DNA, January 12, 2015

Express Buzz, India, December 08, 2008

Institutions like the World Bank to the OECD to the WTO have recommended a number of methods to achieve what is called good governance. Tools like citizens charters, public grievance redressal systems, civil service reforms, vigilance committees and a host of other measures have been tried to improve administration.

Yet the helpless citizen continues to be harassed and made to run from pillar to post to get even petty things done in a government office. On a different plane, wrong decisions, delays and wasteful expenditure by public servants are burdening the tax payer. It is to address these issues that we need to understand the efforts of consumer forums and commissions constituted under Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

In a number of decisions delivered under CPA, public servants responsible for delay have been asked to pay up for the delay.

The Supreme Court in the case of M K Gupta vs Lucknow Development Authority awarded Rs 10,000 as compensation to the complainant and directed the authority to recover it from all the officials responsible for the delay.

In a similar case, the National Commission directed the Ghaziabad Development Authority to pay a sum of Rs 15,000 to each of the harassed allottees and recover it from the concerned negligent staff.

In another case the Rajasthan State Electricity Board was asked to pay a compensation of Rs 1,000 to a consumer and recover it from the salary of the negligent employees.

Forget about housing and electricity boards. Even bank employees have been asked to shell out from their pockets. In 1999, Shashikala Narayan Prabhu a customer of Syndicate Bank, Mumbai, found that the bank had paid Rs 1,05,000 against forged cheques. The Mumbai consumer forum directed the bank to pay this amount with interest to the customer and recover it from the errant officials.

There are a number of similar cases being reported from across the country. For instance non-issuance of marks sheet to a student, delayed money order by the postman, denial of reserved berth by railways, delay in issuing money after maturity of policy etc. have been taken to these forums.

In all these cases, forums have taken a unified stand that the compensation paid is to be recovered from the erring officials.

Though this a drop in the ocean, it has sent the right message.

But unfortunately, the findings of cases like the above do not reach the consumers. As a result, the common citizen continues to suffer in two ways.

Firstly due to delay in getting the service and secondly sharing the burden of the defaulting staff.

The Jaipur based Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) has done an excellent job in bringing out a collection of some of the decisions where the negligent officers are asked to pay from their pocket. This needs to be done on a wider scale by National/State Legal Services Authorities.

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