Citizens' monitoring process can make a big Difference to the implementation of Development Programmes

A civil society delegation representing the National Social Watch Coalition (NSWC) engaged in a meaningful interaction with the Planning Commission around the Citizens' Report on Governance and Development 2007 and the monitoring of the key institutions of governance namely Parliament, Executive- Policy, Judiciary and Local self Governance. Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the Planning Commission Members actively participated in the discourse.

While discussing about the importance of a citizen's initiative like Social Watch to make governance more accountable, the Planning Commission expressed its desire and willingness to seek inputs on number of policy issues based on the recommendations of social Watch, keeping in mind their grassroots experiences.

Planning Commission has shown interest in further engagement with civil society initiatives like social watch on issues such as micro-planning, agriculture, Voluntary sector Bill and SEZ in the process of policy recommendations. Social Watch would provide the inputs and recommendations based on its grassroots initiatives in 14 states where it has got considerable presence. It would also provide best practices cases from the grassroots for the 11th Five Year Plan documents.

While acknowledging the importance of the Social Watch Report as a meaningful civil society intervention in making governance more accountable, Mr. Ahluwalia urged Social Watch to pursue and provide recommendations to the Planning Commission on some specific policy issues such as the working of the parliamentary committee , micro-planning and agriculture.

Planning Commission was also apprised of the work being undertaken through partners and allies of the Social Watch Coalition to ensure grassroots accountability for the promises made by the government across 14 states of India.

The Social Watch Report 2007 focuses on the performance of institutions of governance namely the Parliament, the Executive, the Judiciary and the institutions of Local Self Governance.

Fourth in its series the Report also looks at new policies and issues like NREGA, NRHM, JNURM and SEZ and the many contradictions and crises faced by these institutions. In NREGA the Report points out that Rs. 6500 Crores is still unspent in the year 2005-06.It points to the crisis in the Indian agriculture with close to to 40,000 farmers committing suicide due to indebtedness since 1997.The Report hails the efforts of the government to push the long pending Forests Rights Act 2006 in the parliament. In the section on Parliament the Report looks at various institutional dimensions noting with concern the the callousness manner in which bills are passed. Non-financial business took up nearly 40% of the Lok Sabha's time and over 50% of the Raj Sabha's time in during 2006.The 11th Lok Sabha (1996-98) lost 5.28 % of its time due to pandemonium. In the 12th Lok Sabha it went up to 10.66%, in the 13th Lok Sabha it was 22.4% of its time while in the 14th Lok Sabha, which commenced in June 2004, 26% of its time was lost due to interruptions arising out of various political controversies. A shocking waste of time considering the fact that each minute of Parliament costs the exchequer Rs. 26,035.The Report also found that absenteeism among MPs was increasing with attendance in the 4th, 5th and 6th sessions of the 14th Lok Sabha ranging from 33 to 62 %! The Report also called for reforms that would reduce the numbers of pending cases which stands at 33,635 cases in the Supreme court and 34,24,518 cases in the high court. Commenting on the policy framework the Report opines that policies formulated during the last 15 years lack strategic goals and objectives and that though the growth performance over the last decade has been impressive it has not necessarily benefited everyone equally. The Report has expressed its concern over the tardy pace of power devolution to the panchayat bodies as a follow up to the MOU signed between the Centre and the States in the light of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts and PESA.