National Foundation for India
In 1992, the 74th Constitutional ( Amendment) Act was promulgated seeking to empower the urban local bodies namely the municipal council and corporations in the different size class cities. It was at this juncture that the National Foundation for India embarked on an exploration of issues relating to the broad theme of Public Affairs and Urban Governance as a potential programme area to support. At stake were questions about how citizens felt about the performance of these bodies and perceived their role in the interface with public agencies. For the first time the transitional areas were given a legal status as Nagar Panchayats, which would take care of the administration of the suburbs of big cities. The formation of ward committees was yet another aspect which was expected to involve people in urban local self governance. Thus far, the focus of the programme area has largely been on improving the quality of governance. However, the rapid rate of urbanization has thrown open a new set of problems to the country. Why urbanization is taking place and at such a pace, and do the towns and cities have the infrastructure to cope with the rising numbers, what will be the quality of life of citizens and will their basic needs be met so that they can lead lives with dignity ..... these are the questions that need answers. And these are the issues that have led to changes in the understanding of poverty, moving away from the calories per day approach to one that looks at the quality of life in more holistic terms - that takes into account problems which ail urban areas, like the lack of water and sanitation facilities, housing, juvenile delinquency, alcoholism and gambling, and the rising gap between rich and poor. Keeping this in mind, it is felt that while the Foundation would continue to work on issues related to (a) accountability and transparency in governance and (b) strengthening of local community initiatives, the programme area would also broaden its perspective to cover - (c) Options for the Urban Poor : innovative solutions to issues that most affect the disadvantaged sections of society relating to :
The National Foundation for India established contact with Dr. Samuel Paul of Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore in 1995 to conduct Report Card Studies based on household surveys of citizens perceptions of their own citys civic services. The quality of life and capabilities of a people is influenced significantly by the equality of services and infrastructure provided by the government. There is substantial evidence to show that these services are not sufficiently responsive to citizens needs nor are they adequately and effectively managed. A grant to PAC enabled the Foundation to launch a major initiative of Action Research on essential public services using public feedback as the primary tool for assessment extending support for collective action to citizens groups on public service issues in some major cities in India.
The Report card studies essentially are an innovative means to assess effectiveness for which they are best judges. How responsive, for example are public service providers to the needs of the urban poor? Do the poor in our cities have access to infra-structure and civic services in their localities? These are some of the questions that are raised to quiz the minds of the respondents .
A major positive outcome of this exercise has been the Swabhimana initiative which is a voluntary association of a residential neighbourhood in Bangalore which works as a watchdog for monitoring the services provided by the Municipal Corporation of that city. Yet another follow-up of the Madras study was a two day workshop held in Coimbatore in August96, organized by FEDCOT a consumer awareness organization in Madras, to discuss posible applications of the report card methodology in their respective areas.
The purpose of the study is not only to see how India's public agencies are serving the urban poor, but also to assess the value of citizen feedback ass a means to improve public accountability and performance.