Right to Information

Campaign for Empowerment of Local Governments

Police Reforms

Judicial Reforms - Local Courts

Education Sector

Health Care Reforms

Electoral Reforms

New Political Culture

Right to Information

The Right to information ACT brought on the statute book in 2005 is a significant milestone in ensuring transparency and accountability in administration. FDR has for many years been at the forefront of a campaign for such enactment. FDR / Lok Satta had recognized early on that extensive efforts are needed to give wide publicity to the ACT to create awareness in the Government functionaries and public at large to provide momentum to its implementation.

FDR / Lok Satta partnered with Andhra Pradesh Press Academy, Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ) and Centre for Good Governance (CGG) in this effort and work shops, training and awareness programmes were conducted at Hyderabad and across the State to sensitize government functionaries, public authorities, Civil Society Organizations and the general public on the Right to Information Act. Telugu version of the ACT together with pamphlets and booklets and Q & A were printed and widely distributed. All these efforts resulted in hightened awareness about Right to Information Act.

In October 2006, a one week campaign was conducted to study the implementation of Right to Information (RTI) Act across the state. Survey of various key government offices at the mandal and district level was undertaken with support from partner organizations. On the first anniversary of the Act on 12th October 2006 meetings were held across the State where NGOs and public authorities discussed the findings of the surveys in the presence of the public and the media.

Empowerment of Local Governments

In continuation of its efforts to strengthen local governments, FDR produced in June 2007 a report titled "Empowerment of Local Governments, Stakeholders and Citizens." The paper advocated the concept of District Government, Constitution of Legislative Councils as Councils of Local Governments and suggested accountability measures to strengthen local governments.

FDR has declared 2003 as the year of local governments and launched "Little Republics" campaign in Andhra Pradesh, calling for genuine decentralization and empowerment of local governments. District level meetings with elected representatives were held in the districts of Karimnagar, Warangal, Khammam, Nalgonda, Guntur, Krishna, East Godavari, West Godavari, Vishakapatnam and Kadapa. The response was electrifying. Cutting across party lines, hundreds of sarpanchs and other elected representatives participated in each district. At public meetings held on 26th January, 2003 elected representatives were invited to hoist the flag as legitimate heads of " Little Republics", and publicly declare elected local bodies as full-fledged local governments.

As part of its campaign to empower the local governments, FDR will endeavor to bring all these elected local government representatives under a federation to fight for their rights. As a first step towards that goal, many senior elected representatives and supporters of local government empowerment were brought under a common platform in a meeting held on the 23rd of February, 2003 in Hyderabad. Approximately 400 invited elected representatives from across the state including Chairpersons of District Panchayats, Municipalities and former stalwarts in local governments participated in this meeting and laid the foundation for the formation of a "Federation for Empowerment of Local Governments". The federation, a non-partisan platform, received enthusiastic support from across the political spectrum. The federation discussed, debated and endorsed a policy statement and a future plan of action. The federation has also unanimously elected Dr Jayaprakash Narayan as its Coordinator and Sri DVVS Varma as the General Secretary.

Nearly 11 million signatures were collected in support of this movement from August 9th to October 2, 2003. The celebration held on October 19, 2003 to mark the successful mass mobilization was an unqualified success. The representatives of Lok Satta and Federation for Empowerment of Local Governments (FELG) met leaders of government as well as recognised parties seeking urgent and unanimous steps transferring responsibilities and authority to elected local governments. The Chief Minister and all leaders of major parties publicly pledged their support to the cause.

