(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains
Polity, Governance and Social Justice: A Commitment to the
As member responsible for Voluntary Action Cell. in the
Planning Commission of India for seven years now, have been part of the effort
to bring people close to the planning process. Initially, we started a ‘Civil
Society Window’ in 2004, in the hope that it would enable people to engage with
the Planning Commission and offer the benefit of their field ‘experiences. We
managed to take some of the learning from there into the 11th Five Year Plan.
This initiative crystallized within a year and is now part of the Planning
During the 11th Five Year Plan process we organized a
regional consultation to get civil society feedback. Participation of Civil
Society (CS) had thus already become a strong and robust element in the
preparation of the Plan.
It has not always been a straightforward process, though.
Before my very eyes I have seen the frictions between CS and bureaucracy build
up, but also ease, over the years of my tenure. The disdain with which activists
were held within these circles has begun to change and there is the beginning of
mutual respect. Community based monitoring, social audit, etc. have been written
into .the formulation of various schemes. I found myself playing less and less
the role of apologist for CS. The amicable relationship peaked when one year
before the Approach Paper to the 12th Five Year Plan, the very first group to be
invited in April 2010 for an informal brainstorming was a group of thought
leaders, women and men, all part of CS.
The challenges and the ‘difficulties being faced by the
voluntary sector are many. Highly committed people in this sector have to work
with rather limited resources, which makes their task even more difficult. And
yet I am proud to say that despite all odds, this sector has always shown
tremendous enthusiasm and resilience in fighting for various social and
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India particularly, has a very vibrant voluntary sector and
the efforts of CSOs and VOs in India are now increasingly acknowledged all
across the world. We know for a fact that in the last few years we have managed
to get some very progressive legislation and action, like the Protection of
Women· from Domestic Violence Act, because of the persistent and untiring
efforts of the voluntary sector.
In my travels across the length and breadth of this country,
particularly in the last 7 years, I have seen first-hand the work and the
potential of the voluntary sector. When 1 visited Metiabruz in West Bengal a few
years ago, 1 found that people are aware of their problems: also articulate
them, but neither they nor voluntary organizations working there are aware of
government policies. Many such Metiabruz exist in India today, living out the
tragedy of our schemes and policies that people don’t know about or have no
access to. After many years of toil, we have got a policy on the voluntary
It has been our dream and our need. Having been part of the
voluntary sector I realize the importance of the policy, but equally the need
for it to be widely disseminated, so that voluntary organizations may make use
For long now I have been a vociferous campaigner for strengthening the social
sector. I have always believed that good governance is strengthened through
people’s participation. Voluntary organizations facilitate peoples’
participation, which is a fact I have experienced during my sojourns in the
field across the country, first as a member of the National Commission for Women
and now for the last couple of years, as a member of the Planning Commission.
This policy recognizes this critical contribution of the voluntary sector.
The concept of volunteerism and social action is not new in
this country and I will not go into the details of that. But what is important
to assimilate is that voluntary organizations have played a pivotal role both
during pre-independence and also during the freedom struggle. The voluntary
sector has shown tremendous enthusiasm and resilience in raising the banner
against social evils, fighting social malpractices, articulating social and
developmental concerns and acting as a feedback channel for policy makers. The
Right to Information Act 2005 is the testimony of their growing power and
positive role in society.
Fact is that there are almost 1.2 million VO’s in India
today, assuming various roles and responsibilities, especially of being
watchdogs for the government, when it comes to protection of human, rights like
documenting torture cases, taking up right to work campaigns, creating awareness
in fighting social evils, or identifying and articulating social issues, or
providing feedback to policy makers. But their role doesn’t end here. Just
pointing out problems is not enough, it is important to solve them too. Two
years ago, 1 visited Archana Women’s Centre in Kottayam that provides sources of
livelihood and has made a breakthrough in breaking social barriers by training
women for jobs like carpentry and masonary. I think it’s a good example of
innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that also breaks stereotypes, while
providing skills. Voluntary organizations in India have certainly proved their
mettle, penetrating the remotest corners of the country, reaching across
terrains that had been untouched by government schemes. They have been able to
articulate the problems and dilemmas of the grassroots and bring their issues to
the mainstream. They have been able to mobilize people for constructive
community work. I witnessed this first hand in the closed tea estates of
The tea garden workers there had no bijli, no paani, and no
health facilities, no schools, no transport and were marred by rampant poverty.
Women and men barely survived; their only means of livelihood was breaking
stones in the dolomite mines of nearby Bhutan. The 9 percent growth of the GDP
held no meaning for the bigha mazdoors who till today earn just Rs 12 a day! 1
witnessed the absence of the government machinery, yet was comforted by the
presence of local groups like the Jan Kalyan Matri Sangh who are engaged in
organizing young boys and girls into rescue and rehab groups. These groups were
and are still the only hope in the forlorn lives of the tea garden workers.
