A milestone in the political history of Karnataka – The SAKALA Mission


Sharada S (University of Pennsylvania, alumnus of National Law School of India University), Apoorva S and Mansi Sharma (National Law School of India University)

The SAKALA Mission, made possible through the Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act 2011 (amended in 2014), has been a shining example of success in time-bound service delivery to citizens. Administered by the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms, Karnataka, the program is run in mission mode and deploys e-governance mechanisms effectively for service delivery by over 50 departments across all 30 districts of the state.

Sakala’s vision envisages citizen-friendly governance with a time-bound service guarantee as well as a transparent working culture within the government. The purpose of the mission was, therefore, to institutionalize the implementation of a Citizen’s Charter through a single, integrated citizen-government interface that leverages tools of e-governance and ensures timely service delivery. Sakala’s slogan reads ‘No Today or Tomorrow henceforth; Delivery Promise Shall be Honoured.’ (“Indu nale innila, helida samaya tappolla.”)

The objectives of the mission were therefore to reform the administrative set-up for ensuring good governance, create a single and easy-to-access monitoring system for service delivery, fix timelines for provisioning of services, fix accountability, reduce human interface by the use of information technology, prevent corrupt practices and empower citizens to avail services as a right.

With these objectives in mind, a pilot launched on 01 March 2012 in northern most backward taluk of Aurad in Bidar district as well as in three other Taluks of Chitradurga, Dharwad and Dakshina Kannada districts. The program was rolled out to all districts of the State in April, covering 151 services in 11 departments.  Ever since then, Sakala has constantly expanded the number of services that can be offered: a second phase of the project added 114 additional services; 110 services were added in the third phase in August 2013; 44 additional services in September 2013; 28 services in end-2013 and a sixth phase added an additional 32 services taking the total to 478 services across 47 departments with 135 services offered online. As of June 2016, over 50 departments were covered by Sakala, with 669 services being offered to citizens.  This is the highest number of services among the states across the country that have implemented similar legislation following in the footsteps of Karnataka.

The program was rolled out under the visionary leadership of Dr. Shalini Rajneesh, who was Secretary, Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms for the first three years after the launch of the mission. Mrs. Shalini Rajneesh initiated corporate social responsibility outreach initiatives by sponsoring Sakala awareness campaigns through corporate partnerships. She has remarked, “The best mode to reach the public is to deliver the services effectively. One satisfied customer is equal to 10 future clients. If we provide services within the timeframe, beneficiaries will spread the word about the Sakala scheme. Dr. Rajneesh also maintained a blog during her tenure which constantly updated improvements made to the mission as well as the feedback it received from various corners, including from academia, businesses and common citizens.

The Sakala Mission has a number of strengths compared to its weaknesses. It operates in mission mode and has identified the district magistrate as the chief nodal officer in each of the thirty districts. Further, it has a dedicated IT consultants as well as exclusive data entry operators as it relies on a comprehensive IT solution which provides a transparent online monitoring mechanism for the processing of service requests. An acknowledgement slip with a unique 15 digit number called the Guarantee of Services to Citizen (GSC) number is accorded to every service request, which enhances transparency. The bilingual portal is available to citizens in both English as well as Kannada. There is also an SMS-based monitoring facility wherein the system sends message updates every time the status of an application changes. Further, a dedicated helpline assists applicants via a call centre set up at each Taluk. An in-person help desk is run by consumer forums, former government officials and NGOs at the Taluk level. A grievance redressal mechanism is built into the Sakala Services Act, which entitles citizens to compensation in case pre-fixed timelines have not been adhered to.

