Starting from 9 August (Quit India day) and ending on October 2 (Gandhi Jayanthi), Andhra Pradeshs governance reforms group Lok Satta is reaching out to practically every village in Andhra Pradesh to mobilize people for local government empowerment in the form of signatures / written support. The goal is to obtain the support of 10 million (1 crore) citizens. If the mobilization fulfils its potential, it will be the largest ever non-partisan mass mobilization in any state on an issue that is not emotive, and does not have caste or religious overtones.
Why all this?
Governance in Indian states is too centralized, and the spirit of the Constitution, and often the letter are violated with impunity. A district in India is often larger than other nations of the world. There cannot be effective delivery of services, or accountability, or citizen-centered governance without effective and empowered local governments. Only when the citizen can see the clear link between her vote and public good can elections be meaningful. In the absence of such a link in centralized governance, most people are increasingly tempted to maximize their short-term gains by selling the vote for a price. This is perpetuating a vicious cycle of corruption and misgovernance.
Still, spectacular results have been accomplished in India only when local initiative and leadership were given an opportunity. Though Constitution has been amended over ten years ago (April 1993), local governments continue to be overstructured and underpowered. As a result, the disadvantaged sections have only titular representation without real power.
The FELG aims to transform the Panchayats (Village, Mandal and Zilla) and Municipalities (Nagar Palikas, Municipalities, Municipal Corporations) into genuine Local Governments with clear delineation of functions among them and to strive for the devolution of functions, funds and functionaries through appropriate legislative procedure. This organization is a non-partisan forum whose members include representatives from major political parties in AP.
Transfer real powers of decision making to local governments in respect of subjects listed in 11th and 12th Schedules of the Constitution
Transfer 50% of the state's tax revenues as untied funds to local governments
Create instruments of accountability in local governments - like effective right to information; Citizen's Charters for various services with compensation to citizens for delays; and independent ombudsmen to act against erring local governments and functionaries
Educate the general public to mobilize demonstrable public support
Weld local government leaders into a cohesive, constructive force above party differences.
Make political parties respond positively and achieve the objectives
As the mobilization of citizens is taking shape, there is progress on the legal fronts too. Lok Satta and FELG have filed a writ petition in AP High Court seeking specific directives to the state government on a) measures for effective devolution of powers, b) to implement the constitutional provisions in respect of creating District Planning Committees and Metropolitan Planning Committees, and c) mandatory devolution of finances to local governments as per the State Finance Commission recommendations. The petition is being heard by a constitutional bench headed by the Chief Justice of AP High Court. The Attorney General Sri Soli Sorabjee is appearing at the request of the court in his individual capacity and the Additional Solicitor General Sri L Nageswara Rao is representing the Union of India while the state government is represented through its Advocate General. Hearings are currently underway.
In the first 10 days since commencement, more than a million signatures were collected. As of September 5, around 2.3 million citizen signatures have been collected, with the districts of Ananthapur, Guntur, Kadapa, and West Godavari leading the way. The campaign has received excellent support from the media and the importance of local government empowerment from citizens point of view is being highlighted on a continuing basis.