Right To Response And Its Relevance As A Legal Right In Indian Democratic System
“Democracy, like liberty, justice and other social and political rights are not given. They are earned through courage, resolution and sacrifice”.
The contents of democracy are not cast in stone. The structures and processes that add up to make (or keep) a nation democratic is not static. It could be seen as a function of what is practicable at the moment – given the social, political and even technological capabilities of the state.
Nations anoint themselves as democratic and often leave the power in a representational structure to define the details. In the context of India, even a non-representational entity like the Judiciary has been instrumental in defining the contours of the institutions of governance – defining what is acceptable, preferable and aspired for.
In all of this, the unstated expectation is that the Constitution and the legal framework would be kept vibrant for "We, the People" – to be of service to them, in affording them the widest latitude that is possible to pursue happiness and dignity. It is in this context that there is a need to think about the "Right to Response" being made available to the citizens. The citizen has entered into a contract with the State, in which one of the pre-conditions is that the dignity of the citizen would be kept. For this, it is important for the State to respond!
A constitutionally guaranteed right to response would ensure that the citizens have a legal right to get a response from the government offices regarding their communications to the State authorities. This would be difficult to implement at the policy level with even silence being viewed as a stated policy. It is therefore suggested that the same be made applicable at least at the level of administration - to render a response according to the stated policy of the State. To be able to do this, each interaction with the Government will need to be uniquely tracked irrespective of the level at which it is made.
2. Right to Response – A Legal Right
A) Meaning and Its Need in Indian Democratic Structure
'Right to response' would entail that a citizen has a right to get a response to the communication that it is making with the government. The response could be positive or negative. It could be that the citizen is asking for something that is not legally possible. It could be that there is no policy of the government in which the request can be accommodated. In these situations, the reply is bound to be negative. Even so, it would qualify as a response.
It is quite possible that the administrative system requires some time to positively complete the service as requested by the citizen. It could have procedural formalities that need to be fulfilled. In these situations, it would require time for the completed response to be given. In this context the initial response could be that a conclusive reply would be given by a particular date stating the procedure that needs to be followed.
B) What is included in Right to Response?
The responses could be
- The matter requested for by the citizen is genuine and has been done
- The matter requested for by the citizen is genuine and will be done by <<date>> as <<procedure>> is involved
- The matter requested for by the citizen is not genuine according to <<law>> and hence is filed.
The right would also define an appeal mechanism in which a higher authority can look into the responses given by a lower authority. This is akin the Right to Services Act, only difference being that the 'Right to Response' would be wider, without a requirement for a notification of a service. It is akin to the "Right to Information Act", the difference being that it will be deeper, with a requirement to give response rather than just give information about the status of the matter.
C) General Procedure under Right to Response Guarantee Act
This would require that digital instances of all offices be created online so that the citizens can access the same 24*7. The credentials of the citizen can be verified using Aadhar or mechanisms like OTP sent to the mobile number of the person registering the communication. There should be a facility to give an instant receipt to the citizen via the mobile device registered. An instant intimation about the request should also be given to the official who is to give the reply. It could be so programmed that the contact details of the person making the request is also sent immediately to the official who needs to make the reply. This would enable prompt communication to know the details of the request, if need be.
There would be a need to link the online software application accepting the request to other government databases like land records, resident data bases, databases of infrastructure, GIS based maps etc so that proper referencing can be done about the requests with clarity on what is asked for by the citizen.
In case an application gets registered at a location where the original jurisdiction to attend to the same is not available, it should be possible to forward the same with a trail. The intimation should go to the citizen also so that the movement of the matter in this regard is transparently recorded and communicated.
One cannot enforce this right against other fellow citizens as it would be beyond the capability of any one citizen to be responding to all the stimuli that is received from other fellow citizens. However, this would be required of a State which swears by transparency and responsiveness. Thus, right to response can be seen to be an integral part of right to life apart from good governance.
