While 73% in the country have access to a medical facility within 3 kms from the place of residence only 13% of the users are fully satisfied with the behavior of doctors and paramedical staff across the country. Access to a Public Distribution System outlet is a whopping 87% across the country but less than 10% are fully satisfied with the different aspects of PDS.
Across the country over 66% of Indian citizens can access an educational facility within 1km from the place of residence but only 16% are fully satisfied with the teachers and an abysmal 5% with the sanitation levels in the schools. More than half the population in the country has access to protected source of drinking water within 100 meters of the house but the levels of satisfaction vary dramatically across states from only 25% in Kerala to 53% in Tripura. Public Transport is available to 54% round the year but only 22% are fully satisfied with the overall system
The Central and State Governments in India have till now focused more on extending the access to key public services and given less attention to the quality, reliability and effectiveness of these services. This fact has been brought to light in the first ever independent, nation-wide study on the quality of public services in India.
Pioneered by the Public Affairs Centre, an independent Bangalore-based, non-profit think tank, the study was released today formally by Dr Manmohan Singh, MP and former Union Finance Minister, at a press conference here today
Titled 'State of India's Public Services: Benchmarks for the New millennium', the study attempts to provide a well focused and independent assessment of key public services, create an independent database and benchmarks to measure the progress and performance of these services over a period of time and stimulate public debate on critical issues affecting the users of these services.
Conducted over 4 months (April-July) in 2001 by ORG-MARG in 24 states and covering 37,000 households, the millennial study focuses on the five basic public services that are of special concern to the weaker sections of society, and in which the government has invested thousands of crores of rupees. These include Drinking Water, Health & Sanitation, Education & Childcare, Public Distribution System (Fair Price Shops) and Road Transport. The study is unique in its perspective on the citizen's viewpoint and in its use of 'satisfaction' as a measure of the citizen's overall assessment of essential public services.
Speaking on the occasion Dr Samuel Paul, Chairman, Public Affairs Centre said, "Underlying the survey is the conviction that feedback from the users, those for whom public services are meant, will effectively fill the information gaps for assessing the efficiency of public expenditure."
"The satisfaction scores are tellingly reflective of the people's concerns. Governments now need to shift gears to address this challenge and search for new ways to enhance the effectiveness and quality of public services without incurring mindless expenditure. This feedback can provide early warning signals that can be used by governments to redesign services and make mid-course corrections so as to improve the service outcomes", He added.
The survey highlights interesting state-wise facts on the five public services. These services have been compared across India with respect to citizens' access to facilities, usage of public services, quality/reliability of public services and satisfaction with the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of service delivery.
In overall terms, drinking water is ahead of other services; however, in terms of access, it lags behind the rest. Dependence on public sources is found to be high for PDS and primary education and low for road transport, health services and drinking water. Reliability of services is found to be relatively high for drinking water (public sources) and health and low for PDS, primary schools and road transport. Scores on full satisfaction are generally observed to be on the low side; a significant proportion of users are partially satisfied. Services with a high element of human interaction report significantly lower satisfaction.
According to the findings high income levels and infrastructure spending by themselves do not ensure a higher quality of governance. On the other hand, disadvantages to the poor and marginalised sections arise not only from low incomes, but also other features such as remoteness of location of state funded services.
To sum up, the factors behind the achievements and problems highlighted by the survey findings can either be attributed to the success or failure of public policy or can be traced back to the design and management of service delivery mechanisms. The Government of India and the state governments seem to have just focused on providing basic services than insuring reliability, effectiveness and quality. Every public service therefore needs to be assessed from all angles. If the policies are at fault, fine-tuning the delivery mechanisms may not help.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS CENTRE
Public Affairs Centre (PAC) was established in Bangalore in 1994. Its underlying premise is that the quality of governance will improve only when civil society is aware and active in demanding greater accountability from government and its agencies. PAC's strength and credibility lie in its independence and commitment to strengthening civil society institutions. PAC's uniqueness is in bringing together research and action, an appropriate approach for an institution attempting to influence the quality of governance. Its research aims to provide a stimulus for action. And, its action in turn is powered by knowledge derived from research.