Civil Society Organizationss in India : Traditional development NGOs, who went into a village or a group of villages and ran literacy programs, encouraged farmers to experiment with new crops and livestock breeds that would bring more money, helped the weavers and other village artisans market their products and so on – in short became almost a part of the community in their chosen area (usually in rural India) and tried to fill all the gaps left in the development process by the government. There are many examples of voluntary organizations of this kind running very successfully in India for the last five decades. Perhaps the most celebrated example would be the treatment centre for leprosy patients run by Baba Amte in central India.

Policy Think Tanks and advocacy:  The second group of NGOs were those who researched a particular subject in depth, and then lobbied the government or with industry or petitioned the courts for improvements in the lives of the citizens, as far as that particular subject was concerned. A well-known example of an NGO of this type is the Centre for Science and Environment. It famously drew a sample of well water and then submitted the results of the chemical analysis to a court because the organization had not been able to get the factory to change its polluting practices through other avenues.

Activism: In the third group were those volunteers who saw themselves more as activists. This is not to suggest that activism was limited to these groups as NGOs routinely petition bureaucrats, alert the media and so on. However, this third group of NGOs saw activism as their primary means of leveraging action. E.g. Narmada Bachao Andolan.

 

EXAMPLE OF MONITORING GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY

The MKSS is a grassroots organization based in Rajasthan made up of local residents and a handful of committed activists from other parts of India. One of MKSS’s most important innovations has been the development of a collective method for analyzing official information. In a series of jan sunwais or public hearings — detailed accounts derived from official expenditure records or other supporting documents are read aloud to assembled villagers. Local people are invited to give testimony, which highlights discrepancies between the official record and their own testimonies as laborers on public-works projects, applicants for means tested anti-poverty schemes or consumers in ration ships. Through this form of social audit many people found that they had been listed as beneficiaries of anti-poverty schemes, but had never received any benefits, or that payments had been made to local contractors for work that had never been made to local contractors for work that had never been completed. The jan sunwais led to the exposure of corruption by local politicians, government engineers and private contractors and demonstrated the potential of collective public action among groups which normally shun organized political activity.

 

global civil soceity organizationsGlobal CSO: formulation of public policy, not only at local and national level but also at the international level. These CSOs see themselves as champions of the public good, with a mission to reverse the physical, environmental and social harm that they claim has been caused by corporations and governments. They seek international regulation or prohibition of certain activities they regard as harmful and are strident in their demands for greater transparency and public accountability on the part of governments and industry. In some cases these organizations gain official recognition in the regulation process and have a right to nominate representatives to tribunals, supervisory boards and other bodies, which implement and oversee regulatory activity. CSOs won their right to a voice at the UN by heavy lobbying during the wartime negotiations (1943-45). Their rights were eventually guaranteed by Article 71 of the UN Charter (Paul, 2002). Today about 2500 CSOs have official consultative status with the United Nations and many thousands more have official arrangements with other organs in the UN system and other intergovernmental bodies. E.g.: Amnesty international, Green Peace etc. CSOs are increasing their influence in the international policy arena where previously only states played a significant role. Though CSOs have few formal powers over international decision-making, they have many accomplishments to their credit. In recent years, they have successfully promoted new environmental agreements, greatly strengthened women’s rights, and won important arms control and disarmament measures. CSOs have also improved the rights and well-being of children, the disabled, the poor and indigenous peoples. Some analysts believe that these successes resulted from increasing globalization and the pressure of ordinary citizens to control and regulate the world beyond the national state. CSO work on the environment led to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances Depleting the Ozone Layer in 1987. The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, and CSO coalition, was a prime mover in the Mine Ban Treaty of 1997. The Coalition for an International Criminal Court was indispensable to the adoption of the 1998 Treaty of Rome and another CSO mobilization forced governments to abandon secret negotiation s for the Multilateral Agreement on Investments in 1998. In the late 1990s, the CSO Working Group on the Security Council emerged as an important interlocutor of the UN’s most powerful body, while the Jubilee 2000 Campaign changed thinking and policy on poor countries’ debt. At the same time, an increasingly influential international CSO campaign demanded more just economic policies from the World Trade Organization, the IMF and the World Bank. The assumption underlying these partnerships is that “global civil society” can broaden democratic practice by creating additional channels for popular participation, accountability, consultation and debate, thus improving the quality of governance and promoting agreements that will last.

 

Global role for CSO

“It is people mobilized as you are, more than any government initiatives or scientific breakthrough, who can overcome the obstacle to a better world… the civil society movement continues to grow and make its mark.” Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. As the world embraces the transformative agenda, governments and markets must be persuaded to deal with the global development crisis – consisting of significant levels of human deprivation – and to address the associated tasks in collaboration with organizations of civil society. CSOs can help to amplify the voices of the poor, coordinate coalitions to overcome their collective action problems, mediate on their behalf through redress mechanisms, and demand greater service accountability, it needs to be kept in mind that participatory, transparent and accountable governance does not come easy. Nobody wants to open up or relinquish power easily — be it the politicians and bureaucrats at the helm of power or the traditional elites. Social forces must be created that would compel them to countenance sharing of power. An essential part is, therefore, social mobilization whereby consistent though gradual effort is required to establish, organize, strengthen and empower civil society, so that they can, one, increase in number and, two, convert their numerical strength into genuine bargaining power. Furthermore, better information — through public disclosure, citizen-based budget analysis, service benchmarking, and program impact assessments — and an active, independent media can strengthen voice.

 

Whether government in development due to CSO? Problems of CSO :

Having portrayed civil society in earlier times as something of a “magic bullet” for state and market failure, it is not surprising that attention is now turning to the failings (actual or perceived) of civil society itself. It is increasingly common to hear senior agency staff, academics and journalists echo the complaints of some governments (especially in the South), that NGOs are self-selected, unaccountable, and poorly rooted in society, thereby questioning their legitimacy as participants in global debates. It is not that the principle of civic engagement is being questioned; more that the practice of civic engagement may be distorted in favor of organizations with greater resources. Development works best, when the strengths available to different agencies can be combined together in mutually beneficial ways. Though CSOs are much better suited for mobilizing social capital at the community level, government has the distinct advantage for mobilizing institutional resources at the regional and national levels. While there should be supporting and strengthening civil society organizations, it is not to say that activities should be undertaken at the expense of the state. Increasing CSOs’ involvement with the state and promoting mechanisms that facilitate co-operative relationships among state and civil society actors are goals that will acquire additional salience and commitment in the future. That strengthening civil society is better accomplished through following a positive-sum approach – and not in some zero-sum manner, which views the state and civil society as adversaries, with the gains of one party being the loss of the other. In most developing countries, it is often the case that the potential of civil society organizations is restrained and even undermined by narrow agendas and exclusive memberships. To be effective, organizations where strategies are defined by confrontation, when better results might evolve from cooperation, will have to focus on coalition building. This is an approach that brings relevant actors together under one umbrella from government and business, from organized labor and the churches, from academia and the professions, and from the diversity of non­governmental associations. If CSOs can mature to embrace this inclusive coalition- building strategy, then the influence on government and business will be formidable. Good governance thus does not only mean reforming the state; the reformation of society also needs to be simultaneously undertaken.

 

This article is a part of topic : CIVIL SOCIETY

 

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