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Experiences and insights gained through Karmayog

1st March 2007



Who thinks about the policies that affect us?


Government usually cannot and does not act on its own to change policies and procedures that have been set down that may be incorrect, inappropriate, unfair, obsolete and maybe even not existing in the first place, unless there is some external impetus such as a Court directive or a calamity / disaster situation that require compliance and immediate action.


Many of us cannot understand why this happens, as it appears most obvious to all that some change in policy is needed, or that a new policy requires to be drawn up, and still nothing happens, though we know that the Government officials at sufficiently high levels are aware of and extremely capable of addressing the problem.


The reason for this is that the primary mandate of these Government officials is to implement what is already at hand, and the entire day, month and tenure of most government officials is spent in implementing laws, schemes, proposals, projects, plans, etc. that are already existing and dealing with the many pressures and messes that occur along the way, and they are not really thinking of policy changes that need to be made.


The mandate for making policy then falls on another group of persons whose inputs are used by Government when policies are framed or changed, and this group includes academicians, scholars and experts who are co-opted in committees that are set up for this purpose. Most of these inputs and the members of such committees, even while representing the people, turn out to have views that are often far removed from reality, or that are sometimes 2-3 years behind reality, or are with some vested interests, and most often do not present a complete picture or a true sense of the issues at hand, and thus the policies framed reflect this in their lop-sided approaches and outcomes.


Even in the implementation of existing policies, some of which are extremely good, the results are poor, despite the best intentions of the Government officials at the top, because the people through whom the plans and policies are implemented are indifferent, lethargic, corrupt, and most often completely incompetent, with no fear about the loss of their job due to non-performance. This is the fundamental and even elementary difference between how Government operates and how a Corporate entity would function, ironically, while delivering the same services and working at comparable levels of complexity. A corporate entity would have systems and procedures in place; would make its employees accountable, by making them perform, or leave their jobs; would have fixed roles and responsibilities for all its employees; would have Management Information Systems in place for tracking operations, and would be continually open to feedback and response from its customers and service base.


Getting your message across


Many people today feel that once they write or send an email to the people in charge in Government about problems that they are facing, that is enough to get it addressed. The reality is, however, far from this, where often the officials to whom we are writing, and who we think are reading our emails and letters do not have the time or intent to read what is sent. At most, sometimes, they may take a print out of some emails or address some letters that have been received, due to some pressure or persuasion. Hence, Government officials are themselves removed from reality and completely occupied in implementing and getting through the files and meetings of the day.


Who are the people currently influencing the system?


1. Experts: Acknowledged experts and scholars who are invited to be on various committees to provide inputs in policy making often have specific views on the subject, which they are unlikely to change. Hence such experts rarely present a holistic view with all pros and cons; rather they present and promote their particular perspectives, which while having both positive and negative aspects, are still limited in their view.


2. Media: By raising an issue, or highlighting some incident, the media creates some awareness and even embarrassment to Government on issues for extremely temporary periods. If the incident mentioned is specific in nature, it is likely that some action will be taken, as some well meaning officer at a sufficiently high level, who comes across that information, will give instructions to resolve that issue.


3. NGOs: The work that NGOs do can be broadly divided into two categories: service delivery and policy advocacy. Those NGOs who are involved in service delivery are often not interested in policy making or changes; rather they look at how they can implement existing policies, and so as to make their work easier, they seek different levels of influence, both within and outside Government. Those who are involved in policy advocacy have valuable, but sometimes extreme viewpoints, and these views being limited, are difficult to enforce, being again removed from reality. Further, despite the large number of advocacy groups that are active, we come across very few white papers on important issues in the public domain, which one could contribute to, discuss, understand, etc.


NGOs also have a natural limitation about not being able to come together, even when working within the same sector, to present a view or policy for that sector, as they are all individually competing for the same limited resources. NGOs of the same sector, often have different objectives and focuses of work, some have donor-driven objectives, and most are always short of money, people and infrastructure. From the great gamut of issues to be addressed for even any one sector, each NGO is able to only focus on, advocate and promote what is, to them, the burning issue at that point.


Experiences have shown that NGOs and other groups rally together in times of crisis and danger, but rarely in the times in between.


There is also another group of individuals and NGOs who believe that if Government had the will to implement the existing policies and laws, then the situation would improve, and these individuals or NGOs take on a confrontationist attitude with Government, and in order to improve the situation they use methods such as a media campaign, PIL, or hunger strikes and dharnas.


