Due to the consolidated strength of Karnataka’s bureaucracy, most anti-corruption and accountability mechanisms that have been established since 1956 have been institutional in nature, though some have been in response to the demands of social actors. These include the Directorate of Vigilance established in 1965 to “investigate charges of corruption against all government servants excluding the judiciary” and the Karnataka Lokayukta Act passed in 1984, which is considered to be one of the strongest Lokayuktas in the country and brought about the jailing of sitting Chief Minister Yeddyurappa under charges of mining corruption in 2011 (Aji 2012). In addition, NGOs, the media and even the formal judiciary have been active outside of these institutions, critiquing them and confronting their shortcomings.
The year 2011 saw an unprecedented push in India for greater government transparency, accountability and punishment for political corruption driven by the India Against Corruption movement and supported by some politicians. At the Centre, a ‘Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services of their Grievances Bill’ was introduced in the Lok Sabha, but lapsed without serious discussion (Kalra and Bedi 2012) while the activists’ push for an overarching Lokpal Bill was largely ignored. Despite these disappointments at the national level, a number of Indian states enacted Right to Public Services legislation, beginning with Madhya Pradesh in August 2010, that provided statutory backing for citizens’ charters, autonomous grievance redressal mechanisms and stricter punishments for defaulting public officials. Karnataka was the 10th state to introduce a similar act, which was passed unanimously by the Karnataka legislative assembly in December 2011 under BJP Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda and included 151 services under 11 major departments from its inception (The Hindu Staff Correspondent 2012). Shortly after the statewide launch in March 2012, an amendment was passed which added a further 114 services, bringing the total to 265 within the first year and making Karnataka’s the most expansive of similar state-level legislations.
Scope and Objectives of the Sakala Services Act
The Act was titled the ‘Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act and was also known as the Sakala Services Act, which follows from ‘sakala’ meaning in-time in Kannada (Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms, Government of Karnataka 2013). The Act is “a bill to provide for guarantee of services to citizens in the State of Karnataka within the stipulated time limit” and its provisions are as follows:
- Citizens have the “right to obtain service within the stipulated time limit” for the services and from the Government departments specified in the Schedule (as per S. 3),
- For each service guaranteed by the Act, the Government must notify the designated officers (who are “required to provide the service”), competent officers (who are “empowered to impose cost on the public servant defaulting or delaying his duty”), appellate authorities (who are “invested with the power to hear appeal against the orders passed by competent officer under the Act”) and the stipulated time limit (as per S. 4 read with S. 2 (a), (c) and (d)),
- The stipulated time period begins when the designated officer receives an application for a service to which the citizen is eligible and he must either provide (or authorise another officer to provide) the service in question or reject the application, record the reason in writing and inform the applicant of the rejection as well as the “details of the competent officer to whom the first appeal lies” (as per S. 5),
- In order to facilitate the citizen’s ability to ensure the application is being duly processed, they “shall be provided an application number by the concerned… authority” and are entitled to monitor the status of their application online- therefore, it is the duty of every authority to maintain and update the status of all applications as per the prescribed rules (as per S. 6),
- Therefore, the state must maintain a dedicated online portal and through e-governance, remain in communication with citizens (as per S. 7),
- And in the case a designated officer or a subordinate public servant directed to carry out a service fails to fulfil the duty within the stipulated time period, then they are liable to pay a compensatory cost to the citizen as specified by the Act (as per S. 8).
The bulk of this Act is constituted, not of legislative sections but of Schedules that enumerate the services offered by various government departments and the relevant officers and time limits. In addition, while analysing the Sakala Act, it is important to realise that the purpose of the Act is not merely punitive but that it aims to “develop a culture to deliver services within fixed period” (S. 14). Therefore, defaults “shall not be counted towards misconduct” in the hopes that the public official will be sensitised to the concerns of the citizens they are in service to – however in the case of a “habitual and wilful defaulter without any reasonable cause” the head of the concerned Public Authority can take appropriate disciplinary action (as per S. 14(2)). On the other hand, if a designated officer does not have a single default against his name, then a letter of appreciation is to be issued and entered into his Annual Performance Report (as per S. 14(3)).
