Writer Title:   Prashanti

The emergence of civil society as a force to be reckoned with may be understood as a result of changes in the interrelation between politics, society and economy.

A Case Study on Strengthening Civil Society

The emergence of ‘civil society’ as a force to be reckoned with could be realized as a result of changes in the interrelation between politics, society and economy. With the increase of the market economy, the expectation of continued decrease in interference in the State also arose. No matter how the inherent limitations of the market, for example asymmetry of information and gap in bargaining power, coupled with the inability of the State to efficiently regulate the market without limiting its advantages has created the demand for other solutions to protect the interests of members of society. The need and competence amongst teams of ordinary people to act together to reach the greater good has caused the rise of ‘civil society’ in providing alternative solutions in which the industry and the State have failed to provide.

Noting the emergence of such ‘civil society’ needs an inquiry into just what the word itself suggests. Academia, policy makers, international aid organisations, social activists and NGOs employ the phrase ‘civil society’ in many ways thereby creating the notion complicated and ambiguous. As an example, the revolutionary vision of civil society portrays it as a site for contestation, in which people counter pose themselves against state power and in the procedure either replace or reform it. A somewhat ambiguous notion has been suggested by Sunil Khilnani who expounded that ‘civil society’ could be usefully thought of as identifying a pair of human abilities, both political and ethical. Since a potential elaboration of the notion of human abilities, we can turn to the figure of a social entrepreneur, characterized by David Bornstein within an obsessive person who sees a problem and envisions a fresh solution, who takes motivation to act on that vision, who gathers resources and builds organisations to protect and market that vision, who supplies the energy and sustained focus to overcome any inevitable resistance and who keeps advancing, strengthening and broadening the vision before it becomes transformed by a novel concept to a standard. Another flow, inspired by de Tocqueville, connections civil society together with the state where civil associations play the function of watchdogs in a democracy. As stated by the Walezerian conceptualisation, ‘civil society’ is an uncoerced realm where societal events are ran without any interference from the state or economy, and that civil society actually creates the “third world”, state and market become the first two.

A wide definition of civil society, giving it space to be a watchdog when that’s sufficient and also a counterforce when that’s demanded, is utilized by the writer in the following paper thus accepting the de Tocqueville definition and moving outside to include also the Walezerian conceptualisation of a third world. We must accept it isn’t sufficient that there be a civil society independent of this state. Civil society isn’t an institution; it’s rather a procedure whereby the people of the world constantly monitor both the state and the monopoly of energy inside itself. It’s not something that once constructed might fend for itself. It must constantly reinvent itself, find new projects, discern new enemies and also make new friends. As one scholar put it, “the daily renovation and construction of civil society is civil society.” Therefore, while conceptualising civil society as the next world after the country and the market, the writer believes that the assortment of functions that may be performed via this world can be captured from the ‘construction-reconstruction’ notion wherein civil society can play the role of a watchdog occasionally and become a counter to the state when needed, and sometimes even associate with the state to regulate the market if so required and so forth.

Given that the demand for civil society projects and the existence of the ideal surroundings conducive to its functioning, the time is ripe for steps to strengthen civil society in order to enhance governance. The Consumer Forum in Basrur is an organisation that tries to build capacities amongst citizens thus empowering them to find greater accountability in the state in addition to the market. The principal instrument of the Consumer Forum in Basrur is that the usage of letter-writing to maintain private in addition to public sector suppliers responsible for their activities. An analysis of the Forum is taken up in the following paper in order to draw lessons from its methodology and work and to analyse whether this version can be replicated.

I. Development of Civil Society in India

There are a diverse set of reasons for the increase of civil society organisations. Some of the most important reasons include the rising disenchantment of ordinary people with all the associations of government; the diminishing capacity of those institutions to respond to the diverse interests and expectations of most inhabitants; the rising gap between practical and policies elaborations; the continued persistence of the problems of poverty, social exclusion and marginalization; and the growing importance of national and multinational private industry interests. These reasons among others have led to some normative shift in the idea of government to now incorporate a standard in terms of good governance. Considering that the marginalised and the poor do not fall into a homogenous category and there are additional stratifications one of them leading to competition for scarce resources, good governance would thus not only mean reforming the state reformation of society also needs to be simultaneously taken up. In the majority of nations, including India, civil society has been freed from its earlier constraints such as obstacles by governments, in addition to lack of access to resources, education and communication have all diminished, and people who have entered this industry with new thoughts. The distinctive and effective component of the emerging citizen zeal is the fact that it seeks to adopt internationally accepted and advocated standards to local issues and hence formulate solutions that provide immediate and real benefits to the target category of men. Moreover, civil society organisations are now moving past stop-gap solutions to deal with the problems in the system and are seeking cooperation from business, academia and the government. Powerful social campaigns emerging from citizen groups will not simply lead to quicker execution, but direct to decentralised thinking and also a strengthening of democracy.

