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A Legislative Framework for Accountability: The Karnataka Sakala Services Act

SMITA MUTT

Due to the consolidated strength of Karnataka’s bureaucracy, most anti-corruption and accountability mechanisms that have been established since 1956 have been institutional in nature, though some have been in response to the demands of social actors. These include the Directorate of Vigilance established in 1965 to “investigate charges of corruption against all government servants excluding the judiciary” and the Karnataka Lokayukta Act passed in 1984, which is considered to be one of the strongest Lokayuktas in the country and brought about the jailing of sitting Chief Minister Yeddyurappa under charges of mining corruption in 2011 (Aji 2012). In addition, NGOs, the media and even the formal judiciary have been active outside of these institutions, critiquing them and confronting their shortcomings.

The year 2011 saw an unprecedented push in India for greater government transparency, accountability and punishment for political corruption driven by the India Against Corruption movement and supported by some politicians. At the Centre, a ‘Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services of their Grievances Bill’ was introduced in the Lok Sabha, but lapsed without serious discussion (Kalra and Bedi 2012) while the activists’ push for an overarching Lokpal Bill was largely ignored. Despite these disappointments at the national level, a number of Indian states enacted Right to Public Services legislation, beginning with Madhya Pradesh in August 2010, that provided statutory backing for citizens’ charters, autonomous grievance redressal mechanisms and stricter punishments for defaulting public officials. Karnataka was the 10th state to introduce a similar act, which was passed unanimously by the Karnataka legislative assembly in December 2011 under BJP Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda and included 151 services under 11 major departments from its inception (The Hindu Staff Correspondent 2012). Shortly after the statewide launch in March 2012, an amendment was passed which added a further 114 services, bringing the total to 265 within the first year and making Karnataka’s the most expansive of similar state-level legislations.

Scope and Objectives of the Sakala Services Act

The Act was titled the ‘Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act and was also known as the Sakala Services Act, which follows from ‘sakala’ meaning in-time in Kannada (Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms, Government of Karnataka 2013). The Act is “a bill to provide for guarantee of services to citizens in the State of Karnataka within the stipulated time limit” and its provisions are as follows:

  • Citizens have the “right to obtain service within the stipulated time limit” for the services and from the Government departments specified in the Schedule (as per S. 3),
  • For each service guaranteed by the Act, the Government must notify the designated officers (who are “required to provide the service”), competent officers (who are “empowered to impose cost on the public servant defaulting or delaying his duty”), appellate authorities (who are “invested with the power to hear appeal against the orders passed by competent officer under the Act”) and the stipulated time limit (as per S. 4 read with S. 2 (a), (c) and (d)),
  • The stipulated time period begins when the designated officer receives an application for a service to which the citizen is eligible and he must either provide (or authorise another officer to provide) the service in question or reject the application, record the reason in writing and inform the applicant of the rejection as well as the “details of the competent officer to whom the first appeal lies” (as per S. 5),
  • In order to facilitate the citizen’s ability to ensure the application is being duly processed, they “shall be provided an application number by the concerned… authority” and are entitled to monitor the status of their application online- therefore, it is the duty of every authority to maintain and update the status of all applications as per the prescribed rules (as per S. 6),
  • Therefore, the state must maintain a dedicated online portal and through e-governance, remain in communication with citizens (as per S. 7),
  • And in the case a designated officer or a subordinate public servant directed to carry out a service fails to fulfil the duty within the stipulated time period, then they are liable to pay a compensatory cost to the citizen as specified by the Act (as per S. 8).

The bulk of this Act is constituted, not of legislative sections but of Schedules that enumerate the services offered by various government departments and the relevant officers and time limits. In addition, while analysing the Sakala Act, it is important to realise that the purpose of the Act is not merely punitive but that it aims to “develop a culture to deliver services within fixed period” (S. 14). Therefore, defaults “shall not be counted towards misconduct” in the hopes that the public official will be sensitised to the concerns of the citizens they are in service to – however in the case of a “habitual and wilful defaulter without any reasonable cause” the head of the concerned Public Authority can take appropriate disciplinary action (as per S. 14(2)). On the other hand, if a designated officer does not have a single default against his name, then a letter of appreciation is to be issued and entered into his Annual Performance Report (as per S. 14(3)).

