This chapter from the book Decentralising Benefits has been written by Syed S Kazi & Mandira Narain
The notion of ‘empowerment’ has been understood in varied forms and more often than not contextually evaluated. Understanding within its wider connotation, policy analysts and scholarly debates compounded the idea of empowerment as an expansion of civil, social, political and a robust citizenship. Consequentially, the processes’ underpinning the guarantee of an empowered citizenry is vested within the Constitutional frameworks of rights and responsibilities. Taking cognizance of the society’s weaker sections, many countries worldwide have embarked upon sanctioning special responsibility towards the deprived, in order to ensure a level playing field, often backed by strong laws. Structurally, such provisions become the basis on which State, governance and welfare provisions are evaluated to be in consonance with the principles enshrined in the Constitution. In the Indian context, the welfare rights are envisioned within the ambit of the Directive Principle of State policy (DPSP), which reflect upon the promise of ‘empowering’ the weaker and the marginalized.
Theoretically, the State apparatus has had a role of ensuring Distributive Justice1 , first, by ensuring just distribution of goods and services and second, by improving this equitable distribution of goods and services through grievance redressal mechanisms. The role of the State in alleviating poverty and backwardness along with coalescing it with the function of the State apparatus, reverberates with Rawl’s theory of distributive justice. However, theoretically and in practice, the idea of distributive justice falls insufficient, if due and considerable attention has not been given to the incapability of the citizens to access entitlements. Therefore, setting policies in place and delegating duties to operational levels within the State apparatus is just an onset, not a magic bullet to the problem. Amartya Sen, the pioneer of the capability approach to justice2 gleans into the lacunae present in the conception around distributional justice, asserting that it is not access to these primary goods which suffices, rather it’s the extent to which each individual has a capability to pursue these goods to her fulfillment. Therefore, converting these “primary goods and services into life” requires an enhancement of capabilities. This approach creates the need to understand local realities and advocate for a participatory approach by empowering individual capabilities of the people. Further, such an impetus supports in carving out a new discursive space for other frontline agencies and people’s initiatives, which evaluates, assists, and effectually reshapes the policy imagination of the State.
Analyzing under the fulcrum of institutional role and State’s responsibility, poverty and backwardness are not only taken to be semantically synonymous but have also been attributed to the same umbrella of causes stemming from poor governance. For a long time, there have been groups, communities, social classes, and geographical areas that have traditionally experienced disproportionate and uneven levels of poverty, social and economic exclusion, inequity, and denial. Due to the country’s complex social structure and classifications, even individuals within families, especially women and lower castes and classes, or families within clusters and communities have continued to face increased risk of poverty and exclusion. The result of these discriminatory intersections such as caste, tribe, ability/disability, religion, gender, age, marital status, cultural and ethnic background, and others further contribute to regional developmental imbalances. Irrespective of the overall country’s rising growth story numbered in higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other indicators implying impressive economic growth in recent years, poverty and backwardness still continues to hold back the inclusive growth with equity in real terms, particularly in most backward regions. The poverty analysis has further revealed the widening gaps in the context of urban and modernizing growth activities in cities whereas the majority of country’s landscape still reels under absence of basic amenities and facilities. It is undeniably a circumstance of how there are two parallel versions of India existing in two brinks – developing India and an underdeveloped ‘Bharat’, to represent these two landscapes. Substantiated by the difference in the Net Value Added (NVA) estimates between the urban and rural per capita income of Urban areas at Rs 1,01,313 followed by the per capita of rural areas as Rs 40,772 has often invoked a debate in policy discussions.3
The fundamental absence of strong and sound social, economic capital, and resources, therefore, seeks regular and continuous social welfare policies, programmes and schemes aimed at the poor and vulnerable groups and communities, whose capacities to rise and be part of the mainstream be enhanced to match the national and urban pathways. Relatedly, the ‘We and Us’ approach has and will have to take precedent over the ‘me versus the other’ in order to uplift the ‘living at the edge’ majority towards developing a sound social and economic capital to propel the growth story. Alternatively, the pyramidal force majority will continue to exert pressure on the national efforts to accelerate the growth and development processes in addition to reiterating inclusive growth agenda. Hence, the desirable stage of development can then be defined, when basic needs and entitlements of the majority are met with quality social investment. Moreover, this in turn prepares the human capital to contribute in economic and development sectors along the vast rural economic horizon through establishing effective urban linkages and demand-supply chains. Therefore, converting this enormous human resource into a vital economic force must be the ultimate push for the government of the day through adopting large scale social welfare service delivery practice and mechanisms.
