Definition : According to Tisne, Broadly speaking, accountability refers to the process of holding actors responsible for their actions. More specifically, it is the concept that individuals, agencies and organizations (public, private and civil society) are held responsible for executing their powers according to a certain standard (whether set mutually or not).

The responsibility of public officials for the action of their office, so that the actions are in accordance to the mandate of constitution of the office, lawful powers of the government. By general consensus, accountability ideally involves both answerability – the responsibility of duty – bearers to provide information and justification about their actions – and enforceability – the possibility of penalties or consequences for failing to answer accountability claims.

Features of Accountability:

  • Accountability is always a post-facto phenomenon, because the official will be liable only after committing a particular act.
  • Is an organizational imperative or necessity, because it helps in the lawful exercise of state power and creates basis of performance of public officials in terms of goals of organizations.
  • As a feature of public administration, is strengthened by system of punitive actions in case of wrong-doing.
  • Integral to administrative responsibility, because the entire administrative machinery is answerable to public.
  • Makes administrative machinery achievement oriented, it creates a motivational influence.
  • Is responsible for efficient usage of organizational resources including its financial resources to realize its goals. Also lawful use of public funds is guaranteed.
  • Ensures maintenance of proper intra-governmental and inter-governmental relations.

There are two types of accountability in a democracy.

  • Horizontal Accountability: Institutions of state to check other institutions of state judiciary. Acts as check against misuse of powers by executive legislature against judiciary.
    • Horizontal accountability protects democracy and democratic institutions and principles
  • Vertical Accountability: Accountability of all organizations of the government to the people. Direct accountability of people by grievance redressal scheme via citizen government groups, media etc.
    • Vertical accountability ensures rights of people are protected.

Purposes of civil services accountability including administrative accountability:

  • Ensures public policies are made in the best interest of the nation or public
  • Ensures timely commissioning of projects and timely delivery of public services.
  • Set standards of performance and evaluate whether administrative machinery is able to achieve these standards.
  • To reduce to a minimum of the exercise of discretionary power and the discretionary power is transparent, fair and meets standards of equity.
  • To make open and transparent the government as far as possible.

Points of accountability:

  • Parliament via parliament to people.
  • Financial accountability, accountable to the audit machinery of state and also certain institutions like public accounts committee.
  • Accountability to vigilance institutions, primarily to deal with corruption, favoritism etc. Eg: CBI, Central Vigilance Commissions, courts etc.
  • Social Accountability: is to engage civil societies by state so that services are demand-driven rather than supply-driven, and where people are empowered to external accountability from service providers, and they are accountable for defective services provided.
  • Accountability to judiciary where the judiciary acts as a watch-dog of the constitution and other democratic institutions by PIL, judicial activism etc.

# Social Accountability: can be defined as an approach towards building accountability that relies on civic engagement, i.e., in which it is ordinary citizens and/or civil society organizations who participate directly or indirectly in exacting accountability.

This is primarily confined to socio-economic developmental programs of the state but not necessarily to the administrative programs of the state. Also related to programs like state education, environment projects.

Social accountability as a means to certain ends can be summarized by the following:

  • Social accountability improves the quality of governance.
  • Social accountability contributes to increased development effectiveness.
  • Social accountability initiatives can lead to empowerment.

# Public Interest Litigation (PIL) : is litigation for the protection of the public interest. In Indian law, Article 32 of the Indian constitution contains a tool which directly joints the public with judiciary. A PIL may be introduced in a court of law by the court itself (suomoto), rather than the aggrieved party or another third party.