The Constitution of India envisioned a country that is truly democratic and one where citizens expect basic services and enjoy certain rights and freedoms . These are the two pillars of good governance. Unfortunately, there is a large gap between this vision and the reality on the ground. Basic services such as clean drinking water, health, education or even 100 days minimum wage are not met by the state. Here, those especially affected include the marginalised and the most vulnerable. However, the implementation of basic services and access to those services is also partly dependent on citizens holding their elected representatives to account. This is especially important for the disadvantaged. Having a voice, however, is only possible when people and communities are able and capable of being organised, especially at the local level. Similarly, while there exist systems and institutions to implement fundamental rights, there must be a vigilant civil society and an independent media to help every citizen access justice.
While it will always be true that good governance must ensure participation at all levels, the nature of governance today is changing. Today, many essential needs and services are being met via a public - private partnership, and even, by the private sector. The manner of providing benefits and services can also change--for instance, there can be digital money transfer of say, benefits such as PDS rations. Our role here is to examine whether these mechanisms and systems actually work, or if going digital will further exclude the vulnerable and underserved sections of society. And to also look at whether there will be built-in accountability systems and active participation from the public within these changing systems. Our multifaceted approach is to support research, pilot initiatives and contribute to the Government’s thinking in this sphere, and inform Government policy and practice. This can be through various means including supporting the provision of better legal aid for undertrials, setting up of independent media organisations, galvanising communities by working at the grassroots level, and by backing mechanisms that will produce open source data to tackle air, land and water pollution. We shall support grant partners working in these disparate fields, and through strategic grant-making, aim to make democracy function in a truly representative manner.
We work in the following thematic areas under the focus area--Governance:
The passage of the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution of India in 1993 granted powers and functions to Local Self Governments or Gram Panchayats at the village level, and Municipalities/Municipal Corporations, in towns and large cities. But these Urban Local Bodies and Panchayats are today mostly ineffective because of factors including caste, gender dynamics, and apathy on the part of the respective state governments. This systemic failure affects marginalised communities the most--they have no means of getting redress for their concerns or interests. They have no voice or agency over finances, allocation or the implementation of social welfare schemes meant to benefit them. We believe that by making them aware of their rights, roles and responsibilities, they can play a more active role, nurture community-level leadership, and hold local representatives accountable. Through grants to partners, community coalitions and networks, we hopes to restore and regenerate a more participative model of democracy in urban and rural areas.
Air pollution is almost at crisis levels in India today resulting in over a million (avoidable) deaths every year from cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases. Pollution often tends to affect the quality of life of the poor, the marginalised, the urban poor and migrants harder, as they more exposed to it, unlike the rich who have access to cleaner living conditions. We believe that lack of credible data has led to poor governance on air pollution--if it is not accurately measured, it cannot be managed or monitored. Hence, we shall begin with support for the deployment of technology platforms in Bengaluru city and collaborate with other philanthropies to expand reach. We shall set up research or reference grade labs, standardising sensors for Indian conditions, building and launching data platforms for real-time data and insights, and source apportionment for geo-mapping of pollution sources. The idea is to make all knowledge open access--enabling other stakeholders (citizens’ groups, institutions, schools, NGOs, state governments) to use the data and push for evidence-based action. And hopefully lead to better formulated policies, and greater regulation.
The Indian judicial system is bogged down by huge caseloads--more than 300,000 crore civil and criminal cases pending across the Supreme Court and various High Courts. This is exacerbated by a breakdown of due process in the lower courts. Currently, there are in excess of 200,000 undertrials (over 5,000 spending more than eight years in jail) languishing in prison, in violation of their fundamental rights. Most cannot afford legal aid. To ensure justice is not further delayed or denied, we believe it is necessary to form legal cells by partnering with civil society organisations. This, however, also requires the close cooperation of law enforcement and judicial agencies. Currently, we are working to support the provision of quality legal aid, speedy bail and redress for undertrials.
The Government of India is contemplating digitising subsidies and welfare schemes in certain critical sectors meant to benefit vulnerable groups and communities. Our goal is to minimise pilferage, leakage, corruption and do away with middlemen. Instead of physically providing the benefit, for example, provision of ration through fair price shops, the Government will transfer an equivalent amount of money to the beneficiary, enabling him or her to buy rations from a place of their choice. Our focus will be to ascertain transitory issues, figure out gaps and challenges (who will get excluded and to what extent) analyse how the move will affect the poorest and most vulnerable and examine the role played by issues such as caste, gender and socio-cultural factors. To this end, we shall support evidence-gathering, research, and pilot initiatives. Our aim is to ensure that government policy is framed and implemented, so that it does not exclude anyone, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.