THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN GOOD GOVERNANCE
With the change of the century, globalization and development have increased at a very rapid rate. The technological and economical aspect of this development have led to a huge increase in the development of civil services and the social dependence on the them. The concept of civil society dates back to approximately 2500 years ago to Greek and Roman societies. Also, these societies have helped in taking the goal of ‘good governance’ forward at a global level. This paper focuses on the role of civil society in the good governance by also taking the example of India. Throughout both ancient and modern history, ideas about civil society and governance have each followed their own complex and multifaceted trajectories but their relevance to one another has remained undeniable. Influenced by changing historic realities and varied socio-political contexts, different schools of thought have evolved regarding both the nature of the relationship between civil society and governance, as well as the level of importance placed on the link between the two.
WHAT IS CIVIL SOCIETY?
Civil society as a concept contains elements that are diverse, complex and above all, contentious .To clarify the concept we first go back to its historical and philosophical roots in order to demonstrate how the concept was understood in different contexts. Until the end of the 18th century, the term civil society used by main European philosophers such as Aristotle, Rousseau or Kant was synonymous with the state or political society . ‘Civil’ was set against the state of ‘nature’ or against ‘uncivilized’ forms of government, like despotism. Thus, “Civil society in this conception expresses the growth of civilization to the point where society has become ‘civilized.’
Civil society is the sector of voluntary action within institutional forms that are distinct from those of the state/political sphere, family and economy/market, keeping in mind that in practice the boundaries between these sectors are often complex and blurred; it consists of a large and diverse set of voluntary organizations, competing with each other and oriented to specific interests. It comprises non-state actors and associations that are not purely driven by private or economic interests, are autonomously organized, and interact in the public sphere; thus, civil society is independent from the state and political sphere, but it is oriented towards and interacts closely with them.
Civil society is seen as differentiated from the market and the business sector (economic sphere) as well as from the family/private realm. These sectors can be also viewed as partially overlapping in the sense that their boundaries are sometimes blurred. Some authors emphasize this reality by considering how some actors can operate in various spheres or sectors simultaneously. Some research stresses that specific actors are in general attributed to specific sectors but can occasionally also act as civil society. For example, entrepreneurs belonging to the business sector are acting in civil society when demanding tax exemptions from the state. This understanding also helps to uncover other actors who have a role as civil society, such as traditional groups in Africa. These authors prefer to characterize civil society as the space between the sectors. Civil society is thus, the public realm between state, business and family.
FUNCTIONS AND IMPACT OF CIVIL SOCIETY
Civil societies can take on many forms and can change based on the communities that they emerge from, making the term somewhat ambiguous. In one definition, civil society can be the perspective of looking at societies as a community of people sharing common interests and activities. Civil society includes the family and the private sphere, separating itself from governments and the private sector of business. Generally, civil societies manifest as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as other similar groups and institutions. These organizations are typically run by people experiencing some sort of dissatisfaction with the status quo, who then through the power of the collective civil society, advocate for the change they want. Civil societies are often comprised of groups of people who have been marginalized, oppressed or underrepresented. Civil societies can form anywhere that people are experiencing these inequities, but they are especially common among groups and nations who have a long history of economic and political instability. In these situations, civil societies create a voice and a call-to-action for people without autonomy and access. Civil societies are often less formal than they may sound.
While some civil societies do manifest as defined and structured organizations, many are simply groups of people who share the same cause. These civil societies often have no official or elected leaders and many may not have political channels or representation to allow their actions to have a large impact. It is important to consider this when looking at the roles and impacts of civil societies. Regardless of their lack of direct political influence, civil societies have been some of the main drivers of change and progress throughout history. This has become especially prevalent with the emergence of social media which allows messages from movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Zapatistas to reach the world. Due to their lack of official leaders, these civil societies typically function based on shared governance, allowing the people experiencing a problem to advocate for themselves and their desired change. In Brazil, for example, there are over 200 organizations working to advocate for the poor in São Paulo.
These organizations are all experiencing a change in leadership and representation as Brazil continues to grow as an impetus for human rights and justice in South America. Many of these civil society organizations are seeing the gap between the represented and their representatives close, allowing people to advocate for themselves in a meaningful way. While it may appear that civil societies and civil society organizations can only operate at a local level, there are hundreds of growing organizations around the world that are working to advocate for people who share common inequities across borders. Among these civil society organizations are NGOs, trade unions, faith-based organizations, indigenous people’s movements, etc. all working outside of the government to bring equity across borders, using globalization and the media to their advantage. This network of organizations can be defined as the global civil society which is rapidly expanding, following the same template as more localized civil societies: a participatory democratic structure, representation for the underrepresented, and upholding the universal values and experiences of marginalized groups across borders.
SHORT NOTE ON GOOD GOVERNANCE
Governance is the process by which a society manages itself through the mechanism of the state. The core ingredients of good governance are: People’s effective participation, transparency, responsiveness, consensus orientation, equity and inclusiveness, the rule of law, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability, and strategic vision. These are crucially value-laden and constitute the bedrock of democracy.
