Civil Society and Making in India: In search of democratic spaces

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This working paper provides civil society groups with tools to discuss the role that can be played by NGO’s in policy making, and to make proposals to ensure that ordinary people in India have the right to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. These include informed policy processes that are responsive to communities’ needs and which would in turn lead to better policies in Government. The paper uses three case studies to explore the successes and flaws of civil society engagement in seeking and securing policy change: the ‘Right to Information’ Movement
  a   Civil Society and Policymaking in India: In Search of Democratic Spaces a case study Richa Singh Centre for Democracy and Social Action  b   Author:  Richa Singh, (CDSA) 1 May, 2014Supported byOxfam India© Oxfam India May, 2014This publication is copyright but the text may be used free of charge for the purposes of advocacy, campaigning, education, and research, provided that the source is acknowledged in full. The copyright holder requests that all such use be registered with them for impact assessment purposes. For copying in any other circumstances, permission must be secured. E-mail: by Oxfam India: 4th and 5th Floor, Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, 1, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi 110001 Tel: +91 (0) 11 4653 8000 www.oxfamindia.orgOxfam IndiaOxfam India, a fully independent Indian organization, is a member of an international confederation of 17 organisations. The Oxfams are rights-based organizations, which fight poverty and injustice by linking grassroots interventions, to local, national, and global polic developments.For further information please write to:, or visit our website: 1  I would like to acknowledge the research Assitance provided by Anindita Tagore, CDSA, in doing this paper  Contents 1. Introduction 2  Context and Approach 2 Methodology 2 2. Shifting Terrain of Policymaking: From State-Centric to Policy Networks 43. Case Studies 6   Case Study 1 - Right to Information Movement 6  Case Study 2  - Civil Society/Wada Na Todo Abhiyan and Planning Commission: The Making of the 12 th Five Year Plan 10  Case Study 3 - Lokpal /Anti-Corruption Movement 14 4. Emerging Themes 185. Future Considerations: Question about Civil Society’s participation in policy process 20ANNEXURE – List of participants of Interviews/Discussions for Case Studies 22  1.   Civil Society - Planning Commission Enjoyment Towards the 12 th  Plan Approach Paper 22 2.   Right to Information 23 3. LokPal/Anti Corruption Movement 23  2 1. Introduction ‘Public policymaking is a process, rather than a single, once for all act’. Public policy is about ‘government action to address public issues’ 1 . A dominant tendency has been to treat crafting of public policy as a technical function of government—a top-down approach and rational choice based on available data and information. But it is increasingly also being seen as a matter of power 2  and politics 3 , involving contestation, negotiations, bargaining and accommodation of diverse interests and actors. For far from being a single and a one-time act, public policymaking is an interactive and dynamic process 4 . It involvesa gamut of actions and inactions by many groups, with varied interests, at varied stages in a network, through whom decisions flow, policy agendas get set, policies get shaped, programmes are formulated, implemented and evaluated. Though not all actors and interests have equal power, or equal chance to influence policymaking, the process remains dynamic, with its shifts and slides. Notably then, making of public policy is not just about government, public officials and bodies, but involves a range of non-officials, groups or private actors who play an active role. Within this dynamic policy network, where does civil society 5  figure? Are there spaces and mechanisms available to civil society and citizens to participate in the process of policymaking? Does the process allow civil society and citizens to participate from an empowered position? What are the social, political and economic factors that are enabling or impeding civil society’s participation 1  See the definition of public policy- 2  Power, in the sphere of public policy, is defined as the capacity of an individual, or groups, or holders of public offices to determine policy decisions which is exercised by different individuals and groups 3  Jenkins, 1978, Rose,1976; Anderson, 1978) 4  Rose, Richard (ed.), (1969) Policy Making in Britain: A Reader in Government, Macmillan and Co. Ltd, p 11.. 5  By “civil society”, the reference in this paper is to that metaphorical space between the family and the state, where people as right bearing citizens, enter into associational forms of life to engage with the polity -distinct from entire society, distinct from the force bearing structures of the state, and the commercial interests of the market. While such a definition of civil society would encompasses the myriad forms of associational life that exists in India - with varying purposes, values, interests, this paper confines itself to only those civil society groups/organizations/projects that are working on issues of democracy and rights (referred to as ‘developmental civil society’). in policymaking? This paper is an attempt to unravel some of these questions. Context and Approach The paper explores some of these questions in a context where civil society actors in India have become far more proactive in policy processes than ever before. Until not too long ago, this engagement was confined to policy advocacy involving the use of a range of instruments such as social campaigns, mass mobilisations, community ‘scorecards’, citizen juries and tribunals. However, today civil society actors are not just proactively feeding into government policy action plans, but also in drafting of national legislation as well as setting the national agenda. Invariably, this has raised public debate about the ‘legitimacy’ and role of non-elected actors serving as the representatives of the people in official policy spaces—issues that surfaced in a big way in the wake of ‘ moments’, like in the anti-corruption movement. Internally, while there is a growing sense among civil society actors that policy determination needs to be opened up to greater access and scrutiny, there exist dilemmas about the ‘appropriate’ ways to engage with the policymaking process and how civil society can best strategise to influence policymaking with greater equity, and from an empowered position. This paper is a preliminary attempt by civil society actors, trying to investigate, reflect and learn from our own practice. Presented in the form of a working paper, it aims to provide civil society groups with tools to take forward the dialogue on ‘our’ role in policymaking, and arrive at an understanding. It is grounded on the premise that ordinary people have a right to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives, and that informed policy processes, that are responsive to communities’ needs, leads to better policies. Methodology The paper is based on three case studies: the Right to Information (RTI) movement, the Lokpal or anti-corruption movement and the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA), a campaign to hold the government accountable to its promise to end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination, which engaged with the Planning Commission
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