For the last many months on WhatsApp, groups' message is circulating about Centralized Public Grievance Redress And Monitoring System (CPGRAMS) and its success in resolving the named individual grievance. I thought I should write a detailed write up on the functioning of the CPGRAMS portal, its current state, and whether it facilitates addressing public grievances or is a duplication, consolidation, or replica of various other grievance redressal channels like Principal Nodal Officer, different Ombudsman, Consumer Forums, Financial Market Regulators complaint management system (cms), etc, to demonstrate the efficacy of the revamped mechanism and show/illustrate where are we heading.
To explain this some recent cases/examples of public interest grievances matters with RBI are shared (readers who are interested to read additional details of each such case (below) may peruse my articles published on websites on the topics below. However, to understand this article you don't need to peruse them.
Does the computer-generated paper therefore not require a signature- Its Legality
Inadequate regulatory oversight by financial market regulators resulting in regulated entities practicing random ways to generate extra revenue
RBI's directions on the Auto conversion of banking a/cs into Senior Citizen Account No clarification for years
Adhoc SMS charges levied by banks & their appropriateness
The articles above were written relate to my specific complaints on the CPGRAMS portal filed between Oct and Nov 2020. However, the subject matter of grievances highlighted was under active correspondence with concerned banks and many departments of RBI between 1-5 years before reporting as grievance on the CPGRAMS portal.
Portal Grievance Ref No: DEABD/E/2020/60923
Subject line: Appropriateness of indiscriminate usage of a tag-line: It is computer generated letter/report/statement/advice and therefore does not require any signature, in paper communications.
Portal Grievance Ref No: DEABD/E/2020/61894*
Subject line: Inadequate regulatory oversight resulting in regulated entities practicing random ways to generate extra revenue instead of Toll-free lines and usage of Premium Toll series (1800 Vs 1860 telephones)
Portal Grievance Ref No: DEABD/E/2020/61927
Subject line: Auto conversion/re-designation of banking a/cs into Senior Citizen Account, no clarification yet from RBI depriving certain benefits to senior citizens
Portal Grievance Ref No: DEABD/E/2020/62852
Subject line: Banks charge SMS charges on an Adhoc basis violating RBI's specific directions to the contrary.
Public Grievances Redressal is one of the flagship initiatives for the reformation in governance started by the central government through addressing the grievances of the general public.
It was created in June 2007 by the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (DAR&PG) but very recently revamped. DAR&PG runs a portal to enable the public to lodge their grievances for redressal.
This Portal aims at providing the citizens with a platform for redress of their grievances. If you have any grievance against any Government organization in the country, you may lodge your grievance here, which will go to the Ministry/Department/State Government concerned for immediate redress.
CPGRAMS is functional at the Board (CBEC) level, where grievances lodged by citizens are received by the Nodal officer (Commissioner Co-ordination) and then forwarded electronically to the concerned officer (Chief Commissioner / Director General) for redress and appropriate action. The redress is said to be monitored at the Board level, both for timelines and quality. DAR&PG formulates public grievance redress mechanisms for effective and timely redress/settlement of citizen's grievances.
Sixty (60) days is the time limit to redress of grievance. In case of delay, an interim reply with reasons for the delay is required to be given
As per policy following Issues are not taken up for redress:
- Sub-judice cases matter concerning judgment given by any court.
- Personal and family disputes.
- RTI matters.
- Anything impacts upon territorial integrity of country or friendly relations with other countries.
CPGRAMS claims that:
If you have any grievance against any Government organization in the country, you may lodge your grievance here, which will go to the Ministry/Department/State Government concerned for immediate redress.
The Department periodically reviews the status of redressed public grievances
DAR&PG maks endeavors to bring excellence in public service delivery and to redress grievances of citizens in a meaningful manner by effectively coordinating.
Hitherto there was no system of appeal. There existed a system of review of redressed cases (not all disposed of). However, while the website was under modification the department implemented my suggestion of Dec 2020 (immediately) and now there is a provision for appeal as well.
I believe that the object of this portal for bringing the public interest grievance to the notice of top brass is to make the top brass aware of a serious Public Interest matter and have an open interaction with the members of the public. I am sure that certainly, it is not the intention of lawmakers to create the portal as a dummy or public eyewash.
I also feel that designers of the portal would not have intended it to duplicate rather replicate various other channels of grievance redressing like Individual business entity's Grievance Cells, Nodal Officer, Internal and External Ombudsman Banks/Insurance, Consumer Forums/ Civil Courts, Financial Market Regulators complaint management system (CMS) of RBI, 'SCORES' of SEBI, IRDA, etc etc.
Thus, the idea of designers of the portal and the Govt of India is fine.
However, my experience with a few is that agencies departments, regulators on the portal do find escape routes. I wish to highlight this issue through this article.
All the above (see hyperlink cases) of high and pure public interest matters were disposed of/dismissed by RBI in a robotic manner giving on simple reason grievance is a request/suggestion/query/general observation to each case.
As there was no formal system to review/appeal, I approached the Nodal Officer (Commissioner Co-ordination) Dept of Financial Services (DFS), Ministry of Finance, GOI (in these cases) and appraised the situation in each of the 4 cases separately as and when the case was inappropriately disposed of.
