From Peoples' Struggles to Public Policy: The Institutionalization of the Bhilwara Framework of Social Accountability in India
Date: October 2020
Author(s): Rakshita Swamy, with a preface by Aruna Roy
Publication type: Accountability Note
Published by: Accountability Research Center
This Accountability Note describes and explains a set of principles for social accountability that emerged out of the struggles of some of the most marginalized people in India. Although firmly rooted in the experience of local resistance, the Bhilwara Framework of Social Accountability speaks directly to national and global struggles for accountability. The essential elements of the Bhilwara Framework were first framed by Dalit activists fighting discrimination and structural injustice, who reflected on and theorized about the causes of their marginalization. These elements were then accepted, developed further, and disseminated by activists and social movements. This Note discusses the social origins of the Bhilwara Framework and explains how each of the six principles was derived and applied. The principles include:
- Access to meaningful and usable information;
- The formal registration of citizen grievances;
- The need for time-bound inquiry processes;
- Platforms for citizen participation;
- Protection of complainants against reprisal; and
- Public and collective spaces in which citizens can dialogue with their state.
This Note also describes how the Framework was refined and expanded, and how it was consequently institutionalized within the state. Unlike most activists’ agendas, the Bhilwara Framework has made the transition from concept to policy. India’s Supreme Audit Institution and Comptroller and Auditor General used the Bhilwara Framework to develop a set of minimum standards for social audits. The Framework has also been used to frame state and national policies on accountability for social justice and security for Dalits, rights holders accessing their entitlements under the right to work, food security, education, etc., urban poor workers, and other marginalized groups. It also informs an ongoing attempt to draft a legal framework for accountability by the Rajasthan State Government, a fitting tribute to where the struggle for these principles began. The Framework has helped define and develop the practice of ‘independent facilitation,’ which refers to the efforts made by the State to provide institutionalized platforms, institutions, and processes for enabling citizens to hold the State to account, that are independent of the latter’s control and interests. Similar breakthroughs have been made in contemporary grievance redress reforms. Recognizing that complainants will face difficulty and perhaps intimidation while registering a grievance at the very office that is the cause of the grievance, the Bihar Public Grievance Redress Law mandates Information and Facilitation Centers to provide single window support centers for information, to register grievances and track their status, an independent officer to hear appeals, and a wide scope in the definition of a complaint. The Framework served as the point of reference for State and civil society jointly building the country’s first web portal for mandatory disclosure of information (the Jan Soochna Portal). It has played an instrumental role in forming the basis of wider conceptions of social audits in tribal autonomous regions, labor welfare schemes and corrective or rehabilitation institutions run by the State.
These interconnected efforts have emerged from concerted grassroots struggles and refined by social movements and ordinary citizens and users of India’s various rights-based legislation. These essential struggles deepen social accountability strategies, rooting them firmly in social justice and participatory democracy.