Reiterating the mandate set since independence, the Government of India and its constituent State units have been pressured to commit to reduce socio-economic poverty and has been encouraged to promote inclusive growth”, “balanced development”, “growth with equity”, and “good governance” through the recent Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012). The planning process illustrated in the Eleventh Five Year Plan, emphasized on the need for significant improvement in the quality of governance to achieve inclusive growth, reduce poverty, and bridge the many divides that fragment Indian society. The plan also gleaned into the partnership of the civil society organizations with the Panchayati Raj Institutions by trying new experiments and gaining strength together in trying to reach the unreached citizens. Subsequently, the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2013- 2017)4 acknowledged the “greater desire [among citizens] to access information about the rights and entitlements made available by law and policy, besides the eagerness to demand accountability from the public delivery systems augurs well for the future”5 . Further it also revealed a concern building regarding the backwardness of specific districts [within] economically-weaker states struggling to catch up with the growth rate. The Twelfth Five Year plan garnered greater attention to improve accountability and better implementation of programs aiming for a model of governance in establishing deeper partnerships with civil society organizations, along with the community by encompassing the aspiration and need of the people.
Within the framework of the Planning Commission’s Five-Year Plan and now under the NITI Ayog aegis, the Government of India has developed a wide range of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) to address poverty reduction and social inclusiveness. The total expenditure on the CSS by the central government in 2011-2012 was Rs 188,573 crore and during the Eleventh Plan period was almost Rs 700.000 crore.
The flagship development plans along with the budgetary allocation, have reflected an escalation in the expenditure on the centrally sponsored schemes and the central sector schemes ranging from 2016-2017 to revised estimates of 2017-2018, to now a recent budget estimation of centrally sponsored scheme of Rs 305517.12 as compared to Rs 241295.55 in 2016-2017. These budget allocations and spending are also aided by other initiatives such as the Common Service Centre (CSC), Right to Information Act, 2005 and more with Digital India initiatives within the new era of E-governance.
Key Issues and Findings: A Brief Discussion
Each case study compiled in this publication centers around common themes and areas that witness specific lacunae in governance structures, and effective service delivery mechanisms in the Indian context. As each case study showcase specific discrimination patterns and inefficient service delivery reaching the last mile, few common themes and concern emerge throughout the book which helps to revisit policy formulation and functioning of institutional apparatus. The sixteen case studies measure unequal percolation of government schemes and welfare provisions at many instances and additionally elucidate the need to demand for accountability measures in consonance with principles and provisions enshrined in the Constitution of India. First, the recognition that the government is the biggest public service delivery provider through its varied institutions is the biggest reality. Investigations related to specific case study explicates the role of the government through its different institutional apparatuses. For instance, apart from the decisional autonomy measured in terms of budgetary allocation to CSS and other sector specific schemes, other institutions such as Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and CHCs, Anganwadi centres and panchayats among others constitute the focal points of citizen’s utilization of the services. Various case studies emphasized on the need of a deeper engagement of the government and the community participation simultaneously to facilitate the role of these State institutions. The case studies also provide key lessons to extend this network of agencies and institutions to other frontline agencies such as Civil Society Organizations, and Non -governmental Organizations among others. Therefore, the second recognition comes in the form of a key lesson to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach to capacitate as well as create a niche of a State- citizen interface. The CSOs, NGOs and even private service delivery systems through a cordial networked relationship can strengthen citizen-State interaction and also develop an understanding of these frontline agencies. Apart from creating the synergy of facilitating the interaction between the two stakeholders, it emerges from the case studies that adopting a multi-stakeholder approach has aided in reversing a bottom up approach for optimal realization of efforts, investment and building the vast social and economic capital. Adopting a multi-stakeholder approach, continues to be instrumental even after the recognition of appropriately designing public schemes as urban in design and rural in delivery. Therefore the compilation highlights the work of these frontline agencies crucially contributing to socially mobilizing the poor and marginalized