On November 5, 2003, the government of AP formally invited representatives of Lok Satta and FELG to meet the Cabinet Committee on local governments to discuss the modalities of transfer of power to panchayats and municipalities, and creation of mechanisms of accountability. A delegation of Lok Satta and FELG, comprising of Sri S Ramachandra Reddy (former MP), Dr N Tulasi Reddy (former ZP Chairman and MP), Sri Sai Reddy (former ZP Chairman and legislator), Sri DVVS Varma (Campaign Coordinator of Lok Satta and General Secretary, FELG), Sri B Ankaiah (General Secretary of Lok Satta and presidium member of FELG), Smt G Pratibha Rao (Coordination Committee member of Lok Satta) and Dr Jayaprakash Narayan (National Coordinator of Lok Satta and Coordinator of FELG) met the Cabinet Committee on 6th November at the AP Secretariat. All the senior officials of various departments were present. Minister for Panchayat Raj Dr N Janardhan Reddy, and Home Minister Sri Devender Goud led the discussions on behalf of the government team.

The Cabinet Committee had a detailed meeting with the Chief Minister on 5th November and a decision was taken to transfer to local governments all powers envisaged under the 11th and 12th Schedules of the Constitution. The government also issued a statement for the media expressing its firm resolve to empower local governments.

These developments are clearly positive. However, FDR's task is still unfinished. Governments and parties have a habit of going back on commitments made. We must hold the government to its public pledges and ensure their implementation in full measure. And we need to educate the local governments and enhance their capacity to deliver services. Decentralization of power must mean tangible, and realizable benefits to the people. Finally, we must ensure that all instruments of accountability are in place, and are effective in checking abuse of office and corruption. People in each local government area must be trained in the art of citizenship and eternal vigilance.

Police Reforms

FDR played a seminal role in pushing forward the police reform agenda. FDR's report titled The Indian Police System - a Reform Proposal primarily dealt with (a) structural analysis of the prevailing crisis in the current setup including institutionalized political interference in crime investigation and police administration (b) synthesis of best practices and reform proposals made by Indian police reform Commissions and those drawn from other international sources (c) identifying areas for improvement and proposing institutional and structural reforms towards improving public accountability, reducing avenues for corruption and ensuring impartial crime investigation. The report helped in generating a much needed debate on the scope and precise nature of police and criminal justice reforms in India and filling the existing knowledge gaps on the subject. FDR's postulations in this behalf were submitted to the Indian Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC), the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the International Foundation for Human Development (IFHD).

FDR's research work also played a significant role in the drafting of Administrative Reform Commission's report titled "Public Order: Justice for Each and Peace for All."

Judicial Reforms - Local Courts

Every society needs to institute easily, accessible mechanisms for ensuring speedy justice, more so in India with high levels of poverty. In the absence of such sensitive, citizen-friendly mechanisms, people are forced to swallow injustice. Recognizing this, FDR has been advocating setting up of citizen friendly and accessible justice mechanisms.

FDR/LOK SATTA's consistent advocacy has resulted in Union Cabinet approving the bill for establishing Gram Nyayalayas FDR provided inputs to the authorities during the drafting stage of the legislation. The bill is slated to be placed before the Parliament.

Local Courts for Speedy Justice

Speedy and accessible justice is one of FDR's key reform goals. The Law Commission in its 114th report suggested a viable mechanism of local courts as an integral part of independent judiciary and due process of law. On similar lines FDR has prepared a draft legislation for setting up local courts at the rate of one for 25,000 population in rural areas and 50,000 in urban areas headed by a honorary magistrate (Nyayadhikari). The key features of the draft legislation are:

FDR circulated the draft legislation on local courts widely to various legal luminaries, jurists and civil society activists and sought their suggestions. FDR held a consultation meeting on the 12th of February, 2003 in which Justice A Lakshmana Rao (former chief justice Allahabad High Court), Justice Jeevan Reddy (former chairman Law Commission), Smt Rama Devi (former governor of Karnataka), Justice Chalapathi (former judge of Punjab & Haryana High Court), Justice Seetharama Reddy (former Lok Ayukta of AP), Justice Jagannadha Raju (former Lok Ayuktha of AP) and others participated. The participants were very positive about the proposed legislation and offered very constructive suggestions to improve on the draft Bill. A committee comprising Justice Lakshmana Rao, Justice Chalapathi, Justice Seetharama Reddy, Justice Jagannadha Raju, Sri KSN Murthy and Dr Jayaprakash Narayan was entrusted with the task of considering various suggestions received and revising the draft appropriately. The committee met a number of times over the following weeks and after intense deliberations finalized the draft legislation which can be accessed at www.loksatta.org/draftlocalcourts.pdf. FDR intends to approach the government, political parties and the High Court to seek broad support for this legislation. FDR will also make all efforts to build broad public support for this initiative. At the national level also FDR aim to make this a major advocacy issue for other states.

