“Public service is my motto”, said gangster Al Capone, for some mysterious reason!
Having had the benefit of viewing basic governance structures from both sides of the table, one has analysed some aspects of them that could do with an injection of fresh ideas. These tips are not earth shaking; they are easily doable and implementable. Organisations providing public service across the land may improve their efficacy greatly if they decide to adopt them.
1. Authentic databases:
Databases relating to the general public are often afflicted with multiple shortcomings and lead to confusion as well as erroneous decisions. A plethora of Data Entry Operators, those worthy individuals who are responsible for typing in details of applicants for services like Voter ID Cards and Hospital Cards, often get spellings and other details wrong. A monitoring system can prevent gaffes of the sort that many of us discover when our driving licences or even Aadhar Cards arrive. Simple software programmes can also aid in ensuring such corrections. Thus a Ram Lal can be saved from becoming a Sham Lal and a 30 year old from becoming an 80 year old in governmental records!
2. Streamlining application forms & procedures:
We have all been victims of having had to fill up unending forms with a dozen enclosures at times. Some countries actually specify on government forms that, for instance, is ‘likely to take about 8 minutes to fill up’. The value of a citizen’s time and effort is often underrated by departments. People are usually clueless about procedures and are easy prey for ‘agents’ who hover around public dealing offices promising to help unsuspecting ‘victims’.
3. Soft skills training for personnel:
The person on the ‘hot seat’ at a public window is often under unstinted pressure from the hordes of people who frequent railways stations, electricity billing stations, school fee counters etc. He or she is often untrained in public dealing even though it admittedly is more of an art than a science! Thus the need to smile at each visitor, to explain things to him lucidly, and to be cordial even in the face of fire from some raucous individuals, is usually overlooked. Even a day’s training is enough at times, though preferably a month would be needed, but organisations are loath to invest their time and money on it.
4. Priority to the elderly:
Every retired person, especially one who has crossed 70 years of age, deserves and needs special attention and care, from banks, hospitals, post offices etc. All agencies providing services which necessitate visits by the elderly to their premises need to give such persons priority by introducing special queues, facilitation etc. The ‘Aadar Samman’ project launched by the Panchkula Administration a while ago provides a precedent whereby the time spent at a public office by an elderly person was grossly reduced.
5. Doorstep delivery:
Too much is made of asking people to actually present themselves at offices. If door to door census-surveys can be carried out, then many services can be provided at homes by mobile teams if they announce their plans in advance. Residents of the area would then be prepared and ready with the documents required to obtain basic certificates like senior citizen cards. Governments at times resort to such measures when voter ID cards (for instance) are to be prepared for a hundred percent of the eligible population. The need is to do the same for other services too.
6. Smartening up:
Even though websites and apps are now the norm even for government services, there is often a multiplicity of portals available and the public remains confused. Websites also do not provide clear-cut information at times thereby causing havoc in the mind of the citizen who tries to access their hidden virtues! They clearly need to smarten up.
In summary, it is easier today to streamline services by judicious use of technology than it was when for example the e-Sampark project was first launched in Chandigarh. But the intent is what matters, and the follow up.
What public servants will do well to remember is what Ronald Reagan said- “I am just a citizen, temporarily in public service!”