Implementation of the Sakala Services Act
Within this thin outline put forward by the Act, the Government of Karnataka took a series of bold steps to make Sakala functional, including:
- Sakala was operationalised in Mission Mode rather being administered within DPAR. Initially, it was led by Senior IAS officer, Dr Shalini Rajneesh as Mission Director and Munish Moudgil as Assistant Mission Director along with a three-member team. Within each of Karnataka’s 30 districts, the Chief Nodal Officer is the District Magistrate, who is assisted by an IT consultant (Sakala Mission Team).
- The e-governance component received the assistance of the National Informatics Centre, which created the online monitoring system. The monitoring number is generated by this portal as a unique 15 digit GSC or ‘Guarantee of Services to Citizen’ number (Ibid). Receipts and disposals are tracked by department and by district and the Sakala mission is supposed to release monthly reports in which they provide district, taluk and constituency level breakdowns of receipts and disposals. Further, in order to incentivise districts, they are also ranked in each report on their performance, introducing an element of competition.
- In order to make Sakala truly accessible to Karnataka’s citizens, the website and phone lines can be accessed in both English and Kannada. A major weakness of both e-governance and mobile governance in India is a lack of functionality in Hindi and vernacular languages, which the Sakala model tries to overcome.
- The Sakala Mission and DPAR took steps to spread the word about Sakala and what services citizens were entitled to under its purview. They conducted street plays in all districts, set up dedicated helpdesks and interacted with RWAs and consumer forums. There were also mass media commercials and efforts were made to educate school and college students on how to register Sakala applications, so they could spread awareness in their communities (Bharatiya Janata Party 2012).
This programme was designed as a way to demystify public service provision, reduce bribery, inculcate a culture of personal responsibility among public servants and was portrayed as “more important than [the] Right to Information Act” by the Karnataka State BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party 2012).
Successes and Impact of the Sakala Services Act
When it was first rolled out in 2012, Sakala was implemented sincerely and brought pride to Karnataka administrators. Not only was it an ambitious policy move, but it was motivation-driven rather than penalty-driven and treated both bureaucrats and citizens as stakeholders collaborating towards the same goal (Chandra and Bhatia 2015). In its first year, the Sakala portal received over 20 million applications of which 96.55% were disposed of within the stipulated time (KGSC). The services guaranteed under Sakala were those that citizens required to access various targeted social schemes such as Caste certificate, Income certificate, registration of birth and death, driving and learner’s licenses, copy of FIR, etc. A team from the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore was engaged to conduct field visits, analyse the performance data generated through the portal and evaluate the rollout of the programme. In 2014, the scheme was further awarded ISO certification and a survey conducted by the Indian Market Research Bureau revealed that “of the 4.38 crore applicants who sought services under the Karnataka Sakala Services Act in the last 20 months, 99 percent were satisfied with the service” (The Hindu 2014). In addition to the appreciation shown by the citizens who accessed the programme, Sakala received the 2013-14 National e-Governance Award, the 2014 Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management’s international innovation award and in 2015, there was active consideration to adopt a similar model at the Centre (Hebbar 2015).
Why did Sakala stop working?
Despite a stellar record in its first few years, problems have begun to creep into the Sakala mission. What has emerged is a form of institutional hubris in which legislators and bureaucrats thought they were creating a perfect system that blended executive autonomy, e-governance and real-time tracking. But in essence, they had built another black box of service delivery – only in this case the service that was being withheld was government accountability. Without actions initiated by the bureaucrats, citizens could not see into the box or easily invoke the levers of social accountability.
