Citizens' Report on ‘health of government’

By: Swati Sahi 03 July 2007 One World.net

“There is no dearth of schemes; there is no dearth of funds. What needs to be done is to deliver the intended outcomes.” These were the words of the Finance Minister in his last Budget speech.

Indeed, most government schemes are not realized or half-heartedly put into practice at best. It is toward this end that the Social Watch process works to usher in a new quality of governance: by driving citizens’ participation in various processes and levels of governance.

In the words of Jagananda, one of the founders and a panellist, the report is a “tool in the hands of citizens”, seeking to empower those at the panchayat level so that they can question those at the other end of the Parliament. The National Social Watch Coalition (NSWC) has now spread to 13 states, with many like Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh taking out their own state Social Reports.

Panellist John Samuel said Social Watch is “a reminder that the state belongs to us.” It aims to reclaim the state; reclaim governance on behalf of its people. “The notion of governance should be just and democratic … this cannot be possible as long as the rural poor, the dalits are excluded from the governance processes”.

Social Watch India released it fourth Citizens’ Report on Governance and Development 2007 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on June 30. The report, an annual feature by now, is published by Sage Publications.

The report was formally released by Padmashree Tulasi Munda, an activist fighting for tribal and women’s rights in the mining villages of Orissa. A Gandhian socialist and a follower of Vinoba Bhave’s ideals, Munda was vocal about the loss of faith in all sectors of society regarding the government.

“The world comprises both men and women, yet the parliament still awaits the women’s bill of 33% representation,” she said. The Parliament lacks the voices of the women, the marginalised, and the landless. “Society should belong to all. Everyone should be connected to the societal processes for development,” she added.

Yogesh Kumar, member of Social Watch and panellist, gave a brief outline of the report’s findings which focuses on the performances of four key areas: the Parliament, Judiciary, the Executive and bodies of Local Self-governance. “The report is building a tradition of seeking governance accountability,” said Kumar.

The tracking of time, which is “public time,” has revealed a bleak decline in both quality and quantity spent on constructive legislation. Only 173 MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha spoke on the floor and over 40% of the bills in 2006 were passed with less than an hour’s debate.

Absenteeism among MPs has increased to 62%. The ‘cash for questions’ scandal shows the need for representatives with cleaner records. A review of the question hour reveals some MPs were not doing basic homework and asking questions about schemes that were already over or did not exist!

In judiciary, the report notes some of the ‘first generation rights’ that were taken up by the higher courts in 2006, for instance, the rights of children of women prisoners. Some important judgements were the Guwahati High Court verdict that put individual freedom at par with national security by laying rules on terrorism arrests.

A major judgement of the Supreme Court held all public servants including chief ministers, MPs and MLAs can be prosecuted without prior consent.

In the arena of policymaking, the overall growth in performance has failed to benefit all equally. Agriculture crises have led to decline in percentage of cultivators and rise in farmer suicides. The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is still a centrally loaded programme with little awareness on the ground. The report strongly recommends the implementation through anganwadis and Panchayati Raj institutions.

The RTI (Right to Information) Act has had some positive response though limited to the educated masses. Ninety percent of people in rural areas were still unaware of the Act and many faced difficulties in the appeal process.

The panchayats and local cells hah a mixed outcome. Women represent 54.6% in panchayats in Bihar. Jharkhand, on the other hand, still has to go to elections. Gram sabhas and ward sabhas in urban areas continue to suffer government apathy. The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNURM) has a lopsided investment focus on infrastructure as against basic services to the urban poor.

Roberto Bissio, Global Convenor of Social Watch International and panellist, gave a global perspective on the movement. SW coalitions world wide have looked at issues of poverty, delivery of service delivery and gender equality. “But it is not enough to look at the poor, but also at the rich,” he cautioned. This is what Social Watch in Germany has done.

Monitoring of governance processes is essential as there is strong visible “discredit of democratic institutions.” Bissio also called for the need for later focus on HIV/AIDS and climate change.

Parunjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist and panellist, pointed out the fact of ‘anti-incumbency’. Around 40% of parliamentarians were not re-elected. A positive outlook to this is that the poor and unlettered have voted out those who do not deliver.

The role of media, he said, has been much maligned, and at times rightly so. He admitted the media often blurs the line between facts and advertising, and competition does lead to promotion of “bad news at the cost of good news.”

At the same time, the media can play a more adversarial role. It should take on those in power and authority and “comfort the afflicted”. Civil society organisations also need to engage more often with the media, and “speak in the language of the media.” There is a strong need to bring “human faces” to the fore minus the usual dose of jargon.

Sayeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission and panellist, too spoke on the need to bring in the human element that is largely missing in official mid-term reviews. She strongly applauded and endorsed the Social Watch report while admitting that it indeed was a “poor” report card on the government’s performance.

The government has various flagship programmes: Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), NGREA, and yet many of these fail to impact at the grassroots. “There is a need for interventions,” she said, citing the example of weavers in Maheshwar in Madhaya Pradesh, who have turned around their adversity.

Civil society should partner the government in delivering its services right up to those most marginalised. As a first step, the Yogna Ayog has opened a window for civil society engagement, she added.

“The SW reports should be at the levels of the state and panchayats as well,” she said. It is “a desk document to be kept at hand” while working on policies. One hopes that her words are brought to effect and lead to some form of responsiveness.

 

 

 

  • Parliament
  • NSW monitors the health of Indian Parliament by examining and establishing some worrying trends in the way in which the Parliament functions and conducts its business. Read more
  • Judiciary
  • NSW study the specific cases to understand the mind of the Judiciary. Under this section NSW analyzes issues and proposals on judicial accountability and reforms. Read more
  • Executive
  • NSW analyses the structural challenges in the Executive such as the conflict of interest between the Parliament and the Executive and within the Executive and related issues. Read more