In India, the existence of voluntary civil society groups in the grassroots level in remote locations, their intimate interaction with all the individuals and their flexible work culture are some of the positive characteristics that were highlighted. In Andhra Pradesh, the Foundation for Democratic Reforms, a civil society organisation, promoted the drafting of Citizen Charters regarding the public business services that resulted in greater interest taken from the regional municipalities in ensuring that the availability of services to the citizens.

It had put up an initiative called Election Watch which allowed people to express their views concerning the political strategy and expose people candidates with criminal records or even corruption charges. Another instance is that the initiative undertaken by Jeroo Billimoria of Mumbai, who founded Childline, a twenty-four hour helpline and crisis response program for children in distress. The organization runs mostly with the support of student volunteers, and has been recommended by the revisions of the Juvenile Justice Act as the major child protection agency.

As stated by Ellora Puri, the existence of successful democratic political institutions is essential for the successful functioning of civil society. Another important element, especially in India, is that the state isn’t a single homogenous entity and hence civil society cannot eliminate the option of alliance with the state, because there are sure to be people within the state mechanism who would like to provide support to civil society. The thought that civil society constitutes an independent world of existence may distort our perception because though we split spheres of human interaction into sections and accept that human beings act in different ways in different sections, we have to remember these spheres are mutually constitutive of each other.

Sharma and Dwivedi point from that ‘voluntary development organisations’ undergo five distinct phases: conceptualisation, ice-breaking, formalisation, expansion and withdrawal. According to these, the stage of conceptualisation involves dialogue and discussion between the founding members. The stage of ice-breaking begins the interaction with all people that shapes the character of future involvement in the actions of their organisation. A hierarchical and hierarchical arrangement of the organisation with project managers and grass-roots employees is exactly what characterises the stage of formalisation. In this stage and of expansion, the study done by Sharma and Dwivedi directed them to conclude the responsibilities of the employees become more mechanical and involves additional paperwork thus diminishing the value of their ‘soul of voluntarism’ that initially drew volunteers to the area. In the exact same time the people today start to associate the organisation with particular results arising out of particular projects rather than the larger goal of empowerment. The inference drawn from this, along with the observation that often these businesses move to new areas in addition to the sources of their help, is the original mission and vision of the organisation gives way to the goals of particular projects in addition to the sustenance of their organisation per se. They suggest that the between of people directly from the first stages of prioritisation of programs and decision-making will ensure better capacity building of the area and sustainability of voluntarism.

The Consumer Forum in Basrur that has been taken up as a case study, has been sought to maintain its target because the empowerment of the members of their community and therefore isn’t associated with any particular job but instead with a methodology that could be adopted across a array of problems faced by the citizens.

II. Consumer Forum in Basrur: A Case Study

This segment introduces the version of empowerment created by a civil society initiative in Karnataka’s Udupi District. In the 1980s, new after the excesses of the Agency, a set of childhood in Basrur assembled to deliberate on potential strategies to solve the problems that were plaguing the people of the region. They identified that the key problems faced by the people of Basrur: irregular or inefficient supply of essential commodities, lack of information on facilities extended from the government, lack of suitable service from public service departments and harassment from officers in the lower level. Their talks culminated in the choice to begin with the easiest issues and gradually move on to the more complicated ones. Taking pointers in the Consumer Forum at Udupi, the Consumer’s Forum in Basrur (hereinafter ‘CFB’) was set up in 1981 from the youth category and has been led by Dr Ravindranath Shanbagh.

A. Ideology of the CFB

The fundamental objectives of the CFB are:
(1) to educate the consumers about the need for protecting their rights and interests;
(2) to cultivate an awareness of obligation among consumers and suppliers; and
(3) to encourage and direct the consumers in any disputes. The CFB’s approach overall may be characterised as “nonviolent, issue centered, apolitical, outcome oriented, unrelenting and inexpensive.”
The CFB is financially self-supporting and hasn’t obtained or accepted help from the government or foreign donors and thus does not need to take care of external pressures. The work is carried out using the ‘no strings attached’ donations (usually consisting of small quantities) created by people who believe in the Forum and its cause. The CFB is emphatic that there should be no ostentatious ceremonies and the job should go with minimal expenditure. Financial freedom coupled with nominal expenditures ensures the CFB is absolutely free of external influences that often plague other voluntary organisations that are heavily financed by donors.