Implementation of the Sakala Services Act

Within this thin outline put forward by the Act, the Government of Karnataka took a series of bold steps to make Sakala functional, including:

  • Sakala was operationalised in Mission Mode rather being administered within DPAR. Initially, it was led by Senior IAS officer, Dr Shalini Rajneesh as Mission Director and Munish Moudgil as Assistant Mission Director along with a three-member team. Within each of Karnataka’s 30 districts, the Chief Nodal Officer is the District Magistrate, who is assisted by an IT consultant (Sakala Mission Team).
  • The e-governance component received the assistance of the National Informatics Centre, which created the online monitoring system. The monitoring number is generated by this portal as a unique 15 digit GSC or ‘Guarantee of Services to Citizen’ number (Ibid). Receipts and disposals are tracked by department and by district and the Sakala mission is supposed to release monthly reports in which they provide district, taluk and constituency level breakdowns of receipts and disposals. Further, in order to incentivise districts, they are also ranked in each report on their performance, introducing an element of competition.
  • In order to make Sakala truly accessible to Karnataka’s citizens, the website and phone lines can be accessed in both English and Kannada. A major weakness of both e-governance and mobile governance in India is a lack of functionality in Hindi and vernacular languages, which the Sakala model tries to overcome.
  • The Sakala Mission and DPAR took steps to spread the word about Sakala and what services citizens were entitled to under its purview. They conducted street plays in all districts, set up dedicated helpdesks and interacted with RWAs and consumer forums. There were also mass media commercials and efforts were made to educate school and college students on how to register Sakala applications, so they could spread awareness in their communities (Bharatiya Janata Party 2012).

This programme was designed as a way to demystify public service provision, reduce bribery, inculcate a culture of personal responsibility among public servants and was portrayed as “more important than [the] Right to Information Act” by the Karnataka State BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party 2012).

Successes and Impact of the Sakala Services Act

When it was first rolled out in 2012, Sakala was implemented sincerely and brought pride to Karnataka administrators. Not only was it an ambitious policy move, but it was motivation-driven rather than penalty-driven and treated both bureaucrats and citizens as stakeholders collaborating towards the same goal (Chandra and Bhatia 2015). In its first year, the Sakala portal received over 20 million applications of which 96.55% were disposed of within the stipulated time (KGSC). The services guaranteed under Sakala were those that citizens required to access various targeted social schemes such as Caste certificate, Income certificate, registration of birth and death, driving and learner’s licenses, copy of FIR, etc. A team from the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore was engaged to conduct field visits, analyse the performance data generated through the portal and evaluate the rollout of the programme. In 2014, the scheme was further awarded ISO certification and a survey conducted by the Indian Market Research Bureau revealed that “of the 4.38 crore applicants who sought services under the Karnataka Sakala Services Act in the last 20 months, 99 percent were satisfied with the service” (The Hindu 2014). In addition to the appreciation shown by the citizens who accessed the programme, Sakala received the 2013-14 National e-Governance Award, the 2014 Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management’s international innovation award and in 2015, there was active consideration to adopt a similar model at the Centre (Hebbar 2015).

Why did Sakala stop working?

Despite a stellar record in its first few years, problems have begun to creep into the Sakala mission. What has emerged is a form of institutional hubris in which legislators and bureaucrats thought they were creating a perfect system that blended executive autonomy, e-governance and real-time tracking. But in essence, they had built another black box of service delivery – only in this case the service that was being withheld was government accountability. Without actions initiated by the bureaucrats, citizens could not see into the box or easily invoke the levers of social accountability.

First of all, the Sakala mission mode empowered a parallel class of bureaucrats assisted by data and gave them the responsibility of oversight. This created an artificial balance of powers since the only check on their working is legislative – through the appointment of the Mission Director and in the case of approving amendments to add new services to the Schedule. Other models like RTI and the Consumer Protection Act introduce a quasi-judicial body as a final source of appeal. However, the Sakala mission breaks one of the basic tenets of administrative law and retains appellate functions within the executive itself. This meant that once necessary steps of implementation began to slow down, there was no separate authority to take action. Monthly reports were not released on time, the timeline tables that were supposed to be displayed in government offices disappeared and efforts to publicise the programme from hoardings to print, radio and televisions ads were neglected (Karnataka Sakala Watch 2016). Even more egregious, after IAS officer, M. V. Jayanthi stepped down in 2015, the position of Mission Director has been vacant for over a year.[1] While this type of administrative failure is typical for other projects, for it to plague the Sakala Mission as well is pure irony. The high standard of citizen awareness and satisfaction that had been achieved in the first few years has also suffered with a survey reporting that more than 60% of respondents were not aware of the Sakala scheme (Ibid).

