Anna Hazare's strident social movement has brought into sharp focus the participation of civil society in governance and development. Governance was generally considered as an exclusive domain and prerogative of those who controlled the levers of power. But now a debureaucratised and decentralised people-centric government and development agenda are the buzzwords and also concern for policy planners and policy executors. The process of people's participation in their development, empowerment and governance has been gaining momentum.
The necessity of people's participation was first felt when the model of development failed to bring in the desired results. Since 1970, scholars, development practitioners and governments, particularly from the developing countries, began to consider people's participation through decentralisation, which was identified as a widely-adopted new strategy for ensuring people's participation in local development. By the late 1970s, emphasis was laid on 'people's participation in planning and administration.'
In a country as large and diverse as ours, the government alone cannot be the sole dispenser and catalyst of services and an agent of change. Nor can the state deliver it wholly without working out a strong and active participation of civil society, non-governmental organisations, social institutional players, voluntary agencies, business houses and financial institutions as a multi-sectoral partnership. However, this did not mean a retreat from social basics and basic responsibilities of the government. What it meant was that the participatory mode acted as a supplementary and vital facilitator in every sphere of governance and development.
Civil society participation and governance have to function as an ecosystem that allowed civil society and institutional players to act together in a symbiotic relationship. That process released the government from the pressure of micro-managing affairs down to the village and ward and enabled it to turn its energies and resources to macro issues.
People's ownership of developmental formulations and stake in governance need to be channelised through active engagement of civil society; particularly of those who are excluded from decision-making processes and regulations that invariably impinged on their lives. Civil society has a right to demand participation and call the government to accountability and transparency and lead on to realisation of power. This may not be construed as causing affront to the government and it may be recognised as the engagement of the beneficiaries and consumers of state policies towards strengthening the hands of development actors to achieve the goal of an inclusive society.
The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution of India gave an impetus to the participatory development and governance process and to a people-centric development culture. A community integrated and linked development paradigm has since then transited into an action packed vibrant mode reflecting people's action that responded to local differentials and the felt needs of the people. Recent researches have also brought out that projects that involve greater participation were successful because they made fewer erroneous assumptions about the needs and capabilities of the beneficiaries.
Civil society has a connect with multi-sectoral services embracing healthcare, literacy, water conservation, management of natural resources, low-cost housing, capacity building, skill development, social reforms, information and data provision. Plus varied empowerment interventions among the disadvantaged rungs of society converging on social inclusiveness and enabling access to and control over the resources and developmental instrumentalities.
We are still in the learning curve of people's participation and using a fig leaf of partnership, which no doubt in coming days will be increasingly vibrant and robust. Not the least, we are moving ahead on the path of less governance from the top. But people's participation must not be allowed to turn into a politically, socially and economically elite domination overshadowing the powerless masses, the poor and the marginalised.
DN Sahaya is a former governor of Chhattisgarh and Tripura and currently chairman, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna.
The views expressed by the author are personal