Tag Archives: Democracy

Accessing Accountability: A Community Effort in Sundaram Nagar to push for Quality Public Education

Pranjal Dhaka worked with Public Systems Groups at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, in pursuance of the client led project component of the Master of Public Policy programme. His account on community efforts undertaken to ensure quality public education in Sundaram Nagar, during the course of the project, is quite illuminating.

Date: 18th February 2018

Time: 2200 hrs

Place: Paigaam-e-Insaaniyat Charitable trust office, Sundaram Nagar

Background

Ahmedabad is rapidly transforming into a major urban centre with international and domestic investments flowing in, along with an evident endorsement from the central government to push for development and urbanization in the city. The process of this transformation poses serious challenges to ensure socio-economic equity in a highly diverse demographic that is divided along communal, caste and class lines. Social exclusion and economic inequality of minorities can be a direct consequence of an institutional bias that further pushes a minority social group to the periphery. Ahmedabad has a significant Muslim community that accounts for around 12.24 percent of the total city population (Census 2011). The community has been struggling to access basic public services like education, sanitation and drinking water, and have been spatially segregated to the western part of city in largely unregulated and compactly packed colonies. These families work as weavers, daily wage labourers, tailors, traders, shopkeepers, auto-rickshaw drivers and in other jobs and trades that put a ceiling over the socio-economic capital they can exert individually.

Agenda of the meeting

One of the major concerns of the community is with reference to the issues around access to quality education. There has been a subtle shift in the narrative characterizing development in Ahmedabad, portraying it to be an emerging business hub while neglecting fundamental issues around education and health. This context presses the need for community mobilization to claim and assert accountability from local government bodies to ensure collective mediation.

A glimpse of the meeting conducted by Ajaz Sheikh

Ajaz Sheikh is a  social activist and PhD scholar from Gujarat University who has extensively worked on the issues of education and drug addiction amongst adolescents. He is working towards collectivising parents to form community associations to claim a democratic space and push for better quality education facilities in government schools in the locality.

An individual is often not strong enough to challenge an entire institution like the government but an organization can collectively and coherently question, lobby and push for a positive change. We just need to ensure accountability, the government is bound by the Constitution to act upon people’s will.”

-Ajaz Sheikh, Social Activist

The government schools in the areas around Sundaram Nagar are often perceived as inadequate and inept in providing quality education causing a gradual shift in the parental choice in poor and lower middle income families to send their wards to low fee private schools. Most of these low fee private schools charge as low as Rs 250-500 a month and function without proper facilities or a regular and qualified teaching staff. This trend further absolves the government schools from taking responsibility, as parents themselves do not prefer enrolling their wards in government schools. There were, however, certain avenues created for larger engagement of parents to demand better facilities for their children studying in these schools. This was done through successful awareness drives by many non-governmental organizations and academic institutions for RTE in 2015-2016 and its various provisions including Section 21C mandating a 25 percent  reservation in all private schools for students belonging to Economically Backward Families.. But a general level of unawareness and hesitation to pursue a formalized process of mediating these concerns still continues to be a crucial constraint in compelling government authorities to address issues around education.

Community Outreach programme: Forming parents’ associations

Ajaz Sheik, working closely with a local charitable trust (Paigam-e-Insaaniyat Charitable Trust), is planning to start an extensive community outreach program that seeks to engage parents and other concerned members of the community in forming a parents’ association that can discuss, mediate and create a grievance redressal mechanism for parents to ensure accountability through a collective forum. The meeting held on 17th February witnessed attendance from parents and member of the trust that has worked on various local issues that affect the community on a day-to-day basis.

It started out with every attendee introducing themselves and then a briefing by Ajaz Sheikh. The briefing started out with a detailed background of the legislations and policies around education and the current state of government schools. Ajaz was using a mix of rhetoric and facts to enunciate the need for addressing equal access to quality education as a primary step towards community development. The briefing was followed by an open discussion that witnessed parents and other attendees talking about the problems they face with reference to the way government schools operate. It was loosely moderated by Ajaz to focus the agenda of the meeting on discussing the strategy of enforcing accountability on the government schools and push for incremental institutional change. Amongst various issues that were put forward by the attendees the discussion focused upon the poor quality of school infrastructure, a general disinterest on the part of government school teachers and principals in ensuring good quality teaching and engaging the students, and the apathy of the government officials in addressing these issues. Through discussion and careful moderation, the meeting concluded with a general understanding that the formation of the parents’ association is a step forward in engaging the community and placing accountability over political, bureaucratic and school authorities towards a positive change.

A venue for the next meeting was decided and the attendees agreed to be volunteers to reach out to the community and gather with more parents from the community. It was also decided that there must be a ‘Right to Education Mela’ to engage and make people aware about the plan to form such an association through pamphlets and discussion.