Education Sector

In today's global environment, an accessible and high quality school and higher education system is imperative for a nation's economic progress. In the medieval era, all the production was based on traditional agriculture and a few related occupations to service agriculture. Human labour and not application of mind was the source of most production. Literacy levels did not matter then. But in the age of machines, much of the arduous physical work is done mechanically. Productivity increase depends on a worker's capacity to acquire skills and his state of fitness. India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world with 311 universities and 15,600 colleges as of 2004 and is producing 2.5 million graduates each year. However, outside a few islands of excellence the system is failing to produce people with employable skills corresponding to the needs of the emerging sectors. Most of our unemployed workers have no real skills and are unemployable. Recognizing that education is the key for nation's progress FDR has taken initiatives aimed at reforming the Education sector.

Report on Higher Education FDR came out with a report titled "Higher Education Sector in India: Opportunities & Reforms." The report deals with in-depth analysis of the crisis afflicting education and suggests measures such as removal of entry barriers and ensuring outcome based regulation for the education sector. Relying on the tremendous opportunity to improve Higher Education the report suggests:

Committees on School Education and Higher Education

In an attempt to identify specific and practical interventions to enhance access and the quality of education, FDR has constituted two Committees comprising domain experts to study School Education and Higher Education. Among other things these committee will examine the following areas:

Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)

In August 2006, FDR/LOK SATTA collaborated with Pratham in preparing the Andhra Pradesh component of Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). The aim of ASER is to generate quantitative and quality data pertainingto the levels of education in children. Unlike the previous ASER reports ASER 2006 dealt with both urban and rural areas. The report states that large number of school children continue to be out of school in India, and points out that in Andhra Pradesh a staggering 17% of children in the age group of 15-16 are out of school.

The ASER study estimated that 93.2% children in the age group of 6-14 were enrolled in schools, when compared to the national average of 93.4%. Of this 71.8% were enrolled in government schools, 19.6% in private schools and 1.2% in others.

While only 28.6% children in the age group of 7-14 were able to read short sentences of level 1 difficulty, it was shocking to note that the percentage rose to 61.8% of students in 7-10 age group while faced with sentences of level 2 difficulty.

Health Care Reforms

One of the challenges facing us today is providing reasonable quality healthcare to all people, irrespective of birth, caste, status and wealth. We are one of the most poorly served countries in terms of health care with a very high proportion of private expenditure on health care. Despite impressive infrastructure of medical institutions the travails of ordinary Indians who fall sick are unbelievably harsh. Most of the poor and middle classes have no health insurance. Modern medicine has seen spectacular advances, but medical care has become expensive. More than finances, it should be recognized that 80% of disease burden is a consequence of failure of preventive and public health care.

To get millions of Indians out of the trap of poverty and disease we need greater clarity on the challenges and opportunities that are present in the realm of health care. It is precisely to ensure this FDR's recent initiatives focus on the state of healthcare in India and particularly in Andhra Pradesh. In order to recommend specific measures and generate public debate on how to provide greater access to better quality healthcare FDR decided to constitute a Committee composed of domain experts, to comprehensively study and recommend measures on:

Electoral Reforms

Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH) Elections

FDR / LOK SATTA started off the year 2002 with "Election Watch" for the Muncipal Corporation of Hyderabad elections held in January 2002. In the first phase, FDR / LOK SATTA took up a campaign for addition of names of eligible voters and deletion of ineligible names. FDR / LOK SATTA's efforts in this regard were actively supported by State Election Commission, Chief Electoral officer, and the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad. In the second phase of the campaign, FDR / LOK SATTA conducted a Mayoral Debate on 12th January, 2002 at Ravindra Bharathi. Eminent citizens acted as moderators and panelists. The debate was covered live by most of the cable TV channels. It gave an opportunity for the Mayoral candidates to respond to the questions posed by the audience, elucidate their views and commitment on various aspects of local governance. It also gave the citizens of Hyderabad an opportunity to gain better understanding of the candidates. Common platforms were organized at the ward level for councilor candidates.

As part of the "Know Your Candidate" program, FDR / LOK SATTA took up screening of candidates for criminal records. FDR / LOK SATTA invited the public to inform the names of the candidates with criminal record, along with supporting evidence to Post Box No.100 Hyderabad - 4, which was widely publicized. A Screening Committee consisting of 22 eminent citizens was constituted to scrutinize the information received and arrive at names of the candidates with criminal antecedents. FDR / LOK SATTA received information on 33 candidates who filed nominations. Subsequently 12 candidates withdrew. The details of the 14 candidates who are found to have criminal record based on the criteria laid down by the screening committee was made public. Only one candidate with criminal record got elected.

Disclosure Campaign: Ordinance and its aftermath

FDR / LOK SATTA's significant success in the year 2002 is in the field of electoral reforms at the national level. FDR / LOK SATTA's Election Watch campaign in the past few years resulted in the successful public interest litigation by like minded organizations. Viz. Association for Democratic Reforms, Ahmedabad; and PUCL, Delhi which culminated in the landmark Supreme Court judgment of May 2, 2002 on disclosures.

Government of India based on all party consensus issued an ordinance whittling down the Election Commission's instructions pursuant to Supreme Court directive. Responding to the same FDR / LOK SATTA together with PUCL, ADR and other civil society initiatives filed a PIL in the Supreme Court questioning the validity of the Ordinance. FDR / LOK SATTA along with some eminent citizens and civil society initiatives presented a memorandum to the President of India deprecating the ordinance. The President returned the ordinance to the government which vindicated the stand of FDR / LOK SATTA and others.

People's Ballot - 98% want disclosures

FDR / LOK SATTA conducted a people's ballot between the 27-30th of October to gauge public opinion on the disclosure issue. The response was overwhelming. Eight lakh fifty four thousand five hundred and fifty four (8,54,554) people participated in this ballot which was conducted across Andhra Pradesh in 500 centres, out of whom 8,38,199 (98.09%) voted "Yes" to full disclosures, 10,434 (1.22%) voted "No" and 5,921 (0.69%) votes were invalid. People from all sections, enthusiastically participated in this exercise, well beyond our expectations. The results of the ballot exposed the hollowness of the politicians' claims that disclosures are not needed as the people are well informed about their candidates!

Supreme Court Judgment

Despite the discernible popular support for disclosure, the Parliament in its wisdom raising the contentious issue of legislature vs judiciary passed a legislation effectively diluting the spirit of Supreme Court directive. In response to this FDR / LOK SATTA together with other interested groups filed a petition in the Supreme Court questioning the legislation. This resulted in the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court dated 13th March, 2003 upholding FDR / LOK SATTA contention that Section 33-B inserted in haste by an act of Parliament in the Representation of People Act, 1951, violated the people's fundamental right to know. The impact of the judgment is:

  1. The Parliament cannot abridge the citizens' fundamental right to know about the candidates seeking to represent them.
  2. After the previous Supreme Court judgment of May 2nd, the Parliament hastily drafted a Bill which sought disclosure only for serious crimes. The candidate needed to disclose convictions involving a sentence of 1 year or more and about pending charges framed by a magistrate entailing a sentence of imprisonment of 2 years or more. This Bill was quickly passed by the Parliament. But now, because of the petition filed by FDR / LOK SATTA and partner organizations, the Supreme Court directed that candidates have to reveal all convictions, charges framed and cases of which cognizance was taken.
  3. No provision for financial disclosure had been provided for in theamended act. With the SC judgment, the candidates have to disclose statement of assets, liabilities and dues to public financial institutions in respect of themselves, spouses and members of their families.
  4. Disclosure of educational qualifications, is made mandatory.
  5. The nomination of a candidate who does not give all this information in an affidavit along with the nomination papers will be rejected.