Governance is defined as the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). 1 Good governance is efficient decision making that 1 United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific definition of good governance from the article “What is Good Governance” 6 proves beneficial for a majority of the people while having minimum or zero detrimental consequences. A democratic setup as diverse as India’s can never allow for decisions to be made for the benefit of every citizen and thus have no detrimental consequences but the negative impacts of such decisions can surely be mitigated. This highlights the need of efficient and effective implementation and execution of decisions and policies to reduce the adverse effects.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND GOVERNANCE ISSUES
The contribution made by civil society to good governance is essentially concerned with the means by which organized interests seek to influence and engage with state institutions. In doing so, they usually help to strengthen state legitimacy and relations of trust between public officials and ordinary citizens. As we noted above, however, not all civic organizations engage in activities designed to promote better governance. Some actively conspire to undermine good governance by aggressively pursuing self-interested goals or by fomenting violence against the state or other organized groups.
Others consciously seek to evade or disengage themselves from formal state structures through various forms of collective action in the informal economy. The contribution of civil society to good governance may be summarized under four headings: public policy and decision making; enhancing state performance; transparency and information; and social justice and the rule of law.
Public Policy and Decision Making
Civil society organizations can play a role in mobilizing particular constituencies to participate more fully in politics and public affairs. Wealthy and socially dominant groups are better able to organize themselves and, by virtue of superior resources and social status, are able to exert considerable influence over public policy. They can form and support intermediary organizations to represent and articulate their interests in an effective manner. Poor and socially disadvantaged groups — marginal peasants, sharecroppers, landless labourers, artisans, informal sector workers, urban slum dwellers, disabled people and certain categories of women — are usually much less able to exercise influence over public policy and resource allocations. Higher rates of political participation often result from institutional innovations – such as democratic decentralization — designed to promote local involvement in decision-making. But such innovations will only be effective if grassroots organizations and social movements can organize the poor and articulate their demands at local and higher levels.
I feel that the governments should be open to effective interactions with the civil society and interest groups, and are able to take a variety of views into consideration in the policy and law making processes. In this respect, transparency in the work of the governments is critical to make them responsive.
Transparency and Information
Civil organizations are thought to contribute to better governance by improving transparency and increasing the availability of information about the making and implementation of government policy. Activities from within civil society to promote these goals include the discovery, publication and dissemination of information about items of legislation, legal provisions, public expenditure allocations, the implementation of policy and programs, and special enquiries. Such information may be directly published and circulated by groups within civil society, or distributed through new or existing media outlets. These groups may also seek to mobilize citizens to pressure governments into implementing existing legislation and by taking action to indict public officials who are involved in malfeasance. Efforts to enhance transparency in government may contribute to poverty reduction by helping citizens monitor the delivery of development resources and staunch the appropriation of resources by bureaucrats and local elites. This suggests a more activist role for civil society, in which civic actors back up information and dissemination activities with mobilization and public advocacy work. It also raises questions about the transparency and legitimacy of civic organizations which cannot be taken for granted.
Enhancing State Performance
The quality and effectiveness of public services and expenditures are integral to good governance. Civil society organizations can contribute here by working directly with government in shaping, financing and delivering public services in a variety of ways. These can take the form of public-private partnerships in which civil society organizations work closely with state institutions in designing and providing health and educational services, by mobilizing funds from among client groups and other sources, by providing services directly, and by monitoring quality and coverage. In some cases this can create the basis for synergy, in which state institutions acquire greater legitimacy and improve their performance by developing responsive working relationships with civil society that draw on reservoirs of social capital built up in local communities. Effective state-society partnerships arise in the context of a particular set of institutional and political conditions which may be context-specific and not easily replicable. These conditions and the types of groups that can form such partnerships require more detailed comparative investigation to determine under what circumstances synergy can be fostered.
Social Justice, Rights and the Rule of Law
The fourth area where civil society can make a contribution to good governance is in the field of social justice, rights and the rule of law. There are two main dimensions to this: • The advocacy role of specialist human rights organizations in pressing for the implementation of existing laws, plus fresh legislative initiatives and institutional reforms to improve the functioning and accountability of state policing and security organs, and • The protective role of civil society in sheltering individuals threatened by repressive states, defending their rights through the official legal process, for example by providing paralegal services to groups of citizens who do not have ready access to the courts. An array of issues bear on these matters. These include (i) the adequacy of existing laws and of the courts and the legal profession to ensure their implementation, (ii) the political realities that may impede or facilitate such efforts, and (iii) the social environment which may do the same.
Genesis of Civil Society in India Civil Society in India
is a growing trend that is catching momentum due to a growing number of civil society organizations, activists, non-profit organizations etc. but the roots of voluntary action for the common good that forms the essence of civil society virtues can be traced all the way back to Indian history. The Hindu concept of Dharma as well as all other major religions in India such as Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Jainism, and Christianity all lay stress on a moral code of conduct and behavior that ultimately serves for the common good of the society. The practice of daan in Hinduism and that of Zaakat in Islam has led on to the formation of charitable institutions of present day India. Voluntary action for the common good of society, which till now derived religions inspirations evolved into more actively participatory means of action for social good.