Further, even the CFB has steered clear from engaging in any personal vendetta, politics, elections, and has never connected up with any political group or party. The CFB has additionally been against accepting any form of recognition or awards because they believe those involved in the movement must work without asserting personal creditawards and awards will probably induce personal vision thus diluting the actual purpose. The CFB strongly urges the focus of all activities should be on topics rather than on persons, and people operating in the organisation should be educated and responsible since they need to practice what they preach.

B. Methodology of the CFB

The approaches adopted include guidance, letter-writing, publishing of articles in the newspapers, holding seminars and contact meetings for customers and activists in addition to public officials of various departments and police officers.

The policy of the CFB is that getting given proper advice after carefully analysing the problem, the discussion should leave the remainder to the customer so long as he or she is instilled with sufficient assurance to be capable of solving the problem or fighting the dissatisfaction. When a citizen first approaches that the CFB having a specific problem, he or she is advised to compose a letter to the concerned supplier or official, stating the nature of the problem together with the action expected from the authority. Besides this, the correspondence must signify a copy of the same has been delivered to the CFB. If after a specific period, as mentioned in the correspondence, the individual does not get any response, then (in cases involving police officers) a letter will be delivered to the official second in the hierarchy and so forth, and if need be to the concerned Minister. In some specific situations, that the CFB writes the correspondence on behalf of their user but normally the citizens are encouraged and helped to do so independently. The CFB suggests that at the correspondence the issue should be separated by the individual, extremes like obsequiousness or even high-handedness and arrogance should be avoided; and exaggeration should be avoided too while saying the truth as clearly as you can.

In many cases, it had been seen that consumers tend to conceal their faults in the problems or exit aspects of how their behaviour compounded the problem. This tendency makes it crucial that the correspondence to the provider or official be written in polite and clear language in the mode of seeking an excuse. This approach helps because if the consumer was at the wrong, another party would have the ability to give full advice to the exact same and justify their activities. It’s the policy of the CFB that in the event the user is unable or reluctant to reply to the info given from the opposing party, the CFB falls the case. In this manner, the suppliers and officials also have faith in the impartiality of their CFB and also in its only facilitative character.

As a matter of policy, the CFB refrains from knowingly looking for disputes and carrying up cases suo motu. Instead, it simply takes up issues after being approached by the user concerned and after it’s satisfied that the customer has already taken measures to cure the problem. This approach emphasises the positive orientation of this CFB that is to act just as facilitator to the user and to inform and disseminate information to shape public opinion.

The CFB also conducts Consumers’ and Providers’ Contact Meetings regarding the cases brought before it. In such cases where a particular official of the community governmental authority is proven to be absolutely unresponsive to the letters obtained from the user worried, the CFB, via its newsletter, encourages citizens to flooding that official together with letters copying the matter and their concern over the shortage of activity. This acts as a reminder for its officers, suggesting the gravity of the problem and the seriousness of the people willing to voice their view and therefore, these officials often relent and make efforts to take the required action. In 1987, the event of these Alevoor citizens became well known during Karnataka. Sixty men from the neighbourhood of Manipal applied to the allotment of 5 cents of land to construct homes. They never received the records of ownership. Fifty-five letters have been written to different authorities beginning out of the Tehsildar nearby the Deputy Commissioner and twenty two two appeals were registered with politicians including the Chief Minister. After continuous efforts that stretched for five years, these people approached the CFB. In February 1992, the CFB wrote an article presenting the case Gradually before the public for their view. A few dailies in Karnataka printed the report. Individuals who read this informative post wrote back to the newspapers and also wrote letters of protest to both politicians and officials involved. Within months, the Dakshina Kannada District legislators arrived to take up the situation and give the owners their thanks.

The movement has received a lot of support, thanks in no small part to the weekly posts entitled Bahujana Hithaya Bahujana Suk haya (“in the advantage of all, lies the happiness of all”) printed in the Kannada paper Udayavani, that highlights that the continuing cases and issues involved. The newsletter Balakedarara Shikshana (“Consumer’s Instruction”) on customer education helps increase the foundation of citizens catered as well as spreads the consciousness about the methodology that could be adopted by citizens anywhere. The key goals of the newsletter are:
1) To educate the consumers about public service departments, government strategies and so on;
2) to describe the terms of typically encountered Acts in straightforward language;
3) to publish customer grievances;
4) to provide information about other customer initiatives across the country; and
5) to publish editorial posts about relevant issues within the specialty. A number of the books are not written and there are no copyright restrictions on the material as the CFB believes that it’s the matter rather than the organisation that needs to be highlighted.

