Evaluating the state of basic services
P. K. DORAISWAMY
A path-breaking study in assessing the quality of India's important public services
WHO BENEFITS FROM INDIA'S PUBLIC SEVICES? A People's Audit of Five Basic Services: Samuel Paul, Suresh Balakrishnan, Gopakumar K. Thampi, Sita Sekhar, M. Vivekananda; Pub. by Academic Foundation, in collaboration with Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore, 4772/23, Bharat Ram Road, (23 Anari Road), Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 695.
Samuel Paul and the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) are well-known as pioneers in developing the citizens' scorecard system for evaluating the efficiency of civic and public services.
They have now come up with another path-breaking study in evaluating the quality of five important public services in the country, namely: drinking water, healthcare, road transport, public distribution system, and primary education and child care.
Governments traditionally monitor schemes from the standpoint of expenditure. International bodies go by the long-term outcomes measured by such parameters as literacy and child mortality. But whether the services are actually delivered day-to-day efficiently and to what extent they meet the real needs of the people cannot be assessed by expenditure or headcount alone. Unwarranted delays, low quality or undependable delivery could render the expenditure wasteful and the headcount unmeaningful.
After giving an overview of the planning of these services during the various Plans and the quantitative profile of each, the study evaluates the effectiveness of these services in terms of four key parameters: access, usage, reliability and satisfaction.
The study's main findings are: Government have been more concerned with extending these services than with their quality, reliability, and effectiveness the former being not only easier done but also getting more political mileage! The perceived quality of transport service and health care is better in richer States but in respect of the other three services, there is less difference.
Drinking water scores higher than other services in respect of perceived quality but lags behind in terms of access. Drinking water and health services fare better on reliability whereas PDS, primary schools and road transport are found wanting. Where finance and technology are important, results are better, but where human interaction counts, citizen satisfaction is low.
About 81 per cent of the people had ration cards, only 8 per cent were fully satisfied with the PDS and only one-fourth reported regular foodgrain availability. In rural areas, 75 per cent of the families had easy access to schools, 68 per cent were aware of the mid-day meals scheme, and 83 per cent of these benefited from it. Access to health facilities, PDS and buses was less easy for SC/STs than for other communities.
The gap between the high-performing and the low-performing States is wider than that between the poor and the non-poor households within these States.
he poor in the former are better served than even the non-poor in the latter! A few States conducted seminars on these findings but no sustained or systemic follow-up action was taken.
Some of the suggestions made to government are: explore the potential of public-private partnerships; pay greater attention to improving effectiveness and quality and not merely to extending access; improve management systems in services requiring qualitative human interaction; involve local groups and institutions in giving feedback and empower them to rectify defects locally.
Privatisation alone may not be sufficient to stimulate public service reforms unless public authorities penalise bad performance and encourage good performance. High-performing States' best practices should be transferred to the low-performing ones.
There have been evaluations by government's own organisations and by a few academic and non-governmental bodies of these aspects earlier .
But what is attempted in this book is something more valuable and unique, namely obtaining an exclusively users' eye-view of how these services operate. Feedback from customers has been recognised in management as perhaps the most powerful instrument for any organisation not only to improve itself but to survive .
Unfortunately, it is only recently this realisation has entered public administration, and that too half-heartedly. In fact, for a truly democratic government, commissioning such studies periodically on its own in respect of all its functions affecting the public ought to be normal practice.
Let us hope that with the publication of more studies of this type, government would be not only sensitised and motivated but compelled by public opinion to do it.
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