I appraised the nodal officer with a standard understanding of terms/concepts used by RBI in dismissing them such as complaints, Grievance, and suggestion with relevant live examples.
Incidentally, in some cases, this ministry as well as the Ministry of Law and Justice was involved and had directed RBI to act. As it was within their knowledge DFS, MoF acted swiftly and directed RBI as follows:
“Kindly look into the matter and redress the grievance properly to the conclusive end. Please issue acknowledgment to the petitioner urgently and examine and settle the complaint as per the rules within a time-bound manner. Please expedite. DFS, MoF, GOI.”
Notwithstanding their above directions in every four cases, RBI robotically disposed of the cases giving the same reason.
What is meant by a complaint and a grievance?
A complaint is a grievance, problem, difficulty, or concern an expression of dissatisfaction or feeling of injustice from an organization/system. If one concludes that it is unjust practice, creating genuine dissatisfaction among clients/customers it fits into the definition of a grievance.
What is meant by suggestion?
A suggestion is something that can be adopted for betterment or how a service can be improved.
Suggestions can exist even before the grievance/complaint or can come following the complaint. Suggestions and solutions can accompany the grievance. It is desirable to provide solution/s to grievances or complaints to get them quickly resolved.
To explain the difference between a complaint, grievance, and suggestion I gave RBI and DFS a live example of the Grievance DEABD/E/ 2020/61894* lodged on 23-10-2020 and disposed of/rejected on 26-10-2020.
*The complaint was about one set of the banks offering the basic + essential customer care complaint/service as a 'toll-free' facility (no tell-call charges to the caller), few banks offer at normal telecom rate ('normal tariff /Toll' to the caller), many banks made it as a source of generating revenue (making caller pay at premium telecall rates) for same, misusing its position as a sole redresser to caller's/customer's problem, by making revenue-sharing arrangements (to share premium-toll charges collected by a telecom operator) with telecom/mobile service provider. Here telecom service provider acts as a conduit, charges premium call charges to a caller, calling banks customer care ('premium toll number'), and shares the 'premium' at the agreed rate with the bank proposed.
While banks are expected to render essential banking services across delivery channels, banks discourage customer visits to branches, don't want customers needing help to telecall branches, keeping the only 'tele' channel of customer care/customer service open, and make it a source of revenue is unethical and taking undue advantage. It happens with not only banking but many entities operating in the financial spectrum (Insurance and many public utilities). You may be surprised to note that even a mobile company that offers mobile service (in-house) incurs no outgo, puts the call/service center 'on premium toll numbers', for customers and compels them to pay extra, make more money/revenue to address their telecom concerns, arising out of their service deficiency. It is, therefore, a serious complaint and a valid grievance.
It was a serious grievance about the mischief of many private banks who found different avenues to generate revenue even while a person comes with a grievance or query on the conduct of essential/normal business activity. It is a restrictive practice followed by the new Pvt Banking lobby. This matter needs to be taken up with 'FSDC' for coordinated action within the essential/public services domain in telecom, insurance, pension segment. I defended DFS(MoF) that by no stretch of imagination it is a suggestion and the case needs review.
I mentioned to DFS that it is completely unjust to dispose of/reject grievances of this nature that are most relevant especially when it came to the notice that authorities not taking any action but just watch and let it go/continue Despite my appeal to DFS (MoF) in all 4 cases above that all grievances under reference discussion impact millions of citizens, customers including you, me, and do come in the ambit of this portal.
All above four public interest matters were disposed of even after directions from DFS to RBI to review, in an autocratic manner
Latter on 19-11-2020 I approached CPGRAMS Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances - Nodal Agency 'portal itself' and filed a consolidated case DARPG/E/ 2020/30915 covering all above mentioned 4 cases
In the consolidated new complaint, I mentioned to CPGRAMS that:
- Normally after exhausting other modes of redressing grievance, the public would like to approach this central Govt ultimate portal with great hopes. If the portal (notwithstanding which team handles it) acts indiscriminately/ arbitrarily/wholesale manner all roads to address the serious public interest grievance would get choked.
- Judiciary is not a solution to everything and is not meant for the grievance of every nature and has limitations.
- Before lodging the complaints on the portal I read the process and design etc. I noted the following and was inspired that all my long pending grievances would get answered/resolved.
- Dismissal of fit case wrongfully on incorrect understanding/assumption or attitude itself is a new grievance and setting up a process of review for such dismissed cases, to avoid such instances (if it does not exist), can be treated as a suggestion implied to the grievance.
- Designers of the portal based grievance management system (your department) would not have intended to replicate or duplicate various other channels of grievance redressing like Individual business entity's Grievance Cells, Nodal Officer, Internal and External Ombudsman Banks/Insurance, Consumer Forums/ Civil Courts, Financial Market Regulators complaint management system (cms), etc.
- I contemplated 'cms team RBI' should be supplied with formal clarification about the suggestion, personal view, complaint, Grievance, etc supported with a live example, for proper understanding.
- I mentioned to CPGRAMS why did I choose to lodge these four grievances consolidated of the CG portal?