The Way Forward

As an observation, it was interesting to witness the process of building a critical mass at grassroot levels to collectivize individuals towards a common cause. The effort is at a conceptual stage and requires two basic elements that need to be adhered to, that will consequentially determine successful mobilization. First, it must involve a large number of people, even if they are not directly affected by poor education in government schools as active participants to characterize education as a community level concern. Secondly, it must strive to moderate individual opinions to push for a focused collective approach to engage with the current democratic process as laid down by legislations to create and sustain a culture of institutional accountability. There is enough clarity amongst the trust members and Ajaz Sheikh about the actionable measures to follow while working on the issue. However, in order to engage a large number of people, the success of this novel project relies upon a continuous and discursive facilitation to enable an institutionalized forum that can push for strengthening accountability.

References

Census 2011.Ahmadabad District Religion Census 2011. (http://www.census2011.co.in/data/religion/district/188-ahmadabad.html) (accessed on 24 April 2018).

(Pranjal Dhaka is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached at pranjaldhaka@nls.ac.in)


Image Source:- Author

 

When Bad Guys Get Elected: A Quick Take on the Electoral Process

 

Sachin Tiwari

This polemical account is an upshot of a twitter conversation with another MPP grad on an article in New York Times by Maskin and Sen that he shared. The authors explain how a majority rule based electoral process (instead of the prevailing plurality rule) might have stopped Trump, who is the leading presidential candidate in the upcoming election in the US and has won the primaries in 23 states (Read: How Majority Rule Might Have Stopped Donald Trump). The authors seem to suggest that on a one-on-one contest, Trump would have been defeated in 17 states. Sure! But, it is a conjecture as best as anyone else’s because it just did not happen. Giving it to the authors, they do say that it might have stopped Donald Trump.

The alleged outcome must necessarily happen for this thesis to hold any water. Launching off from this point, the authors write –

In the early contests, Mr. Trump attracted less than 50 percent of the vote (in Arkansas he got only 33 percent); a majority of voters rejected him. But he faced more than one opponent every time so that the non-Trump vote was split. That implies he could well have been defeated in most (given his extreme views on many subjects) had the opposition coalesced around one of his leading rivals.

 True! Anyone with a keen eye on elections and voting behaviour would agree with that one on defeating a candidate by coalition of the opposition around a leading rival. This leads to the question – does it (coalitions as these) happen? If yes, what prevented it from happening in Trump’s case? The near impossibility of determining this curious phenomenon is the point of this post. I would argue that this is at best an academic quest which helps scholars but lacks the capacity to look beyond the process and account for the outcome. It appears sloppy on account of the fact that the reasoning (as quoted above) is used to argue that the candidates getting elected are not the right ones or desirable ones. It is theoretically correct that the winners lack the support of a majority of voters. The problematic bit comes next –

As with the Republicans and Mr. Trump’s flirtations with fear and violence, India now suffers the ill effects of a serious confusion when a plurality win is marketed as a majority victory. The Muslim Brotherhood government of 2012 to 2013 in Egypt provides another, and similarly disturbing, example; it helped to undermine democracy in Egypt altogether.

The assumption that the winning candidates in the cited examples from US, India and Egypt (party in this case) are ‘disturbing’ and have had negative consequences is the problem. This is an impressionistic inference. Let me present a counter view – that the inherent ability of a democratic setup in checking the unrestrained behaviour of elected leaders prevents the ‘disturbing’ consequences from happening, although during the campaign the contesting candidates might come across as potentially problematic if they act on their rallying points.

Systemic checks in a democratic setup

This is true of India and the US as history suggests. The system of governance – executive, legislature and the judiciary, are at least minimally robust enough to check the anti-public interest and self-serving (or even party serving) of the winning candidate when he is appointed. Except for the period of emergency in India during Indira Gandhi’s reign, we can see no evidence of a leader running amuck with his own agenda. The analysis by Maskin and Sen stands reasonable in the electoral process but runs out of consistency when it comes to their assertion that this process produces winners who are likely to undermine democracy or are against the best interests of the country. It would have been nice to see a specific example supporting their assertion. In India, even a seemingly larger than life leader like Prime Minister Modi has had a tough rope walk in terms of appeasing the Hindutva groups supporting his party, and keeping the interests of other minority groups in regard. It is not as straightforward as the article might suggest. When bad guys get elected bad things do not necessarily happen! A campaigning Donald Trump is very likely to undergo a change as Donald Trump in the White House. This change will be due to the candidate being given the power as a result of his electoral win. This power is not dictatorial. This power is not freewheeling. It comes with rules, conditions and protocols of decision-making. And hence, it should not be assumed that a candidate pitching contentious and potentially divisive policies during campaigns when given power will be able to do exactly same things. That is the strength of the democratic system.  Otherwise, one can forever imagine and probably introduce more workable election procedures and keep finding problems with the winning candidate because he may end up acting in problematic ways. That failure of the winning candidate is not because he was not voted by the right procedure. What stands as a guarantee in the ranking system that the winning candidate who will ‘truly command majority support’?