Moreover, the essential provisions of the Act are not being met. By the end of 2015, there were over 20,000 overdue complaints, 15,300 overdue applications and the number of cases in which compensatory costs were awarded (a cornerstone of the Act) had dropped from 250 in 2013 to 55 in 2015 (Ibid). The Karnataka Sakala Watch raised these figures in a report published in January 2016. Despite wide coverage in the press, no action was taken on many of these fronts, with December 2016 being the last Monthly Report available on the Sakala website.

While Sakala has faded from public memory, the Centre for Media Studies’ released their annual Indian Corruption Survey for 2017 (or CMS-ICS 2017), a survey which captures citizens’ perceptions and experiences of corruption across a range of public services and ranks Indian states. According to it, 77% of households in Karnataka experienced corruption when engaging with some government department as compared to a combined state average of 31% and Karnataka was ranked as the most corrupt state in India [2] (Centre for Media Studies 2017). In this situation, Karnataka’s welfare state has been compromised, which can have electoral repercussions.

[1] The Sakala website’s Contact page lists the Principal Secretary DPAR (AR), the Additional Mission Director and the Administration Officer.
[2] This is how a number of news organisations reported on the survey. It is worth pointing out that only 20 out of 28 states were actually surveyed in the Report.

REFERENCES

Aji, Sowmya. 2012. “Toothless Watch Dogs.” India Today, February 11.

Bharatiya Janata Party. 2012. ““Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act 2011 (Sakala Services Act)”.” BJP.org. Accessed May 5, 2017. http://www.bjp.org/images/pdf_2012_h/sakala_introduction_shri%20suresh%20kumar.pdf

Centre for Media Studies. 2017. “CMS-India Corruption Study 2017.” Delhi.

Chandra, Amit, and Surbhi Bhatia. 2015. The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011: Origin, Need, and Analysis. Research Paper, Delhi: Centre for Civil Society.

Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms, Government of Karnataka. 2013. “The Karnataka Sakala Services Act, 2011.” DPAR website. November 29. Accessed May 14, 2017. http://www.dpar.kar.nic.in/dparar/English/docs/Sakala%20Service%20Act/SakalaAct&Rules447Engservices.pdf

Kalra, Harsimran, and Pallavi Bedi. 2012. “Legislative Brief: The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011.” PRS Legislative Research. September 27. Accessed May 15, 2017. http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Citizen%20charter/Legislative%20Brief%20Citizens%20Charter%2027%20Sep.pdf

Karnataka Sakala Watch. 2016. “A Mission in Jeopardy: A Status Paper on the Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act, 2011 (Sakala).” Status Paper.

KGSC. n.d. “Guarantee of Services to Citizens: A case study of Karnataka.”

PTI. 2013. “240 more govt services to come under Sakala in Karnataka.” The Hindu Business Line. September 16. Accessed May 15, 2017. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/240-more-govt-services-to-come-under-sakala-in-karnataka/article5134526.ece

Sakala Mission Team. n.d. “How does Sakala Work?” Government of Karnataka. Accessed May 13, 2017. http://ctax.kar.nic.in/latestupdates/howdoessakala0001.pdf

The Hindu. 2014. “99 p.c. applicants satisfied with Sakala: IMRB survey.” March 5.

The Hindu Staff Correspondent. 2012. “Sakala launched in Mysore.” The Hindu, April 3.

Culture, Politics and Laws: Comparing France and Russia in the 20th Century

DWIJARAJ BHATTACHARYA

With the vast nature and scope of politics, be it in terms of the laws that are governing the society or in terms of mechanisms used for the enforcement of the formal state dictate, there exist numerous approaches in present day literature which provide a theoretical and conceptual framework to enable a holistic and at times focused study of various forms of polity either in a hierarchical environment (federal structures) or in most cases a spatial paradigm (between various countries). Amidst these competing frameworks, two frameworks are held in pre-eminence the institutional approach and the cultural approach.

The institutional approach develops a theoretical framework drawing on the rational consumer theory of microeconomics, where the principal assumption is the rational characteristics of individual actors primarily motivated by utility maximisation. The framework thus results into a metamorphosis of collective action which is a net of all individual actions. The final and most crucial hypothesis of the approach rests in the claim that cost-benefit structure propagated by the institutions of any nation results into the prevalent nature of the political activity, thus making the institutions of a nation crucial, if not sacrosanct in comparing the polity of two nation states.