- These grievances will not found favor at the print media; lodging on RBI's cms portal will not, as usual, give any result except spending time in dilly-dallying, I felt, RBI may not budge unless there is a system of serious overview.
- I had taken this matter with your portal as these days RBI doesn't even acknowledge the Public Interest grievances of this nature. One can imagine what happens to individual concern that goes to Banking Ombudsman where individual interest grievance complaints are 000's in number.
- Commercial Banks obviously will not address on their own as it would amount to choking their lines of revenue, MoF may not like to interfere (though it may be keen) due autonomy of RBI. Judiciary will not consider this as a PIL as it is a matter of an administrative nature. I have no intention to undermine the role of RBI, as a regulator but it cannot act in an autocratic manner.
- On the lighter note, I did mention to CPGRAMS that team, RBI's approach was good. Realizing nothing positive is done by the (evading attitude, disposing of vital cases of public system importance in this manner conveniently interpreting or not realizing the difference between Complaint/Grievance, suggestion, and personal views, etc). People will not like to lodge their grievances. In the process, the portal is getting a bad reputation.
After perusing the above points, the previous communications, and the rationale of the case CPGRAMS directed RBI to revisit review the matter. Little did I knew all my serious grievances will be disposed of by RBI again giving the same absurd reason in a robotic style bringing whole efforts of getting few purely public interest grievances to a 'Ground Zero'.
On the other side whatever was in the domain of CPGRAMS it had promptly done effective Jan 2021 and I now observe that in place of informal/vague process to have a review of redressed cases a formal process of appeal for disposed of, dismissed cases has been introduced.
After the dismissal of these cases in a high-handed manner by RBI, I had few option approach judiciary/e-Media/Print Media approach PMO
I filed a case of consolidated grievance covering all the above 4 cases to PMO
PMOPG/E/2021/0017969 Dt: 09-01-2021.
PMO directed RBI
“Please issue acknowledgment and furnish a reply to the petitioner after examining and settling the complaint as per the rules. Please send your ATR and upload a copy of the reply sent to the petitioner on CPGRAMS.”
Even after PMO's directions, RBI responded as Grievance is a request/suggestion/query/general observation.
I have filed an appeal at PMO DEABD/E/A/21/0000144 Dt 24-01-2021. Further action at PMO pending.
To each of my grievance disposal + review request, there was a prompt communication directing RBI (at least 8 email communications from DFS, one each letter from MoF & Min of Law and Justice) was sent with a copy to me.
For the time being, even if we assume RBI contentions behind the dismissal of these four exampled grievances, on the technical grounds, is appropriate it poses the following questions:
What applies to four 'public interest grievances' equally applies to me and thus becomes a specific personal grievance also.
Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (DAR&PG) Department of Central Government that handles the portal does understand what comes under the purview of the portal and what not (Otherwise, it would not have upheld consolidated grievance the grievance specifically lodged on CPGRAMS department domain itself and would not have been passed it on to RBI, with directions to address it).
All eight specific email communication to RBI and two letters of MoF and Law Ministry (all with a copy to me) that were sent by Nodal officers and reviewing authorities DFS (MoF), CPGRAMS were without understanding
Prime Ministers Office (who probably consulted MoF also) do not understand what RBI alone perceives under the circumstances
My experience in yet another small matter
In the interim due to some compelling reason, I filed a small case against Bank of India (Individual grievance) against wrongful bouncing of cheque by bank-issued on an inoperative account, contrary to clear directions of RBI to banks directing not to bounce. As there was no response from the Nodal officer of the bank instead of approaching the Banking Ombudsman (BO) I approached CPGRAMS. I did receive a reply in 72 hours but the redressal was not satisfactory, I had to approach BO as CPGRAMS has a limited space over this.
Considering high profile personnel involved I feel the object of the CPGRAMS mechanism should be different (macro) and not overlap with that of BO or other grievance redressal mechanisms.
I feel it is time for CPGRAMS should revisit its objectives. Portal started about 13 years ago in the interim many grievance redressal mechanisms have come up. Replicating them does not serve the purpose. The central portal should not be bogged down with petty matters only then it could focus on stricter discipline and review of matters having larger public interest. Instances like this could become a subject of mockery.
If the portal acts like a programmed robot, all including PMO, MoF keep mum in matters mentioned, find helpless/unworkable/ineffective before RBI, and allow RBI to behave in an autocratic manner wonder where the country will be heading.
In the cases cited above, the gullible public is at mercy of RBI. At the Judiciary, due to lack of adequate inputs, the paucity of time, and basic trust in the institution of RBI (who also enjoys functional autonomy under statute), desired results may not come, in time.
As a banking regulator, I feel, RBI should have taken an initiative (unless it cannot decide certain things within its sole domain) to see that these deep-rooted improper, wrongdoings are disposed of appropriately, harshly rather than dodging/evading the grievance and shielding wrongdoers by its long-delayed actions/inactions or using different tactics. I feel that individuals holding responsible positions should look at the gravity of grievances and use authority to get good processes, procedures in place
I am using the second last choice to make the public aware of all this reality through e and Print media.