Peoples Report Card Outlines Governance Agenda for India
Rajiv Tikoo
OneWorld South Asia
December 16, 2004

The realization of the promises for development, made by the Indian government at the national and the international level, call for necessary political will, adequate budgetary allocation, and civil society participation, emphasizes Citizens Report on Governance and Development 2004, which was launched in New Delhi on December 14.

Published by Social Watch India, the report seeks to assess critically the contribution of the Parliament, the executive, the judiciary and local self-governance institutions to the countrys social development from peoples perspectives. Says John Samuel, international director of ActionAid International, Peoples participation is important because governance is too important to be left to politicians and bureaucrats. Adds Kuldip Nayar, a senior journalist and former Member of Parliament, Its important for people to be vigilant and to speak up.

Social Watch India, a network of civil society organizations, has analysed the functioning of the four institutions of governance in the context of the countrys 10th Five Year Plan, the United Nations (news - web sites) Millennium Development Goals and the Common Minimum Program of the ruling government.

The report is in four sections - Seeking Accountability: Parliament Watch; Broken Promises: Policy Watch; Access to Justice: Judiciary Watch and Grassroots Democracy: Local Governance Watch. Says Dr Rajesh Tandon, president of PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia), These may be broad pillars of governance, but they are the most relevant.

In the section on Seeking Accountability: Parliament Watch, the report notes that the Parliament did not live up to its role as parliamentary time and public money were wasted on inter-party political controversies. Over 60 hours, worth US $1,505,971, were wasted due to disruptions in the Lok Sabha, which sat for only 74 days in 2003 as compared to an average of over 100 days during the first 36 years since 1952.

The report tracks the government policies on livelihood, education and health in the section titled Broken Promises: Policy Watch. The report notes that the growth rate of employment between 1987 to 1994 and 1993 to 2000 dipped from 2.03 per cent to 0.58 per cent in rural areas and from 3.39 to 2.27 per cent in urban areas.

The state of health also continues to be unhealthy. Indias public expenditure on health is amongst the lowest in the world. Spending 4.46 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product on healthcare, India ranks 171st out of 175 countries in the world on the index.

The assessment in the section on Access to Justice: Judiciary Watch is mixed. The report recognizes that the number and the manner of interventions by high courts and the Supreme Court on various aspects of the fundamental rights to food, work, education and health are steps towards rights-based approach to social development.

The apex courts interpretation and inclusion of the right to work as a positive right guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution and upholding of the right to health as a fundamental right under Article 21 came in for special mention. At the same time, the report points out that the biggest problem nevertheless continues to be implementation of the law.

The last section - Grassroots Democracy: Local Governance Watch rues that the laudable initiative for decentralization of governance has been circumvented by the alliance of elite political interests, change-resistant bureaucracy and the rent-seeking class, which has well entrenched interests in the continuation of a colonial, centralised, state structure.

Nevertheless, on a positive note, India has constitutionally mandated 232,332 village panchayats, (village-level local bodies) 6,000 intermediate panchayats (block level local bodies) and 534 district panchayats (district level local bodies). The three-tiered elected bodies consist of 27,75,858 village panchayat members, 1,44,491 members of the intermediate panchayats and 15,067 members of district panchayats.

The report does not stop here. Stating that apart from generating awareness about the functioning of the parliament, executive, judiciary and local self governments, the need of the hour is to leverage the space and positive initiatives of these institutions to make democracy work. Says Jagadananda, head of Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), an Indian NGO, Democracy is real when people are empowered. Social Watch India is creating an enabling environment for empowerment.

The Social Watch Coalition has initiated state-level processes in the Indian states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Adds Dr Yogesh Kumar, executive director of Samarthan, The expectation is that these processes will raise and articulate citizens voices and concerns from grassroots and open up the possibility of linking up these with the process of governance, democracy and development.

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