The cultural approach, on the other hand, deviates from the key assumption of the institutional approach firstly in terms of the nature of human beings and the process of decision-making, and most importantly in terms of defining the incentive structure for such decisions. The approach draws upon the distinction of soft and hard institutions and proposes that political agents are subservient to the cultural and social ethos more than any abstract laws, furthermore the nature of utility (for a utility maximising individual) isn’t unidimensional and has social and cultural characteristics to it which is heavily influenced by historical events. Thus, the key idea in this approach is to analyse the polity through a cultural lens, which shall reveal the political landscape of the actors.

With the apparent ontological dichotomy, it becomes imperative that for the remainder of the paper one approach is selected and later developed for the countries of choice. Thus the paper will utilise exclusively the cultural approach since it is both broader in terms of identifying the stakeholders’ interests and has more depth, given the multi-layered social cocoon under which human agents live. The elements of the institutional approach are mostly derivatives of historical cultural norms and are thus captured greatly by the cultural approach, whose significance is becomes more apparent since there are plenty of cases, where soft norms supersede hard laws especially when looking at cases of dowry, child marriage and other subjects of personal law.

Using the cultural approach the paper will focus on the polity of Russia and France to bring out the key aspects of their political landscape. The reason these countries are chosen is first because of their primary legislations are both derivatives of the civil law system (where France predominantly follows the Napoleonic Code and Russia follows the Napoleonic Code with Germanic influence). Secondly, the countries are both in post-industrialisation phase, suggesting a similar focus on key aspects of welfare politics, like education, health-care etc. Third, historically both the countries have been under oppressive systems and at times under foreign occupation, however, the aftermath of the eclipse of such regimes have been extremely different. Thus, the key distinctions between these two states seemingly originate out of cultural connotations, and thereby enhance the scope of investigation which shall focus on three areas namely, freedom of speech (especially political), individual autonomy and extra-territorial outreach.

The present day conception of Russia and France originated not out of the hallowed Treaty of Westphalia, but out of the October Revolution, 1917 and the February Revolution of 1848 respectively. These monumental revolutions occurred primarily because of the free flow of ideas against the then oppressive regimes, which was able to mobilise a certain section of the population to provide effective leadership to a predominantly peasant revolution. This parochial reading of history suggests that the ethos of a free press and freedom of expression should be widely regarded as a sanctimonious entity. However, the societies have had subsequent cultural conditioning that has for all intents and purposes created a divergent cultural momentum when it comes to freedom of expression.

The February Revolution of 1848 had brought the Second French Republic to life, but the idea of a republic in France has existed since mid-17th Century. The French revolution of 1789 was a result of a free flow of these ideas, but the first republic didn’t survive for long. Following the demise of the first republic, there were a series of revolutions and counter-revolutions by the then military leaders, political elites and leading intellectuals of the country. This series of revolution and counter-revolution generated a plethora of literature, some of which have achieved the status of antiquities, and has established freedom of speech and expression as a sine-qua-non for the present day France.

Though the Russian revolution was similar in character, the resultant political system varied extremely. The founding fathers who arrested the growth of the Russian Empire did reap the privileges of the freedom of expression especially during their exile in West European countries, however once tasked with maintenance of a state, atop the bedrock of the then germinating communist ideals found it necessary to curb such freedoms. The curtailment of the said freedoms didn’t generate a great deal of dissent primarily because the then Russia (USSR) was culturally disposed against the propagation of any but traditional education, given the majority of the population still operated under feudal norms.

Therefore, it is evident that the historical forces created distinct cultural fabrics in the two nations, with a divergent disposition towards freedom of expression albeit their initial similarities and common legal paradigm (since both are predominantly civil law countries). This cultural divide in terms of accessible agency of the citizenry has also seeped into the realm of individual autonomy. The creation of the French Republic with individuals at the centre helped further the culture of individual determinism, thus moulding the subsequent acceptance of deviant sexuality. In the case of Russia, the feudal cultural fabric till date hinders the emancipation of homosexuals. Furthermore, the decriminalising of domestic violence by the Putin Administration is a manifestation of the feudal cultural norms present in Russia which stands at an odds with the French regime of anti-domestic violence and postmodern regime of child rights originating out of the cultural evolution in France.

