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Five Practical Ways for Government and Civil Society Partnership


The nature of the relationship between government and civil society continues to be of relevant concern in India. Contributions of civil society in addressing socio-economic issues is recognised; yet, there remains a perception that civil society is responsible for holding back the economic development of India. Can civil society and government work together? PRIA, over 35 years, has consistently supported government’s efforts to engage with civil society, and has advocated for a robust relationship of trust and mutual cooperation. In response to the discussion organised by Niti Aayog (on 1 March 2017) on strengthening partnerships between government and civil society, PRIA suggested 5 practical ways to Niti Aayog in which it can take this forward. It is hoped that this fresh initiative by Niti Aayog will not remain a mere ‘record of discussion’.


1. What is the USP of civil society?

Voluntary development organisations share with the government its vision of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. With this shared agenda, it is important to clarify what is unique about their contribution to the partnership. In respect of such organisations, the Planning Commission dialogue in 2002, chaired by then Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, agreed upon three distinctive contributions of such development organisations :

• Making weaker sections aware of their rights and entitlements in different programmes of the government – generating demand.
• Acting as a facilitative bridge between delivery machinery/officials and such excluded communities – last mile connectivity.
• Providing regular field-based feedback to district, state and national departments and ministries.

2. What are the instruments of this partnership?

The National Policy on Voluntary Organisations 2007 identified several practical instruments. At this juncture, there are no clear instruments of cooperation other than certain ‘funding’ schemes for performing small, occasional functions in a location for a given scheme. The criteria for selection are vague and the ‘providers’ database is confusing.

Each of the three contributions of voluntary organisations mentioned in the previous point requires different arrangements.

• Awareness generation and demand creation efforts should be seen as necessary for promoting the participation of weaker sections. A location- and focal community-specific (typically at district or city level) collaboration is most useful in this regard.
• The function of facilitation needs to be programme-focused, for which state-level collaboration may be the most appropriate.
• For an independent and regular feedback mechanism to work effectively, the NITI Aayog should take the initiative to develop such a partnership.

3. What does the the government bring to the partnership?

No meaningful partnership works until both parties clarify what they bring to the partnership and the government is no exception. The most crucial contribution of the government in respect of such a partnership is regular, authentic and updated information about policies, programmes, schemes, status of implementation, etc. There should be no need to use the Right to Information to get such information.

With modern digital technology, it is possible for the government to do so, especially vis a vis those policies and programmes involving partnerships with voluntary organisations.

4. Should the the government fund such partnerships?

Voluntary organisations need reliable funds to continue to perform their functions effectively. However, certain types of funding arrangements can be more productive than others in this partnership.

For awareness generation and demand mobilisation, the government must provide funds with clear and transparent criteria. The current procedure of tendering does not work to attract those with integrity and professionalism.

For facilitation, the government should create a jointly managed public fund for each major development programme. Medium term (3 years, say) contracting can be undertaken through this fund.

For independent feedback, the government should not fund, but should enable such organisations to be funded by private sources. NITI Aayog can create frameworks for this, and the government can acknowledge the contributions of such donors publicly.

5. How can the eco-system for partnership be improved?

Authentic understanding of voluntary organisations in the country is very inadequate. Multitudes of outdated laws and procedures have confounded the field. NITI Aayog must apply itself to the task of modernising and digitalising regulations and databases pertaining to the non-profit sector.

More importantly, public trust in the value of such partnerships needs to be inculcated and articulated. Political and official leaderships of national and state governments must publicly invite and acknowledge the value of such a partnership.

 

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