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 are incubating and supporting an effort to catalyze collective action in the form of Clean Air Platform. This could be a model in showcasing how multi-stakeholder engagement and joint action can turn around the air quality in a city. It will provide support (funding and capacity) to a number of initiatives. It will support initiatives that improve the air quality measurement capabilities, increase community engagement, improve the capacities of the state and policymakers. To focus the efforts initially, Bengaluru has been chosen, after finetuning the model based on the learnings, a city by city approach is being envisaged for improving air quality..
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.
A large percentage of India’s population depends upon welfare for fulfilment of basic requirements. The manner in which schemes and their benefits have been rolled out and targeted have evolved over the years to ensure they are effective in addressing the needs of food security, regular employment, maternity benefits, pensions and so on. The targeted delivery of these services, however, has always posed a challenge considering the myriad difficulties of beneficiary identification, corruption, lack of financial services, basic infrastructure etc. In this context, Direct Benefits Transfers (DBTs) signify a major reform shift in the way India has delivered welfare. Although the concept of conditional cash transfers (CCTs) is not alien and a number of states have initiated direct cash transfer schemes for widows, elderly and the disabled, the systemic shift to route welfare through the re-engineered mechanism enabled by the trinity of Jan Dhan (bank account), Aadhaar (unique identity) and Mobile (connectivity) trinity is recent. The objectives of this re-engineered mechanism are “simpler and faster flow of information/funds and to ensure accurate targeting of the beneficiaries, de-duplication and reduction of fraud” 1 and it promises to revolutionize the way the state and its citizens have viewed Government to Person (G2P) solutions. The initial DBT schemes, like PAHAL, have met with success and the Government has extended DBT to a large number of in kind and cash schemes across the country enabling citizens to directly access benefits in a number of schemes. However, last mile challenges still exist coupled with middle mile challenges of inter-departmental coordination, capacity building and establishing grievance redressal mechanisms etc. as the existing governance infrastructure adapts to the new technology interface. It is here that the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives envisages the possibility of collaborating with a state to assist in smoothening the process of welfare delivery in a way that there is maximum inclusion and minimum cost of transaction, especially for the most vulnerable and poor of society.
Despite Government of India’s efforts towards benefitting the last mile, social, cultural, economic and political exclusion is at the core of marginalisation. Communities facing multiple forms of marginalisation requires focused and strategic support for deepening their participation in the governance structure and for addressing the deeper issues of citizenship rights including social, economic, political and cultural rights. Our goal is to mainstream and include marginalised communities through strengthening community mobilisation to gain a voice and to seek rights, entitlements and social justice. In order to fulfil this goal, we provide grants to Community Based Organisation (CBOs) to ensure their long-term sustainability. The funding allows CBOs to expand their work, achieve organisational and financial sustainability and develop the attributes of a strong CBO. Largely, this thematic grant is being used to enhance and deepen the internal governance and organisational systems to improve non-institutional resource mobilisation (membership fee, individual donations, enterprise development etc.), increase community engagement and conscientisation, strengthen the leadership and participation of youth, women etc. and expand membership base and interventions on the ground.