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ANJALI BHARADWAJ

India,

Anjali is creating the first centralized and publicly available accountability metrics for legislators in India. In collecting and organizing information on government performance she is redefining the way that people interact with their representatives by giving them the platform from which to advocate for change within their own constituencies. As more citizens gain access to information about their representative's performance they define new ways to participate in the democratic system and break away from a past of patronage.

This profile below was prepared when Anjali Bharadwaj was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.

Fellow Sketch

Anjali Bharadwaj is creating mechanisms for a transparent and responsive governance system. Through her performance-based “report cards”, Anjali holds representatives accountable and allows voters to make informed choices.  

Anjali has leveraged the Right to Information Act to facilitate both mid-term and end-term report card exercises in Delhi for elected representatives. Working with communities in the city, (training, workshops, accountability) she has set up institutional mechanisms to encourage people’s participation such as ensuring there is an elected representative in every Ward. These combined efforts have allowed her to achieve her overarching goal of moving the community understanding on government transparency from informed engagement to meaningful action from officials. 

Since 2009, Anjali has taken her report card exercise to Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, besides working with groups and communities in Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. In 2013, Anjali published 120 councilors reports cards in the Hindustan Times. As a result of the complaints and the public hearing instigated by report card results, the Central Information Commission made two significant decisions. It ordered both the Delhi Government and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to install boards in every ward of Delhi, displaying expenditure details of local area development funds of the MLA and Councillor of that area. This expansion of her report card system has popularized and inspired a demand for government accountability across India. 

Today, Anjali is, with the organization National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), pushing for the passage of the Jan Lokpal bill, an anti-corruption bill that would among other things, guarantee citizens rights to investigation and address grievances. With increasing incidents of intimidation, Anjali advocated to protect the people who are getting threatened for using the rights available to them to ask for greater accountability. In response to her efforts, in May 2014, the Whistle Blowers Act was passed by Parliament, towards ensuring that RTI activists, and communities, across the board remained safe from threat and harm. She is now focusing on the Grievance Redressal bill through which she hopes to create a framework for a timely, transparent and proper system to address the grievances of citizens. Through partnerships with local media, leaders and legislators, Anjali is building awareness around the bill and inspiring other activists to join her in advocating for greater transparency, accessibility and accountability.

Note: This was updated in September,2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile. 

INTRODUCTION

Anjali is creating the first centralized and publicly available accountability metrics for legislators in India. In collecting and organizing information on government performance she is redefining the way that people interact with their representatives by giving them the platform from which to advocate for change within their own constituencies. As more citizens gain access to information about their representative's performance they define new ways to participate in the democratic system and break away from a past of patronage.




THE NEW IDEA

Anjali's work as the leader of Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) or People's Vigilance Committee is redefining the way that citizens interact with their elected representatives. Anjali has created legislative report cards that track the performance of representatives across a series of categories. These serve to define the roles and responsibilities of an elected representative in their capacity as public servants. Anjali's solution elucidates the systematic gap between the duties of a legislator and their actual performance. For example, SNS collects data on assembly attendance, voting records and the questions asked by representatives. They then distill this data down to the essential categories of information in order to convey the overall performance record of the individual. Information contained in the report card is used by the citizens as an advocacy tool when they speak with their representatives. SNS actively facilitates the conversation between elected officials and their constituencies by ensuring that meetings take place with the representative and that citizens ask questions that are informed by performance data from the report cards. Anjali is making the citizen-representative interaction more transparent and thus strengthening the entire legislative process. The work that SNS does with citizens changes the rules of the democratic interaction and adds a new level of transparency to the political process.

Anjali uses the report card as a point of departure for a deeper citizen-based accountability initiative that draws its strength from systematic performance information. The information that she provides on representatives’ actions in the legislature is the basis for a new signal that constituents send to their representatives to demonstrate a need.  Earlier, constituents were dependent upon their ability to appeal to a representative for policy action whereas after the introduction of report cards citizens have the ability to demand action on the basis of commitments that a representative has made. Citizens use the information contained in report cards to hold their representatives to a higher accountability standard, thus transitioning from a system of patronage to a formula of democratic representation. The report cards act as a text that reflects the civic duties of legislative representatives. Anjali has created the first application of civic responsibility for representative performance in the legislative branch at the local, state and federal levels of government.




THE PROBLEM

There are misplaced expectations on the part of both the Indian electorate and legislators about what a representative's relationship to their constituency should look like in public life. Citizens expect legislators to fulfill roles that are outside of their democratic responsibilities such as attending weddings and gaining admission for a student into a competitive university. Legislators also expect a degree of patronage from wealthy citizens and deference which is counterproductive to the discourse of policy making. In addition to this pervasive performance bias there are also no clear definitions of the roles legislators play while making law and serving on the various committees that inform the legislative process. The government has added to this confusion surrounding the roles of elected representatives in a democratic process by its methods of reporting on assembly and committee meetings. The records of these meetings are full of obscure acronyms and are not immediately available to citizens if they request copies. Bureaucrats will go to great lengths to prolong response to a request for information so as to degrade the system of responsible citizenship. The lack of clearly defined representative duties for an elected official and the inertia of a political process rooted in patronage have thwarted past efforts to fix problems with pervasive corruption at many levels of politics in India. 