First of all, the Sakala mission mode empowered a parallel class of bureaucrats assisted by data and gave them the responsibility of oversight. This created an artificial balance of powers since the only check on their working is legislative – through the appointment of the Mission Director and in the case of approving amendments to add new services to the Schedule. Other models like RTI and the Consumer Protection Act introduce a quasi-judicial body as a final source of appeal. However, the Sakala mission breaks one of the basic tenets of administrative law and retains appellate functions within the executive itself. This meant that once necessary steps of implementation began to slow down, there was no separate authority to take action. Monthly reports were not released on time, the timeline tables that were supposed to be displayed in government offices disappeared and efforts to publicise the programme from hoardings to print, radio and televisions ads were neglected (Karnataka Sakala Watch 2016). After IAS officer, M. V. Jayanthi stepped down in 2015, the position of Mission Director has not been updated on the website. While this type of administrative failure is typical for other projects, for it to plague the Sakala Mission as well is pure irony. The high standard of citizen awareness and satisfaction that had been achieved in the first few years has also suffered with a survey reporting that more than 60% of respondents were not aware of the Sakala scheme (Ibid).
Moreover, the essential provisions of the Act are not being met. By the end of 2015, there were over 20,000 overdue complaints, 15,300 overdue applications and the number of cases in which compensatory costs were awarded (a cornerstone of the Act) had dropped from 250 in 2013 to 55 in 2015 (Ibid). The Karnataka Sakala Watch raised these figures in a report published in January 2016. Despite wide coverage in the press, no action was taken on many of these fronts, with December 2016 being the last Monthly Report available on the Sakala website.
While Sakala has faded from public memory, the Centre for Media Studies’ released their annual Indian Corruption Survey for 2017 (or CMS-ICS 2017), a survey which captures citizens’ perceptions and experiences of corruption across a range of public services and ranks Indian states. According to it, 77% of households in Karnataka experienced corruption when engaging with some government department as compared to a combined state average of 31% and Karnataka was ranked as the most corrupt state in India  (Centre for Media Studies 2017). In this situation, Karnataka’s welfare state has been compromised, which can have electoral repercussions.
 The Sakala website’s Contact page lists the Principal Secretary DPAR (AR), the Additional Mission Director and the Administration Officer.
 This is how a number of news organisations reported on the survey. It is worth pointing out that only 20 out of 28 states were actually surveyed in the Report.
Aji, Sowmya. 2012. “Toothless Watch Dogs.” India Today, February 11.
Bharatiya Janata Party. 2012. ““Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act 2011 (Sakala Services Act)”.” BJP.org. Accessed May 5, 2017. http://www.bjp.org/images/pdf_2012_h/sakala_introduction_shri%20suresh%20kumar.pdf
Centre for Media Studies. 2017. “CMS-India Corruption Study 2017.” Delhi.
Chandra, Amit, and Surbhi Bhatia. 2015. The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011: Origin, Need, and Analysis. Research Paper, Delhi: Centre for Civil Society.
Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms, Government of Karnataka. 2013. “The Karnataka Sakala Services Act, 2011.” DPAR website. November 29. Accessed May 14, 2017. http://www.dpar.kar.nic.in/dparar/English/docs/Sakala%20Service%20Act/SakalaAct&Rules447Engservices.pdf
Kalra, Harsimran, and Pallavi Bedi. 2012. “Legislative Brief: The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011.” PRS Legislative Research. September 27. Accessed May 15, 2017. http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Citizen%20charter/Legislative%20Brief%20Citizens%20Charter%2027%20Sep.pdf
Karnataka Sakala Watch. 2016. “A Mission in Jeopardy: A Status Paper on the Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act, 2011 (Sakala).” Status Paper.
KGSC. n.d. “Guarantee of Services to Citizens: A case study of Karnataka.”
PTI. 2013. “240 more govt services to come under Sakala in Karnataka.” The Hindu Business Line. September 16. Accessed May 15, 2017. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/240-more-govt-services-to-come-under-sakala-in-karnataka/article5134526.ece
Sakala Mission Team. n.d. “How does Sakala Work?” Government of Karnataka. Accessed May 13, 2017. http://ctax.kar.nic.in/latestupdates/howdoessakala0001.pdf
The Hindu. 2014. “99 p.c. applicants satisfied with Sakala: IMRB survey.” March 5.
The Hindu Staff Correspondent. 2012. “Sakala launched in Mysore.” The Hindu, April 3.