Weaknesses are primarily in relation to inadequate infrastructure especially in remote parts of the state for effective deployment of e-governance schemes, which makes expansion hard. Low levels of digital literacy, lack of continuous electricity and functioning the internet in some areas are hurdles. Some key challenges persist. Despite the availability of information in public domain, some citizens remain unaware of the true scope of the Act and are thus unable to avail of its benefits. This growing mass of unaware citizens continues to utilise existent structures of bureaucratic procedure, which often traps them in prolonged cycles of red tape and at the mercy of middlemen. Besides, training of officials continuously to keep pace with rapid technological progress proves to be a challenge, especially as the distribution of these competencies was uneven amongst various departments of the government at the launch of the program. Emerging threats to the project are not merely technological but relate to the attitudes of employees to learn to adapt to a new system.

Perceptions of Case Authors

Before the launch of Sakala, service delivery was through an outmoded and largely bureaucratic system which left citizens at the mercy of middlemen and a lot of red tape which was hard to navigate. The mission is heralded as an effective solution to a system that was often infamous for being unaccountable, inefficient, and corrupt. Sakala’s success in bridging this divide can be analytically pinned to four drivers of success, each of which is tied to a decision that was taken during the evolution of this mission.

Exclusive Personnel, Individual Accountability and Systemic Transparency

Sakala operates in mission mode and has dedicated exclusively trained personnel who are in-charge of service provisioning, grievance redressal, and information facilitation. As opposed to other Citizen’s Charter implementation modes that are integrated into the functioning of a department, or are a result of grassroots-led movements for change, the decision taken to implement an institutional structure that emphasises service delivery in a cross-functional setup across different departments of the state, and provides the manpower and infrastructure required to achieve that goal, has proven effective in ensuring successful outcomes.

This institutional structure also pinpoints individuals accountable for the provisioning of a service, known as designated officers. The implementation of Sakala in this manner has led to a deeper understanding of the workflow of each service being provided by these departments, which enhances accountability as the designated officer is held directly liable for the mishandling of a request or a high rate of pendency. Transparency at every stage, facilitated by the online monitoring system as well as the information and facilitation centre, aids this goal by providing citizens timely updates and reducing their overhead costs in receiving services, which improves adoption.

Effective Incentive Structures for Time-Bound Service Delivery

Drafting legislation that accounts for correcting lethargic behaviour within an existing bureaucratic structure can be identified as an important driver of achieving the targets at a scale that Sakala has. The decision to incorporate positive as well as appropriately punitive measures is laudable. The scheme encourages good work done through performance-based annual ‘Sarvottam Seva’ cash awards given to exemplary officials who did not default, with an appreciation letter addressed to them entered in the Annual Confidential Report. Furthermore, it effectively penalises bad behaviour through the compensation mechanism, where delays are directly pinned to the official responsible and the compensation is paid out of their salaries.

Innovative Outreach Strategy for Greater Awareness Generation

Innovative methods of awareness generation are necessary when rolling out a paradigm shifting scheme such as Sakala. Decisions to involve the public right from the roll out of the mission has played a critical role in the program’s success. The logo was designed by a contest held for citizens with a prize. Traditional media outreach in the form of newspaper and television advertisements, posters and hoardings at important locations were complemented by a social media strategy, as well as by capitalising on schemes by other departments such as theming the Education Department’s ‘Prathiba Karanji’ around Sakala. Street plays were staged in all districts in order to create awareness as well, which enabled the mission to reach out to a larger audience. Further, corporate social responsibility initiatives have been leveraged to aid in awareness creation, and outreach events in academic institutions as well as among youth have been prioritised.

Sakala, therefore, marks a milestone in the political history of Karnataka as an administrative reform that has bridged the yawning divide between a large bureaucracy and citizens in need of service provisioning. It provides lessons to other such similar endeavours in other states across the country with the aim of achieving good governance.

(Apoorva and Mansi are pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. They can be reached at apoorvas@nls.ac.in and mansisharma@nls.ac.in

Sharada S is currently working as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Competition [CTIC] at the University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at sharadas@law.upenn.edu)

Featured Image Source: http://www.sakala.kar.nic.in/gsc_home.aspx

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