Voters in India have limited access to information about potential candidates when electing their representatives in the legislative branch. During elections, candidates use a currency of threats and promises to engage in a form of politics that is unresponsive to citizen needs. Anjali uses the example of her work with a slum community in northern New Delhi that would stop coming to the weekly community meetings close to election time. After one election she had the opportunity to ask the slum dwellers why they had stopped coming to the meetings and was told that they had been threatened with the demolition of their houses. Her response was to write a RTI request for the list of all slums that were in the government's plan for demolition. After receiving the information the slum community was outraged because their community was not scheduled for demolition and they had ceased to organize based on an empty threat. The democratic institutions of elections, legislation, and representative term limits do exist but there is a lack of citizen participation to ensure that each process performs as it is supposed to. Without a record of representative performance, citizens have been relegated to making general complaints about a government that is unresponsive to their needs.




THE STRATEGY

Anjali has opened a new class of applications for the Right to Information (RTI) Act with enormous potential to develop citizen participation in making elected representatives more responsive to their constituents' needs. She uses RTI as a tool to collect data on performance metrics and budgets for legislative assembly members at the local, state and national levels. Legislative minutes that SNS collects go through a process of decoding to translate proceedings into transcripts that can be easily understood by citizens. SNS then takes these transcripts and filters the information for specific performance criteria that is collected on all legislators. She combines this performance information with records of budget expenditures to track the spending of legislative development funds. The entire set of performance criteria and budget histories are then presented in a reader-friendly format and distributed through newspapers, magazines, television, and online platforms. Anjali has gone through the process of creating report cards for all 70 state level representatives in New Delhi and 250 members of the national parliament. She has also conducted the budget reviews for 134 local representatives in New Delhi. SNS distributes the performance report cards through three major national newspapers before local, state and national elections accordingly. The legislative performance report cards are used by citizens to advocate with their own assembly members. SNS follows up on the published reports by ensuring that citizens ask questions about their representative's record in the legislature at public meetings. Citizens are able to have a more substantive dialog with their elected representatives when they have a copy of the representative's record. For example citizens will compare a representative's promise of installing much needed water transmission infrastructure with the actual outcome of diverting money to create fountains in wealthy neighborhoods. By putting information in the hands of citizens Anjali has given them the ability to do their own advocacy work in the areas they know best, their own communities. When Anjali began the process of defining the categories of information that she was going to collect on legislative performance she approached the legislative bodies themselves and asked what kind of material they give new members to outline their duties. She found that no information was provided to new representatives and that they not only lacked a basic understanding of their duties but also a code of professional conduct for how to be good public servants. SNS then had to start from the foundational documents of India to define the incumbent responsibilities of a legislative assembly member at each level of the government. They built the metrics to measure performance by comparing statutes and collecting minutes from assembly meetings to discover what was actually being recorded in government proceedings. After the process of publishing the report cards with data fields that SNS had defined representatives began contacting the organization complaining about their score and asking questions about how the organization had accessed information on the government proceedings. During this process legislative assembly members became aware that their actions were being monitored by a competent third party. Anjali has begun to see some changes in the manner that assembly members conduct their business and is encouraged to see citizens taking more responsibility in monitoring their own democratic rights. Anjali releases her report cards to coincide with the local, state and national election cycle because that is when she can get the most people interested in the work that their government is doing. She has found that campaigning can be an excellent time for constituents to use the performance metrics about their incumbent representatives to get commitments for policy change. She is now exploring the use of a midterm report card that will enable citizens to check on the early progress of their representatives. The use of election report card release will expand the possible applications for constituent-representative interaction. SNS has created the template for collecting information on legislative performance in India. They have started to collect performance data to create report cards for legislators in Jharkand, West Bengal and Rajasthan at the state representative level. SNS has identified partners in these states to facilitate the constituent-representative interaction and enable citizens to use the report cards for actionable results. Anjali is also working with the government directly to get them to put more of the information on legislative proceedings on their website and take up some of the data consolidation themselves. SNS also plans to expand into each of these states as the election cycles favor an increased interest in legislative performance of incumbent parties.




THE PERSON

Anjali is a native of New Delhi and has deep roots in the city. She studied economics in university and began her professional life at the World Bank. While working at the World Bank Anjali became aware of the volumes of money spent at a national and state level in India. She left the World Bank to get a post graduate degree abroad and upon returning in early 2000 got involved in the RTI movement. She founded SNS in 2003 with the mandate to promote to transparency and accountability in government functioning and to encourage active participation of citizens in governance. She began her work conducting social audits of ration cards shops to ensure that they are fulfilling their role of providing subsidized food. She began using the early RTI Act as a tool to gather information on all ration shops in a given area and survey them about their customers. Corruption in the ration card shops was one of her first experiences with a systematic failure of governance schemes and made her realize that problems of these proportions had to be dealt with on a much larger scale.




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