The Election Commission (EC) issued a notification on March 28th, 2003 detailing the procedure candidates have to follow in filing the criminal and financial disclosure statements along with their nomination papers.

Active Citizens' Training

FDR/ LOK SATTA undertook a 3 year programme for training of 100,000 citizens in Andhra Pradesh with a view to impart techniques of collective assertion and citizens' initiative. The programme was launched in 2001 and is scheduled to end in March 2004. The focus of this training is on techniques of citizens' action and effective use of right to information as a tool to fight corruption and increase transparency. The emphasis is on "collective informed assertion" with LOK SATTA as a platform. This effort is partly funded by a grant from Sir Ratan Tata Trust. As at the end of March 2003 - 24,389 citizens were trained.

Orientation of Elected Women Representatives

During the year preparatory work for the 2nd phase of orientation programme for elected women representatives of local governments was undertaken. Proposal to take up the programme in 11 districts was sent to Singamma Sreenivasan Foundation who funded the first phase with the assistance of Ford Foundation. The proposal has since been approved and the project will be implemented in the year 2003-04.

Andhra Pradesh Election Watch 2004

FDR/LOK SATTA has launched Election Watch 2004 for the upcoming elections to AP legislative assembly. Among other activities, screening of potential candidates for criminal record will be undertaken. An attempt will be made prevent the new and entrenched politicians with criminal antecedents from being in the political fray.

As part of the Election Watch campaign, FDR assisted LOK SATTA in constituting a screening committee comprising of eminent jurists, civil servants, academicians and representatives of media and civil society. The screening committee will be chaired by the eminent jurist, Justice BP Jeevan Reddy, former chairman of the Law Commission. The screening committee will solicit information from various sources on the criminal or corrupt record of all potential candidates seeking to contest in the upcoming elections. The process of screening the candidates' record will be scrupulously fair, transparent and non-partisan. The screening committee will scrutinize and evaluate the information received and compile a list of potential candidates against whom there is verifiable or credible evidence of criminal and/or corrupt conduct. The list will be made public much before the actual nomination process starts, so that the parties will have enough time to verify the antecedents of various aspirants and take appropriate action. If the political parties still choose to nominate any of the candidates against whom credible and verifiable criminal/corrupt record exists, then FDR and LOK SATTA will be compelled to issue a call to the public to defeat such candidates.

Goals of AP Election Watch 2004

  1. To prevent new candidates with criminal/corrupt record from entering the political arena and bring pressure on major political parties to not field even the established candidates who have struck deep political roots.
  2. To influence the governance agenda, irrespective of which party or candidates are elected. Specifically we will focus on local government empowerment, enactment of a law for constituting local courts to deliver speedy justice in the local language and instruments of accountability such as right to information and citizen's charters with provision for penalties. We will endeavour to make health care and school education as the center-piece of any new government's governance agenda.
  3. To help clean up the electoral process within the state, given the limitations of the electoral system.
  4. To mobilize public opinion in support of reforms in the electoral system and procedures.
  5. Use the impact of public opinion to enact required legal and constitutional changes to give effect to our advocacy. For example, we will endeavour to make the post office as the nodal agency for voter registration - a process that is already underway, into a reality in the next 1-2 years.