When and if all of the abovementioned methods fail in a particular instance, then the CFB guides the customer to a lawyer in the area who will then take up the case in court. The statistics offered by the CFB reveal that only approximately 1 percent of the cases fall into this category. There are currently a handful of lawyers in Udupi in addition to in Bangalore who have connected themselves with the CFB and simply take up the cases pro bono. In accordance with the booklet published by the CFB, an alternative is to take up calm Satyagraha protests in the event the situation is appropriate for the exact same. But, there are no known cases where the demand for this extreme measure was called for.

C. Impact of the CFB

Consumer-supplier relations become the oldest and simplest of trades, the CFB started as a movement to empower citizens to struggle for their faith in case of any unfair transaction. The Forum started out by publishing handouts providing advice on consumers’ rights and statements every month. Originally, public meetings have been conducted at which government officials provided advice regarding schemes and facilities of the government. In the very first year after its formation, the CFB obtained just 8 cases because the men and women in the area were not yet prepared to trust a brand new firm with their complaints and were not certain how their problems would be managed. This was likely because the CFB didn’t present itself as a legal support firm, but instead a forum for all of their citizens via dissemination of information and dispersing of consciousness about the sorts of problems confronted, along with the capacity to tackle them. The standing and efficacy of the CFB grew gradually and over a decade that the amount rose to 412 and from the end of 1997, the entire number of cases solved since inception was over 7000.

The scope of the job of their CFB, in addition to the meaning of the term ‘customer’, has also gradually enlarged. From a mere client who bought products, the list of ‘consumables’ was enlarged to comprise government services provided by different departments of government like earnings, instruction, and transportation for which the citizens pay indirectly through taxes. Further, asserting that each and every citizen has the right to clean water, refreshing air, unpolluted rivers and lands, environmental issues had been introduced under the purview of their consumers’ movement. Therefore, according to the CFB, a customer is “anybody who has a right to a product or service. These rights could be bought by direct or indirect payment.”

Two decades later, the achievement of the organisation saw the development of an offshoot known as the Human Rights Protection Foundation which involved with human rights issues. This forum sought to empower the weaker sections of society, especially women, children and the backward classes in order they can stand up to struggle for themselves. This movement necessitated improvisation of the strategies that were created and learned in the 2 decades of experience handling consumers, suppliers, employers and police officers.

The initiators of the CFB didn’t plan the Forum to be a permanent business because its intent was to empower the citizens to take charge and maintain the state and the market accountable. At the moment the Forum has almost wrapped up its job, though the newsletters dealing with present problems in the region and improvements in the legislation remain to get published. The mindset of the Forum can be summed up by aptly referring to the voice of its convener, “If we are convinced that consumers can treat themselves and solve problems on their own without the support of our discussion, then we’ll wind up the discussion.”

Among the most efficient methods of transmitting knowledge is ‘blueprint copying’, that is, as soon as an available detailed routine is replicated or altered. Because of this, it’s crucial to recognize and document models or processes that could be widely copied or adapted as needed. The matter to be considered is if there’s a pattern at the Consumer Forum’s methodology and if so, whether it’s replicable in comparable situations elsewhere. The leaflet, ‘Public Interest Movement’ printed by the CFB, lays out the guidelines for the setting up of a Consumer Forum along the lines of CFB. In Margao, Goa, a radiologist inspired by the achievement of the Basrur Forum started a similar organisation to the empowerment of the people in that region. On the other hand, the CFB does not possess any formal links with national level voluntary organizations.

The writer believes that in case the processes of the discussion are well recorded, then there’s a solid case to state it’s a replicable routine because the problems sought to be addressed and the resources being used to do are so common to all Indian citizens. There are two attributes of the CFB that are helpful pointers for all civil society projects. To begin with, there are higher odds of success and sustainability of a routine that favors a version that mobilises ordinary citizens rather than determined by the couple trained professionals out there. To make a tangible difference, ultimately, the problem-solving strategy has to be put directly into the control of their households and community members. Secondly, it’s also crucial that such private businesses keep away from the traps of formalistic institutionalization and instead attempt to enhance their professionalism by learning from previous mistakes. As an example, the CFB has utilized its fiscal independence to stay unbiased towards persons or parties in power and places emphasis on resolving cases by focusing on the issues rather than thepersonsinvolved. However,1 aspect that has to be factored in is the simple fact that the CFB and the social entrepreneur supporting it, Dr. Ravindranath Shanbag, have developed such a reputation which in certain cases that spring up in and around the region, officials and suppliers alike respond favorably with only 1 letter in the CFB.

