Set service norms and reform to deliver

Karnataka combined IT with administrative reforms to set service standards and attain better delivery

This column typically highlights the best and the brightest practices in the cities and towns of India. The examples relate to the delivery of basic public services such as drinking water, solid waste management, traffic safety, public transport, waste water treatment, drainage through storm water drains, etc. They show how, in the midst of urban chaos and abysmal state of public service delivery, there are some truly inspiring stories of service turnaround. In quite a few cases, e-governance, together with business process re-engineering in government, has played an important role in bringing about this transformation.

The general lack of concern with the state of public service delivery in urban India until recently can perhaps be explained by everyone's preoccupation with fending for himself/ herself in an economy dominated by controls and regulations. The rich and the powerful were content to find private or special solutions to the general failure of public service delivery in urban India, and the poor simply learnt to cope. With rising incomes, younger population, rising aspirations, greater expectations and more demand for accountability, the sorry state of public service delivery is simply not acceptable. It is also visibly coming in the way of growth and development.

Individual examples of excellence as reported in this column can only go that far. A related question is how we provide incentives for urban local governments to improve their performance with respect to service delivery.

First, there is the issue of determining the norms for service delivery. For example, is 247 water supply the norm? Is coverage for water connections for all households, including slums, the norm? Is recovering O&M costs for sustainability the norm? Second, there is the need to measure service delivery. Once targets are laid down and physical performance is measurable, it is possible to compare performance across Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and provide incentives for better performance.

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