Finally, the cultural momentum of being a superpower has affected the foreign policies of both the nations. The recent Russian forays into their neighbouring countries, especially Ukraine and places of strategic interest captures the leftover cultural momentum of USSR, something that France also engaged in subsequent to World War 2 (WW2). However, the military losses of France after WW2, especially in Vietnam, has softened the manifestation of the cultural glut of supremacy, thus limiting the intrusiveness of present French foreign policy. This uncanny similarity and subsequent divergence is yet another manifestation of the cultural undertones in the two countries.

It is safe to say that institutions definitely alter the social and cultural fabric of a nation, however, no institution can ever survive without any pre-existing subscription base, which is determined by the cultural undertones of the society. The case of France and Russia, nations born amidst the fire of revolutions and later crumbling down from the zenith of world dominance is a stark reminder of the varying political landscape, curated by cultural relativism.

(Dwijaraj is pursuing his Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at dwijaraj@nls.ac.in)

Image Source: https://www.crossed-flag-pins.com/Friendship-Pins/Russia/Flag-Pins-Russia-France.html

Observing ‘Public Policy response to Group Inequality in India’ through a Panel Discussion

EDITORS   

MPP 2016-2018

George Orwell captured the fundamental dilemma that has faced all political theorists in one simple yet elegant form, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The manifestation of this phenomenon is still witnessed across the world, with some trying to remedy it, while others attempt to aggravate it. A panel discussion on the idea of this equal-ness not in terms of singular and individual inequality but in terms of inequality experienced by the virtue of a language one speaks, the caste one belongs to and the name by which one address God, happened on 11th January 2017. The panel was constituted around the idea of inequitable impacts of rule of law policy priorities on certain social groups. In asking who the drivers and direct beneficiaries of the national process of development, we must also consider interests that lie outside the “mainstream”, how stringently rights to property are protected and whether marginalised groups have a voice in shaping the economic choices that directly limit their opportunities or disadvantage them further.

The first guest was Arvind Narain, an NLSIU alumnus who is affiliated with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore.

Related image

Mr. Narain began by outlining the diverse, plural and overlapping hierarchies at work in India and brought us back to the Ambedkar-Gandhi debates on how to best treat social difference in politics. From there, his focus was on the role of law in better understanding and targeting the emergent political hierarchies and the transformative promise of the Indian Constitution. He stressed that democracy must be counterweighted by legal institutions to protect the rights of minorities. However, when you have judgments like Section 377 that invoke ‘popular morality’ and seek to use them to curtail basic rights, then you have what he described as “democracy on a soil that is undemocratic”. Democracy then, isn’t populism but is the on-going creation of a framework of rights, duties and social harmonies that enable every individual to participate in and contribute to the national life. Law has clear limitations, however – when the civic and social objectives set forward in the Preamble are for liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, how can something like fraternity in society be measured or consciously used to transform our polity? The transformative goals of the Constitution are just as much the results of stronger, more vocal civil society and of understanding the essentiality of positive rights as they are of laws and institutions. In the end, Mr. Narain linked law and morality by pointing out how legal measures from fact-finding reports to legal journalism can advance the cause of civil rights, even in the contemporary scene.

The second speaker was Dr Ratnam, Coordinator at Centre for Ambedkar Studies, University of Hyderabad, who spoke about the response of Public Policy towards people categorised under Scheduled Caste in India. He talked about the altering terms which have been used to address the scheduled caste interchangeably by the state and the social movements. The use of different terms to recognise them has laid an impact on the way the issue has been constructed. The lack in clarity in recognising the issues has further impacted the affirmative action taken. In his speech, he mentioned the conflict between ensuring equality and homogeneity at the same time. He questioned that if we are all equal in front of the law then what objective does affirmative action achieve. The entire society has been stratified into castes and further into sub-castes not only because people recognise themselves with the diversity which they bring in but also because public policy recognises these categories. Public Policy thus addresses a number of questions of varied nature at the same time. The affirmative action acts as an aid in most cases but also lead to increasing differences and conflict, some of the times. The Nation strives for equality but which parameters of policy shall achieve equality is the lingering question. He stressed on the fact that under the umbrella of neo-liberalisation along with the state the forms of discrimination has also changed which has become a heavier challenge for public policy. He ended his lecture on the note that the Constitution which is the product of flesh and blood of our countrymen should be implemented in the real sense to stop the violence towards marginalised groups.