This evolution was inspired by the advent of liberal thought and western ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity and also brought social reformers, thinkers and scholars to the arena of voluntary action. Voluntary action was thus transformed into activism as social reformers aimed at revolutionizing the Indian society to do away with orthodox practices like caste system, child marriage and Sati that went against social justice and also matters of judicial importance like opposing discriminatory acts.
Modern Civil Society of India
The present day civil society of India has been greatly active in arenas fighting for a vast variety of issues. The agenda of civil society transformed over the years from fighting to establish democracy to preserving it. That being attained the civil society of today focuses on issues ranging from social, economic, environmental, law and policy making et al. The greatest trophy of civil society of India was the RTI act. The civil society has recently mobilized to fight corruption in India with the Lokpal Bill under Anna Hazare. The activism of civil society in India brought its capital to a standstill with non-profit organizations, activists, students, and many 10 other civil society organizations protesting against the lax government machinery to ensure security of women after the rape of the 23 year old student. The civil society must credit itself for mobilizing such large masses to speak up for the security of women in India but the ten day long protests caused much more loss due to services being shut and property being damaged without much concrete response from the Government.
IMPACT OF CIVIL SOCIETY ON GOVERNANCE OF INDIA
Co-operation with Government:
A fundamental shift in the relationship of the civil society of India and its Government has been indicative as it has facilitated the implementation or execution of various government programmes and schemes. Increasing resources on the Government’s part and innovative solutions on the part of civil society organisation are prominent reasons for the interaction. In the last ten years, some of the biggest social programmes in the world been implemented through this approach.
The implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, creation of Self Help Groups with NABARD, and many more programmes exhibit the cooperation of civil society and the Government of India. The most significant impact of this is the financial push that civil society organisations receive from the Government to carry out the programmes as compared to earlier when funding was borne by C.S.Os themselves.
This engagement has also highlighted the urgency of the Government to increase its capacity to develop services to be delivered through C.S.Os. This is evident from the Right to Education Act and the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan wherein poor quality of Government schools had a negative effect on the success of the programme leading to clashes between the local authorities and N.G.Os. This leads us to the next impact of civil society on building pressure on the Government.
Watchful eye over Government:
The civil society attempts at representing and fulfilling the aspirations of the people of India. Under this capacity the civil society of India has been a prominent force in questioning the Government over its actions or lack thereof. Movements like Chipko movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, India Against Corruption Jan Andolan and the recent social movement against the Delhi rape case all stand as the civil society’s impact in mobilizing masses to urge the Government to act. The passage of RTI and RTE are the greatest examples of civil society’s impact.
The present status of civil society impact also boasts of growing public participation in activism in the form of protests, candle-light marches and other peaceful forms of resistance like hunger strikes. The success of civil society in mobilization of masses can be attributed to two major factors- low average age of the population in India and high media exposure. 70% of Indians belong to the age group of below 35 years. This supplies a higher participant base of impressionable minds who are presently suffering from high levels of dissent and dissatisfaction due to state of employment and education. The cultural trend of living in joint families also results in the subjection of the youth of India to the opinions of more generations than their own.
The sustenance of social movements is longer with a participant pool that mainly consists of the youth. The role played by the media cannot be neglected while studying the effect of civil society on leading social movements. India’s civil society operates in the age of one click access to information and an activated media leading many campaigns. Civil society must strengthen the youth in developing a mature understanding of information and its overload. It should also strive to precede media in addressing problems to maintain the faith of people in the civil society.
As conscious citizens, we cannot hope for good governance without civil society’s engagement. A well-functioning democracy needs everyone’s participation and investment.
The socio-economic problems plaguing our nation are huge and need immediate attention. We rank at the bottom of the list on several human development indicators. Numerous NGOs have spawned to champion uncountable causes. It is reported that India has 31 lakh NGOs registered, i.e. one for every 400 people in the country.
This is twice the number of schools in the country and 250 times the number of government hospitals. However, NGOs in India have paid little attention to the larger issue of gaps in policy making and governance shortfalls. Civil society is a great forum where individuals organize to promote development, welfare and capacity building and also assimilate with the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary urging them to act in their best capacities to ensure good governance. As conscious citizens, we cannot hope for good governance without our engagement. A well-functioning democracy needs our participation and investment. As the governments today are increasingly open to engagement and the citizens restless for change, it makes such efforts more relevant than ever before.
I feel that while the people are encouraged and promoted to conduct activities of social welfare and development at all possible levels in their best capacity to facilitate good governance, they are also urged to maintain a proactive watch as well as control over their representatives, who must answer the call for their duties in their best capacities. The civil society here is highlighted to play the role of organizing public action and opinion and channelizing it to people who are enabled to or are responsible to act on it. The multidimensional role of civil society in inspiring masses, building capacity, enabling social and national development, spreading awareness and most importantly exercising proactive vigilance and pressure on the people’s representatives be it as the elected representatives or voluntary civil society actors is highly regarded and promoted to make good governance in India a reality.