From Railways to Police: Capacity Panel Plans to Strengthen Citizen-State Interface

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AS PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi leads the NDA government in its ninth year, silent reform of capacity building in government is likely to yield results in Indian Railways.

An exercise initiated by the Capacity Building Commission which was set up in April 2021 and rolled out to different areas by the railways identified 12 pain points that can spoil the travel experience for customers; and four levels of employees – the traveling ticket examiner, passenger reservations clerk, freight reservations clerk, and station master at smaller stations, who can potentially make or break the impression that customers take home.

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Topping the list of the dozen pressure points identified is the ticket refund system. An overwhelming 60% of problems reported by urban elites using railways cite refunds as a problem. The exercise showed that the IRCTC, the branch of the railways which manages the online ticketing platform, took between 10 and 14 days to refund a canceled ticket.

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Given this finding that three out of five complaints were related to refunds, the railways were instructed to undertake a low-key exercise to ‘clean up’ the refund system, with another citizen survey scheduled six months later to check if the effort has actually worked.

The Commission itself has a unique staff of representatives from the private sector, civil society and the IAS. Former McKinsey India Director Adil Zainulbhai is Chairman, Civil Society Veteran R Balasubramaniam is Member (Human Resources) and Batch 1985 IAS Officer – Praveen Pardeshi is Member (Administration). Its mandate is to develop a seamless approach to improving public service capacity and to analyze skills-related data to create shared learning resources.

With the specific intention that its work does not dissipate and that its efforts result in visible changes on the ground, the Commission has launched a customer interface led improvement exercise with Indian Railways, Postal Service and Union Territories police departments.

“The Indian government runs very limited services for citizens, the railways being one and the post office… We started this cognitive dissonance study, and we have a team that monitors the evaluations. In the railways, the identification of the 12 repeated sticking points was a (result) of citizen surveys. So we are training all these (four) categories of officers across the country, about one lakh people. To be respectful of the citizens, we have empowered these employees to resolve these frictions,” Subramaniam told The Indian Express.

Incidentally, a passenger satisfaction survey exercise conducted by the railways a decade ago reported lighting and signage, the availability of porters at stations, the competence and behavior of reservation agents and the clarity of announcements in stations, among the “best efficiencies”. Major shortcomings were listed as toilet cleanliness, unauthorized vendors and passengers, platform cleanliness and train delays.

A similar exercise is being initiated in the police services of the Union territories. The project consists of training master trainers who will then dialogue with gendarmes and inspectors. Here the project consists of measuring four aspects and an impact evaluation toolkit used to calibrate the immediate response and measure the cognitive level. “Six months later, we will measure their change in behavior. A year later, we will come back and do surveys to find out if citizens are feeling the impact of the change,” Subramaniam said.

The exercise is supported by the Office of the Prime Minister, with a specific mandate to improve the interface and customer experience across all sectors.

In the case of police departments, information distilled from entries and the survey showed that 80% of complaints reported by citizens revolved around 80 issues, typically categorized into 14 categories. While the exercise is primarily UT-focused, the Capacity Building Commission received input from states on the studies’ inputs, which can also be replicated in their police departments.

In the case of the Indian Post project, the postman no longer just delivers the mail; he is a banking correspondent, insurance agent and is part of the extended support system in rural areas. Unlike policing, the expectations are not so high, but an improvement in the interface could still be tangible, according to the Commission’s findings.

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