The third speaker, Dr M. C. Srinivas, Joint Director of the Social Welfare Department, Government of Karnataka has the special duty of enforcing reservations for SCs and STs. With thirty-eight years of experience in implementing government policies for the development of the Scheduled Tribes, Dr. Srinivas gave us an insider’s peek into the progress made, gaps persisting and governmental and structural deficits. The foremost issue is the problem of identification of the Scheduled Tribes.

Image result for adivasi india

In Karnataka, only sixty-five out of seven hundred and five tribes have been identified as Scheduled Tribes. The main agenda of the government through the promulgation of numerous schemes and programmes is to bring these tribes out of the forest and into the ‘mainstream’. This poses a problem as the majority of the tribes do not want to join the mainstream. Although Karnataka has been a pioneer state in the adoption of the SCSP and TSP Act, 2013 which enabled the allocation, mobilisation and distribution of funds (which can be carried forward for two more years if under-utilised instead of lapsing). Karnataka has also enacted numerous schemes to take forth social services like education, PDS, residential education (KREIS), Anganwadis, housing, infrastructure and hospitals to the fringe forest dwellers who don’t want to come out. While the paper trail of schemes and programmes points to the good intentions of the powers-that-be, Dr. Srinivas admits that there are major gaps in implementation, lack of grass root level monitoring systems and of course, corruption and apathy inherent in some civil servants that ensures systemic failures and a protraction of the deplorable state of exclusion, discrimination, poverty and underdevelopment of the Scheduled Tribes.

 

Mr Maqbool Ahmed Siraj, Journalist, activist, and researcher on Muslim issues in India, the final speaker on the Panel gave an overview of the socio-economic conditions of Muslim communities in India.Related image Bringing his experiences as a journalist and social activist his entire work on Muslims highlights the general psyche of the rest of the population towards Muslims. Over six dynasties of Muslim rulers had flourished in India making them the oldest ruling class yet Muslims and Christians are externalised minorities while Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists are internalised minorities in India. Muslims are both religious and linguistic minority with the socio-economic realities of the community known to be grim due to low education, poor residential conditions and lack of access to sanitation and health, absence from top leadership and bureaucratic positions. In the political sphere, on an average the representation of Muslims as MP’s has been 32-34 while the required number of Muslim MP’s for proportionate representation is 75. The welfare measures for Muslims have been slightly better in South India, with states like Karnataka having 4 per cent reservation for Muslims and Tamil Nadu having 3.5 per cent reservation for Muslims and Christians. Nevertheless, in order to neutralize biases and social exclusion and increase political representation of Muslims, public policy must critically evaluate the need to consider socio-economic backwardness of the Muslims for reservation.

The panel was divided in its focus ranging from caste groups, tribal groups, religious communities and the potential impact of laws on disparities. Despite this divergence, the vision and goal were commonly shared, the panel emphasised on the need for corrective and preventative measures and of the impetus on the political elites and social institutions to stop the incessant otherisation of the entire mass of population. The impact of reservations and socio-economic schemes have been enormous, but not sufficient. The panel focused on the tools and the requirement for such an equality within the legal and political conscience of  India.  If summarised in a single sentence, the panel’s message sought an embodiment of a common identity grounded in the constitutional morality, where all humans are equal and no one is more than equal.

Featured image sources:

http://altlawforum.org/section/arvind-narrain/

http://www.opiniontandoor.in/2016/06/when-b-r-ambedkar-was-briefly-film.html

http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/HZ5MhH6v2UfixcTXnqKPQI/Four-letters-India-needs-to-learn-by-heart-FPIC.html

http://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/interview-author-intolerant-indian-calls-conscious-celebration-diversity

Lecture on Accountability Reforms in India by Prashant Bhushan

SATTVIKA ASHOK

Noted activist and lawyer, Prashant Bhushan delivered an engaging lecture on the 9th of April at National Law School of India, University on ‘Accountability reforms through laws, institutions, and social movements’. Mr Bhushan has been closely associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform and the conceptualisation of the Jan Lokpal as a product of the India Against Corruption movement. According to Mr Bhushan, due to the absence of a strong citizen lobby, public policy in India has been serving vested commercial interests. 