The regime of right to response has some advantages to all stake holders. The note below is briefly attempting to explain the same –
For the Citizen: This would be the most obvious part. The citizens would have a much more meaningful and dignified life. The social contract that was made would be more amenable to perception with a continued dialogue between the partners in the contract.
The citizen would be able to access facilities according to the stated policies and programs of the State. There would be a clearer picture regarding the responsiveness of Government/administration. This would enable better governance.
There would be more symmetry in access. In the present state of affairs, it is not unusual to find citizens jostling to thrust a paper into the hands of a District Magistrate or a visiting minister. With a system which assures receipt and response, the undignified wait that common citizens have to make would be rendered unnecessary.
For Senior Civil Servants: In public service, the work is often so different and distributed that it is not easy to get data on what is the level of pendency in different offices. It is also not easy to reallocate staff for want of information regarding the required numbers at different levels and locations at different times. With each communication being tracked it would be possible to identify the locations that need more administrative support. Reallocation of resources can be accordingly made. Capacity augmentation of staff as per dynamic requirement would also be possible in this scenario.
The unique tracking of applications and responses to applications enables administrators to quickly access the details of a case if and when there is an occasion to. Many times, precious time is lost in getting the required details of a case and in the process genuine things do not get done. Accessing information to realize that a particular request is not genuine would also be important to prevent the clogging of the system. With the interactions tracked digitally, it would be possible to bring out similar applications made in the past by the individual by going into the data even if the citizen does not make the information regarding previous applications available.
On many occasions, pendency regarding a matter that has been brought to the attention of an office determines the credibility of an office/officer. This could be helpful especially in situations when credibility is of utmost importance like that of a law and order situation. If the officer is able to access details regarding a past application in such situations, it could be of value.
With the data regarding interaction with Government available online, it would be possible for officers to monitor and analyze work of the subordinate offices in a more meaningful manner. The analytics that is possible with the online data would be crucial in providing good governance.
For Functionaries: For lower level functionaries, there is often no secretarial or clerical support. This makes their offices very inefficient in chronicling or making communications with the public. Many offices at the lowest administrative level have only one single person. An automated system to track applications and responses helps them to keep a track of the communications and automatically formulates a "To Do" list for them which they can use to deliver responses and services.
It also makes the functioning of the office more transparent obviating incorrect and motivated allegations of corruption and nepotism. Having a transparent mechanism to see the number of cases pending before an individual for attention would help in avoiding action on politically motivated complaints.
For Judiciary: A lot of judicial time is consumed by applications in which they merely direct the concerned authority to consider the application. If it is defined as a right and a practical regime is set up, each communication with the Government would be trackable. This would enable the Judiciary to have a closer view of the administrative response before exercising judicial powers entertaining the application. In a way, it gives a right of response to administration before proceedings in a judicial court. This would be an instance of natural justice for the administration too.
The provision of a legal right to response has many disadvantages or difficulties – the way you look at it. The sheer scale of administrative capacity needed to respond in a time bound manner to any and every communication that might be made by the citizens would be very high. It is vulnerable to misuse by citizens by raising non-issues. Many times, responding specifically to a question by one of the citizens would be politically inconvenient to the Government as it would stand exposed on a particular issue.
Response to Disadvantages
With the present administrative structure and processes, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to deliver on right to response. It is, therefore, necessary to set up a practical regime which can deliver this right. To start with, the right could be made applicable at the non-policy level or the administrative level. This would mean that a response according to the existing policy is given within a time frame.
The difficulty of the Government stance on a matter being exposed is a problem for the Government and may be a solution for the people. Even if one is to take a more compassionate stance for the Government, it would only take a question in the legislature to make the Government take a stance. In a way, the right to response, places the right that is now the exclusive purview of legislature and judiciary into the hands of the people.
This would be administratively challenging in terms of the capacity of the Government to deliver. A practical regime in this sense can only be achieved by having a systemic use of information technology as a force multiplier. It would have been difficult to conceptualize of a government which is able to efficiently reply and communicate replies to its citizens in the pre-internet days. With the present state of the internet and the computing capacity available with Governments, such a right granted to citizens is eminently possible. This has been done to a limited extent in the right to services. Here it would be a broadening of the scope of the responsiveness of the State to other areas or services which are not notified.