If the challenge is to arrive at an election system which leads to a winner who truly commands majority support then that elegant suggestion by the authors is well taken. But for those who are keen on understanding leaders in roles of power and acting in full public glare, this is only a wishful arrangement. There are other variables like human behaviour which can lead to equally desirable or undesirable outcomes. The point is to throw light on those situations that can make a useful contribution to political theory.

 

(Sachin Tiwari is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at sachin.t@nls.ac.in)

 

Featured image source: http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/files/entryimages/03192016_Trump-2477.jpg

NJAC: A Necessary Evil?

Siddharth Sekhar Barpanda

There is little doubt that Indian citizens from all walks of life are tired of the slow process of reforms customary in the nation. There is also a valid reason to blame the Government (of the day) for the sorry state of affairs. Democracy is work-in-progress and it takes time to build institutions capable of meeting the demands of an aspirational society. But, is it only the Executive and the Legislative pillars of democracy, which to a large extent overlaps in the Indian context, are to be held responsible for bad governance? Isn’t the Judiciary, if not wholly, but nevertheless partially liable?

Pendency (of Cases) & Vacancy (of Judges) Galore!

Let’s first look at some current issues distinctive and ubiquitous to Indian judiciary. The access to speedy justice is still a dream for the majority of the citizens. The courts in India are famous for their long & arduous process of delivering justice. No wonder, the pendency of cases in courts are rising day by day. In the Supreme Court of India alone, the pendency of cases stands at 61300 (as on 1st March 2015). Similarly, across the nation’s 24 High Courts, cumulatively more than 4 lakh cases are pending. These astronomical figures in itself stand as an alibi to the poor functioning of Indian judiciary.

Of course, for a country of 1.27 billion people, this may seem defensible. Yet, the higher judiciary cannot hide behind the veil of a large population. Even so, the pendency of cases is related to the quantity & quality of Judges. The Law Ministry has itself in its annual report claimed that Shortage of judges in courts is one of the main causes for backlog and pendency of cases in courts.As on 1st August 2015, there are 3 vacancies in Supreme Court of India against the approved strength of 31 (including Chief Justice of India). Moreover, there are 384 vacancies in all 24 High Courts against a total approved strength of 1017.

The Need for NJAC

So basically, the vacancies only in Supreme Court and 24 High Courts amounts to 36.9% of the total sanctioned strength. Note that, this doesn’t include the District & Subordinate Courts. Also, it’s true that many appointed judges lack competency and credibility. Justice Rama Pal, a former judge of the Supreme Court described the process by which a judge is appointed to the High Court or the Supreme Court as, “one of the best-kept secrets in this country”!

It is in this context, the need to have a comprehensive, transparent and a robust mechanism to select judges of the SC and HCs was initiated. Subsequently, the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014 and the corresponding Constitutional Amendment Act came into force on 13th April 2015, after the Parliament passed it by a special majority followed by ratification of the new legislation by 16 State legislatures, and subsequently assented by the President of India.

The Impact on Governance

However, some Public Interest Litigations (PIL) challenged the constitutionality of the NJAC on the ground that it affects the independence of the judiciary that forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which is inviolable. A 5-member bench, set up by the Chief Justice of India, is now hearing the validity of the legislature’s decision to do away with the two-decade-old collegium system of judicial appointments.

Without going into the larger philosophical debate of whether the Government or the Supreme Court has the right to invoke the basic principles of Constitution, it’s important to address the inconvenience caused to the citizens due to this ideological tussle between the Government and the Supreme Court. On April 27, 2015, the Chief Justice of India informed the Prime Minister that he would not join the NJAC panel until the SC decides on the validity of the new system.

As eminent and distinguished lawyers argue the controversial case in the SC, the vacancies in the higher judiciary are increasing every passing month.

Judges Vacancies in HCs

1st May 2015
366

1st June 2015
371

1st July 2015
377

1st Aug 2015
384

The need of the hour is that the democracy should function for the larger public good as opposed to the ongoing supremacy struggle between the different pillars of the state.

(Siddharth Sekhar Barpanda is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at ssbarpanda@nls.ac.in)

Sources

Department of Justice, Government of India

Department of Justice, Government of India (http://doj.gov.in/sites/default/files/userfiles/Vacancy_(1.8.2015).pdf)

 

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http://lawsarasota.com/about-us/scales-of-justice-and-judges-gavel/