Everywhere I have gone, from Leh to Trivandrum, from the
dhanis of Udaipur where Sewa Mandir is doing commendable work to the tiny
islands in Andaman and Nicobar where organizations like SANE are fighting to
ensure rights for the PTGs, I have seen the commendable work of the voluntary
sector. I was in Kashmir immediately after the earthquake and 1 have seen how·
“voluntary organizations from across the country had come together and were
reaching the remotest villages taking with them aid that was needed. How many
lives have been saved and how many empowered by the work of our NGOs and civil
Many would argue that a sudden rise of the number of NGO’s indicates inactive
government machinery, although this may be true to some measure, for me the
proliferation of NGOs, CBOs, SHGs is also indicative of increasing awareness
among people. This shows an increasing effort by the people to shape their own
lives and destinies- it was the dawn of a new era and the government recognized
this. So in March 2000, the Government declared Planning Commission as the nodal
agency for GO-NGO interface. The message was clear- government has to and will
work with the voluntary sector.
But while engagement and partnership is important we also
needed a policy to articulate this and therein lay a foundation for this
partnership. In June 2003, we decided on the need to have a policy for the
voluntary sector. Four years of intense discussion with friends from the
voluntary sector and in May 2007, the cabinet approved the new policy. It is
also now included in the l l” Five Year Plan chapter and is endorsed by the NDC.
The National Policy on the Voluntary Sector is a testament of our commitment to
encourage, enable and empower an independent and effective voluntary sector.
While officially recognizing the contribution of the voluntary sector and the
need for Government-Voluntary Sector partnership, the policy recognizes that
project grants are a useful means for both the Government to promote its
activities without its direct involvement and a valuable source of support to
small and medium Voluntary Organizations. It highlights the need for Government
to encourage all Central and State Government agencies to introduce pre-service
and in-service [raining modules on constructive relations with voluntary
organizations. It recognizes the difficulties faced by the voluntary sector in
accessing government schemes and suggests ways to tackle this. The main
objective of the National Policy on the Voluntary Sector is to identify systems
by which the Government may work together with the Voluntary Organizations on
the basis of the principles of mutual trust, respect and shared responsibility.
The National Policy on the Voluntary Sector recognizes the importance of
independence of voluntary organizations, which allows them to explore
alternative models of development.
The accountability and credibility of the voluntary sector
has been questioned time and again. We therefore believe that there is a need
for accreditation of voluntary organizations, which will lead to better funding
decisions and make the funding processes more transparent. Accreditation may
provide incentives for better governance, management and performance of
voluntary organizations. At present no reliable accreditation system is in
place. The Government will need to encourage the voluntary sector, to develop
alternative accreditation methodologies.
The, National Policy on the Voluntary Sector is just the
beginning of the process to evolve a new working relationship between the
government and the voluntary sector without affecting its autonomy and identity.
Already 3 expert groups have been constituted to carry forward the
recommendations of, the policy. Some state governments are also coming up with
drafts for a similar policy for their own states.
There are many areas in which we seek help of the voluntary
sector- for social audits, behaviour change, good governance and increasingly
even for better service delivery. We want to ensure that no section of the
population is deprived of the benefits of our schemes and policies. We believe
that this may be done through decentralization, through increased stakeholder
participation and through Public Private Partnerships (PPP). PPP is not just
with the profit sector, but also with committed civil society organizations. I
have seen several excellent examples of this - for example, Char area of Assam
where “Akha” (Ship of hope) provides health services in partnership with state
government, the NRHM and UNICEF, has taken health care to the forgotten people
of the river islands of Dibrugarh, Dhemaji and Tinsukia districts in Upper
Assam. In Udaipur School Health system the government in partnership with Nandi
Foundation is taking quality healthcare to school children.
It takes months and years of painful effort to build trust.
This trust between government and CS is by now on a firm foundation.
Consultations with citizens on the Approach Paper to the 12th Plan began on many
platforms, including the internet. Members of Planning Commission travelled
across the country attending Public Meetings cal led by CS around various
sectoral issues to gather inputs for the 12 Five Year Plan. We learnt important
lessons. For example in a Tribal Hearing we attended in a place called Tilda
near Raipur, Chhatisgarh, our teachers were women and men from 13 states who had
gathered to inform us of their concerns. The culmination of this process was a
book Approaching Equity; Civil Society Inputs for the Approach Paper- 12 Five
year Plan produced collectively by group effort coordinated by Wada Na Todo
Abhiyan. We planners use it as reference as we think about the detailing of the
12 Five Year Plan.