The writer feels that dealing with issues like the ones between consumer disputes and interactions with all the government will give individuals a feeling of being able to attain something. Individuals who are certain of tackling people in power together with transparency and stability are more likely to seek advice from officials on many different issues affecting them personally and as a neighborhood, and so, are going to have the ability to sustain the function of civil society. In the control of citizens that are empowered, there would be immense possibility of the use of instruments like the Right to Information Act to strengthen good governance, and therefore democracy in the country.

[1] Rajesh Tandon & Ranjita Mohanty, Introduction: Issues and Problematics, at DOES CIVIL SOCIETY MATTER? GOVERNANCE IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA 9 (Rajesh Tandon & Ranjita Mohanty eds., 2003).
[2] Sunil Khilnani, The Development of Civil Society, at CIVIL SOCIETY: HISTORY AND POSSIBILITIES 25 (Sudipta Kaviraj & Sunil Khilnani eds., 2001).
[4] In India, the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005 has been caused by civil society associations that have then gone on to spread knowledge about the Act and the possibilities of improving good government by seeking advice from officials of the government at various levels.
[5] In the global level, the approaches utilized by civil society groups comprise campaigning for international and domestic human rights standard-setting, fact finding and report submission that could serve the double purpose of naming and shaming in addition to showing the way forward for government action, encouraging the use of legal instruments to deal with past abuses and make awareness of responsibilities later on, providing a forum for interaction of groups and people with similar concerns in order to foster an awareness of identity, consequently increasing lobbying power, and giving of recognition through grants and awards to teams who are making sustained or radical attempts.
[7] Arun Kumar Sharma & Shailendra Kumar Dwivedi, V oluntary Development Organisations: Mission, V ision and Reality, 25(1) GANDHI MARG 5 (2003).
[8] I. Ramabrahmam, Improving Effectiveness of Governance Reforms: Civil Society Initiative, 40(1) INDIAN J. OF PUB. ADMIN. 247, 248 (2004). Through the publication of a paper entitled, ‘Lok Satta: Harnessing
[9] The organization was also involved in the building of an alternate invoice for women’s booking that was circulated among parliamentarians and the press.
[10] nother example is that of Javed Abidi who fought for many years to get the government to recognise the rights of the disabled in India. Through his perseverant activism, Abidi facilitated progress on several fronts as a result of which at the private industry, especially in the tech sector, more companies are making attempts to recruit handicapped workers. The higher-level civil service places now are also open to this particular section of their society.
[11] Ellora Puri, ” Civil and Political Society: A Contested Relationship, 39(32) ECON. & POL. WKLY. 3592, 3594 (2004).
[12] Neera Chandhoke, A Critique of the Notion of Civil Society as the ‘Third Sphere’, at DOES CIVIL SOCIETY MATTER? GOVERNANCE IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA, supra note 1, at 57.
[13] The writer spent three months in the Forum celebrating the process in addition to collecting data as part of a group in order to evaluate the kinds of cases and the methods employed to solve them. The description of the approaches adopted and the rationale behind them are presented in this chapter on the basis of the author’s interaction with the Convenor of the Forum, Dr. Ravindranath Shanbag, the case documents, articles and newsletters printed and seminars conducted by the Forum.
[15] A place equivalent to 2,180 square feet.
[16] A place equivalent to 2,180 square feet.
[17] With regard the entire amount of cases ever taken up and the amount of those that were successfully and fully resolved there are no figures available with the Forum. This is because on one hand, as soon as a circumstance is totally solved through their approach, i.e. without needing to approach the court, the document is closed stating “Samasya Pariharavagide” or even “Problem Solved”. On the flip side, files of cases that are still pending or that have been delivered to lawyers linked to the Forum do not possess this expression and it isn’t clear if the Forum follows the advancement of those cases. Thus, it becomes hard to state how many cases were resolved with no requirement for approaching the court.
[18] In this paper, the writer has chosen not to deal with the different methods adopted by the Human Rights Protection Forum, that is still in its infancy, and has focused to the Consumer’s Forum and its methods.
[19] BORNSTEIN, supra note 14 in 259.

Writer Bio:   Miss.. Prashanti Upadhyay ,LL.M, Student, Law College Dehradun, Arcadia Grant P.O. Chandanwari, Premnagar, Dehradun, Uttarakhand- 248007
Email:   prashanti.upadhyaya@legalserviceindia.com
Website:   http://www.legalserviceindia.com

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