communities, by assimilating them in village, block and district planning apart from expenditure and programme reviews. The third common theme stemming from the case studies lies in the common issue of addressing lack of access to information (demand side) and absence of sound information, dissemination and delivery framework (supply side). It is comprehended that information poverty has widen exclusion by making people live bereft of opportunities in the right time and space. Most of the case studies in the book, direct towards a need for an effective framework at all levels of demand and access for public schemes and entitlement. Even though a dominant reason for lack of effective reaching out to the beneficiaries has been attributed to corruption, red-tapism and money unspent, the resultant ramification commonly compounds to ineffective information management and dissemination system. Cyclically, information illiteracy among the people has contributed to lack of awareness in questioning unaccountable functioning of the government bodies and worse, had also led to an underutilization of the existing transparency laws. A key lesson emerging from this theme lies in the area of strengthening discussions and efforts in the Information Management System (IMS). Resultantly, an effective information dissemination framework of information decentralization and democracy would also enhance the role of the community to hold the government accountable. Moreover, apart from building a collective consciousness regarding rights and entitlements, ‘information empowerment’ is central to uplift individual voices and making them heard from the information dark areas. The fourth theme resonates with the theme before and prescribes with instating new feedback mechanisms and strengthening the existing ones. Such an approach has been reflected in designing effective grievance redressal mechanisms and feedback at the state level and the central level in order to develop systems of downward, horizontal, upward and mutual accountability. Even though the redressal mechanisms have proven to ease redressal procedures for the backward and the marginalised, the system is marred with opacity and delays taking away from the very purpose of installing accountability checks. The initiatives undertaken by some organizations elucidated in this book have had to technologically enable people and spread information literacy in order to fully utilize these grievance redressal and feedback mechanisms. Under the paradigm of e-governance and ICT tools, the mere installation of technological channels to access service delivery benefits remains insufficient, until the digital divide addresses access to the benefits of feedback mechanisms. Lastly, the fifth theme emanates from this deduction of a governance paradigm embarking upon principle of justice, equality, morality along with realizing the essence of embedded constitutional principles. Supported by demonstrating the need of increased and improved public service reach making a difference in people’s life, a key intervention lies in ensuring social and economic empowerment of the backward and the marginalised. An effective working with the local authorities and service providers at the village/ward level along with data analysis, data use and feedback concerning different stakeholders and audiences contribute towards the required ‘professionalism’ in delivering services and entitlements. One could glean into the word ‘professionalism’ which could be inferred to have multiple meanings, however here the use of the word aims to reflect upon following the principles without any biases, and therefore capturing the essence of these principles to follow. The constitution of India, comprising of these principals in the form of Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State policies and even special provisions for the weaker section needs to echo by comprehending the theory of good governance in consonance with the practice of effective governance.
This publication, attempts to redefine opportunities and challenges that persist within the existing legislative formulation and policy implementation by evaluating the access and reach of welfare and entitlement service delivery mechanisms. It is also an attempt to understand the changing architecture of the welfare State with concomitant technological design in the governance architecture envisioning a ‘minimum government’. The book can also be seen as a response to this vision, reiterating that minimum government also implies responsive governance, fundamentally characterised by active participation of civil society and citizens besides a responsible government. This publication, an outcome of 4-5 years of program intervention on ground by 14 major Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working in India and supported by the EU, has been an example of vivid contextual and situational based information entitlement ecosystems as diverse as the country’s social, economic, cultural and institutional landscapes. This publication with sixteen different cases is based on years of community engagement and stakeholders involvement programme with the wider goal and aim of strengthening local information and entitlement ecosystems which is very critical to achieve India’s ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ (With Everyone, Development for Everyone) latest governance and development focus.