difficult to understand why this species of public representatives is literally held hostage by the bureaucracy. When public funds and moneys are not involved, the subject does not interest the political master. The one single simple reason for this is that, they are clueless about official procedures, application of their mind, protocols and its interpretation and completely rely on their departmental officers for decision making and disposal of public related correspondence. The reliance is unbelievable and very laughable, too. The bureaucrat rules the roost in such a situation.
In such an environment, the bureaucrats and their subsidiary department officers assume complete control over the public representative, who is only too willing to be spoon fed by this breed of Government Servants. Therefore, in such a milieu of work ethics in the Government offices, the officers arrogate to themselves unjust authority and practice it with unrestrained freedom. Expecting a resolution of public interest issues brought to the notice of the bureaucracy and that too within a reasonable time frame is a pipe dream that is in the realm of fantasy.
In my case, owing to the deliberate delays and obstructions, which is typical of red tape in the bureaucracy, all the 250 complaints filed and registered in the CM Helpline1905 continue to remain in the ‘System’, even though these have a status of not disposed to the entire satisfaction of the complainant. The case I wish to make in favor of this portal facility here is that, unlike as is the prevalent practice of ignoring and trashing public grievances which is brought to official notice through correspondence; by registering it with the helpline captures it till it is finally resolved or disposed of by the Government authorities. So, technology here comes to good use and on the side of the public to preserve and keep alive the grievance /complaint. The bureaucracy is kept engaged and on tenterhooks through the use of the Helpline portal and in which a response is mandatory. However, notwithstanding the above, the complainant must continue to follow up and pursue with the department head concerned. The Helpline provides to the public a Government Order, which facilitates and ensures a resolution or redressal and leverages hope in the mind of the public.
While this scheme has been in practice for just under 2 years in Uttarakhand, to write its pre-obit in the background of the efforts of the State bureaucracy and its attendant departments to asphyxiate and get done with it, must be preempted by maximising its usage and enabling it to reach the critical numbers, which has the potential of making it a political embarrassment for the ruling party/dispensation. The people of Uttarakhand must repose faith and trust in a public stratagem of Weaponising the Right to Information Act 2005 in tandem with the CM Helpline 1905 and, thereby, make it a potent weapon of choice to beat and discipline the elected Government of the day. When this is understood by the political leadership of the State, it will automatically generate pressure upon the bureaucracy and all attendant departments and its officers, who have a routine interface with the public. This will usher in accountability among government authorities as never seen before and may well metamorphose the bureaucracy into a realistic public service provider, which if ought to be. As Napolean said, “Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest”. Therefore, the Government Order must link poor performance of department heads for the time bound and just disposal of complaints registered in the CM Helpline 1905 with their Confidential Reports and the results will flow there from.