Delhi Election Watch 2003

FDR and LOK SATTA along with NCER were at the forefront in organizing Delhi Election Watch 2003. The objective of the Delhi Election Watch 2003 was to arrest the criminalisation of politics and spread the awareness on the necessity of ushering in electoral reforms. FDR and LOK SATTA were instrumental in bringing various civil society groups in the state of Delhi on to one platform. Eminent jurists, civil servants, academicians, representatives of media and civil society actively participated in the programme.

Electoral Rolls - Election Commission considers Post Office as Nodal Agency

FDR conducted detailed field studies of voter registration defects in AP. Voter registration process, though impeccable on paper is inaccessible to the citizen and ineffective in correcting flaws. Our massive sample survey proved this. The survey covering 56 rural and urban polling station areas covering a sample of over 40,000 voters proved the problem to be bigger than we had expected. The survey revealed 15% errors in rural areas and 44.8% in urban areas. The magnitude of the problem can better be comprehended when we realize that the 500 votes in Florida that decided the US Presidency are only 1 out of 200,000 votes cast (.0005%).

Happily voter registration flaws can be corrected to a large extent by making the process open, verifiable and accessible to citizens. Keeping in mind especially the rural populace, FDR suggested that the citizen friendly neighborhood post office be made nodal agency in voter registration for (1) display and sale of voters' lists for a nominal price (2) the availability of statutory application forms for adding or deleting names (3) receiving of applications and forwarding to the registration authorities. (4) making the results known to citizens. All this would reduce a lot of hassle and simplify the voter registration and correction of electoral rolls.

FDR approached the Election Commission with the survey findings. The Election Commission accepted our findings and responded positively to our suggestions. They agreed in principle to use post offices as nodal agencies for citizen access to registration process. In the first phase, voter lists and forms for addition and deletion of names will be made available at the post offices. As a result of our exercise, the Election Commission had begun intensive verification of electoral rolls all over India in Nov 2001.

Following this survey and strong advocacy on behalf of the FDR, Election Commission and the postal department have decided to make post offices nodal agency in voter registration. This is an important landmark in the evolution of Indian democracy. It will be some years before the full impact of this will be felt. And it requires enormous publicity and mobilization of civil society all over the country to use the opportunity to cleanse the electoral rolls. With over 600 million registered voters and 15 languages, it is no small task. But this is a vital first step in the mammoth task of reforming our large democracy and making our electoral process genuinely fair and vibrant.

In December 2006, FDR made a presentation on Electoral Reforms before the Parliamentary Committee on "Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice." The presentation dealt with various issues such as Citizen-friendly revision of Voter Rolls, safeguards to prevent criminals from contesting elections, Proportional Representation/Party List System as an alternative to the current electoral system and equitable Representation for Women.

New Political Culture

In the context of the elections held for Panchayat Raj institutions in AP during 2007 FDR launched Prajarajyam (People's Rule) campaign to help refocus village-level political process on good governance, equitable development and eliminating distortions in electoral campaign. This campaign trained hundreds of potential candidates seeking elective office in the Village, Mandal and District level institutions . The thrust of the training was on:

  1. Functions and responsibilities of elected representatives
  2. Transparency in conduct of business.
  3. Ensuring equity in the implementation of various development Programmes
  4. Objectivity in selection of beneficiaries
  5. Right to Information Act and
  6. On equipping the candidates with necessary tools to function as effective peoples representatives.

The trainees were from different political backgrounds and a significant proportion of the trainees were young. The campaign was conducted across all the districts of the State with active collaboration of several like-minded civil society organizations. More than 10,000 citizens including aspirants from different political parties, elected representatives and local government leaders were imparted training.

In July 2006, FDR/LOK SATTA released a discussion document on New Political Culture- A Discussion Paper. The document gave a detailed analysis of the current problems afflicting the Indian democracy and explored the possible remedial measures. Subsequently, numerous workshops/conferences were organized in different districts of Andhra Pradesh. People from various walks of life participated in these workshops/conferences and expressed the need for a new political culture that empowers the ordinary masses.