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.
Changes in climatic conditions, weather patterns, increase in population, water-intensive agricultural practices, discharge of effluents, encroachment for development and lack of governance has led to depleting water table, contamination, discriminatory water access and unsustainable water use practices, resulting in multiple issues affecting livelihoods, health, education and displacement particularly of the vulnerable and marginalised population. At philanthropic initiatives, we have a two-pronged approach to address these issues for vulnerable individuals and communities. We are supporting partners whose work will help fulfill our goals towards:
Providing access to sufficient, reliable and safe water for drinking, hygiene, and productive uses by ensuring an adequate quantity of at least 50 LPCD (Lts per capita per day), that is accessible within 1 km for the household.
Promoting equitable and sustainable community-level water and watershed/ water basin management projects by undertaking source protection, water recharge, participatory water management, small river basin rejuvenation and water use reduction practices in water-stressed areas. We will eventually work with State Governments to drive a systemic change towards ensuring equitable and sustainable access to water
Courts and Criminal Justice
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, and therefore over the years, many schemes have been rolled out to ensure the food security, regular employment, maternity benefits, pensions and other benefits. However, effective delivery of these services has been difficult due to challenges like beneficiary identification, corruption, lack of financial services, basic infrastructure etc. Direct Benefits Transfers (DBT)aims to change the scenario by anchoring the delivery of welfare to a system made up of Jan Dhan (bank account), Aadhaar (unique identity), and mobile phones (connectivity). This goal is “to ensure accurate targeting of the beneficiaries, de-duplication and reduction of fraud”. However, challenges like inter-departmental coordination, capacity building and designing grievance redressal mechanisms need to be addressed as the current system adapts to new technology. Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives hopes to collaborate with the state to assist in this technology adaptation process to ensure maximum inclusion and minimum costs in welfare delivery, especially for the most vulnerable and poor of society.
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..
Despite efforts from the government, India’s marginalised communities continue to be socially, culturally and economically excluded. These communities require focused and strategic support for deepening their participation in the governance structure and availing their citizenship rights. Our goal is to mainstream and include marginalised communities through strengthening community mobilisation so that they gain a voice and to seek rights, entitlements and social justice. To fulfil this goal, we provide grants to Community Based Organisation (CBOs), which allows them to expand their work, achieve organisational and financial stability, and achieve long-term sustainability. The grant is also 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, strengthen the leadership, encourage the participation of youth and women, expand the membership base and interventions on the ground.