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A barometer of performance

Resolution of citizen grievances is an indicator of the performance of government departments.

Written by Bibek Debroy | Published: July 21, 2016 12:16 am
government, government of india, citizens of india, citizen grievances, grievances of indian citizens, solving citizen grievances, public grievances, darpg, public grievances portal, union government, write grievances to portal, railway complaints, complaint department, solution of complaints,  Department of telecom, the Railways, financial services, home ministry, central board of direct taxes, higher education, quality council of india, indian express news, column The awareness about the existence of the portal is evidently increasing.

Resolving citizen grievances is a job for the department of administrative reforms and public grievances (DARPG). The DARPG has a public grievance portal. For 94 central government ministries and departments, citizens can write in with their complaints. The awareness that this portal exists is evidently increasing. There were 132,751 complaints between May 2014 and September 2014. Between May 2015 and September 2015, that number increased to 466,406.

In gauging citizen evaluation of the Union government, this database can be used with three sampling biases. First, not everyone knows this portal exists. Second, citizens write in when there is a grievance. A satisfied citizen doesn’t necessarily bother. Third, everyone doesn’t have access to the internet nor does everyone with a grievance write in.

Data analysed was for a longer period — January 2012 to September 2015. Seventy-three per cent of the grievances concerned just 20 ministries/departments. In descending order of importance, they are: Department of telecom, the Railways, financial services, home ministry, central board of direct taxes, higher education, ministry of external affairs, department of posts, health & family welfare, petroleum & natural gas, labour & employment, defence, school education & literacy, personnel and training, road transport & highways, urban development, department of justice, central board of excise and customs, department of revenue, and the department of ex-servicemen welfare.

Let’s pick one of these to see what the analysis tells us. The one department most people will readily relate to is possibly the Railways. During the period mentioned, there were 19,540 grievances against the Railways. Let’s slice it further to see what sub-departments within the Railways attracted the most grievances. (Railways is actually a bad example to think in terms of sub-departments since, functionally, it is driven by 17 zones.) Seventy-one per cent of the complaints were against zonal railways, 8 per cent against the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation and 5 per cent on passenger marketing issues. An even better idea is not to look at sub-departments but focus on the reasons for grievance. What service deficiency led to the grievance? You then find that 45 per cent grievances were about the inefficiency in the refund process, 34 per cent were about the delays in pension release, 7 per cent about the quality of service onboard trains, 2 per cent for unclean stations and 1 per cent for congestion on the IRCTC website.

Inefficiency in the refund process can be further disaggregated: For the period, 170,000 passenger refunds were pending with the average delay being 2-4 months. There may be a straightforward reason for the delay in refunds. For instance, in the context of delayed or cancelled trains, the charting may not be linked with the passenger reservation system and there is a delay in getting the information on train departures. Alternatively, the refund claim may be challenged because there is no evidence of a passenger not having travelled and because a refund receipt has not been collected from travelling ticket examiner.

In essence, one, ticket checking is a manual process; two, there aren’t enough TTEs; three, when trains are cancelled/delayed, charting information isn’t immediately fed into the PRS; four, passengers don’t collect refund notes from TTEs; and five, the verification system isn’t robust.

With this identification, solutions also suggest themselves. One, give hand-held devices to TTEs so that there is an electronic record of passengers actually travelling; two, introduce bar-coded tickets, irrespective of whether they are issued through counters or over the internet (they can even be delivered as bar-codes to phones); three, tickets should be activated on the day of the travel; four, dashboards should display empty seats; and five, integrated charting and PRS systems for refunds when trains are cancelled/delayed.

My intention is not to explore any of these and it is true that these problems are typically encountered by passengers who travel reserved — that’s roughly 5 per cent of the total passengers. After all, those were citizens who usually used the grievance redress system. It is also true that some of these solutions have already been introduced by the Railways on a pilot basis. Where the Railways haven’t done much, as yet, is on soft skills, like training of TTEs. However, this kind of analysis is useful precisely because it enables the central government ministries/departments to take corrective action.

In the list of the top-20 ministries/departments, the Railways is second. Number one is the department of telecommunications (DoT). Ostensibly, these grievances are about the DoT. As is perhaps natural, grievances are mostly about service providers, not quite the DoT proper.

Therefore, inevitably, having analysed grievances, there is not much the DoT can do, except track and redirect complaints better. Corrective action is quite different from that for the Railways. That’s true for financial services as well since most complaints are about banks.

All the reports in the public domain. I recommend you read them all. Despite obvious sampling biases, one could use these as rough indicators of how citizens perceive the government (at least the Union government) and to track improvements over time. Interpreted thus, priorities are telecom, the Railways, banking, home ministry, income taxes and higher education. Improvements in these will improve citizen perceptions substantially. I hope the next round of reports is done soon. The analysis has been done by the Quality Council of India.

The writer is member, NITI Aayog. Views are personal

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  1. K
    Apr 27, 2017 at 7:34 pm
    Public grievance is of no concern when the grievance relate to erroneous act of the concerned officer. W administration then backs up to prove the officer's wrong to be right. PAO, GSI, Lucknow has denied my pension revision on MACP. His decision though unsubstantiated but grievance redress system fail to take cognisance of his fault. In past over four years my 18 registered public grievances are resolved on basis of the PAO's hypothesis. Now 19th registered grievance DOPPW/P/2017/00189, 12-01-2017 is under process even after expiry of 60 days. DARPG replies tomy tweet on 10-04-2017 that it will revert. It seems to be a broken promise.
    1. G
      G V
      Jul 23, 2016 at 10:14 am
      The government is in right track after a long time we had a government which is working on the interest of citizens. The previous corrupted Congress government working only for selfish interests and in the interest of one thug family.
      1. J
        Jul 21, 2016 at 7:00 am
        My experience with these portals is not good.If authour is reading it.Here were my "grievances" lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;1- Western Railway - "Doubling of Bhusaval - Surat Tapti valley broad gauge line is going on since decades - can it not be expedited? " - No response from ANY DEPT lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;2- Essar is constructing a Ro Ro jetty at Dahej -South Gujarat to operate a ferry service between Dahej and Bhavnagar - Have posted my grievance that this work should be expedited to reduce travel time by road and fuel costs to the nation.BUT NO ANSWERS FROM CENTRAL OR STATE GOVT
        1. K
          K N
          Jul 21, 2016 at 10:33 am
          Government is on right path creasing citizen complaints prove it.
          1. Ganesh Jaguva
            Jul 21, 2016 at 10:14 am
            grievances has a different meaning
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