3. Right to Response versus Right to Information
Under the Right to Information Act (RTI), right has been given to citizen to get information from the public authorities. However, this is still in the form of giving information regarding the status of an application. There is no mandate for a response to be made. The information regarding the application could be that it is pending for consideration, which does not add value to the citizen.
4. Right to Response versus Right to Service
5. Right to Response versus Grievance Redressal
Many states have put in place grievance redressal mechanism which has unique identification of the complaints made. There are some important distinctions between 'Right to Response' and an online grievance redressal mechanism
- This framework seeks to register the application or first point of interaction rather than a grievance. In this manner, this is one level before the grievance redressal mechanism.
- The fact that the original application and not the related grievance is being captured by the system changes the attitude of the office which is involved in the redressal of the grievance. There is a no bias to justify action that has been taken (or not taken) in the earlier interaction which provides for more positive governance
- In the grievance redressal mechanisms, mostly the grievances are centrally registered and then sent to a decentralized agency for resolution. This could have the following issues
- Bonafide incorrect marking of the complaint: -The citizen knows where the complaint belongs. However, this is left to the intelligence and interest of the operator in a centralized control room which often leads to improper forwarding of applications.
- The grievance redressal mechanism often do not add on to the capacity at the lowest operative level whereby they are able to respond to complaints
Right to Response can provide a strong support to democracy and promote good governance, by empowering the citizen to participate effectively and hold government officials accountable. In this manner, it will redefine democracy.
Tackling corruption through individual centric interventions like Lokpal might lead to problems that undermine the democratic structure itself. A solution could be worse than the problem. The right to response would involve a paradigm shift. This would make the citizen a dignified partner in the social contract. Access would be more seamless and meaningful. The society would be more transparent. This would force more accountability in the governance system and force practices of good governance in all fields, including decentralizing decision making structures and processes to appropriate levels. Certainly, it would have its own set of difficulties. To have a meaningful implementation of the right to response, it has to be introduced in a calibrated and planned manner.
Mr. Raghuraj Rajendran is Deputy Director in LBSNAA, Mussoorrie, email@example.com and Ms. Rinky Dixit is a Teaching Associate (Law) in LBSNAA, Mussoorrie, firstname.lastname@example.org
 By welfare state, it is not intended to mean a state spending on social welfare directly. It is only to suggest a state which positions itself to be in public interest, irrespective of mode of delivery.
 Aishwarya Deb and Prithwish Roy Chowdhary, "A Decade of the Right to Information Act, 2005 – Critical Exploration of the Scope and Impact of the Act" 2.2 IJLPP 93 -103 (2015).
 M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law (Wadhwa & Co, Nagpur, 4th edition 1987)
Constitutional Democracy and Government in India, (Atlantic Publishers and Distributors Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2017)
 Defined as market mechanism for privileged access in 'The profit at the bottom of the pyramid' by CK Prahlad
 In the event of using Uttara.nic.in, it will be the Uttara id of the interaction. A similar unique identification would be required for the infrastructure being created by the government funds at local level like roads and wells to avoid duplication – within and across schemes.
 Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd.) Vs. Union of India, AIR 2018 SC 494
 This would have the disadvantage of a political decision in the interest of specific circumstances of the case being made difficult. Here the administration would be needing other political instruments/institutions whereby such decisions can be made where there is an allocation of resources which is not strictly according to the stated policy in the interest of justice. Here the decentralized governance structures who can transparently make such political decisions will be seen to be of value.
 C. K. Prahalad, The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid (Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2005)
 A typical case in point is the office of the DM, CM, PM
 A practical attempt in this regard is www.uttara.nic.in made in the Madhya Pradesh state of India, whereby all offices in the district were made available for public access. There was no legislative backing for the effort. Administratively, it did not sustain. UTTARA expands as Universal Transparent Tracking of Applications and Responses to Applications. Uttara, in Hindi, means answer.