MCD Election 2017: Delhi’s governance muddle needs some serious untangling

The picture below could very well be passed off as a manuscript from the medieval era, which philologists are racking their brains over, trying to decipher. As it turns out, this document is very much from the 21st century. It was retrieved from the records of the central control room, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, to be precise, and comprises of complaints made by citizens.

Snapshot of illegible/unclear complaints registered at the central control room, Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Image procured by author

Snapshot of illegible/unclear complaints registered at the central control room, Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Image procured by author

This snapshot encapsulates exactly what is wrong with the complaint redressal mechanism of the municipal corporations of Delhi. Among the government departments, which provide services to the people, the municipal corporations of Delhi (MCDs) have by far the highest number of pending complaints.

This does not come as a surprise, as the civic bodies provide services which touch upon almost every aspect of the daily lives of citizens – be it roads, buildings, schools and hospitals. But for a government authority that arguably requires the most interaction with citizens, the civic administration of Delhi has a surprisingly inefficient way of dealing with complaints.

The mind-boggling multiplicity of authorities is just one part of the story. Registering a grievance with the civic body is another tough ordeal. There are multiple ways in which one can lodge a complaint with civic bodies in Delhi. This can be done by physically going to the office of the municipal corporation, writing a letter to the authority or through a telephone call to the municipal office.

However, the data on the number of complaints received through different mediums is not properly synchronised and there is no citizen-friendly tracking mechanism to find out if the complaint has been resolved, or if any action has been initiated.

What further muddles the situation is that different authorities, which provide the same service, have different modes of complaint. Thus, as of now, the onus lies on the citizen to make sense of the maze of interconnected authorities while registering a grievance.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs for two reasons: On one hand, citizens find it cumbersome to track the complaints they have filed, as the authorities are not proactive in informing them about the status of their complaints. On the other hand, authorities have little means to understand the big picture on just how good or bad the state of various civic services is.

For governance to be responsive, it is important for citizens to be able to track their grievances after they are lodged. There needs to be a single complaint number which can be tracked across multiple mediums of communication – personal visit, telephone call or website.

An illustration depicting a sample model for effective complaint redressal. Image procured by author

An illustration depicting a sample model for effective complaint redressal. Image procured by author

Equally important, there needs to be one unified helpline number to complain about all major civic services provided by different authorities. Particularly in a set-up like Delhi, it cannot be the responsibility of the citizen to know which authority is responsible for which service. The complaint redressal mechanism must forward it to the authority which is in charge of providing the particular service.

Further, complaints cannot be allowed to disappear indefinitely into a black hole. There needs to be a mechanism to automatically escalate complaints to higher levels if they are not resolved within a stipulated period of time. This period can be decided in accordance with the citizens’ charter.

Also, at present, there is no way to find out if citizens are in fact satisfied with the resolution of their complaints. The need of the hour is to institute a complaint audit mechanism to assess this aspect. This can be done by conducting a random survey of complainants after their grievance has been resolved, at the municipal corporation's end.

If these measures are adopted, they will simplify governance for the citizens, as also for the authorities. With the MCD elections around the corner, one hopes that the new councillors will mark a new beginning.

Praja Foundation is a non-partisan organisation working towards enabling accountable governance

Updated Date: Apr 21, 2017 13:47 PM

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