Past experiences have shown that where court judgements are made in order to regulate parts of our lives, these judgements are often inflexible, incomplete, open to interpretation, and what is worse, become useful for Government officials to hide behind. Further, if the situation changes, it is usually difficult to get the Courts to review and modify their judgements.


4. Politicians / elected representatives: Our general belief and expectation from politicians is that they don’t care enough, they don’t have the required knowledge, they have limited contacts and networks, and they are generally not well meaning enough to engage with.


5. Industrialists: Industrialists or Corporates will rarely take up any issue against Government. Instead they will provide support and supplement efforts through service delivery in areas where Government is lacking. Their primary mandate is economic prosperity - their own and of the country. Industry will try to influence Government to work more on areas such as infrastructure, as this directly benefits them, and not really on areas such as social welfare. Hence if one thinks that industrialists have a vision for the country, one would be mistaken, as that vision may be limited.


Therefore who can provide a vision for our country and our lives, and contribute towards making policies that include the views of all stakeholders?


It has to be an ordinary group of ordinary citizens, who despite all their daily struggles, find the time and a way to get together and make a difference through a number of ways. These include:

- becoming aware of issues

- contributing thoughts and intellect towards suggesting improvements

- sharing information

- taking small steps to improve things such as sensitising the family, work colleagues, building residents and community

- supporting those who are already doing and working in causes that one believes in, by contributing some money, resources, time towards these  efforts

- spending time to understand how policies and procedures work and then taking small initiatives towards improving them


This has been the journey / story / history / learnings of Karmayog, thus far.


A website was set up in June 2004 to support NGOs and connect them with those who want to help or support their initiatives.


The floods in Mumbai in July 2006, where NGOs and civil society groups collaborated to provide effective and timely relief, led to the formation of the NGO Council, Mumbai, a networking platform of Mumbai-based NGOs with the objective of strengthening the NGO sector and building a mechanism for sustained interaction between Government and civil society.


The NGO Council contributed to two new laws that were framed in Mumbai: the BMC Cleanliness and Solid Waste Rules, 2006, and the Local Area Citizen Group Charter, 2006, as well as several draft policy papers and recommendations to Government.

Karmayog and the NGO Council currently have an MoU with the BMC, and a collaboration with the Anti Corruption Bureau, Maharashtra, to enable sustained collaborative working between these Government agencies and civil society.


What we would like you to do:


We would like you to use your position, sphere of action and experiences to make suggestions required to improve your lives.


Towards this:


- Karmayog offers Resource Sections on over 100 issues and causes to enable one to be aware of and better understand the entire range of information and views on any issue


- Karmayog provides space for Focus Groups, for issue-specific groups to take up an issue in detail, and seek to find solutions and improve the situation.


- Karmayog offers “Locality Sites” to enable you to mobilise and stay connected with others in your local area or community, and address its specific concerns.


- Karmayog enables you to contact and connect with those who can offer you a solution, or to whom you can offer your help, and our website is not only free, but it is also an open website, which means that you can get in touch with others directly, and not necessarily through us.


Why are we doing this?


We feel that this is an easy and effective way to improve our world.


Our approach is very collaborative and we genuinely believe that empowering those who are doing ‘good’ is the method to follow.


We have seen and believe that there are extremely committed and good people in Government who are interested in improving the system and delivering results, but they are isolated. When these Government officials come across people who are not merely complaining and criticising, but who want to collaborate and co-operate by volunteering their time, skills, services, suggestions, then the results that emerge from such a collaboration are tangible and beneficial in improving not only the immediate situation, but also the system in the long term.


Wherever Karmayog can facilitate such contacts and connections for you, we will do so, and wherever you can provide that link for us, we would appreciate if you would please put us in contact.


When we look back at the steps and path that Karmayog has taken so far, and the range of interaction and dialogue that has happened through the Karmayog e-group, and the various waters that we have tested, we are able to now get a sense of where we are, and what we would like to be.


The idea behind Karmayog is not to get together to have a common opinion and voice, but rather to create a space and provide a platform where different voices can be expressed and where all the different people who are expressing those voices are available to connect with and contact each other and others who need such perspectives, for example, as inputs for policy or procedural changes.


Our aim is also to connect those people in Government who are in a position to improve things and who are interested in doing so, but who are isolated, with ordinary people who, in the course of their everyday lives and experiences, have the desire, intellect, expertise and sensitivity to make contributions of value in the process of policy making, laying down of procedures and awareness creation for issues that affect them. Karmayog enables both sides to engage with each other.


So become a part of the “Karmayog movement”, get connected, and improve your world.



Vinay R. Somani