Wednesday, Dec 22, 2004
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By Akhila Seetharaman
CHENNAI, DEC. 21. Urban citizens must have as much opportunity to participate in local governance as rural citizens, said Ramesh Ramanathan and V. Ravichandar, members of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force.
While the 73rd amendment amply provides for citizens participation in rural governance, the 74th amendment on urban areas does not make equal provisions, they told `Unmeelan,' a meeting of the arts and ideas club of Infosys.
"Passing the law will not change things overnight, but we will not be able to blame the government. Each individual will have to be accountable," said Mr. Ramanathan, who is also campaign coordinator of Janaagraha, a Bangalore-based movement for citizens' participation in governance.
Responding to the question for the day, "Whose government is it anyway?" television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai pointed out that good governments do not necessarily get elected.
"There is a disjunction between governance and electability. Do we elect politicians based on negative campaigns and identity politics or do we elect them based on the kind of governance they will provide?"
He was doubtful that people actually voted on `bijli-sadak-pani,'(power-roads-water) and if they did, whether governments would be responsive to their needs.
While acknowledging the need for citizens' involvement and localisation of politics, Mr. Sardesai said massive administrative, political and judicial reforms were necessary for governance to really become effective. Past generations have believed that "the state knows best" but not the new generations. Generational change could transform politics and governance, he said.
"The question is not whether citizens should participate in governance, but how they should participate," said Mr. Ramanathan. He urged people to engage themselves with issues concerning them. Transparent systems of governance around the world are backed by citizen's participation, he observed.
Crisis as opportunity
"One of the challenges of democratic change is to create a state of crisis; to do that you have to start becoming strategic," said Mr. Ramanathan. "Social reformers need to be entrepreneurial -- take a crisis and make it an opportunity."
Sharing the experience of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, a platform that brought together the government and private stakeholders, Mr. Ravichandar stressed the need for public-private partnerships in local governance.
"There is a need to build public confidence in urban governments," he said. A good portion of tax evasion takes place because people suspect that public money is being misused, he said. He called for mandatory disclosure laws on government spending.
Speaking to The Hindu earlier, Unmeelan's chairperson and the moderator for the session, Rohini Nilekani, emphasised the need to take debates on issues, such as secularism, democracy and nationhood to young professionals.
"Where is the breakdown point between our island and the rest of the country?" she asked. Unmeelan was a forum for employees of Infosys to develop their worldview, she said.
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