Commenting on the realms of Public Interest Litigation and human rights, Mr Bhushan stressed the need for transparency, accountability and time bound delivery of service in the functioning of government institutions. To ensure so, the importance of grievance redressal by an appellate authority, independent of the government at both the Central and State level is critical. As a result, people’s groups have demanded the reintroduction of the ‘Right of Citizens for Time bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011‘ which had lapsed earlier in the assembly. Mr Bhushan also discussed the existing legal framework under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to access information under the control of public authorities. While the legal provision for seeking information has been revolutionary, proactive disclosure has been largely missing. In addition, the Central Information Commission set up under the RTI Act was perceived to be incompetent where appointments have been based on political considerations without transparency. The Central Vigilance Commission, an apex Indian governmental body created in 1964 to address governmental corruption, reported that corruption complaints against various government departments jumped by a whopping 67 percent in 2016 over the previous year. (India 2017) The CVC that has a supervisory jurisdiction over the Central Bureau of Investigation has been criticised for its lack of effectiveness and investigative machinery. Therefore, Mr Bhushan believed there is a need for strong robust institutions, reforms, and laws to maintain transparency in governance, including the most important institution, the judiciary.  

Prashant Bhushan is also known for his association in the public interest domain with Transparency International, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and his stance the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir and other areas. When asked what keeps him going, he replied, “when there is a huge injustice, you cannot close your eyes and walk away.” Given the role of media in politics today, where the mainstream media is showing signs of fascism, on asked whether a movement like Indian Against Corruption is possible, while Mr Bhushan agrees that citizen activism is harder, the new media and social media are increasingly able to capture the voice of the public.

References:

India, Press Trust of, ed. 2017. 67% jump in corruption complaints; railways tops: CVC. New Delhi, April 13.

Image source:

Image Reference: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/krishna-remark-prashant-bhushan-apologises-says-unintentionally-hurt-sentiments-of-many/

(Sattvika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sattvikaashok@nls.ac.in )

A peek into the mise en scène of climate diplomacy

APOORVA S

“Paris Agreement is not ambitious enough since it has only given effect to soft obligations,” says Mr. Raman Mehta, an expert on climate change. 

In his special lecture with Public Policy students, the batch of 2016-18, he spoke on “The Science of Climate Change: Feeding into the politics of Climate Change and Paris Agreement” on 10th and 11th of January 2017. He gives a glimpse into the seriousness of India in integrating climate change concerns into development strategies, plans, and programs. In the past, Mr. Raman Mehta has worked on the issues of forests and wildlife at The Indian Institute of Public Administration, Department of International Development at the British High Commission, on conservation and management of protected areas at World Wide Fund for Nature – India, on developmental issues, climate change, social inclusion and public policy at ActionAid – India. He is currently the Policy head at Vasudha Foundation. He works on demystifying the different facets of sustainable development and climate change through an umpteen number of research work and presence at international conferences.

The design of Climate Pledge

Paris Accord glorifies the bottom-to-top approach giving the freedom for all the countries to design their own INDC’s (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) justifying on how the contribution is fair and ambitious towards achieving the objective of the UN’s climate convention and the approach regarding the calculation of the Green House Gas emissions. This means each country can show a different base year from which emissions will be reduced which obliterates the historical responsibility of largest producers of industrial carbon emissions from leading the cause. The developing countries feel this is the cheating point. The Agreement will have the legal force when countries accounting for 55 per cent of global GHG emissions deposit their instrument of ratification, the threshold which was achieved on 5th October 2016. Even though large emitters like US, China, EU, India have ratified the accord, the challenge is to see how strong and full-flavored the countries walk the talk apart from their announcements to move ahead. Speaking on this, Mr. Raman Mehta observed that only the clauses which deal with the reporting of GHG emissions are legally binding. Hence, except for the progressive nature of INDC’s, there seem to be no other pressure points.

The call for Climate Justice

Food security is a common sensitive challenge. Deficit rainfall and natural disasters worsen poverty and hunger as vulnerable economies are bearing the brunt of climate change rapidly. More socio-economic issues directly related to the climate changes are encountered on a day-to-day basis which is irrevocable in nature. India reformulated the concept of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ by adding ‘respective capabilities’ (CBDR – RC) calling it the bedrock of collective enterprise. This is to clearly indicate that equitable carbon and development space are straightforward requirements of developing countries. Therefore, the commitment to combat climate change is purely under the capacity of such countries whose development is invariably tied to a proportional increase in GHG emissions as history shows. However, in certain sectors like transport, China and India are decoupling by building metro rails in their busiest cities. Affordable and zero carbon emissions in the mass public transport sector of low and middle-income countries is the need for millions of low-income families who can save time and money.

Unattained Climate migration and environmental refugees

The Paris Agreement missed the crucial aspect of providing relief and alternative to those who are affected by climate change induced migration, which is expanding every day. The section on climate-refugees
‘Loss and Damage’ makes recommendations for setting up a task force for addressing climate migration. However, the task force has no binding authority and its operations, functions, funding sources are not clear because of which the problem of migration will not be considered as the first priority. The ‘Loss and Damage’ is, therefore, a mere deliberation process under the Warsaw Conference of 2013. Furthermore, the draft of Paris Agreement which contained provisions for Climate Change Displacement Coordination Facility intended to secure emergency relief, target organised migration and planned relocation of displaced people, compensating for those displaced does not feature in the final text of the Accord.

Concern regarding the Climate Finance

The most contentious issue of the climate change agreement is regarding the investment. Mainly the funding and disbursement processes for efficient technology transfer to enable green transition and carbon peaking of developing economies. The developed countries are hesitant with this responsibility and are often unclear and silent on the ways to enable the processes like sources of funding, terms of funding, purpose of funding, the agencies (public sector or private sector) of funding and the kind of funding. Most often the use of political ambiguous language of financial compensation and the rehabilitation is spoken about extensively. Mr. Raman Mehta reflects on the fact that ‘compensation paradigm’ of the Paris Agreement has caused immense pressure and anxiousness among the developed countries which is inhibiting the cooperation for a seamless flow of finance from the developed to the developing countries. This diluted mindset is a threat and a menace as it can stall the process of implementation of clean energy systems, which are undoubtedly expensive, leading to disproportionate burden on the developing countries.

The common thread for the all the countries

Helvetas06So far as the extreme weather changes are concerned and maintaining the balance between inclusive economic growth and social development, the policy matrix in developing countries is stratified with priorities of Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to eradicate poverty and ‘leave no one behind’.

India’s two major international efforts in launching the International Solar Alliance to form a group of 107 sunshine countries to enable them to switch to a low-carbon path by solar power utilization and ratifying the Paris Agreement on 2nd October 2016, on the International Non-Violence Day expresses its aspiration to tackle climate change with a forethought to internalize the principles of Mahatma Gandhi in all its endeavours. However, the local urban environment in India tells a different story in the efforts to switch to low-carbon path. In the year 2000, New Delhi mandated the use of CNG in all public vehicles to mitigate vehicular air pollution showing improvement in air quality, yet in the past two years Delhi is among the top cities in the world highly affected by air pollution. The lack of constant innovation, increased urban sprawl, growth of personal vehicles, biomass burning, lack of pollution checks on the industries in rapidly growing cities have negated the gains of focused policies on curbing sectoral air pollution. India must, therefore, invest in comprehensive planning, legislation and finance the grassroots level of governance on recycling, renewable energy sector, integrate critical infrastructure with technology, engage in community-centric territorial planning that control rural-urban continuum. 

        Mr. Raman Mehta explained how the process of climate change leads to dangerous feedback loops – increased number of warm and cold days accompanied by extreme weather fluctuations, heavy precipitation and submergence of deltaic regions and islands, mass displacement of ice sheet and melting of glaciers such as the recent breaking of massive ice block in Antarctica and the rift that grew by 18 kilometers. He further said, this has put a focus on the need to look for innovative mitigation measures more intensely than the adaptation measures, as the latter is finite and limited.

It is often understood that climate change is only part of the problem, there are other factors like human led land use changes and deforestation that pose immediate and deeper problems affecting daily life. Humanitarian crisis related to civil unrest like migration and military conflict influenced by climate change are becoming more prominent, such as the ongoing Syrian crisis which illustrates the culmination of agricultural drought, with political failure and willpower to mitigate the challenges of dwindling resources. Therefore wide-spread negotiations continue to be focused on climate change on the principle of equity and shared vision. These have in the past lead to formulation of initiatives like international emissions trading, clean development mechanism, joint implementation. More recently, carbon capture sequestration has emerged as a niche effort in energy sustainability. The cornerstone is to invoke global solidarity in action plans without the vested business and diplomacy of trying to pressurize the finance receiving nations to manipulate their national economic policies. Policy decisions which require adequate assessment of nature’s resilience capacity, conserving forest wealth, disaster management and rural livelihood security are immediately required to be chartered out with expertise and institutional capacities indigenous to each economy.

(Apoorva is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at apoorvas@nls.ac.in)

Featured image source:

https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/climate-refugee.htm

http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/en/sustainable-development-goals.html